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National Park Service seeks homesteaders

Posted: March 5, 2012 - 1:03am

The National Park Service is looking for people whose families got free land in Mississippi, Louisiana and other states under the Homestead Act — and homesteaders themselves — to carry state flags in a 150th anniversary parade on May 20.

Blake Bell, historian at Homestead National Monument in Beatrice, Neb., says homesteader Kenneth Deardorff of Alaska will be in the parade. He got the final grant in 1988.

Louisiana’s last homestead was granted in 1956 and Mississippi’s in 1961.

The park service has volunteers from nine states for the May parade and one during the Beatrice Homestead Days weekend in June. But it’s looking for more.

Volunteers won’t get free trips but will get mementoes such as medallions and T-shirts.

The idea that people who filed claims may still be around isn’t as wacky as it might sound to people who know about homesteading only from “Little House on the Prairie.” The law took effect in 1863, but the last claim to be granted was Deardorff’s.

People could file claims until 1976 in the continental United States and until 1986 in Alaska.

The park service has enough volunteers for both parades from nine of 30 homestead states. It is looking for volunteers from 21 others, from Florida to Alaska. There are two parades because local officials have long celebrated Homestead Day in June, although President Abraham Lincoln signed the law on May 20, 1862, about 13 months after the Civil War began.

The law allowed people to claim up to 160 acres of public land by paying $10 and then living on or cultivating the land for five years. Until Reconstruction, former Confederates couldn’t apply for grants.

More than 1.6 million people earned 270 million acres of land, or 10 percent of the United States, by sweat and toil.

An estimated 93 million people are descendants of homesteaders.

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