Curator's Corner Blog

Homesteaders heading west. Homesteaders Heading West.

The Homestead Act and Westward Expansion.


The wagon train is one of the iconic images of the Western part of the United States. Most great western films have the quintessential wagon train jerking through a flawless prairie heading west. There is a historical context to this perception of the West most of us hold. On the eve of the American Civil War much of the American West was unsettled. The very few people settling out West led to the federal government passing the Homestead Act of 1862.

Homesteaders Heading West.

Homesteaders heading west. Homesteaders Heading West.

The Homestead Act of 1862 was a land grant program that allowed people to claim 160 acres of land as long as they made certain improvements upon the land. Those improvements usually included building a house, planting crops, and staying on the land for five years. This essentially-free land (there was a twelve dollar application fee) created a surge of western re-settlement. Eventually, four million homestead claims were made with 1.6 million being successful. This amounted to 270 million acres of land distributed in thirty states. The 270 million acres distributed from 1863 to 1979 is approximately 10% of all U.S. lands.


Homestead certificate to George Amiraux. 1979.037 Arch Box 001

The document below is a homestead certificate to George P. Amiraux for 160 acres of land in Montana, one of 151,600 homesteaders in Montana. George Amriaux was also the son of H. A. Amiraux, a notable Missoulian from the 19th and 20th century. H. A. Amiraux was known for working as a bookkeeper for the Higgins and Worden Company and managing the Inn and Bakers Station.


Homestead States.

The 151,600 homesteaders in Montana claimed 32,050,480 acres of Montana land, which amounts to just over a third of Montana. This is an enormous amount of land considering Montana is the fourth largest state in the U.S. In fact, Montana was the most popular state for Homesteaders with 30,000 more acres claimed than the next state, which was North Dakota. The Homestead Act was the most effective distribution of land the federal government ever enacted. Nearly ninety-three million homesteader descendants are alive today, many likely in Montana.

About The Collections Department

We live and breathe the collection. It is our job to know the who’s, what’s, where’s, and why’s of the thousands of artifacts placed into our care. What you see on display at a museum doesn’t even scratch the surface of what’s stored in the basement.

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