News from the Homestead
March 2021

Spring is just around the corner at Homestead National Historical Park! Join us this March as we celebrate Women's History Month, with a program on March 14th entitled "Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History." It's a special year for the park, as we celebrate our 85th birthday on March 19th. If you come out to celebrate and visit in person, don't forget to check out the new Art in the Park exhibit on display in the Education Center through April.

We hope you will join us for one or all of our wonderful upcoming events. To learn more, read on, or visit our website at


Mark Engler, Superintendent
Upcoming Events and Exhibits
March - April: Art in the Parks Exhibit (Education Center)

Sunday, March 14th, 2:00 p.m. - Women's History Month program: "Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History" with Lyn Messersmith and Deb Carpenter-Nolting.

Friday, March 19th - Homestead's 85th Birthday!

Wednesday, March 24th, 8:00 p.m. - "Free Land for Free Men" : The Civil War and the Homestead Act with Jonathan Fairchild, courtesy of the Friends of Pecos National Historical Park
Celebrate Women's History Month with Homestead National Historical Park
Homestead National Historical Park will host a special presentation entitled “Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History,” courtesy of Lyn Messersmith and Deb Carpenter-Nolting, in honor of Women’s History Month. Messersmith and Carpenter-Nolting will share stories, songs, and poems about women who left their mark on American history. The program will highlight women such as Mari Sandoz, one of Nebraska’s most famous authors who wrote about the gritty reality of life in the west; Tad Lucas, a Nebraska cowgirl from the sandhills who was a competitive trick rider, winning the event eight consecutive times; Pearl Hart, a stagecoach robber in Arizona; and others.

The program will take place on YouTubeLive and be shared on Facebook on Sunday, March 14th, at 2:00 p.m. Our Facebook page can be located by visiting
“We are excited to have the opportunity to host Lyn Messersmith and Deb Carpenter-Nolting and their program “Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History” and hope our visitors enjoy learning more about these fascinating stories of women in American history,” said Superintendent Mark Engler. Women homesteaders made up approximately 10% of the total number of homesteads, especially after 1900. Women were among the very first, and the very last homesteaders, and their efforts helped give women the vote across the country. There were as many as 160,000 women who received homesteads in their own name, and hundreds of thousands more who participated in the epic history of homesteading.

Want to learn more about the connection between women’s history and the Homestead Act? Check out the park website at to learn more about the research that the park has been doing in recent years on women homesteaders across the country. 
Happy 85th Birthday to Homestead!
Black and white image of historic Homestead National Monument wooden sign.
Black and White image of Homestead Education Center from the early 60s. Several classic cars are in the parking lot.
Homestead National Historical Park was first authorized by Congress as Homestead National Monument of America. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the legislation creating the park into law on March 19th, 1936. We're excited to celebrate our 85th birthday this month! But there was a lot of hard work that went in to creating the park - the culmination of decades of effort by local citizens, Nebraska's Congressional delegation, and even the actions of the first homesteader, Daniel Freeman.

Daniel's claim was recognized and spread by Galusha Grow, who was the Speaker of the House of Representatives when the Homestead Act was actually signed in to law in 1862. According to Hugh Jackson Dobbs' History of Gage County, Grow gave a speech noting "There are two interesting incidents connected with the final passage of the original free homestead bill. First, it took effect on the day of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Second, the first settler under the homestead bill, which provided free homes for free men, was named Freeman. Daniel Freeman, of Gage County, Nebraska, was a Union Solider... his entry was number one, his proof of residence was number one, his patent was number one, recorded on page one of book one of the land office of the United States. The first settler under the law was a Freeman, and I trust that the last of its beneficiaries in the long coming years of the future will be a free man."

Freeman suggested the possibility of a monument at his homestead as early as 1884, around the same time that a similar movement sought to construct a monument to homesteading in Mitchell, South Dakota. After the passing of Daniel Freeman in 1908, local leaders in Beatrice, with the support of Agnes Freeman, sought out a way to memorialize the historic significance of Freeman's "First Homestead." The following year, Congressman Edmund Hinshaw of Nebraska proposed a bill to purchase the Freeman homestead to create a park, though nothing came of the bill at that point.

In the 1920s, another wave of activity sought to create a park dedicated to Daniel Freeman's homestead, and homesteading's impact on American history. The Elizabeth Montague chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a monument on the site in 1925. In 1927, the Beatrice Daily Sun called for the Freeman homestead to "be converted into a park and thereby become a perpetual memorial to the homesteaders whose courage and industry founded our great commonwealth." Former Nebraska Governor Adam McMullen supported the creation of a state or national park. In 1929, Representative Charles Sloan introduced a bill in Congress calling for $50,000 in funds to be appropriated to purchase the Freeman homestead and establish a national park.

In 1934, the Homestead National Park Association was organized and established, and promoted the cause to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's new administration. Nebraska Senator Norris, Representative Henry Luckey, and Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace were particularly interested. Norris and Luckey introduced bills into Congress to create Homestead National Monument of America. The bill was passed by Congress in early 1936, and sent to President Roosevelt, who signed it into law on March 19th, 1936.

Happy Birthday, Homestead!

Art in the Park: Homestead Through the Eyes of Artists-in-Residence now on Exhibit
Image of several different art pieces hanging on exhibit in the Education Center.
Art In the Park: Homestead Through the Eyes of Artists-in-Residence is now on exhibit in the Education Center through April 2021. The epic history of homesteading in the United States is a grand, massive story covering more than 120 years, 30 states, and millions of lives. Sometimes it can feel almost too big to comprehend! This exhibit uses art to help convey the story through its powerful scenes, personal stories, and themes.

Art evokes emotions, captures moments, preserves memories. Artists have been tied to national parks since the 1800s, when painters such as Thomas Moran captured the scenic beauty of the American West. Artists and their work helped drive the establishment, visitation, and appreciation of national parks.

Artists continue to find inspiration in our national parks. Come visit the Education Center to check out what Homestead's Artists-in-Residence have created over the years, inspired by the homestead story and the tallgrass prairie. The exhibit features a wide range of media, including sculptures, paintings, even a quilt, musical compositions and more.

The exhibit runs through April, so don't miss your chance to view these beautiful and unique pieces!
Image of several different art pieces hanging on exhibit in the Education Center.
Introducing Homestead's Newest Staff Member: Molly Langfels
Molly Langfels, park guide, stands by the wall of the Homestead Education Center.
Introducing Homestead's newest staff member, Park Guide Molly Langfels. Molly was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, where she is a student at DePaul University. She is a Junior majoring in History and double minoring in Spanish and Urban Planning. Molly spent some time in 2019 teaching English in Madrid, Spain.

Molly is brand new to the National Park Service, joining Homestead through the Pathways program, an internship program that offers current students and recent graduates paid internships to explore federal career opportunities. Molly shared that her family travels often, especially summer road trips. During those trips, the family counts all the states and National Parks they visit. When she was looking for a job with the National Park Service, she found the Homestead Park Guide Pathways position, and the rest is history.

When asked what she thinks so far, she said "I love it! I love what we do here, and everyone is so nice. I look forward to creating content for social media, and on researching for new primary source documents to help tell the story of the Homestead Act."

In her free time, she enjoys biking, knitting, and baking. Molly also shared that she loves being outside and spending time in nature. Next time you're out on the trails, you might see Ranger Molly out for a walk.

Welcome to Homestead!

Did You Know? Homesteading with Bob King. Image of Bureau of Land Management Archeologist Bob King.
Remembering Elizabeth M. Smith, America's Last Woman Homesteader

On November 28, 2020, Elizabeth Marie Smith, America’s last woman to receive a homestead under the 1862 Homestead Act, peacefully passed away at age 93 near Delta Junction, Alaska. She was surrounded by loving family members who had cared for her during her last several months of illness. She left behind five children and their spouses plus 11 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren. She is missed not only by her family and numerous friends in Alaska and elsewhere, but also by many other people including those she had met at the Homestead National Historical Park. We all felt privileged to have known her, even if only for a short time.
On May 20, 2012, Elizabeth and her son Bill Smith, also a homesteader, were both honored at Homestead National Historical Park (then called Homestead National Monument of America). They were there for the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Homestead Act being signed into law on May 20, 1862 by President Lincoln. It was a very special day for Elizabeth and her son Bill, but one that they never would have predicted. What led them to their being at the Park in 2012 began on May 3, 2011.
That day I telephoned Bill Smith, trying to learn if he might know of an Elizabeth M. Smith. I had just completed research to identify her as the last woman homesteader in America, but I didn’t know what had become of her. Records of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that I found showed that she had received her homestead patent on October 18, 1984 for 116.32 acres of land near Delta Junction, Alaska. Only 15 more homestead patents -- all in Alaska and all to men -- were issued after hers, with the very last one being to Ken Deardorff on May 5, 1988. 
I called Bill Smith simply because of his last name “Smith” and because he was living near where Elizabeth had gotten her homestead. I was surprised and delighted that he not only knew her but was her son! Our call lasted nearly an hour and the information he kindly shared with me about his and his mother’s homesteading experiences was fascinating. I took several pages of notes.
A week later I had the fun of talking with his delightful mother Elizabeth Smith, and following that, I had the pleasure of visiting the family in person on June 23, 2011. I drove to the home of Bill Smith and his wife Sherry near Delta Junction for a wonderful visit. Elizabeth and Bill shared more stories and I took many notes.
Being a long-time employee of the BLM since 1981, I personally knew some of the people involved with the Elizabeth and Bill Smith “proving up” on their two individual homesteads. That included my being a friend of the now-retired federal examiner who went with them to their homestead claims to verify that all requirements had been met. 
Additionally, I knew the BLM official, also now retired, who signed both their land patents in 1984. (And there is an interesting side story about that: Until the 1950s, all homesteads were signed by specially authorized secretaries for the President of the United States who could legally sign his name. But by the time that Elizabeth and Bill got their homesteads, it had been delegated in Alaska to an official in BLM’s Lands Branch in the BLM Alaska State Office in Anchorage where I still work.)
Elizabeth Smith and her son Bill were among a group of 10 people to establish adjoining homestead claims in Alaska beginning in the spring of 1973. They all worked cooperatively to help each other when needed, including sharing farm equipment. They all homesteaded in a relatively small area northwest of Big Delta, Alaska, which is about 15 miles north of Delta Junction Alaska, the town at the juncture of Alaska (“Alcan”) and Richardson Highways. 
The area where the 10 homesteads were located was relatively close to the Richardson Highway that proceeds north to Fairbanks, around 90 miles away. But it was not directly accessible to the road as it lay west of the highway with the Delta River flowing between the homesteads and the highway. In the summer, access was by boat and in the winter by crossing the frozen river. 
It was thus a relatively remote area but one of the very few places where anyone could homestead in Alaska at that time. Opportunities for homesteading on federal land in Alaska were already quite limited after 1971-72, with large amounts of land formerly available for homesteading withdrawn from homestead entry to allow the State of Alaska and Alaska Natives to obtain their land claims entitlements under separate land settlement laws passed for Alaska. 
Thus, after the early 1970s, due to the scarcity of land open for homesteading, very few agricultural homesteads were even applied for in Alaska despite the official final application date of October 20, 1986 for such claims. And by the mid-1980s, no areas in Alaska were "open" to claims for farming-type homesteads authorized under the 1862 Homestead Act, as extended to Alaska in 1898. 
As for the Smiths and the eight others who homesteaded as a group in the very last area possible for homesteading in that part of Alaska by 1973, most or all had been living in the Delta Junction area and heard by word of mouth about this one nearby area where homesteading was still possible. They all began their claims in the spring of 1973, then put in corner markers in the winter of 1973. All filed their claims with the BLM and ended up with an official application date recoded as January 25, 1974. 
All ten got their homesteads in 1984, which itself was no small achievement and maybe also a record - this was the last group of people in America to file at the same time as a group for adjacent homesteads. It was a tradition that can be seen with many groups of immigrants who left Europe staying together and then filing for adjacent homesteads such as groups of Russians or Scandinavians settling together in the Dakotas or Montana in the late 1800s or early 1900s.
Today, of all these ten Alaskan “last-group homesteaders,” Bill Smith is the only one to still own any of the original ten homesteads, though his mother, Elizabeth, also owned hers until her death. While neither Bill nor Elizabeth lived on their homesteads in later years, Bill in the 2010s purchased part of one of the other homesteads. 
At the time that the group of ten homesteaders filed for the land, two were teenagers, including Bill, but both were over age 21 when they got their homestead patents in 1984. Consequently, Bill Smith has the distinction today of being the youngest homesteader in America still owning his original homestead. And until the passing of his mother Elizabeth Smith on November 28, 2020, they were the last pair of two-generation homesteaders still alive in the United States.
Elizabeth Smith's Alaska Homestead, May 31, 1978. Left to Right: Windy White, Bill Smith, Elizabeth Smith, Deborah Smith
Elizabeth Smith's Homestead, May 31, 1978. Left to Right: Windy White, Bill Smith, Elizabeth Smith, Deborah Smith
To tell more about Elizabeth Smith, is to tell the story of a very strong and caring lady. She was born May 29, 1927 at Eddyville, Nebraska, as Elizabeth Marie Clouse, the fourth of eight children of Reuben and Catherine (Neville) Clouse. She was reared in a Catholic home, which would help shape her destiny and bring her to Alaska where she would later homestead. To family and friends, she was also known as “Betty.”
In early 1945, before World War II ended, she had already earned all her credits to graduate from high school in Nebraska, so finished early and went into a cadet nursing program in Chicago. At that time, there was still great need for nurses as World War II had not yet ended. By 1948, she had become a Registered Nurse, and in May 1950, she came to Alaska to take a nursing position at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Fairbanks. She was hired as the supervisor for the second floor. She was within a few days of turning 23 years old at the time.

Soon after arriving, one of the patients who ended up in her care was Arthur E. “Art” Smith, a World War II veteran. He had sustained two broken legs and a broken hip in a plane crash. After being released from the hospital, he showed up at Elizabeth’s boarding house to invite her to breakfast. And as her family later wrote: “History was made.”

It was Probert who first learned of the area northwest of Big Delta that was open to homesteading. From my research, I have since discovered that it likely was a mistake that that area was still available for homesteading in 1973. All federal land around it had been withdrawn from entry earlier by homesteaders to allow for State and Native land selections.

But the one area Probert learned about was indeed legally open in 1973 for homesteading, so Probert spread the word to other locals including his employee, Elizabeth Smith. Consequently, she and her son Bill became two of the group of ten homesteaders who soon claimed the available land, with three others, besides Bill, still living today.

Elizabeth’s family posted a loving obituary for her in the December 24, 2020 issue of the Daily News-Miner newspaper of Fairbanks, Alaska. It also appeared that same day in the Delta Wind newspaper of Delta Junction, Alaska. It told that Elizabeth also became involved with food service work for a time, and that she, too, sustained a broken leg some years ago. But as an always strong and determined person, she recovered from it with no complaints.

Additionally, her family wrote that she was involved in many organizations over the years including the American Heart Association, Ladies Community Club, Farmer’s Co-op, Delta Homemakers, American Nursing Associations, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, among others.
Her family also noted that she was also quite passionate about preserving history and was a member of the Alaska Aeronautical History Society, probably connected to her husband having operated a flight service in Alaska for many years as well as doing mining and other work.

When Elizabeth discovered in 2011 that she, herself, was a special figure in American history for her distinction as being America’s last woman homesteader, she was very generous and gracious to share her story. Besides that discovery leading to her May 20, 2012 visit to the Homestead National Historical Park for the event described at the beginning of this article, it also led to another special time in Anchorage, Alaska a few weeks later. 
On July 4, 2012, Elizabeth Smith and her son Bill and his wife Sherry were all honored in Anchorage’s special annual parade. That year, at BLM’s suggestion, the parade highlighted the importance of homesteading in Alaska and celebrated the state’s surviving homesteaders and their families. 

It was a day-long gala event with the Smiths and six other homesteaders riding in antique cars at the head of the parade. Later, they autographed BLM-designed special posters in a replica land office that BLM set up in a tent located in a city park that is within two blocks of where I work in the federal building in downtown Anchorage. As a delightful memory of that day, a picture was made of the homesteaders, and I was honored to be asked to join them.

The event’s climax included Alaskan U.S. Senator Mark Begich presenting to the homesteaders special plaques that BLM had created for the occasion. In all, it was a most memorable day not only for the Smiths and other homesteaders, but also for those of us at the BLM who had planned the event.

I want to thank Elizabeth Smith’s family, especially Bill and his sister Rose (Smith) Edgren, for their wonderful help in supplying information about their mother (and Bill also about himself). That includes their writing Elizabeth Smith’s December 24, 2020 obituary that can be found online. I included certain information from it in this, my own special tribute and fond memory of Elizabeth M. Smith, America’s last woman homesteader.  
The Freeman School Through the Years
Historic image of the Freeman School in the early 1900s, with a teacher and her class standing in front of the building.
Historic image of the Freeman School in the early 1900s, with a teacher and her class standing in front of the building.
Historic image of the Freeman School and playground in the mid-1900s.
Historic image of the Freeman School and playground in the mid-1900s.
The Freeman School stands as a reminder of the role schoolhouses played on the prairie frontier. Officially known as School District 21, the Freeman School was a center for the education of children from 1872 to 1967. At that time, it was one of the oldest continuously operating schools in Nebraska. During its long history, the school served as a meeting place for the First Trinity Lutheran Church, a polling place for Blakely Township, and a gathering place for organizations and clubs. Many homesteaders saw their children baptized in the schoolhouse, heard friends eulogized there, and shared suppers with their neighbors at Saturday night socials.

Homesteaders placed a high value on education. One-room schoolhouses were often the first permanent structure built for a homesteader community. Unlike many of the more typical wood or even sod-walled schools found west of the Missouri River, the Freeman School was constructed of locally-baked brick. According to school records, Thomas Freeman, unrelated to first homesteader Daniel Freeman, was paid $100.15 “on account of Brick.” Furnishings were usually handmade, but the Freeman School was furnished with desks shipped all the way from Indiana.

Teachers were young, often younger than their oldest students. Salaries were meager, and many teachers collected a large portion of their wages in room and board. It was not uncommon for a teacher to rotate from one prairie community to another to be housed and fed. Books were precious. Many students had to supply their own texts. Different editions and different titles added to a teacher’s woes. In 1881, the Freeman School provided textbooks for its students, well before schools were required to by the Nebraska legislature.
After closing in 1967, the school was donated to the National Park Service in 1970. Work began at that time to restore the building to its present appearance – much the same as when pioneer children attended school in the 1800s. Behind the school you will see a native tallgrass prairie – this area was never plowed, and served as a playground for the school for many years. You may visit the Freeman School and grounds at any time, just ask a ranger at the Education Center or Heritage Center during your visit.
Interested in Volunteering at Homestead?
Homestead National Historical Park has the honor and the privilege to remember and share the significance of the Homestead Act of 1862. Our amazing volunteers help us research and share the homestead story. Thanks to digital technology, volunteers can help out from anywhere in the country. Homestead National Historic Park has multiple volunteer opportunities that can be accomplished remotely with a word processor and an internet connection.

These opportunities include working with the Black Homesteading Project team: either transcribing historic documents into typed texts, or researching homesteaders to create profiles to be used on the park website. Are you interested in helping tell America's epic homesteading story, and learning more about the millions of people with millions of stories to share?

To find out more about remote opportunities at Homestead National Historical Park visit:
"Free Land for Free Men" Program at Pecos National Historical Park
Image of Civil War Reenactors in a field.
Pecos National Historical Park, a unit of the National Park Service located in New Mexico, hosts a Civil War Encampment every year. This year, Homestead was invited to the virtual event to give a program.

On Wednesday, March 24th at 7:00 PM Mountain Time, join in for "Free Land for Free Men" : The Civil War and the Homestead Act of 1862. Park historian Jonathan Fairchild will explore the interconnected story of the Homestead Act of 1862 and the Civil War via a live Zoom program. He will share the events and legislation that led up to both the Civil War and the passage of the Homestead Act. The program will also examine the impact and legacy of that law for American veterans.

The event is hosted by the Friends of Pecos National Historical Park, and registration is required. To learn more about how you can register for this event, visit You can also contact via email or via phone at (505)757-7272.