Monday, March 24, 2014

Homesteader's Helper

The little Feist dog was beloved in the mountains of Arkansas during the days of the homesteader.  The Homestead Acts were several United States federal laws that gave an applicant ownership of land, typically called a "homestead", at little or no cost. In the United States, this originally consisted of grants totaling 160 acres (65 hectares, or one-quarter section) of unappropriated federal land within the boundaries of the public land states. An extension of the Homestead Principle in law, the United States Homestead Acts were initially proposed as an expression of the "Free Soil" policy of Northerners who wanted individual farmers to own and operate their own farms, as opposed to Southern slave-owners who could use groups of slaves to economic advantage.

The first of the acts, the 'Homestead Act of 1862, was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862. Anyone who had never taken up arms against the U.S. government (including freed slaves and women), was 21 years or older, or the head of a family, could file an application to claim a federal land grant. There was also a residency requirement.

Several additional laws were enacted in the latter half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Southern Homestead Act of 1866 sought to address land ownership inequalities in the south during Reconstruction. The Timber Culture Act of 1873 granted land to a claimant who was required to plant trees. The tract could be added to an existing homestead claim and had no residency requirement. The Kincaid Amendment of 1904 granted a full section (640 acres) to new homesteaders settling in western Nebraska. An amendment to the Homestead Act of 1862, the Enlarged Homestead Act, was passed in 1909 and doubled the allotted acreage to 320. Another amended act, the national Stock-Raising Homestead Act, was passed in 1916 and again increased the land involved, this time to 640 acres.

Lots of my ancestors moved to Newton and Pope County, Arkansas and obtained their land by homesteading.  All had one thing in common, they were poor.  A Feist dog is an excellent poor man's friend. This little dog will tell his master that someone or something is near his abode!  They will help put the cows in the lot, guard the chickens from a fox or possum, and just before dinner time they can tree a squirrel to stew or fry.  Then at night, they will hunt and tree larger game that master can skin and sell the fur!  What a versatile little friend the Feist dog is.  The Feist can exist on a cup of dog food a day or table scraps from one meal.   No wonder my ancestors loved this little friend!

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