News from the Homestead
May 2021

Happy birthday to the Homestead Act, which was signed 159 years ago on May 20th, 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln.

Homestead National Historical Park has been busy this Spring, welcoming thousands of schoolchildren to the park, both in-person and virtually. This month, we celebrate several exciting events. The National Park Service honors and celebrates Asian-American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The Tallgrass Prairie Fiddle Festival will take place Saturday, May 29th, with the competition starting at 12:00 P.M. A new art exhibit celebrating Nebraska Roots just debuted at the Education Center.

We hope that all of our visitors, colleagues, and friends enjoy a safe, healthy Spring season.


Mark Engler, Superintendent
Upcoming Events and Exhibits
May - June: Nebraska Roots, courtesy of Impact Art Nebraska. (Education Center)

Saturday, May 29th, 12:00 PM - Tallgrass Prairie Fiddle Festival (Education Center)
Celebrating Asian-American and Pacific Islander Homesteaders
May is Asian-American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders have a rich heritage and have shaped the history of the United States, as well as had their lives dramatically influenced by moments in American history.

The Homestead Act, which in many ways was an accommodating immigration law, has a complicated history in regards to Asian-American immigration. To claim a homestead, an individual had to be a citizen, or eligible to become a citizen. However, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many Asians were not eligible to become citizens. For example, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 effectively banned immigration and naturalization. But Asian immigrants and their children fought for their personal and civil rights. In 1898, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Wong Kim Ark that a person born in the United States to immigrant parents was a citizen at birth, meaning that second-generation Asian-Americans could become homesteaders.

John Yoshio Kobayashi was a Japanese-American man who was born in Idaho to Japanese immigrant parents in 1921. After graduating from high school, he served in the U.S. Army during World War II. Even in the face of racial prejudice, John served with valor in the 442nd Regimental Combat Unit. The 442nd was a famous unit composed almost entirely of second-generation American soldiers of Japanese ancestry ("Nisei"). The unit remains one of the most decorated in American military history, helping to win the war with their service in Europe. The Regiment was initially made up of 4,000 men, and had to be replaced nearly 2.5 times over. About 14,000 men served, earning almost 10,000 Purple Hearts, and 21 Medals of Honor. In July 1946, President Truman presented a Presidential Unit Citation to the 442nd, stating "You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice, and you have won."
Image of Japanese-American soldiers of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team at training.
After Kobayashi returned from the war, he married Sumiko Dorothy Yagi, who had very different experiences in the war. Born in Seattle to Japanese immigrant parents in 1920, the Yagi family operated a small grocery store. Within months after the United States declaring war on the Empire of Japan following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Yagi family, like thousands of Japanese-Americans, were forced to leave their homes and sent to the Minidoka Internment Camp in Idaho. The National Park Service now operates Minidoka National Historic Site to remember and tell the stories of the more than 100,000 Japanese Americans who were interned at such camps. You can learn more at Minidoka National Historic Site (U.S. National Park Service) (

Following the war, Kobayashi and Yagi married and moved to Riverton, Wyoming, where they homesteaded as part of the Riverton Reclamation Project, under the 1902 Newlands Reclamation Act. Reclamation homesteading began in the 1900s in areas where farming was impossible without extensive irrigation, which required federal money and planning to build the necessary expensive infrastructure. As a veteran, John received preference in the lottery drawing for the land, which he successfully proved up in 1952. However, due to a problem with the project, Kobayashi sold his homestead and instead relocated to the Minidoka Reclamation homestead project, once again receiving a patent in 1955.

We honor and remember the important contributions of Asian-Americans in forging the country we have today, including homesteader and veteran John Kobayashi.
Image of reconstructed guard tower at Minidoka National Historic Site. Wooden guard tower with a blue sky in the background.
Fiddle Festival Returns to Homestead National Historical Park!
2021 Tallgrass Prairie Fiddle Festival poster. Saturday May 29th, 2021 at Homestead National Historical Park Education Center. Image of fiddler, violin, and prairie.
The annual Tallgrass Prairie Fiddle Festival has been set for Saturday, May 29, 2021. The onsite activities will start with a jam session at 11:00 AM. The competition, with over $3,000 in award monies provided by the Coffin Family Foundation, will start at 12:00 PM. Registration for the competition will be from 9:00 AM-12:00 PM. The Tallgrass Prairie Fiddle Festival is the place to be for musicians and music enthusiasts of all ages. The event will be free of charge and held outside of the Homestead Education Center. The competition is dependent on weather, so please keep an eye on the park Facebook page and social media for any event updates.

The competition is geared towards all ability levels and will have a Junior division and Senior division. There will be a separate Legends division for those who have won the competition in the past. We will not be holding the acoustic band division this year. The day begins virtually with Debby Greenblatt teaching a free virtual workshop in the morning. Please email if you wish to attend the free workshop. Debby will be teaching three different tunes by ear.

It is a day for fiddlers of all ages and experience levels to come together much like they did when the first pioneers arrived in the 1800s and began settling the prairie. The sounds of fiddlers could often be heard at community gatherings signaling good health and prosperity.

An accompanist will be available for players. If you wish to take advantage of the accompanist, please bring a 2nd copy of your sheet music. The one rule which makes this competition unique is that all songs must have been in existence by 1936 when Homestead National Monument of America was established.

The day ends with the announcement of winners. The Friends of Homestead will present trophies to the top three finishers in the Junior, Senior, and Legends divisions. Since the start of the Festival, the Coffin Family Foundation has provided funding for the cash prizes. Leigh F. Coffin started the foundation to help support youth education. His son, Leigh M., said “the Tallgrass Prairie Fiddle Festival and Acoustic Band Contest fits into his father’s vision for the community.” Additional support for this event is provided by Humanities Nebraska and the Friends of Homestead.


There are 3 main Divisions of Competition

—Junior– for folks who have played less than 5 years.
—Senior– for folks who have played 5 years or more.
—Legends– for folks who have won 1st place in the Senior Division in previous years.

Each contestant in the 3 Divisions will play 1-3 songs from the following categories. Each song will be played twice. The time limit for each contest is 6 minutes. Contestants will lose points if they exceed the time limit.

—a Hoedown (upbeat danceable tune in two or four)
—a Waltz (danceable tune in three)
—a Tune of Choice (a tune other than a hoedown or a waltz, such as jigs, polkas, rags, blues, etc.)

Contestant will be judged on pitch, tone, rhythm, and presentation (showmanship, interpretation, flair, creativity, charisma, adherence to the rules, etc.).
Trophies and cash prizes will be awarded to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places in the Junior, Senior, and Legends Divisions.

Contestants in all divisions are encouraged to announce each tune and to give a one sentence explanation of its origin. All contest songs must have been in existence when the Homestead National Historical Park was established in 1936. All decisions of the judges are final.
Remembering Homesteaders Military Service and Sacrifice
Image of the Battle of Gettysburg courtesy of the Library of Congress. Image depicts Union and Confederate troops firing at each other on a battlefield.
Public Lands, Homesteading, and Memorial Day 

Memorial Day originated in the years after the Civil War, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the United States military. In honor of Memorial Day, the Bureau of Land Management teamed up with Homestead National Historical Park to remember those homesteaders whose family members sacrificed their lives for their country.
“Free Land” for Veterans  

Free land in exchange for military service has a long tradition within the United States. Land was given out to veterans after a number of American wars, including the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, and Indian Wars. Often referred to as Scrip Warrants, these documents were transferrable even before the land was claimed, meaning that they could be bought and sold. 

The U.S. granted these scrip warrants for military service from 1775 to 1855, to promote enlistment and reward military service. Some of the people who claimed land with military warrants never themselves served in the military. Some simply purchased the warrants from veterans, or from land speculators. Many were redeemed by widows and heirs of veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice.  
The federal government stopped issuing these just before the Civil War, because the Homestead Act was envisioned as the new way to promote and distribute public lands, including rewarding Civil War veterans for their service. The Homestead Act is intricately connected to the Civil War, in fact was only able to be passed because of the Civil War. When the southern states seceded, their representatives in Congress and the Senate were removed. When the Homestead Act had been proposed in the 1840s and 1850s, southern lawmakers blocked the passage of free land bills. With Congress and the Senate dominated by Lincoln’s party, they were able to deliver on their campaign promise in fighting for free homesteads, as well as marketing the law as a military service benefit to those fighting on behalf of the Union. 
1872 Soldiers And Sailors Homestead Act 

On April 4th 1872 Congress passed an amendment to the Homestead Act granting that “every private soldier and officer” as well as “every seaman, marine, and officer who has served in the Navy… or in the marine corps” who served the United States during the Civil War for at least 90 days was eligible to homestead up to 160 acres. In addition, veterans were allowed to apply their time served in the military, reducing the residency requirement to as little as a one-year minimum. These benefits were transferrable to a widow or children, and if a soldier died during his enlistment, his whole term of enlistment was deducted from the residency requirements. Over the years Congress amended or passed new laws to grant further benefits to veterans seeking homesteads.
Civil War 

Seth Foote was born on January 25th, 1834 in Fitchville, in Huron County, Ohio. He married Amorette E. Rich (1839-1909) on July 1st, 1859, also in Huron County, and the couple’s first and only son, Dellizon, was born in 1860. He joined the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush in what was then the western part of Kansas Territory, before enlisting in Company A of Kansas’s 8th Infantry Regiment in August of 1861, and was quickly promoted to a 2nd Lieutenant. He served as aide-de-camp to Colonel Heg, in the Army of the Cumberland, where he participated in the battle of Chickamauga. Foote lost his life in the Battle of Missionary Ridge, which left the Union in control of the state of Tennessee.  
Following the war, Amorette and Dellizon learned of the Soldiers and Sailors Act, and that they were entitled to homesteading benefits as the widow and heir of a Civil War soldier who gave his life. They moved westward, to Beadle County, South Dakota, where Amorette staked a claim on a 160-acre homestead. The patent was issued to “Amorette E. Foote, widow of Seth Foote, deceased” on June 29th, 1888. Her son, Dellizon, acquired another 160 acres in the same section. Amorette went on to provide educational and missionary outreach work before retiring to Omaha in 1908, where her son had been practicing medicine after receiving his M.D.  
World War I 

The Ingram family, of Blount County, Alabama, acquired hundreds of acres of public domain land through the Land Act of 1820 and the Homestead Act of 1862, between 1853 and 1891. Brothers Augustin, Robert, and Rufus purchased land in the 1850s, and then a generation later Counsel, Robert, and Sarah Ingram homesteaded in the 1880s and early 1890s.  

Osmond Kelley Ingram was born in Oneonta, in Blount County, Alabama, in 1887. The son of Robert L. Ingram and Naomi Elizabeth Lea, he grew up working on the family farm – the Ingram family were farmers from a long line of farmers. Osmond decided to join the U.S. Navy as a young man, enlisting as an Apprentice Seaman in November of 1903. During World War I, he served on the U.S.S. Cassin, a destroyer which operated off the Irish coast. When the Cassin came under attack by a German submarine, Ingram spotted an incoming torpedo, and dashed towards the depth charges to defend the ship.  He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his sacrifice in attempting to save the ship and his shipmates. He was the first posthumous recipient of the Medal of Honor in World War I, and the USS Osmond Ingram (DD-255), a World War II Destroyer, was named in his honor.  
World War II – 

Jack J. Pendleton was born on March 31st, 1918, near Sentinel Butte, Golden Valley County, North Dakota. He was born to Grover Pendleton and Dora Gretchen Byer Pendleton, who had a 320-acre homestead claim which they proved up on and received the patent to on March 3rd, 1921. The family relocated to Yakima, Washington, where Jack worked at a lumber mill before he enlisted in the U.S. Army, Company I of the 120th Infantry, 30th Infantry Division. He shipped out for Europe in 1944, participating in the Allied advance into Europe after the D-Day landings. On October 12th, 1944, Staff Sergeant Pendleton went above and beyond the call of duty, when his company was advancing on Bardenbarg, Germany. He volunteered to knock out a machine gun which was pinning his men down.  

His citation reads “After advancing approximately 130 yards under the withering fire, S/Sgt. Pendleton was seriously wounded in the leg by a burst from the gun he was assaulting. Disregarding his grievous wound, he ordered his men to remain where they were, and with a supply of hand grenades he slowly and painfully worked his way forward alone. With no hope of surviving the veritable hail of machine-gun fire which he deliberately drew onto himself, he succeeded in advancing within 10 yards of the enemy position when he was instantly killed by a burst from the enemy gun. By deliberately diverting the attention of the enemy machine-gunners upon himself, a second squad was able to advance, undetected, and with the help of S/Sgt. Pendleton's squad, neutralized the lone machine gun, while another platoon of his company advanced up the intersecting street and knocked out the machine-gun nest which the first gun had been covering. S/Sgt. Pendleton's sacrifice enabled the entire company to continue the advance and complete their mission at a critical phase of the action.” 

Pendleton was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions, which was presented to his mother, Dora, on May 29th, 1945. 
The World War II United States Army Transport Ship Sgt. Jack J. Pendleton was named in his honor. 
Image of gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. White headstones on green grass, with trees and blue sky in the in background.
Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place of approximately 400,000 active duty service members, veterans, and their families.
Image of a Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration the U.S. government awards. Golden colored medal with a blue ribbon on a red background.
The Medal of Honor is the highest and most prestigious military decoration awarded by the U.S. government, for those who have distinguished themselves for acts of valor. Each of the men in this story earned a Medal of Honor posthumously.
Behind the Scenes: Park Collections Work
The park's Cultural Resources division has been busy lately. The Scope of Collections Statement was updated, and the Collections Advisory Committee met recently to discuss potentially adding new items to the park museum collection.

What is a Collections Advisory Committee, anyways? Why does Homestead have one? What does it do? What about a Scope of Collections Statement?

Museum collections are important park resources, and have to be carefully managed. Any museum has limited resources, and caring for a collection is a long-term, major responsibility - so the Scope of Collections Statement helps the park plan for preservation of the museum's items in the present and into the future. It is a document which guides what items the park could and should acquire to tell the story of homesteading in America. Our document was just updated to be able to more fully tell the many different stories of the millions of people who participated in the epic tale of the Homestead Act.

What about a Collections Advisory Committee? Homestead's is made up of the park curator, historian, Facilities Manager, Supervisory Ranger, and a curator from the Midwest Regional Office in Omaha. The team represents different disciplines and fields in order to determine what types of museum objects the park should maintain to help interpret the history of the Homestead Act. The team reviews and makes recommendations to the park superintendent on the acquisition of potential items for the collection, whether they're gifts, donations, purchases, loans, etc. Though uncommon, the committee also reviews any potential deaccession - in other words, removing an object from the museum collection. However, deaccessioning is only done in extreme cases.

In the most recent meeting, the committee discussed a collection of land records acquired from the Sheridan County Historical Society. The collection included records found in a Trego County, Kansas courthouse basement that were otherwise set to be destroyed. It showcases the various types of land claims made in the late 19th century at the WaKeeney, Kansas land office, including homestead documentation.

A box full of land records - hundreds of pieces of paper.
Nebraska Roots Art Exhibit now on display
Impact: Nebraska Artists, Nebraska Roots exhibit at the Homestead Heritage Center. Several pieces of art hanging on the wall.
Homestead National Historical Park is hosting a collection of 25 pieces of art courtesy of Impact, a non-profit Nebraska visual arts organization founded in 1985 and dedicated to education through outreach programs and exhibitions themed around Nebraska and the Great Plains. The exhibit, entitled “Nebraska Roots,” celebrates Nebraska history and the joys of rural life. The pieces may explore deeper roots of family and childhood, help you think about your world in a different way, or inspire you to think about your own roots.

Media in the exhibit include watercolors, oil, acrylic, mixed media, alkyd on metal, porcelain, and pencil. The exhibit is available on display now at the Homestead Education Center, and will run through June.

Homestead National Historical Park is thrilled to have the opportunity to host “Nebraska Roots”, and hopes our visitors enjoy the beautiful pieces as they reflect upon their roots, thinking about Homestead’s theme for the year – “Find Your Homestead Roots.”

Want to learn more about your own roots? While at Homestead checking out this exhibit, don’t forget to check out the research computers to learn if you are a descendant of homesteaders. Feel free to ask a ranger at the Heritage Center, we’d be happy to help you discover if you are one of the 93 million Americans descended from a homesteader. 
Museum Technician Amy Neumann hanging up pieces of art for the exhibit.
Artists Selected for Homestead National Historical Park's 2021 Artist-in-Residence Program
Homestead National Historical Park is excited to announce the artists chosen for the 2021 Artist-in-Residence program. This is Homestead’s twelfth year offering artists the opportunity to live at the park and create works of art inspired by the Homestead story and its environment.  Homestead is just one of many National Park Service sites that host resident artists to help connect visitors with the park’s meanings using a variety of art forms. Plan to learn more about these artists through our social media channels or visit the park this spring through fall to interact with this year’s Artists-in-Residence while they work and create. 

This year twelve talented artists have been selected to live and work at the park. They are: 
  • Sarah McCartt-Jackson, poet from Louisville, Kentucky, June 4 - 18 
  • Meg Kirchhoff, dance artist from Buffalo, New York, July 19 – 31 
  • Daniel Moore, visual artist from Ruston, Louisiana, August 2 – 16 
  • Allissa Hansen, mixed media artist from Wahoo, Nebraska, August 2 – 16 
  • Ann Miller-Strandoo, painter from Seattle, Washington, August 30 - September 13 
  • Vickie MacMillan, barn quilt painter from Olympia, Washington, September 6 – September 20 
  • Lucretia McGuff Silverman, painter from Roosevelt, New Jersey, September 13 – 27 
  • Dana Fritz, photographer from Lincoln, Nebraska, October 3 - 17 
  • Ashley Pierce, muralist from Columbus, Ohio, October 17 - 30 

“The Artist-in-Residence program is extremely valuable.  It gives park visitors an opportunity to not just see Homestead and its story themselves, but see it through the eyes of the artist, which can be very moving and powerful,” stated the park’s Superintendent Mark Engler.
In Memory of Tom Hawkins (1930-2021)
Tom Hawkins was born in Beatrice, Nebraska in 1930. In 1950, when he was just 20 years old, and 14 years after the establishment of Homestead National Historical Park, Tom took on the monumental task of moving the Palmer-Epard Cabin from the banks of Bear Creek to the park. Since the time Tom successfully orchestrated this move, with help from the Beatrice Chamber of Commerce, it is estimated that over a million people have learned about our Nation's epic homestead story through the Palmer-Epard Cabin as they gained a glimpse of what life was like on a homestead.

Furthermore, this cabin has grown in popularity as it was featured on United States Currency, a quarter, as part of the America the Beautiful Quarter Series. The cabin has also been included in school curriculum, featured on postcards, and can be found on the walls in the Interior Building, Washington, D.C. We can only guess that in 1950, while 20-year-old Tom was sweating the details, we wonder if he recognized how important his work was; bringing the Palmer-Epard Cabin to Homestead National Historical Park.

On April 20, 2021 Tom passed away at the age of 90. As we extend our condolences and sympathy to the Hawkins Family, we salute Tom for his role in helping us tell our Nation's epic Homestead Story!
Black and white photo of the Palmer-Epard Cabin, a log cabin. Trees are visible in the background.
New Faces at Homestead - Ranger Lili and Ranger Eric

Meet Homestead’s newest Education Technician, Liliana Valderrama. She was born in Lima, Peru and migrated at the age of six to Miami, Florida. She grew up there, briefly going back to Peru to finish High School. Lili was accepted into the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, thinking that she wanted to be a police officer. She moved back to Miami where she got a degree in Science Education, and spent eight years teaching in public schools in Miami-Dade County. She taught science at several different grades, but mostly 5th graders.

Lili met a ranger named Eric who convinced her that she would be a great park ranger. She applied for a job as a concessionaire at Rocky Mountain National Park, and volunteered for the Rocky Mountain Conservancy, giving programs and assisting with campgrounds in order to build her experience. In 2018, she was hired for her first NPS position, a seasonal Park Guide at Alcatraz Island.

Lili got to travel the country as a seasonal park ranger, spending two seasons in Olympic, and a winter season in Biscayne, before joining Homestead for her first permanent position, serving as our new Education Technician.

Lili shared that she learned a few things about herself during her National Park experiences: “I enjoy being in remote places – I didn’t expect that of myself. Just being in natural spaces I find very calming, and relaxing. I love getting to work with visitors and students. Like the idea of public lands – how they tie us all together. All of the different history, the different point of views and perspectives. I am excited about learning all about homesteaders and the native people that were here, and black homesteaders and women homesteaders. I think it’s a beautiful story and I love the fact that America is the land of immigrants. You open the land up and everybody came. The spirit of that is very touching. I am really happy to be here and learn more about the place to be more effective in communicating its stories!”
Image of Homestead Educational Specialist Eric VanVleet standing in front of the Homestead Education Center. There is a glass window with a map in the background.
Meet Homestead's Education Specialist, Ranger Eric!
Homestead Education Tech Liliana Valderrama standing in front of the Homestead Heritage Center. A brick wall and sign are visible in the background.
Meet Homestead's Education Tech, Ranger Lili!
Meet Ranger Eric. Eric Van Vleet was born and grew up in Marinette, Wisconsin. After graduating High School he was accepted into the University of Wisconsin, where he received a degree in Journalism. He served two terms with AmeriCorps, a voluntary public service organization which helps others to meet critical needs in the community. He was an after-school teacher in California, then worked with the Nevada Conservation Corps building trails and assisting with invasive species removal – his first experience with outdoor conservation. He credited this experience with getting his foot in the door, and piquing his interest in working as a park ranger.

Eric’s first National Park Service job was as a seasonal ranger at Gateway National Recreation Area in New York. He’s had the opportunity to travel all around the country, experiencing some of our most beautiful national parks – Great Basin National Park, Everglades, Yosemite, before moving to Miami to attend Florida International University. He received a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies, and a Ph.D. in Geography. He couldn’t get enough of being a park ranger, so he continued his seasonal adventures at Rocky Mountain, Golden Gate, Biscayne, and Olympic before finally joining us here at HOME for his first permanent position, as the park’s Education Specialist, managing the park’s education program.

Eric shared some of his first impressions: “I’ve never been at a park where the distance learning program was such a priority, which is really cool. I’m really enjoying the work the park is doing on Black homesteaders, and would like to learn more about indigenous peoples in Nebraska and beyond, and how the Homestead Act impacted their lives.”

Beyond the uniform, Eric shared that one of his favorite parks is Olympic, that he is something of an amateur mycologist, and that his hobbies include hiking and bread baking. If you’ve got a Runza recipe, send it his way – he’s looking forward to trying his hand at a Nebraska specialty!

Welcome to Homestead, Eric and Lili!
In Memory: Dr. C.T. Frerichs
Image of C.T. Frerichs and extended family standing with the Last Homesteader's Tractor in the Heritage Center lobby. A windmill is in the background.
Dr. C.T. Frerichs passed away on May 6th. With this sad news, the staff at Homestead National Historical Park send Dr. Frerichs' Family and Friends our condolences. We will miss seeing Dr. Frerichs come to the Heritage Center and looking over the 1945 Allis-Chalmers Tractor of the Last Homesteader, but recognize the role he played in helping bring it to the park to tell our nation's homesteading story.

Dr. Frerichs felt a very personal connection to Allis Chalmers tractors. When he was serving in the Navy during the Korean War, he brought his fiancée Julia F. Meadows home to meet his family. He took a photograph of Julia sitting atop an orange Allis Chalmers - just like the tractor that Ken Deardorff, the Nation's Last Homesteader used.

You might recall the role Dr. Frerichs played in rescuing from the Alaska Wilderness the 1945 Allis Chalmers Model C Tractor that was used on the Nation's Last Homestead.  With his support we were able to secure the services of otter planes, a helicopter, multiple boats, a ship, and long-haul freight service to transport the tractor to Nebraska. 

Once the Allis Chalmers was here, it was moved to the Lester F. Larsen Tractor Test and Power Museum where members of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Tractor Club conducted conservation treatment work on the tractor. Through this entire process, Dr. Frerichs was a sounding board providing input into the overall project.  

We are grateful that Dr. C.T. Frerichs took on this project in honor of his wife, Julia F. (Meadows) Frerichs. Since the tractor was placed in the Homestead Heritage Center, over 100,000 park visitors have enjoyed looking over this unassuming orange tractor.

If you haven't had the opportunity to watch the story, check it out here on Facebook
Image of the Last Homesteader's tractor being airlifted out by helicopter. Trees and a river are visible in the background as a ranger points upward.
Image of BLM Archeologist Bob King.
Mrs. Carrie A. Gordon and Her Oklahoma Homestead

In past columns, I have shared stories of many remarkable homesteaders. This column will share the history of a successful woman homesteader who escaped a bad marriage in the East but found a new and better life for herself and daughter in Oklahoma over a century ago.

Caroline “Carrie” Arabella Gordon (1858-c. 1932) was born in September 1858 in Wyoming County, Pennsylvania. Carrie was a daughter of Levi George McLaud (1828-1864) and his wife Arabella Ursula “Arcella” (Carrier) Gordon (1825-1891). Tragically, when Carrie was not quite 6 years old, her father, who had joined the Union Army during the Civil War, was killed in action at Fredericksburg, Virginia, on May 5, 1864. That left Carrie’s mother in very difficult circumstances with five young children to care for. The family moved to another farm in nearby Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. 

By 1880, Carrie had left home and was working as a “servant” in the home of a middle-aged couple, Riley and Louisa Robinson, who were farming with their son Fred back in Wyoming County, Pennsylvania. It is reasonable to think that Carrie might have sent some of her wages to her mother to help support the family.

The next documented event in Carrie’s life was her marriage in November of 1883 to Coran Ransler Gordon. Like Carrie, Coran had grown up on a farm in northeastern Pennsylvania. In April of 1885, their first and only child was born, a daughter Elnore Gordon, called “Nellie.” Unfortunately, all would not remain cordial between the young couple. In time, life became unbearable for Carrie.

After living apart for some time, Carrie (McLaud) Gordon obtained a divorce from her husband in August of 1893. Helping her with the legal proceedings was her younger brother Steven D. McLaud.
An article in the Wilkes-Barre Times on August 31, 1893 (p. 5) reported what had happened:
“A subpoena in divorce was awarded by Judge Rice today to Carrie Gordon... The libelant says that they were married in November 1883, and that the said Coran R. Gordon did in May 1890 make threats to do her bodily harm, and on other occasions threatened her life...”
Though stressful, obtaining the divorce was a liberating and life-changing event for Carrie. In February of 1894, less than six months after receiving her divorce, Carrie, age 35, and her daughter Nellie, age 8, were in the town of Medford, Oklahoma Territory. 

What drew them there was a recent nationally publicized event that happened just shortly after Carrie was awarded her divorce - the opening to settlement and homesteading at noon on September 16, 1893, of 6,361,000 acres of land, setting off what is known today as the Fourth Land Run in Oklahoma Territory. The amount of land was more than the size of Vermont and was also called the “Cherokee Outlet,” having been purchased by the United States government from the Cherokee under pressure for $8,505,736, or about $1.40 per acre. 

The Cherokee Outlet was a 60-mile-wide strip of land that ran to the Oklahoma-Kansas border. This land included all of Grant County, where Carrie and Nellie were in February of 1894. Their trip to Medford would have been mostly by train with the last part by stage.

The new local newspaper, The Medford Weekly Patriot, mentioned Carrie on February 22, 1894 (p.3) as visiting with her youngest sister Marion (McLaud) Finney (1862-1944) and her family. While Marion and her husband George Washington Finney (1855-1920) were there considering the possibility of homesteading, they ultimately decided against it and returned to northeastern Pennsylvania. Carrie, however, would make Oklahoma her home for the rest of her life, and by the summer of 1895 had filed a claim.

On August 22, 1895, the same Medford paper (p. 3) reported that Carrie had been in “Wichita” (Wakita), the small town nearest her homestead, but had traveled to Enid in neighboring Garfield County, Oklahoma Territory (also established in the same September 16, 1893 land opening). The reason was “to attend her contest hearing.” Exactly what caused the hearing was not explained but there are two possibilities. Either someone filed on Carrie’s homestead claim in Grant County during her occasional absence, or Carrie, herself, had filed a homestead claim on land someone else may have claimed first.
In any case, the Medford paper on June 11, 1896 (p. 3) reported that she had apparently won the contest. It stated: “Mrs. Carrie Gordon and daughter Miss Nellie, came down from Wichita [Wakita] last Saturday, remaining over Sunday with friends and on her claim.”

The Medford paper on July 28, 1898 (p. 3) reported more news about Carrie including a recent illness and her success at homesteading: “Mrs. Carrie Gordon and daughter Miss Nellie, came in from the claim a few days since, because of the illness of Mrs. Gordon. She is now able to be out again. If anyone in Grant county has justly earned a quarter section of land it is Mrs. Gordon, who has worked on and off the land to develop it.”
The 1900 census reported that Carrie and her daughter Nellie were living on the farm of Richard Wilson, a widower with four children, in Medford Township in Grant County. He was a 40-year brick maker, with Carrie employed as the family “housekeeper” and 15-year-old Nellie working as a “servant.” The location of Wilson’s farm was likely close to Carrie’s homestead.

While homesteading, Carrie was also working to help with expenses. It was money she likely needed to hire help to assist her in meeting some of the requirements to receive her homestead. Those included constructing a habitable house and performing agricultural work on the claim. 

By the fall of 1902, Carrie had successfully fulfilled these requirements and had also met the residency requirement of living five years on her homestead claim. On September 19, 1902, The Wakita Herald (p. 8) carried a notice that Carrie had made a filing at the U.S. Land Office at Kingfisher, Oklahoma Territory. It stated that she would make final proof for her homestead “before Thomas J. Palmer, United States Court Commissioner at Medford, O.T. on November 14, 1902.” The process involved recording in her own words statements about meeting the requirements needed to receive her homestead, plus those of two witnesses affirming that she had indeed met all requirements to receive her homestead. Her “proof” was accepted and subsequently, Carrie’s 160-acre homestead was patented to her on December 4, 1903.
But prior to receiving her homestead certificate, written in the General Land Office in Washington, D.C. and mailed to Oklahoma, another Grant County newspaper, the Pond Creek Daily Vidette of Pond Creek, Oklahoma on March 12, 1903 (p. 4) carried more news relevant to Carrie’s land. It reported that she had mortgaged her homestead after proving up on it, which was legal and not uncommon - it might have been to obtain money to pay debts or to finance further improvements to her homestead. Also, it may have been to obtain money for other plans she was considering. While her homestead was important to her, and she would retain it the rest of her life, by the early 1900s she decided that she would not continue living on it as her principal residence.

Carrie moved off her homestead and established a permanent residence in Enid, Oklahoma Territory, about 40 miles to the south. Enid remained her permanent residence until she died in the early 1930s, though would continue visiting her homestead all during that time. 

By 1906 she was firmly settled in Enid. The Enid City Directory of that year reported that “Caroline A. Gordon” (Carrie) and her daughter “Miss Elenor Gordon” (Nellie) lived at 427 Broadway in Enid, with Carrie employed as a nurse and Nellie as a clerk in “The Kaufman Store.” Carrie was further reported as the “widow of Coren [Coran] R. Gordon.” However, she was not a widow. Her former husband was still very much alive and living in Pennsylvania with a second wife and their family. At other times, Carrie similarly was identified as a “widow,” which was not an uncommon practice for many divorcees at that time.
On January 9, 1907, her only daughter Nellie married Edward S. Lyman (1873-1940), a barber in Enid. Carrie lived alone for several years in Enid, until Nellie’s marriage ended in divorce by the mid-1920s. Thereafter, Carrie and her daughter once again lived together in Enid in the later 1920s and early 1930s. Living with them at that time was Nellie’s son Gordon S. Lyman (born 1915), who was Carrie’s only grandchild. 

By 1909, Carrie’s connection to her homestead was back in the news. The September 17, 1909 issue of The Wakita Herald (p. 5) reported: “Mrs. Carrie Gordon who owns a farm near here was up from Enid a few days last week. Mrs. Gordon still owns the homestead which she proved up several years ago and no doubt considers it a good enough investment to hold on to for some time yet.”
Later newspapers carried more stories of Carrie’s visits to her homestead farm. After moving to Enid, she rented out the land on her homestead but retained the house for her use during her visits. One crop reportedly grown there by a tenants was wheat.
In the fall of that same year, The Wakita Herald reported on October 16, 1912 (p. 5) that a farm accident involving a fire had occurred on Carrie’s homestead: “While attempting to burn off the grass around her house last Sunday morning, Mrs. Carrie Gordon lost control of the fire. It swept across her hay land, burning about 4 tons of baled hay belonging to Jay Biby; also a large straw stack.”

Carrie’s homestead was back in the news for an accident in the fall of 1921. The Medford Patriot-Star on October 6, 1921 (p. 5) told of another fire that may have started on Carrie’s homestead that destroyed a neighbor’s barn. The paper speculated that it may have originated with “sparks from a straw stack on Mrs. Carrie Gordon’s place which she had set on fire and was in direct line for the barn.” 

Carrie was also occasionally mentioned in the paper for social activities and visits by her family. Once, around Christmas of 1920, Carrie’s nephew, William Levi Douglas, who was a railroad claim agent from the East, also came for a visit. Before that, on May 9, 1920, The Enid Daily News (p. 1) printed pictures of “A group of Enid’s prominent Mothers,” with Carrie’s photo included as one of the nine. By this time, she had become a well-respected member of Enid’s society but still with a tie to her homestead. The Blackwell Morning Tribune stated on July 21, 1932: “Mrs. Carrie Gordon and grandson, Gordon Spencer Lyman of Enid spent last week on the farm and looking after business interests.” 
Carrie passed away on July 23rd, 1934 at the home of her daughter. Her obituary notes “Taking her young daughter, she went to Oklahoma in February, 1894 and homesteaded a farm near Wakita, Okla., undergoing all of the hardships attending the homesteading of land in the West when wolves and other wild animals were prevalent and much work had to be accomplished in a certain time in order to “prove up”.
In all, Carrie was a remarkable woman who left an unsuccessful marriage and built a new and better life for herself in Oklahoma Territory in the wake of one of the most famous land rushes to that part of the country. Her story is yet one more intriguing example of how homesteading really happened in this nation many years ago.