Welcome back everyone! This weekend we kicked off the camping season! We drove out to Beatrice, NE to visit the Homestead National Monument. It’s roughly a 4 hour and 15 min drive from Pella, so we headed out on Saturday afternoon since we had an important matter to attend to that morning! Eyra did great on the drive and we soon arrived at Oak Aven Acres, a quaint RV/tent campground which is located a mile away from Homestead National Monument.
Before setting up camp, we decided to go grab some grub at a local restaurant. Playa Azul! The food was great and (what a small world) the owners were from Guanajuato, Mexico. The same state where Clark was born!
We headed back to our campsite and set up our new roof top tent! Let me tell you something, it was SO much easier to set up than a regular tent! Just open and go! We loaded all of our stuff up there and decided to eat our take out up there! It was so much fun and Eyra had a blast running around the tent. Yes, it’s that spacious. After eating our yummy food, we headed outside to star gaze! We were able to see Mars, and Venus (it was super bright), the moon, and Aldebaran being extremely bright! After some gazing we headed back in to get some sleep.
The night was an interesting one! Eyra and Clark fell asleep around 8:30pm and I have no idea how? The weather was not cooperating and the wind was blowing at 25 mph! The rain fly on the tent was flapping, the wind was howling, and strong gusts were even rocking the car back and forth! This mama bird was worried we were going to fall out of our brand new fancy nest, yet Eyra and Clark were snoring away (literally). Luckily, Clark’s installation skills were on point and we didn’t move an inch! Eventually I got some sleep, and surprisingly both Clark and Eyra woke up well rested!
Honestly, there is nothing better than waking up to a well-rested Eyra! Clark and I were up around 6:45am and around 7, little Eyra eyes fluttered open! She looked at me, then over to Clark, then broke out a huge smile! She then asked where Teddy was! Silly girl!
We then packed up the tent and our campsite and headed into town to grab some breakfast! After we filled our belly, we headed to the monument! And boy was it awesome! It’s truly amazing what a small town has to offer! We never expected the museum to be so detailed and fancy!
As we walked up the monument we noticed red flags on all of the corners of the parking lot, and we thought “Hmm… that’s strange!”. As we continued to walk up we noticed a sign that explained the red flags. The flags marked the 4 corners of 1 acre of land, then it explained that each homesteader got 160 acres! Wow! That’s a lot of land! We also noticed when we were walking up, that there were sculptures of each homestead state and the amount of land that was given out during the Homestead Act. We took a picture of Iowa (our current home), Colorado (the state where we both were raised, met and married) and California (where I was born).
We entered the monument and were greeted by a very friendly, older park ranger. He welcomed us and let us know about an upcoming eclipse whose path is going right over Nebraska! Homestead National Monument is expecting 750,000 people for that event, that is insane and really neat! (Another Nebraska trip soon???) We chit chatted for a bit before making our way downstairs to the museum!
If you have forgotten your history lessons, the Homestead Act became effective on January 1st, 1863 as well as the Emancipation Proclamation. Both were part of Abraham Lincoln’s plan to end slavery and help entice people to disperse and move west in order to modernize. Despite being in the middle of the Civil War, 15,000 claims were filed by the time the war ended (May 9th, 1965).
But what did this Act really mean for the Native American people? Many of the Native Americans had already been displaced due to Andrew Jackson’s “Indian Removal Policy”, but the Homestead Act displaced them even further. Lincoln wanted them to trade in their native (and sometimes nomadic) ways and begin farming instead. What unfortunately happened was Natives were shuffled onto smaller and smaller reservations. This can clearly be seen from a plaque about the land loss from 1775 to 1894.
An interesting plaque that was discussing Natives feelings towards the Act caught my eye. It was of a Creek Indian describing how the government had no right to give away land that was originally given to his own father. The reason this caught my eye was that my Aunt Gayla has traced our family lineage back to the Creek Indians of Arkansas. As feisty as my family is, I wouldn’t be surprised if we are related to Chitto, who was an “important symbol of resistance”.
However, for many immigrants and newly freed slaves, this act was a God send. Anyone, including single women, were allowed to apply for homestead for a small filing fee and then had to prove they had lived on the land for 5 years before they technically received ownership of the land.
The museum had all kinds of artifacts including replicas of the windmills that were used to pump fresh water, farming tools that could be used by dogs, and even a goat treadmill used to power a washing machine, butter churn, or other equipment! It also had plenty of videos describing the hardships, excitement and hope that went along with a Homestead. The wall of propaganda fliers shows just how “fail proof” people thought homesteading would be! However, if you had a homestead, failure was NOT an option. It was “thrive, or die”. It didn’t take long for many of these people to band together to help one another out. The women would get together and produce fruits, while the men would help each other farm and help construct homes.
The museum also had a good chunk of information about Daniel Freeman, who is thought to be the very first person to stake a claim under the Homestead Act. The Homestead National Monument was actually built in Beatrice, NE because that’s where Daniel Freeman built his house on his claim. His house is still standing and we had the opportunity to go in and see what it would have been like to live as a homesteader! The craziest part? Freeman had 10 children and they all lived in this house, let me rephrase that, a tiny house. I am assuming Mr. Freeman had 10 children since the park ranger mentioned there were 12 people living on the property at the time.
After checking out the house, we took a 1.5-mile hike around the prairie land that Freeman had claimed. The Rangers have been working hard to restore the land to its original prairie grass habitat so everyone can fully grasp what it would have been like to venture out of your comfort zone and start a new life away from the bustling cities. On our walk we saw a monument from the State Capitol commemorating that this land was the first registered homestead in the US and was erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution.
When we were about ¼ of a mile from the car, I look back and see a little Eyra, with her head lolling and eyes drooping. Sure enough, within minutes she was out snuggled up with the newest member of the Arteaga family, Babraham! Eyra calls every stuffed animal “baby” and since the Homestead act was created by Abraham Lincoln, we name the stuffed animal Babraham.
The last site we got to see before getting back to the car was Daniel and Agnes Freeman’s grave site. He lived on his homestead until the day he died, and was buried here as well. After his death, his brother took over the homestead.
Overall, this was a very interesting and eye opening trip. I don’t think I would have ever had the courage to be a homesteader, to leave a life that I was accustomed to and go out west to take my chances on a farm. After leaving the monument, we got to drive through Beatrice and were able to see some of the more interesting sites! There was a building with beautiful gold design work on its turret, an antique wagon with a sign reading “Beatrice, Nebraska or BUST!” and even a Pet Cemetery (has Stephen King been here?!). We all had a great time!
Where to next week? Well, you’ll just have to wait and find out!