In 1862 Abraham Lincoln who was then president of the United States signed "The Homestead Act" into law. The requirements seemed to be simple. Any person, male or female who was either the head or was at least 21 years of age, was a citizen of the US (or had filed a declaration of intent) and had never borne arms against or given aid and comfort to enemies against the United States was eligible to file a preemption claim for 160 acres of what was known as free land . Well, there was one very important other detail. At the end of five years they had to prove up on their claim in order to get the title to their "free land".
A homesteader had to fulfill certain requirements before they could obtain the title. They had to live on the property for five years though they were permitted to leave it unoccupied for up to six months out of the year. Some homesteaders would chose to go back East rather than face the harsh and sometimes deadly winters of the northern Great Plains but they did so at their own risk. When they returned in their spring, there was a strong possibility that there were squatters known as claim jumpers on the land and in the lawless west, they would not hesitate to ambush and kill the rightful owner when they returned. You were wise to come fully prepared and face the brutal winter on the claim if you wished retain it and perhaps even your life.
You also had to build a home, make improvements and farm the land for five years. Once again these requirements may seem simple enough but they do not take into account the harsh conditions of the land that was being settled. Many of the people drawn to free land were unprepared for the harsh environment they would encounter. They faced subzero temperatures, sudden and deadly blizzards, unbearable heat in the summer in a nearly treeless land, frequent droughts, grasshopper plagues, isolation, and little or no access to medical care. It was not long before one sod shanty after another was vacated. Only the strong and very determined would survive. Others would prove up on their claim only to sell out and move, hoping to make a new beginning in a friendlier place.
Yesterday morning I read an excellent blog by John Knox (@watchmanjohn) entitled Word Study From Hebrews Part 4. As I read his blog, I got to thinking about how the writer of Hebrews admonishes us to hold fast our confession (Hebrews 4:14). When we become a Christian we file a claim, so to speak. We have become a child of God and therefore we are entitled to all of the rights and privileges that go along with it... as well as the responsibilities. We like the first part but often have trouble with the latter. Often we don't like to be responsible children.
In order to fully partake of all that God has for us we must not merely file a pre-emptive claim that says we want it and intend to live there. We must build upon that claim and we must dwell there. We must dig into the soil it is build upon, tend the fields, bring in the harvest and preserve and consume its good fruit. We must remain on the claim come rain or shine. It must be our home and nothing must ever persuade us to leave it. In other words, we must truly be "living on the claim".
Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration
I loved this blog - brilliant and the history lesson so beautifully dove tailed into the scriptures. Wonderful. Thanks for giving me a 'plug.'
PS - you know your countries history - excellent and appreciated