News from the Homestead
November 2020

Every November we salute and honor our veterans - the brave men and women who have served their country. It is also the month of Thanksgiving, and we here at the monument are very thankful for our volunteers, partners, communities, and visitors throughout the year who have made our programming and operations possible.

Homestead National Monument of America's Heritage Center and Education Center will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 26th. The park grounds and trails will be open to visitors. The park will reopen on Friday, November 27th, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. as normal.


Mark Engler, Superintendent
Upcoming Events

Special Events and Exhibits at Homestead National Monument of America:

November - December: Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures Exhibit (Education Center and Heritage Center)

August - November: "Rightfully Hers" Suffrage Exhibit (Heritage Center)
Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures
Top left: Image of three trees in the Education Center, decorated for the Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures.

Bottom left: Palmer-Epard Cabin and Osage Orange Hedgerow under a fine coating of snow.

Right: Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures exhibit in the Education Center.
Homestead National Monument of America will be presenting the Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures, from November 27, 2020 through January 3, 2021. These sparkling holiday displays showcase ethnic traditions of the people who lived in the Great Plains. These holiday displays, which include decorated trees, ornaments, tabletop displays with hand-made crafts, traditions, and other festivities, will be at both the Homestead Education and Heritage Centers.

Cultures represented include African-American, Czech, French, German, Jewish, Hispanic, Irish, Polish, Scottish, Swedish, and Welsh. Our Winter Festival remembers this rich heritage and celebrates the many diverse cultures of all those who called the Great Plains home during the era of the Homestead Act.
In addition to the displays, there will be special virtual programs at 2:00 P.M. on November 29th, December 6th, and December 13th. These programs will be broadcast live on our Facebook page. Homestead's Facebook page is located at https://www.facebook.come/HomesteadNM

Sunday, November 29, Winter on the Homestead: Twyla Hansen

Twyla M. Hansen is an American poet. In 2013, Hansen was appointed Nebraska State Poet. Hansen was raised on the Nebraskan farm her grandparents purchased as immigrants from Denmark in the late 1880s. Hansen’s poetry reading will recount the Homesteaders experiences on the prairie.

Sunday, December 6, Holiday Cooking Lesson from Portugal: The Table Less Traveled

The Table Less Traveled will virtually bring us an authentic Portuguese cooking class live from Portugal. This cooking lesson will show attendees how to create a traditional Portuguese holiday pastry, while sharing the seasonal and historic cultural significance of the dish. Homesteaders immigrated from Portugal to the United States on the promise of the Homestead Act. These homesteaders brought their traditions, culture, and recipes with them. The details of the holiday pastry and ingredient list will be posted on our Facebook page and website two weeks before the event. You can find our website at:

Sunday, December 13, The Traditions and Legacy of Jewish Homesteaders: Rebecca E. Bender

Learn about the more than 400 Russian and Romanian Jewish homesteaders who settled on about eighty-five farms in McIntosh County, North Dakota, beginning in 1905. Learn about the traditions and cultural practices of these homesteaders from an author who is descended from a family who participated in the movement.

The Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures is possible due to the generous support of Humanities Nebraska, the Friends of Homestead, and our volunteers. The event will transport guests back in time to see the diverse winter traditions of those who lived on the plains during the Homestead Era. The promise of the Homestead Act brought a variety of cultural and ethnic traditions to the United States and transformed our nation. “The Homestead Act of 1862 attracted people from all over the world. The various displays and presentations provide a festive and educational way to celebrate the holiday season,” said Mark Engler, Superintendent at Homestead National Monument of America.
A Salute to Veterans - Free Entrance to National Parks!
Every year on November 11th, we are proud to salute and honor the service of all military veterans.

We're excited to share the exciting news just announced recently by the Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt! From Veterans Day forward, Gold Star Families and U.S. military veterans will be granted free access to national parks, wildlife refuges and other Federal lands managed by the Department of the Interior.

“With the utmost respect and gratitude, we are granting veterans and Gold Star Families free access to the iconic and treasured lands they fought to protect starting this Veteran’s Day and every single day thereafter," said Secretary Bernhardt.

Entrance fees for National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Reclamation sites will be waived for veterans and Gold Star Families. They will have free access to approximately 2,000 public locations spread out across more than 400 million acres of public lands, perfect spots for a wide variety of activities, including hiking, fishing, paddling, biking, hunting, stargazing and climbing.

While thanking all Veterans for their service to our Nation, we want to specifically recognize two of our coworkers: Danny Toland and Cody Jones. Danny Toland retired from the Navy after 20 years of service and 5 deployments. Danny was a boatswain and was responsible for launching aircrafts off the flight deck. Danny retired as a Petty Officer 1st Class.

Cody was a Specialist in the U.S. Army from March 2016 to May 2019. He was a Military Police Officer stationed at Fort Polk, La. In the 3rd year of his contract he was injured in a training mission and was medically retired.

Thank you for your service to our Nation Danny and Cody, and thank you for now serving the American People at Homestead National Monument of America. 
Homestead employee and veteran Danny Toland
Homestead employee and veteran Cody Jones
Bat Week 2020!
The last week of October marked Bat Week 2020! Bats are an incredible animal that do a lot of things to help our ecosystem stay strong and healthy. Some bats eat insects that destroy crops and spread disease. Some bats pollinate plants, and help spread seeds to grow new plants. There are a total of 45 different species of bats at National Parks across the country.

Here at Homestead, we have detected eight different species of bats: Big Brown, Eastern Red, Hoary, Silver-haired, Little Brown, Northern Long-Eared, Evening, and Tricolored. These bats are all insectivorous, meaning that they only eat insects. These tiny little predators consume copious numbers of insects helping to keep the ecosystem in balance, and they reduce the amount of crop, tree, and forage damage that the insects could cause if their populations were left unchecked.

The conservation of bats is a high priority, as bat populations have been in decline for a variety of reasons, including habitat loss, pesticide use, and especially the recent emergence of white-nose syndrome. White-nose syndrome is a disease spread to bats by a fungus, and has killed millions of bats since its emergence 15 years ago, increasing the need for monitoring and further conservation.

Check out this video to learn more about some of the monitoring that goes on at Homestead.
You can also watch the audio described version at
Going Green: New Electric Vehicle Charging Station at Homestead Heritage Center

In order to support visitors who drive electric vehicles, Homestead National Monument of America is preparing to install a two-stall electric car charging station at the Heritage Center. The charging station will be operated by the Friends of Homestead. The project is supported through the contributions of Nebraska Environmental Trust, Nebraska Public Power District, Norris Public Power District and the Friends of Homestead.

The Charger will use three existing stalls in the very northeast corner of the main parking lot at the Homestead Heritage Center, to create two electric charging stalls. The main part of the project will be the installation of electricity to the site. This will be accomplished by trenching a line and using a boring machine to install the electrical line under the parking lot to the charging station. The charging station will be placed on an island with bollards around it to protect it, much like a traditional gas pump.

According to the United States Department of Energy, Electric Vehicles, or EVs, reduce emissions and reliance on fossil fuels, thus promoting public health and reducing ecological damage.

Jesse's Jottings - Prairie Photo Stations
Park Guide Hunter Hendricks assists with the photo monitoring on the prairie.
Homestead National Monument of America has the oldest restored prairie in the National Park Service, and the second oldest in the country. Since 1976, park rangers have been visiting specific points on the prairie to take pictures. Repeat photography is an easy, cheap way to document changes in the landscape. Staff goes out on to the prairie three times a year, between April 20-27, July 20-27, and October 20-27, in order to capture the prairie in multiple seasons. It has been ongoing since 1976 at Homestead, as part of our sustained efforts of managing the prairie. 
As the Resource Management Specialist at Homestead I have been taking these photos since I got here in 2002. I have come to cherish these excursions. To get all of the pictures it takes two people about five hours. That is a lot of fairly uninterrupted time to get to know someone. Usually it is an intern that gets to help me but this year because of the pandemic I was allowed to have my daughters help me in the spring and other staff in the summer and fall. Crisscrossing the prairie with a camera and tripod on my shoulder sharing the place I have grown to love over the last 18 years has led to a lot of great memories. 
I am excited to know that researchers are able to use these photos to answer some questions that will help ensure the preservation of the natural resources for future generations.  But for me when I look at the photos, I remember the great conversations, solving the worlds problems, finding a gooses nest, and almost losing the historian in the prairie. 
Historian Jonathan Fairchild - lost in the prairie!
Black Homesteaders of Sully County, South Dakota Honored
The new historical marker dedicated to Black homesteaders of Sully County, South Dakota. Image courtesy of Dakota Radio Group (DRG) News.
A new historical marker was dedicated in Sully County, South Dakota, to honor the Black homesteaders of the area. African Americans settled in Sully county, just north of Pierre, in the 1880s. Two brothers, Benjamin and Patrick Blair, arrived in the area in 1882, to find land for their family to settle. They filed homestead claims the following year, and their father, Norvel Blair, filed a homestead claim and purchased land in 1884.

Norvel Blair, like many early African American homesteaders, was born into slavery, in Tennessee. After his emancipation, he moved to Illinois, becoming a successful farmer and landowner. However, after feeling he had been cheated out of much of his property by a white lawyer, he chose to move to the Dakota Territory. Norvel and his family found success once again, farming, breeding horses, and acquiring land - one of his horses held the record for the fastest horse in the state for several years. By 1916,the family owned more than a thousand acres of land.
Image of Norvel Blair's homestead patent.
The success of the Blair family attracted new black homesteaders eager for their own chance. Benjamin Blair, with other Black South Dakotans, organized the Northwestern Homestead Movement, which aimed to bring blacks "from the southern states to South Dakota, to file land on colonies and in the case of those having the means, to buy land outright." The Blair family pledged to give a substantial amount of their land to create an Agricultural College so that Black Americans could prosper as homesteaders and farmers under this plan. The colony peaked at around 125 people and just under 10,000 acres of land in the early 1900s.

You can read more about the unveiling of the marker at the Sully County Courthouse, as well as view more pictures, here:
Did You Know? Homesteading with Bob King
The Story of Barbara Lutz and Her Family's Land Acquisitions in Nebraska

In last month’s column, I wrote about the sad story of a young widow who received a homestead in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan but died less than a year later. Now, I will tell the story of another widow, an immigrant from Switzerland, who similarly got her deceased husband’s homestead as his survivor. Two of her sons filed for their own homesteads, and later increased the size of their homestead farms under terms of the Timber Culture Act, which was in force during 1873-1891.

First, let me introduce you to Mrs. Barbara Lutz. She was born February 5, 1814 in Switzerland and married there in the 1830s or early 1840s to Jacob Lutz, who was born about 1816 also in Switzerland. Following their marriage, they likely lived on a small farm in Switzerland before deciding in 1865 to come to America with their family of five children.

They traveled to Antwerp, Belgium, where they boarded the steamer “Wilberforce” destined for New York City. The Lutz family arrived on June 5, 1865 in New York City and were processed at the Castle Garden immigration station (later to be replaced in 1892 by Ellis Island). Records for the family listed them as follows:

Jacob Lutz, age 49, male, laborer
Barbara Lutz, age 51, female
Anton Lutz, age 22, male
Barbara Lutz, age 20, female
Johannes Lutz, age 17, male
Franz Lutz, age 14, male
Cassian Lutz, age 8, male

There are no more records on the Lutz family until August 16, 1870, when they were reported by the 1870 federal census as living in Bloomfield Township in Polk County, Iowa. Barbara was reported as keeping house for the family, while her husband, Jacob Lutz, was working as an underground coal miner. Their four sons were working as farm hands. By this time, their daughter, Barbara Lutz, had married and she was living on an adjoining farm with her husband, Christian Lauber, and their young son, Frank, age 6 months.

On April 7, 1871, Jacob Lutz appeared before the Clerk of the District Court in Polk County, Iowa and entered a declaration that he intended to become a citizen of the United States.
On November 11, 1871, Jacob Lutz established a homestead claim on 80 acres of land in Geneva Precinct, near the county seat of Geneva in Fillmore County, Nebraska. There, they settled on land that was open to homesteading, about 40 miles west of the Homestead National Monument of America. To do this, he traveled to the U.S. Land Office in Lincoln, Nebraska, and paid a fee of $14 to have his claim recorded. The claim was in Section 34 of Township 7 North, Range 3 West of the 6th Principal Meridian.

Also filing around this time for two more 80-acre homesteads in the same area were two of the Lutz’s sons, Anton Lutz and Franz (Frank) Lutz. Both sons would get their homesteads in 1880, while both would also receive more federal land in the same areas as their homesteads in Fillmore County, Nebraska. They did this by filing successful claims for additional federal land under the Timber Culture Act. Anton Lutz received his Timber Culture Act claim for 160 acres in 1886, while Frank received his similar claim for 80 acres in 1889.

So, what was the Timber Culture Act? The original Act, passed in 1873, allowed claims of federal land up to 160 acres in size. Claimants did not have to live on the land but it would take at least eight years to “prove up” on their timber claims. The reason was that at least 1/16th of the land had to be planted with trees not more than 12 feet apart, and it would take the extra three years, beyond the five years required for proving up a homestead, to ensure that the trees would survive.

An amendment in 1874 to the 1873 law increased the required amount of land to be planted in trees to 1/4th of the claim, though another amendment in 1878 returned to the original 1/16th ratio. This law, repealed in 1891, did aid many homesteaders to expand their farms, just as the Lutz brothers did, though in many places it was widely abused, which led to its repeal in 1891.

Altogether, starting in the 1870s, three members of the Lutz family filed for a total of 480 acres of federal land all in Fillmore County, Nebraska. However, the original plans changed with Jacob Lutz’s sad death on April 25, 1876, at about 60 years old. Instead of Jacob getting a homestead, his widow Barbara, would be granted his 80-acre homestead.

But there was another requirement to meet before this could happen. While Jacob had filed a declaration of intention statement to become an American citizen, with citizenship required to get a homestead, he had died before he had been naturalized. That meant that his widow Barbara had to become a citizen to qualify to get her late husband’s land.

Accordingly, on November 28, 1878, Barbara Lutz, then age 66, signed her own declaration of intention to become a U.S. citizen before Mr. J. Jensen, a clerk for the Fillmore County, Nebraska District Court in Geneva, Nebraska.

But what happened a month earlier surprised me. It was something that I had never seen happen before. Barbara Lutz, before signing her declaration of intention to become a citizen, had already filed proof to claim her late husband’s homestead as his widow.

This she did on October 28, 1878, when Barbara and her two witnesses to verify her claim appeared before the same clerk, Mr. J. Jensen, in the same Fillmore County, Nebraska courthouse in Geneva. Their “proof” statements are now part of her homestead casefile that is located in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. (It can also be seen on

In her proof statement, Barbara Lutz told of her settlement on the land with her husband on May 1, 1872. She further stated that the homestead had received improvements worth $300, including a sod house 16 feet by 20 feet, with 1 door and 3 windows, a “straw stable” (barn), and a “frame granary.” Barbara also reported that they had dug a well and planted “about 100 forest trees.” She also noted that “wheat, corn, oats, barley, rye, and vegetables” were growing on the homestead.

Barbara’s two witnesses collaborated her statements the same day before the same Clerk – and their identities also surprised me. They were not neighbors, as was often the case, but instead two of her own sons: Frank and Cassian Lutz. Apparently, under the circumstances of a widow receiving her husband’s homestead, this was permissible or at least acceptable to the clerk, Mr. J. Jensen, who recorded the three proof statements.

Also of interest, on Barbara’s signed proof statement, she answered a question about her citizenship by just stating that her husband intended to become a citizen and had died before it happened. Nothing was said about her own status as a non-citizen. Yet, as noted, a month later she came back into the courthouse and filed papers of intent to become a citizen.

Subsequently, she was naturalized on May 25, 1880 before the Fillmore County, Nebraska District Court, with a copy of her naturalization certificate filed in her homestead casefile. As was typical, it stated that she had “renounce[d] forever all allegiance to any foreign Prince, Potentate, State, or Sovereignty whatsoever, and particularly to The Republic of Switzerland of which she was heretofore a Subject.”

The next known record for Barbara Lutz was on June 10, 1880, when she was recorded by the U.S. Census as living near Geneva in Fillmore County, Nebraska. With her were her two youngest sons, Frank and Cassian, both unmarried, with neither having homesteaded. Instead, they were farming the 80-acre homestead claim of Jacob Lutz, which on January 1, 1881, was granted to “Barbara Lutz, widow of Jacob Lutz deceased.”

Mrs. Barbara Lutz died on May 15, 1888, at age 74.  She was buried in the Geneva Cemetery at Geneva in Fillmore County, Nebraska. As to the rest of the original Lutz family of five children, only the one daughter Barbara (Lutz) Lauber ever married, while all four of the sons remained bachelors. Although the Lutz family name died out, descendants of this Swiss immigrant family live on today through their daughter Barbara’s line.

In all, the story of how Mrs. Barbara Lutz and her family obtained their land in Fillmore County, Nebraska in the 1880s is a good example of how some families, including immigrant families, used various laws available during the Homestead Period in American history to secure land and even expand their holdings, with some of their farms still owned by descendants today.
Native American Heritage Month
November is Native American Heritage Month. It is a time to celebrate the rich and diverse ancestry, cultures, traditions, and histories of America's indigenous peoples. According to the National Congress of American Indians, NAHM is also “an opportunity to educate our workforce, raise awareness about the uniqueness of Native people, and the myriad of ways in which tribal citizens have conquered challenges to maintain voice and dignity and to remain an influencing presence in a rapidly evolving nation.” 

The stories and heritage of the first peoples that inhabited this land run long and deep. Ancestral homelands from Maine to Hawaii, Alaska to Puerto Rico, maintain their cultural identity. Many intersect closely with national parks due to geography, history, and culture. The National Park Service is committed to working with American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians to preserve native cultural heritage and celebrate tribal cultures.

We held a FacebookLive program to celebrate Native American Heritage Month. Did you miss it? Well good news - you can now watch it on YouTube! We invite you to check it out below.

You can also watch an audio described version at
Research at the Homestead National Monument of America Archives
Crazy Quilt in Homestead's museum collection.
Research is constantly being conducted at Homestead National Monument - not just by staff, but by visitors, academics, and enthusiasts as well! Kath Garner found Homestead National Monument from "across the pond" - Great Britain. Her research on prairie quilts took her to the digital archives here at the monument. She conducted virtual research, using images of the quilts here in the collection for her article "The Pioneers Quilts" in the September 2020 issue of British Patchwork and Quilting.

In June 2020, Homestead National Monument received a research request related to Dempster Mill Manufacturing Company and the 1918 Spanish Flu. Norman Marks, a self-proclaimed windmill history nut, was interested in seeing how the pandemic effected the company and the lives of the employees.

After looking through the 50th anniversary booklet available online on NPGallery, Norman came to the park to research the Dempster archive records in person. The company was especially hard hit during the fall of 1918. His research uses the Dempster archival records, historic newspaper articles, and other sources to bring together the story of how the company was affected during the Spanish Flu.

You can read the article “1918 Spanish Influenza Strikes Windmill Factory” in latest edition of the Windmillers’ Gazette (Autumn 2020).

Learn more about how to research at Homestead:
Museum Technician Amy Neumann standing in front of the Dempster archival records.
A Little Space Goes a Long Way - Infographic with objects that are six feet long. Stay safe and recreate responsibly.