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Surveys & Surveying | Land Acquisition | Speculators & Land Companies

Speculators and land companies role in westward expansion

Speculators bought western lands in large quantities and land companies organized and entered great tracts embracing entire townships. At the same time, land grants given the railroad companies to encourage the building of transcontinental lines attracted a great deal of speculative purchase. The Northern Pacific line, which was granted 10,700,000 acres along its route in North Dakota, and the Great Northern Railroad were responsible for the placement and settlement of many towns along their lines in the states they traversed. They created station sites every 10 to 15 miles along their routes and offered a number of advantages to persons and institutions for locating in the vicinity. Their transportation services not only enticed and moved the settler but sustained their commercial endeavors as well. The recent demise of many railroad lines as well as towns and surrounding communities attests to their mutual dependance.

The Homestead Act of 1862 did not end land speculation. The speculators, railroads and land companies were important factors in the development of the West. Their efforts to attract settlers to their lands through the distribution of pamphlets and other advertising literature describing the western country lured thousands from their homes in the eastern states, from developed sections of the West, and from Europe. The SHSND collections hold many examples of these pamphlets.

Significant events in homestead legislation:

  • 1862 (May 20)--Homestead Act initially passed.
  • 1862 (July 1)--First Pacific Railway Act authorized the transcontinental railroad and granting government aid in the form of land grants. Enlarged in 1864.
  • 1862 (July 2)--Morrill or Land Grant Act authorized grants of public lands to help establish and support designated state colleges teaching agriculture and mechanical arts.
  • 1870--First district land office opened in North Dakota at Pembina.
  • 1873--Timber Culture Act granted tracts of public lands to settlers who planted and cared for trees on the plains. This was the first legislation intended to encourage reforestation as a means of conservation. Repealed in 1891.
  • 1877--Desert Land Act authorized disposition of 640-acre tracts of arid public lands at $1.25 per acre to homesteaders upon proof of reclamation of lands by irrigation. Limited to 320 acres in 1891.
  • 1916--Stock-raising Homestead Act increased acreage limitation for homesteading when public lands were suitable only for grazing livestock. Cultivation was not required, but some range improvements were necessary. Repealed in 1934.

Land Certificates carry the name of the President of the United States, but these are not presidential signatures. Prior to 1878, a secretary was designated to sign these documents. After that time the executive clerk of the land office signed the certificate.

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