News from the Homestead
October 2020

October brings us to the harvest season, a time of the year when homesteaders came together as a community to bring in the crops and celebrate together. Here at Homestead we are celebrating the same way, with a prairie seed harvest, a family history event, and Howling Homestead.

We hope you will think of the farmers who are harvesting crops right now for us to put on our tables. We also invite you to visit and appreciate the changing of the seasons here at Homestead National Monument of America.


Mark Engler, Superintendent
Upcoming Events

Special Events and Exhibits at Homestead National Monument of America:

September - October: "Celebrating Women" Art Quilt Exhibit (Education Center)

August - November: "Rightfully Hers" Suffrage Exhibit (Heritage Center)

Saturday, October 24th, 4 - 5 PM - Howling Homestead (Virtual) with Pumpkin Giveaway on-site (Heritage Center)
Howling Homestead
Image of a fall seasonal display at the Heritage Center including cornstalks, pumpkins, and other seasonal gourds.
Looking for something to do for Halloween this year, but wanting to stay socially distant? Celebrate with us at Howling Homestead! At 4:00 PM on Saturday, October 24th we’ll be kicking off a series of four presentations on Facebook Livestream. This Citizen Science / Nature based Halloween educational programming event will feature science, raptors, insects, storytelling, and pumpkins!

Carrie Honz, a volunteer with Raptor Recovery and Fontenelle Forest, will kick the event off at 4:00 PM. She will be joined by a pair of owls - what a hoot!

Up next is Laureen Riedesel, Director of the Beatrice Public Library. Laureen will be reading Halloween themed stories. Spooooky!

A representative from the Lincoln Children's Zoo will join us on the Livestream, unleashing some critters.

Finally, we will end up with "Mad Scientist" Patrick Braumer, from Educational Service Unit 5.

Starting on Friday afternoon from 3:00 to 5:00 P.M. and continuing Saturday from 3:00 to 5:00 PM while supplies last, the first 100 visitors to the monument can collect a free pumpkin to celebrate! The pumpkins will be first-come, first-serve and are being provided by the Friends of Homestead.
Howling Homestead Flyer - October 24th at 4 p.m. Livestream event with four 15 minute educational programs. Free pumpkin pickup Friday and Saturday between three and five P.M.
Hein Family Collection donated to Homestead's Museum
Image of homesteader descendant Linda Ball holding portraits of her homesteading ancestors.
Back in June 2019, Brit and Linda Ball first contacted the park about the possibility of donating some papers related to Linda’s homesteading ancestors. Over the last year, that collection has grown to include photographs, clothing, books, jewelry, quilts, and more. In addition to donating to the museum collection, they also donated some of their authentic homesteading items for use in living history and props for displays. Linda is the great-granddaughter of August & Augusta Hein who homesteaded in Beadle County, South Dakota. 

August Hein immigrated to the United States in 1880, following his older brother William who settled in Wisconsin the previous year. In 1883, the brothers decided to file neighboring homestead claims in Pearl Creek Township, Beadle County, South Dakota. Their parents and siblings later joined them. The Hein family spent winters in Janesville, Wisconsin, where August met Augusta Greibner, another German immigrant. They were married on the homestead on December 12, 1886. August & Augusta Hein lived on the homestead for over thirty years, raising their seven children and enduring the hardships of pioneer life. They moved to Huron, South Dakota after their children had grown up, leaving the homestead to their oldest son Henry. 
Hein Family Collection at Homestead 
Collage of items from the Hein Family donation to Homestead's museum collection, including books, jewelry, photographs and documents, a quilt, and a parasol.
Winter Wheat at Homestead
Image of a team of horses pulling a plow in front of the Homestead Heritage Center.

October is Harvest Season for homesteaders - and farms all around the monument (and around the country!) are harvesting their crops of corn and soybeans. But here at the monument, we're getting ready to plant a crop - winter wheat.

Winter wheat cultivation in the Great Plains really took off in the 1870s, after Russian Mennonite immigrants to Kansas began planting it. Today Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas grow a substantial amount of that red winter wheat variety that Russian immigrants brought. As the name suggests, winter wheat is planted in the fall and harvested in late spring or early summer - it actually requires the cold winter weather to produce grain in the spring.

The wheat variety we planted is called Freeman Wheat, named in honor of Daniel Freeman, the first homesteader in the United States. It was developed recently by Dr. Steve Baenziger of the University of Nebraska's Department of Agronomy and Horticulture. Dr. Baenziger is an expert in plant breeding and genetics, and has dedicated his career to developing new strains of grains.

Here's a video of Dr. Baenziger discussing the development of new strains of wheat, courtesy of the Nebraska Wheat Board.
Jesse's Jottings - Nebraska Writing Project
Image of three Youth Conservation Corps members in Cub Creek
Later in October we are collaborating with the Nebraska Writing Project to host a virtual program for high school students titled the Prairie Visions Writing Festival. I have enjoyed collaborating with the Nebraska Writing Project staff because it forces me outside of my comfort zone and challenges me to write creatively.
Often I tell myself the narrative that I am not that great of a writer, I have run on sentences, poor punctuation and so on... The staff of the Nebraska Writing Project has been very supportive focusing on the message instead of the typos and subpar grammar.  
So in this month of October, I challenge you to tell your story, or the story of that which is important to you, a letter to a friend (or an editor of a paper). Share your passion with others. Who knows, in doing so you may inspire the next prairie ecologist or poet extraordinaire.

So in this spirit here is the poem that I created using the format provided by my Nebraska Writing Project partner, Dr. Robert Brooke:

The mystery is here hiding beneath the rippling water and with the roots ripping through the realms
Buried in the mud, munching on bacteria and algae while prairie partners soak life from the soil and sun
The energy transferred to jet propulsion to traverse their world of just a few square meters
Let your knees be glued to the ground in the mud of the stream and its prairie partner
As you discover the never-ending quest of nature to clean up our messes;
Prairie plants sponging up the excess water and mussels craving and crushing what clouds our creeks
Give yourself permission to think as if you are that drop of water trying to shed the dust of pollution
Your hope, your helpers are the ancient plants of the prairie and the clams of the creek
Let nature do its job – preserve the prairie – maintain the mussel

Be vulnerable share your story (ies) with others, share your passions, stand for something.
Museum Storage Update!
Museum Storage Before
Museum Storage After
The museum collection at Homestead National Monument continues to grow and the storage space must be able to accommodate this growth. Space was the main concern for the Collection Advisory Committee when they recommend accepting eleven paintings from Judy Thompson, a former Artist-in-Resident at the park who had previously donated one of her paintings to the park.

When the museum storage area for the Heritage Center was designed, a small section was created for art storage as there were not many large framed pieces in the collection at the time. The Artist in Residence program began at Homestead NM in 2009. As part of the artist program, all participants donate at least one piece to the park, which often become part of the museum collection.

After 11 years of acquiring art from the artist-in-residence program and other donations, the art storage space was completely full, and the park needed more cabinets to properly store the artwork. So, in order to accept this large collection new storage units were necessary. In early September, Midwest Storage Solutions installed three new cabinets on top of our existing cabinets to help maximize the storage space.

The Thompson paintings will be on display next fall.
Did You Know? Homesteading with Bob King
The Sad Story of Edith E. Johnson, an Upper Peninsula Homesteader

Edith E. Johnson was a homesteader in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. She was only 20 years old when she received her late husband’s homestead in 1899, following his death at age 27.

Under the 1862 Homestead Act, a widow received rights to her husband’s homestead if he died before proving up on it. Orphan children could similarly be awarded the family homestead if both parents had died before a patent had been issued by the General Land Office for the land. While Mrs. Johnson’s situation is an example of a widow receiving rights to her deceased husband’s unpatented homestead, there are other circumstances that make her story quite unusual and most unfortunate.

First, let’s meet Mrs. Edith E. Johnson, whose full maiden name was Edith Elizabeth Johnston. Edith was born May 17, 1879, in the small lakeside village of St. Ignace in Mackinac County, Michigan. Her parents were William Johnston and Jane (Hill) Johnston.

When Edith was a young girl, her father filed on a 159.90-acre homestead in Cedar Township in Mackinac County, Michigan. The land was located near St. Ignace, near where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron connect. In the 1880s, land in this region was (and remains today) partly forested but was judged by the land office as principally valuable as agricultural land, thereby qualifying it to be available for homesteading. After living on the land with his family for at least five years and meeting requirements to make improvements and farm part of it, William received title to his homestead on November 23, 1891. In 1892 a young Swedish immigrant, Gustave Johnson, settled on adjacent land that was still unclaimed and available for homesteading. Gustave Johnson formally applied for a 160.10-acre homestead on November 4, 1892 at the U.S. Land Office in St. Ignace, Michigan. But between settling on the land and officially establishing a claim to it, Gustave married William Johnston’s young daughter, Edith.

Edith undoubtedly met her future husband as a result of his settling on land adjacent to her father’s homestead. Yet their marriage at her very young age likely was surprising, if not concerning, to her family. Marriage records of Mackinac County, Michigan report that Edith married September 1, 1892 at Hessel, Michigan, when she was only 13 years old -- an age further confirmed by what is reported on her death certificate as well as being consistent with information in the 1880 and 1900 census. Gustave was 21 when they married in 1892. He was born in May of 1871 in Sweden and died September 11, 1898.

According to his death certificate, the cause of Gustave’s death was “a gunshot wound (accidental) through head.” How the “accident” happened was not further explained on his death certificate or in the homestead file in the National Archives showing that his homestead was patented to his widow, Edith, after his death.

Less than a month before his death, Gustave had been naturalized on August 16, 1898 by the Mackinac County Court at proceedings held in St. Ignace. Becoming a U.S. citizen was required under homestead law to receive a homestead, but his death happened before he could initiate actions to “prove up” on his claim. He would have done that by submitting final proof that he had met all requirements. It would have been accomplished by Gustave providing a sworn statement at the U.S. Land Office in St. Ignace. Also, similar sworn statements of two witnesses would have been required to affirm Gustave’s testimony.

But with Gustave’s untimely death, his young widow, Edith, initiated the same process on October 10, 1898, just under a month after his accident. During her sworn statement made to officials in the Land Office, she described what improvements had been made to the land: “The house was built in May 1892 and he [Gustave] established actual residence at the same time - 1 log house 18 ft. x 14 ft., 1 log barn 18 ft. x 14 ft., Total value about $250.”

Edith also reported that: “It is farming land with some hardwood timber on it,” with “from 1 to 8 acres [cultivated] for 5 seasons.”

Edith further told that she had “2 children” at the time of her husband’s death and that she was age “20,” though the preponderance of other information indicates that more likely she was 19. But her statement also was confusing about citizenship. While she was born in Michigan, she answered “I am not” to a question asking her if “she” were a native-born citizen. Instead, she answered the question as if asked of her late Swedish-born husband, further stating that evidence of her husband’s American citizenship had been submitted.

Previously, Gustave Johnson had stated on November 4, 1892 that: “[my] settlement was commenced August 1892 – that my improvements consist of 1 acre cleared. Log shanty.” That sworn statement is also in the same record packet for this homestead along with Edith’s later statement that settlement commenced in “May” of 1892. (These are examples that sometimes records found in the official homestead casefiles in the National Archives may include certain contradictions or errors.) But in this case, these minor discrepancies did not result in any problems in Edith getting the homestead.

After Edith’s sworn statement and those of her two witnesses were made on October 10, 1898 in St. Ignace at the U.S. Land Office, Edith paid the final $4 fee due for the homestead on October 24, 1898. Rather than returning to St. Ignace to do it, which would have required another long wagon ride, she made payment at the nearby town of Hessel where a Land Office “Receiver” was stationed.

On July 26, 1899, Edith received a patent for the homestead issued by the General Land Office. At that time, she was not only a young widow, but she had a third child born to her after her husband’s death.  The 1900 federal census reported that as of June 1, 1900, she was apparently living with her parents in Cedar Township, Mackinac County, Michigan, and that she was the mother of three young children who were also living with her and her parents. When the census was recorded at Edith’s parents’ home on June 29, 1900, it reported information on all people residing there who were alive on June 1, 1900. Although Edith was alive on June 1st, she had died on June 25, 1900 at “age 20” of “pulmonary consumption” (TB) in Cedar Township in Mackinac County, Michigan. While her death was four days before the census taker arrived at her parents’ home to record all the people living there, according to rules set for the 1900 census, Edith was still listed as “alive.”

Edith E. Johnson was granted her 160.10-acre homestead on July 26, 1899 as a widow, but then died less than a year after receiving it. Assuming she left no will, Michigan State law would have required that her property would first go to pay legal debts and the remainder directed for the benefit of her three young children. A guardian would have been appointed for her children, usually a relative or a neighbor - perhaps her father, William Johnston. However, William died on August 30, 1905, also of Tuberculosis, at Cedarville, a small town around 6-10 miles east of his homestead farm in Mackinac County, Michigan. Edith’s mother, who outlived her husband and children, cared for at least one of Edith’s orphan children.

In all, there were no fewer than six deaths of family members connected to Edith E. Johnson besides her own death, with all seven deaths occurring in the 1890s and early 1900s in Mackinac County (Edith, her husband, her father, 2 sisters, and the 2 children of a sister). The tale of this young widow, who received a homestead at age 20, is especially poignant to me from another angle. She is the youngest person I have researched so far to have received a homestead, and the youngest homesteader to have died so soon after getting a homestead, at only age 21.

Edith E. Johnson’s history, though sad, illustrates that stories of actual homesteaders and their experiences help us better understand what homestead life was really like in our nation at different times and in different places. Starting in the 1860s, and lasting for more than a century, around 1.6 million men and women received “free” federal land under a variety of homestead laws beginning with the most remarkable 1862 Homestead Act. Edith E. Johnson was one of them.
A Little Space Goes a Long Way - Infographic with objects that are six feet long. Stay safe and recreate responsibly.