The free homestead law has been called the most important act for the welfare of the people ever passed in the United States. Under this law any man or woman twenty-one years old or the head of a family can have 160 acres of land by living on it five years and paying about eighteen dollars in fees. For the first eighty years of United States history there were no free homesteads. The settlers were obliged to buy their land. The price was low but they were often very poor and in many cases lost their land after living upon and improving it because they had no money to pay for it.
In 1852 a party, called the Free Soil party, demanded free homesteads for the people. In 1854 the first free homestead bill was introduced in Congress by Congressman Galusha A. Grow of Pennsylvania. The people of the West and poor people everywhere were in favor of the bill. There was strong opposition to it, however. The first homestead act required the settler to pay twenty-five cents an acre for his land and was passed in 1860. This bill was vetoed by President Buchanan. It was not until May 20, 1862, that the free homestead act was finally passed and signed by President Abraham Lincoln. The law took effect on January 1, 1863.
Daniel Freeman, First Homesteader in United States
The first free homestead in the United States was taken by Daniel Freeman on Cub Creek in Gage County, Nebraska, about five miles northwest of Beatrice. Daniel Freeman was born in Ohio in 1826, and moved with his parents to Illinois in 1835. He was intensely interested in the free homestead bill from the time it was first introduced in Congress. Year after year he watched its progress and hoped for its passage and many times said that he wished to be the first man to take a homestead. When the free homestead bill was signed Daniel Freeman was a soldier in the Union army. A few months later he was given a brief furlough and came to Nebraska to look over the beautiful country, then lying vacant, for a home. He found the place that suited him and started for the nearest United States land office, which was then at Brownville, Nebraska, arriving there December 31, 1862. The little town was thronged with settlers who had come there to take land. That night there was a New Year's Eve party at the hotel, which was attended by all. The new homestead act was to go into effect the next day but as New Year's was a holiday the land office would not be open until January 2d. Mr. Freeman was under orders to join his regiment and expected to leave the next day. He told his story and his great desire to be the first homesteader in the United States. All the others agreed that he should have the first chance and with him persuaded a clerk in the land office to open the office a few minutes past midnight on January 1st for Daniel Freeman alone.
Thus it came that Daniel Freeman made homestead entry number one and afterwards received homestead patent number one for 160 acres on Cub Creek near Beatrice. Thus Nebraska has the honor of having the first homestead in the United States. Since that time over 1,000,000 homesteaders have followed Daniel Freeman's example, receiving over 120,000,000 acres of land as a free gift from our government. Of these homesteaders over 100,000 have lived in Nebraska. Nothing has helped so much in the settlement of the West as its free lands. One of the songs sung everywhere after the passage of the homestead act had for its refrain these words:
Come along, come along, make no delay,
The First Homestead.
(From photograph collection of A. E. Sheldon.)
Daniel Freeman served his country in the Union army until the close of the Civil War, in 1865. Then he brought his bride and settled on his Nebraska homestead. This has remained ever since the family home. Here their seven children grew to manhood and womanhood and here Mrs. Freeman lives with children and grandchildren.
Mr. Freeman died December 30, 1908. This first homestead is a beautiful farm in the valley where the prairie and timber land join. The old log cabin with sod roof, which was the first home of the Freeman family, has long since disappeared. There is a brick house and orchard, and an old freighting road, from Missouri River to the mountains runs for nearly a mile through the place, with rows of giant cottonwoods planted by Mr. Freeman on either side. On the hill at one corner of the farm, overlooking the valley and the freighting road, is the grave of Daniel Freeman. it is proposed that the United States shall purchase this first homestead from the Freeman family and make it a public park to commemorate what is regarded as the most important law passed by the United States and the place where that law was first applied.