News from the Homestead
January 2021

Homestead National Monument of America gets a new name!
This park is a dynamic place with an epic story. Our new name, Homestead National Historical Park, better represents the many cultural, natural and recreational features visitors will find here. We look forward to sharing this significant American story to new and returning visitors.
We are grateful for the Friends of Homestead, the Nebraska Congressional Delegation, and our state and local leaders, for their continued support of the park and its mission.

You will start seeing the change in our webpage and social media immediately, but it may take a little longer for everything to be changed over. We invite you to start making plans now to explore, recreate and learn at Homestead National Historical Park.


Mark Engler, Superintendent
Homestead's 2021 Theme: Finding Your Roots at Homestead National Historical Park
Homestead National Historical Park's theme for 2021 is "Finding Your Roots". More than 270 million acres of land went into private hands through the Homestead Act. That’s about 10% of the land area of the United States! During the 123 years that the law was in effect—from 1863 to 1986—homesteads were founded in thirty different states across the Nation. Today, it’s estimated that as many as 97 million Americans may be descended from homesteaders. Are you?

Come join us at the park in 2021 to learn more about your homesteading ancestors. We have a fantastic assortment of programs, events, and exhibits to help you learn all about your family story.
Image of Palmer Epard Cabin in front of a sunrise. Text reads Find Your Roots - Homestead National Historical Park.
2021 Events Calendar
Homestead National Historical Park's 2021 Events Calendar has been published! If you're looking for something fun to do, look no further! The calendar, detailed below, can be accessed from the park website at as well. Be sure to check it out for updates and new events.

Remember, admission to programs, events, exhibits, and displays is always free!

2021 Theme: Finding Your Roots at Homestead National Historical Park

Special Exhibits at the Education Center:

January 6 - February 28: Oklahoma's All-Black Towns
March 1 - April 30: Art in the Park
May 1 - June 30: Nebraska Roots
July 1 - August 30: Copiah County Truck Farming
September 1 - November 30: Judy Thompson's Homestead Series
November 28 - January 6: Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures


Homestead National Historical Park's Annual Film Festival will not be taking place in 2021 but will be resumed in 2022.


21 Sunday 2:00 p.m. Black History Month Program - Dr. Fay Yarbrough, Rice University


14 Sunday 2:00 p.m. Women's History Month Program - Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History - Lyn Messersmith and Deb Carpenter-Nolting

19 Friday All Day Homestead National Historical Park Turns 85 - Join us as we celebrate our 85th anniversary on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram


17-25 Sat-Sun TBA National Park Week

17 Saturday 2:00 p.m. Ranger Led Junior Ranger Program


8 & 9 Fri-Sat 8:00 a.m. Birds Walk - Jesse Bolli - Natural Resource Specialist at Homestead National Historical Park

15 Saturday 7:00 a.m. Homestead Critter Count - BioBlitz

30 Saturday 10:00 a.m. Tallgrass Prairie Fiddle Festival - Free Workshop

30 Saturday 12:00 p.m. Tallgrass Prairie Fiddle Festival - Competition


4 & 5 - Fri-Sat 8:00 a.m. Bird Walk - Jesse Bolli - Natural Resource Specialist

13 Sunday 2:00 p.m. Homesteading Authors: Expert Panel - learn about famous Homesteading authors: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Willa Cather, and more

25-27 Fri-Sun TBA Homestead Days - Music, living history, farming demonstrations


4 Sunday 7:00 p.m. July 4th Heritage Campfire Program - Jonathan Fairchild, Historian at Homestead National Historical Park

10 Saturday 10:00 a.m. - Kids in Park Program

10 Saturday 7:00 p.m. - Heritage Campfire Program - Gary Zabortsky - One Room Schools and the Legacy of the Homestead Act. David Marsh - Music of the Germanic Lands

17 Saturday 10:00 a.m. - Kids in Park Program

17 Saturday 7:00 p.m. - Heritage Campfire Program - Jerry Johnson, Sutton Historical Society - Sutton, Nebraska's Homesteading History

24 Saturday 10:00 a.m. - Kids in Park Program

24 Saturday 7:00 p.m. - Heritage Campfire Program - Homestead National Historical Park Intern - Mussels of Cub Creek

31 Saturday 10:00 a.m. - Kids in Park Program

31 Saturday 7:00 p.m. - Heritage Campfire Program - Dr. Stephen Sylvester - Lewis and Clark: The Corps of Discovery


7 Saturday 10:00 a.m. - Kids in Parks Program

7 Saturday 7:00 p.m. - Heritage Campfire Program - Beth Sparrow - Beginning Genealogy Research


4 Saturday 10-4 Living History Extravaganza

5 Sunday 10:00 a.m. Cars of the Homestead Era: 1900-1980s Car Show

6 Monday 10:00 a.m. Old Fashioned Spelling Bee at the Freeman School

25 Saturday TBA Public Lands Day Volunteer Project


10 Sunday 2:00 p.m. Researching Your Family History - Bob King, Bureau of Land Management

30 Saturday 6:00 p.m. Howling Homestead


7 Sunday 2:00 p.m. American Indian Heritage Month Program - Special Speaker

28 Sunday 2:00 p.m. - Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures - Special Speaker

5 Sunday 2:00 p.m. Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures - Special Speaker

12 Sunday 2:00 p.m. Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures - Special Speaker

Homestead National Historical Park would like to acknowledge and thank our many partners, volunteers, and the community for their support in making these programs and events possible, including the Friends of Homestead, the Hevelone Foundation, the Coffin Family Foundation, Humanities Nebraska, the Nebraska Arts Council, America's National Parks, and others.
New Exhibit in the Education Center: All-Black Towns of Oklahoma!
Image of a pop-up exhibit in the Homestead Education Center. Text reads: "Oklahoma - An All-Black State?". Image of a man, and a map of the state of Oklahoma.

Homestead National Historical Park is pleased to host an exhibit titled “All-Black Towns of Oklahoma.” The exhibit will run from January 7th through March 1st in the Homestead Education Center, courtesy of the Oklahoma History Center. After the famous Oklahoma Land Rush opened up Oklahoma to homesteading settlement, African-Americans hoped to make these lands a home for Blacks looking to escape oppression elsewhere in the United States. Oklahoma was promoted as a place to realize the American dream and achieve self-government.

We are thrilled to have the opportunity to host “All-Black Towns of Oklahoma,” and hope our visitors enjoy learning more about the important history of African-Americans in Oklahoma, and the role that Black homesteaders had in the creation of many of these towns.

Want to learn more about the connection between African-American history and the Homestead Act? Come celebrate Black History Month with Homestead. Visit the park to see the exhibit in person. Check out the park website at to learn more about the research that the park has been doing in recent years on Black Homesteaders across the Great Plains, in partnership with the Center for Great Plains Studies. And stay tuned for an upcoming announcement about a special speaker joining Homestead for a program on Black History in February.

Jesse's Jottings - Fire Management Plan
Image of a firefighter conducting a prescribed burn on the prairie at Homestead.
The winter months in my calendar means that it is time for planning. We are currently working on a Fire Management Plan and its associated Environmental Assessment. This plan will guide the park use of prescribed fire and response to wildland fire for the next decade and beyond. The biggest change with this updated Fire Management Plan is that prescribed fire will be used in the woodland.  

Using prescribed fire in the woodland is necessary to ensure that the oak woodland can persist. The main goals of using fire in the woodland will be to protect the current native biodiversity while striving to increase biological diversity.  

The public is invited to review the Fire Management Plan and its associated environmental assessment from January 20, 2021 through February 21, 2021.  It can be found at:

If you are unable to access the online version, please call the park at 402-223-3514 and we will be able to help you gain access to a hard copy of the documents.  It is preferred to receive comments through the website referenced above, however we will gladly accept written comments dropped off at the monument or sent to Homestead National Historical Park, 8523 West State Hwy 4, Beatrice, NE 68310 or you can call 402-223-3514.  

It is important to hear from you regarding how you feel we as the National Park Service are doing in managing your public lands.

Remembering the Children's Blizzard of 1888
Image of the Freeman School, a red brick one-room schoolhouse. There is snow on the ground, and falling from the sky.
On January 12, 1888, the Children's Blizzard descended on the unsuspecting American Midwest. Due to the Homestead Act, much of this area was settled by 160 acre homesteads, with many rural one-room schoolhouses. The day started mild, but by the time school was ready to be dismissed there were white-out conditions, blistering winds, and devastating cold.

School teachers, often no older than 16, had to make the harrowing decision whether their students were better served staying in the school where resources like food and kindling for fire were limited, or sending them out in the blizzard towards their homes. 235 people died on the Great Plains that day, most of them were children, searing the name Children's Blizzard/Schoolhouse Blizzard into the minds of those who survived it and into the history books.

Many heroes came out of the storm, the most famous of which was Minnie Freeman. Freeman was a teacher in central Nebraska (Valley County, Nebraska) whose schoolhouse had its roof torn from the building by the strength of the storm, exposing her and her thirteen students to the blizzard.

She is said to have tied everyone together with rope or twine to keep them from being separated in the blinding snow, and then successfully guided her students through the storm to safety. Her heroism drew national attention, and she even had a song written about her -- "Song of the Great Blizzard 1888, Thirteen Were Saved or Nebraska's Fearless Maid."

Estimates from the storm usually put the death toll at between 200 and 300 people, mostly children, and the event helped lead to the transfer of weather tracking responsibilities from the Department of War to the Department of Agriculture with the creation of the United States Weather Bureau in 1890.

No method of prediction is perfect, but modern meteorology is a scientific art that helps the public know and prepare for inclement weather. Their warnings give communities the opportunities to prepare the roads, and close schools and businesses. Due to their efforts, warm weather in the morning does not deceive the public when bad weather looms. Today as we remember this horrific tragedy, may we reflect on our gratitude to those who devote their careers to warning us of impending inclement weather.

Learn more about how homesteaders observed the weather at our website: The Power of Observation - Homesteaders and WeathervU
Image of BLM Archeologist Bob King. Text reads: Did You Know? Homesteading with Bob King.
Did You Know?
Bob King

The Story of the Roe Family: Three Generations of Homesteaders

In recent columns, I have mentioned cases of two generations of homesteaders in the same family. That even happened in my own family. But it made me wonder if there were cases of three generations of homesteaders in the same family (parent, child, and grandchild). Though uncommon, there were indeed such cases!

To follow is the story of the Roe family of Nebraska. It uses records found in, Find A Grave,, the Bureau of Land Management’s online database of General Land Office records, and the Homestead casefiles of the three generations of Roe family homesteaders. Their records are in the National Archives and online through

1st generation Roe family homesteader: Henry Roe (1834-1908)

Nebraska homesteading for the Roe family began with Henry Roe. He was born June 28, 1834 in County Kilkenny Ireland. In 1850, at age 16, he immigrated to Canada, settling in the province of Ontario. There he married about 1855 to Mary Duke (1835-1862). Of their three children, only their son David Roe (1860-1938) survived to adulthood.

As a young widower, Henry Roe remarried on May 12, 1863 at age 28. His second wife was Mary Ann McCracken (1844-1933), a native of Ontario. Their first five children were born in Canada, but their last two were born in Howard County in central Nebraska, where the family settled in mid-1872.

Like many immigrant families, the Roes were probably drawn to the United States by stories of rich farmland that could be gotten for “free” by homesteading. Soon after arriving, Henry filed for a 160-acre homestead in Howard County, Nebraska, which he received on September 10, 1880. His homestead casefile in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. includes his statement that he first settled on the land on October 1, 1872 and began construction of his 24’ by 26’ pine-frame house the next month. It would include 8 rooms, 11 windows, and 8 doors.

In proving up his homestead claim on October 31, 1879, Henry supplied a copy of his naturalization certificate showing that he had become a citizen of the United States on November 20, 1877. He also told that he dug a well, built a stable and granary, and had “broken” 60 acres of land upon which he had grown wheat, corn, oats, and other crops.

Around the time that Henry Roe established his homestead claim in the fall of 1872, he also acquired rights to two other nearby 160-acre tracts of federal land. One adjoined his homestead. On July 25, 1873, Henry Roe received this adjoining tract of land from the federal government. He was able to get title to it by purchasing scrip issued by the federal government to the State of Virginia under the July 2, 1862 Morrill Land Grant Act.

This law, passed less than two months after the Homestead Act, provided federal land to states and territories for the creation of colleges that would benefit agriculture and mechanical arts. For states like Virginia, with no federal land within their borders, they sold their land vouchers (scrip) to benefit their existing colleges. Private land agents and speculators frequently purchased such “college scrip,” and then resold it to individuals, like Henry Roe, for a profit.

The price paid by Henry Roe for his scrip is unknown, but a guess is around $1.25 per acre. That was the usual price for federal land if Henry Roe had instead just bought directly from the United States government. However, the benefit of buying and using scrip to acquire land was that it could be presented to any United States Land Office and redeemed immediately to establish rights to available land under the jurisdiction of that land office.

Henry Roe also filed a third claim in the 1870s for another 160 acres near his homestead. He did it under the Timber Culture Act of March 3, 1873. Under its original terms, Henry was obligated to plant at least 10 acres in trees, though in 1874 the law was amended to require 40 acres of trees on a 160-acre claim. The 1874 amendment also required the trees to remain living for at least eight years prior to proving up. Henry would keep farming his land in Howard County until his death on February 11, 1908, at age 73, with his widow Mary Ann surviving to age 98 before her death on January 20, 1933. By that time, Henry Roe’s oldest son, David Roe (1860-1938), was already well-established on his own homestead a few miles away.

2nd generation Roe family homesteader: David Roe (1860-1938)

David Roe was born December 17, 1860 in Grey Township in Huron County, Ontario, Canada, a son of Henry and his first wife Mary Duke. David was about 12 years old when he immigrated to Howard County, Nebraska with his father and stepmother and their growing family.

David grew up on his father’s homestead, with unclaimed federal land in the same township where they lived still available for homesteading. As soon as possible, David would claim some of this land – and he did it as a teenager, as the head of a household, thus not needing to wait until he was 21 years old to enter a homestead claim as required by the 1862 Homestead Act.

On August 17, 1880, David married at age 19, in Howard County, Nebraska to Eliza Ella Dodd (1863-1956), then age 17. She had also been born in Ontario, Canada. Her father, James Francis Dodd (1832-1915) immigrated with his family to Howard County in the 1870s, where he homesteaded land adjoining Henry Roe. David Roe filed for a 160-acre homestead located less than 10 miles south of both his father’s and father-in-law’s homesteads.

David’s casefile in the National Archives reported that he first settled on his homestead in September of 1880, the month after he married. He then formally filed for the land at the Grand Island, Nebraska U.S. Land Office on February 24, 1881. His casefile also included a copy of his naturalization certificate. It documented that he gained United States citizenship on February 7, 1890. Unlike his father, who was still a citizen of his birth-country of Ireland when arriving in Nebraska, David was a citizen of Canada for having been born there in 1860.

David Roe reported having built a 16’ by 21’ frame house with 3 rooms, 3 doors, and 3 windows. He also stated that he had constructed a stable, granary, frame cattle shed, and well. Further, he had “broken” around 100 acres of land on which he had raised corn, wheat, oats, barley, and vegetables. He received his homestead on June 5, 1890.

David and his wife Eliza (Dodd) Roe remained on their Howard County Nebraska homestead where they would celebrate over 57 years of marriage prior to David’s death on August 26, 1938. His wife survived until August 9, 1956. They had 13 children with 11 surviving past 1910. Their oldest son was James Henry Roe (1883-1969), and he, too, would become a Nebraska homesteader – the only one of his 12 siblings to homestead and the third generation of the Roe family to homestead.

3rd generation Roe family homesteader: James Henry Roe (1883-1969)

James Henry Roe (1883-1969) was born January 16, 1883 in Howard County, Nebraska.
James never married. In his mid-20s, around 1908, James moved to sparsely settled western Nebraska, taking out a homestead claim in Morrill County. It was hilly, drier part of Nebraska where the 1904 Kinkaid Act allowed homesteads up to 640 acres in size. This was an area where that much land (or more) was needed to make a living at farming and ranching.

On November 4, 1913, James H. Roe received his 634.83-acre homestead in Morrill County, Nebraska. Yet despite receiving his large homestead (nearly a square mile of land), James apparently was interested to acquire even more land in Morrill County, Nebraska.

On June 1, 1916, a notice in The Alliance Herald newspaper of nearby Alliance, Nebraska, which was the location of the U.S. Land Office, told that James H. Roe had applied to purchase certain additional federal land. It was land near his homestead described as an “isolated tract.”

However, instead of just selling the land to him, the Land Office in Alliance offered the tract at public auction on July 18, 1916. The minimum bid allowed was $3 per acre, which, at that time, may have been a relatively high price for the quality of the land involved. James Roe did not acquire the land and might not have even bid on it.

On September 18, 1918, when James registered for the draft in World War I, he listed himself as a “ranch owner.” Apparently, he was never called up to serve in the war that ended less than two months later. Occasionally, James made trips back to Howard County, Nebraska, over 250 miles to the east, to visit family and friends. In his last years, he returned to Howard County, and died there on July 15, 1969 at Dannebrog, Nebraska. He was buried in the Canada Hill Methodist Episcopal Cemetery in Howard County, Nebraska. Near his grave are ones for his homesteading parents, his homesteading grandfather, and other relatives.

Truly, homesteading shaped the lives of the Roe family for many decades over three generations. It would be very interesting to learn from any readers if they know of other cases of three generations -- and possibly even four generations -- of the same family homesteading (as parent, child, grandchild, and even great-grandchild).

If there were such cases of four-generation family homesteaders, my guess is that the fourth generation either homesteaded in Alaska in the mid-to-late 20th century or claimed a post-World War II “Reclamation Act” homestead in the “Lower 48” states. (Readers may recall that I wrote about one such post-World War II “Reclamation Act” homesteader in southern Idaho.)

In all, multigenerational homesteading, as well as homesteading by spouses, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, in-laws, and other relatives, appears to have occurred often. I have conducted detailed studies of nearly 140 homesteaders in a random sample involving 27 states from the late 1860s to the 1950s. Of those, I have found that at least 31 had relatives who also homesteaded (22%), with 16 of those 31 being parent-child relatives (11%). While the Roe family example is the first 3-generation homesteading family (0.7%) I have studied, I suspect there were others. Whether these percentages for “homesteading relatives” from my small sample would hold up for the estimated 1.6 million total number of homesteaders in the United States is unknown, but they might not be far off and would be worthy of further study.

Today, family connections for most people remain very important for influencing what they do. The same was certainly true in the past including during America’s Homestead Era of the 1860s-1980s. Thus, understanding those relationships may help us better explain why, when, how, and by whom certain areas of the country were homesteaded. The result could be a more complete understanding of how homesteading really happened in the United States.
The Monitor Vaneless: A Windmill Named for an Ironclad
Monitor Vaneless Windmill - Heritage Center
Many who claimed land under the Homestead Act settled in harsh environments where they had to adapt and innovate in order to survive. Homesteader ingenuity was responsible for many new inventions or improvements on older ideas. The latter was the case with windmills on the Great Plains.

The windmill at the Homestead Heritage Center is a 10-foot Monitor Vaneless windmill. This particular windmill has been part of Homestead's museum collection for many years - it was previously displayed at the Education Center. It was donated to Homestead National Historical Park by John Whittler of DeWitt, Nebraska, in the early 1960s. The head of the windmill is original; the tower was constructed in 2007 as part of the current display.

Invented in medieval Europe, windmills first appeared in the present-day U.S. in the 17th century. The Monitor Vaneless was the first windmill sold by the Baker Manufacturing Company of Evansville, Wisconsin, and was named for the famous Civil War ironclad ship the USS Monitor. The company produced the first Monitor Vaneless in 1875, and was producing up to 70 windmills a month by the end of the decade.

The Monitor Vaneless was manufactured in 10-foot and 12-foot models. The 10-foot "Model L" had six sections; the 12-foot "Model M" had eight sections. They are easily identified by their distinctively shaped counterweights, rocker arm ironwork, and two large coiled governor springs at the wheel hub. Though the Baker Manufacturing Company remains in existence, the last wooden Monitor Vaneless windmills were produced in the early 1940s.

Water was a critical resource to homesteaders - it was needed to cook, bathe, drink, water crops and animals, wash clothes, and more. In many homesteading areas, however, there were no creeks or rivers close by the homestead. Windmills made the task of acquiring water much easier by taking advantage of the gusting winds so common on the Great Plains. Windmills were often among a homesteaders' most prized possessions and are prominent in many photographs of homesteading families. Today, windmills remain a common sight in many parts of the Plains.
Image of a social distancing infographic. Text reads: Keep Your Social Distance. Keep Wildlife Wild. Keep six feet of social distance between yourself and others, and 300 feet of distance between yourself and wild animals.