- Amundson Family History
by Neil Hofland (3b8a)
people assume that their ancestors who were farmers got title to their farms
through homesteading. Actually the
Homestead Act was not passed by Congress until May 20, 1862.
Before that time all land had to be purchased from either the government
at $1.25 per acre or another owner at a higher price.
Homestead Act provided that "any person who is the head of a family, or who
has arrived at the age of twenty-one years, and is a citizen of the United
States, or who shall have filed his declaration of intention to become
such," and who had "never borne arms against the United States
Government or given aid and comfort to its enemies," was entitled to file
on 160 acres of land in certain areas or 80 acres in more favorable localities.
of the mid-western United States was surveyed into square sections 1 mile, or
1.6 kilometers, on a side. Each section contained 640 acres, or 2.59 square kilometers
(259 hectares). A quarter of a
section is 160 acres, or .6475 square kilometers (64.75 hectares).
This was larger than most of the "gards" in Norway and over 100
times larger than a "husmen's" place!
fee of $18.00 was charged for each 160 acres.
$14.00 was paid on making application and the balance when "final
proof" was made. The homesteader had to be on the land and start improving it
within 6 months after the date of filing and had to plow 10 acres and plant
crops and had to build a house. He
was further required to make it his permanent residence by living on the land
for at least 7 months each year for 5 years from the date of first papers.
Any time after 5 years the homesteader could take out his final papers,
provided that he did it within 7 1/2 years after first filing.
filing process consisted of giving evidence and sworn statements that the
homesteader had fulfilled all requirements stipulated by the government land
office. If the evidence was
satisfactory and sworn to by 2 witnesses, a patent, or title, was granted.
This last formality was called "proving up."
can imagine how wonderful this sounded to the peasantry of Norway and other
countries. Even before the
Homestead Act land was cheap according to European standards.
The United States government sold unsettled land for $1.25 per acre.
Any person living on the land had the first right to buy it when the
government put it up for sale. Immigrants
would settle on a piece of land and develop it while waiting for it to be put up
for sale. If they didn't have the
money to pay for it when the government wanted to sell it, anyone else could bid
for it at auction and they would lose the land and all the improvements they had
made. The immigrants would either
buy land right away if they had any money or would work for wages and save until
they could buy. They tended to buy
40- or 80-acre farms rather than quarter sections, but it was still a lot of
land and capable of supporting their families.
in those days and into the 20th century were self-sufficient units for most
immigrants. Most of what they
raised was used by them. There were livestock and poultry to feed as well as their
families. Any surplus was sold to
buy things they couldn't raise.
mid-west frontier did not grow and move in an even manner where section by
section was occupied as the population and farms moved steadily westward.
Remember, the country was a wilderness.
There were no roads, no railroads, no farms, no people, and only a few
widely scattered small settlements around a fort or fur trading post.
America was first settled the main means of transportation was the rivers and
lakes. Towns and cities sprung up
at river junctions or around good harbors.
Before railroads, canals were dug to link the waterways.
Once a settlement was established it drew new settlers to the region.
When most of the better land was occupied, people would explore to the
west looking for the choicest land they could find.
When suitable land was found, a new settlement was established or would
grow around an existing outpost of civilization.
the beginning of significant Norwegian emigration in the 1840's, the line of the
frontier was Illinois. From the Fox River settlement Norwegians explored westward
toward Iowa and northward into southeastern Wisconsin, and from there westward
to Minnesota and the Dakotas.
settlement pattern continued. As
more settlers came to join friends and relatives, the better land would be
taken. The settlers would explore
to the west, sometimes hundreds of miles, to find good land suitable for
supporting a settlement. They would move their families there and settle down.
The land between where they left and where they settled would be left for
others to settle later.
1850 the frontier had reached the Mississippi River, the border between Illinois
and Wisconsin on the east and Iowa and Minnesota on the west.
At this time essentially everything west of the Mississippi in Minnesota
was Indian territory and white men were not allowed to settle there.
July 23, 1851 the Treaty of Traverse Des Sioux was signed by the Indians and the
government. The Indians ceded
24,000,000 acres (9,720,000 hectares) --19,500,000 in southern Minnesota,
3,000,000 in northern Iowa, and 1,750,000 in what became eastern South
Dakota--for a price of $1,665,000 for the 37,500 square miles.($44.40 per square
mile or 6.9375 cents per acre). $1,360,000
was set aside in a trust fund to earn 5% interest from the government for a
period of 50 years. This interest
was to be used to pay the Indians $40,000 in cash annuities, $12,000 for a
civilization fund to help them become farmers, $10,000 for yearly goods and
provisions to be delivered to them, and $6,000 for education.
$305,000 was paid immediately to the Indians who were quickly swindled
out of most of it by traders and half-breeds.
may seem like a small amount to pay but it must be remembered that the United
States had purchased the entire Louisiana Territory from the French in 1803 for
only $15,000,000. This was an area
of almost 1,000,000 square miles (2,590,000 square kilometers) extending from
the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and from the Gulf of Mexico to the
Canadian border. This more than doubled the size of the United States.
From it 4 states (Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, and Nebraska) and parts of 9
other states (North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Kansas, Montana, Wyoming,
Colorado, Oklahoma, and Louisiana) were formed.
The French were paid $15 per square mile or 2.34375 cents per acre.
1867 the United States purchased all of Alaska, 571,065 square miles (1,479,058
square kilometers), from Russia for $7,200,000 and it was referred to as
"Seward's folly" after the man who had the vision to negotiate the
purchase. The Russian were paid
$12.60 per square mile or 1.97 cents per acre. The Indians may not have made a
good bargain in ceding their lands, but they did better than the French or
the time of the Traverse de Sioux treaty there were only about 35,000 to 50,000
total Indians living in southern Minnesota, northern Iowa and Nebraska, all of
North and South Dakota, and most of Wyoming and Montana.
Probably more than two-thirds of the Sioux lived outside and to the west
of the area that was ceded and had no part or interest in the treaty. They were still nomads chasing the buffalo and other game.
The total number of Indians represented at the treaty was about 5000 to
was no way the Indian lifestyle could continue.
Game was becoming scarcer and the pressures for white men to occupy their
lands and farm were too great. The
government and other well intentioned people decided to help and save the
Indians. The plan was to train the
Indians to be farmers and white men. It
failed miserably for a number of reasons. Indians
were looked upon as savages and not treated with equality.
Their past way of life did not prepare them to adapt quickly enough,
which was essentially immediately. Annuities
were granted to help them through the transition period and they learned to
depend on the annuities and did not transition.
Because they lacked education, did not speak the language of the white
man, and viewed nature and existence in a wholly different way, they were
constantly abused and cheated by those who had the chance, especially the
government and its agents. Does any of this sound familiar with respect to the 1990's or
whatever time you are reading this?
of you familiar with government programs will not be surprised by any of this.
Government intervention, no matter how well intended, almost always makes
things worse and brings about unintended consequences and corruption. Solutions also cost at least 10, and usually many more, times
as much as original estimates.
September 20, 1851 another 5,000,000 acres in the Red River Valley of what was
to become North Dakota was ceded in a treaty at Pembina.
These 2 treaties brought the total land purchased from the Sioux Indians
and opened to the immigrants to 40,000,000 acres of some of the richest and
finest farmland in the world.
the settlement pattern began to change a little because of all this new
available land and the growth of the railroad system in America.
first railroad was established in America in 1830 and most of the expansion was
in the eastern part of the nation where most of the people lived.
It wasn't until after the Civil War that significant construction began
in the mid-west and west. But when
it began it became a race to see who could build the most miles of track.
was a reason for this. The government gave subsidies to the railroad companies to
build new lines. In the mid-west
these subsidies were free land. Railroad
companies were given alternating 1 square mile sections of land on both sides of
any new line they built. You can
imagine what this led to.
the first expansion of railroad began in America the lines were laid out on some
economic basis. Major cities were
linked together followed by linking minor cities.
Lines were built to connect with river traffic such as the line from
Chicago west to Galena on the Mississippi River, which was in operation in the
1850's. It didn't make any sense to
build a railroad that couldn't make money by hauling freight and passengers.
Government subsidies changed the economics.
Now railroads were built to nowhere all across the mid-west.
tycoons would study a map of the railroad routes and try to find an area where
they could build between existing lines of track and thereby get free land along
the new route. This land would then be sold to the settlers who wanted to locate
their farms near railroad transportation because there were few and poor roads.
way the railroad tycoons made money was by establishing towns along the routes.
The track was laid in increments of about 8 to 10 miles.
The equipment and supplies necessary to build that much track was
deposited at the end of the existing track.
The next 8 to 10 miles would be built and the process repeated.
At each of these points the railroad would lay out a town and sell the
lots to merchants, businesses, and professional people who would build houses
and establish stores, shops, banks, newspapers, churches, and all the other
parts of a new community to serve the surrounding farms.
railroads received over 131,000,000 acres of free land from the government.
By the 1920's and 1930's there was about 250,000 miles of track in the
United States. By 1989 this had
declined to about 150,000 miles which is what it was 100 years earlier in 1889.
roads were built along every section line in the upper mid-west dividing the
rolling prairie into a giant checker board of square sections surrounded by
roads on each side. These were just dirt or gravel roads and it could take a long
time to drive a wagon pulled by horses into the nearest town, especially in the
winter when they were covered with snow or in the spring when the roads got
muddy. Some of the roads were built
through low, swampy places and soon became unusable, but most survived.
Even with the use of roads and improvements in automobiles it could still
be difficult to get to town so farmers tended to go to the closest one.
I was a youth during the 1940s, normally they would go to town only on Saturday
evening. They would bring in
surplus produce to sell and would buy groceries and needed supplies.
Saturday evening was the busiest time of the week in the small farm
towns. The main street would be filled with people and children were
racing all over town. There was
usually a double feature movie at the theater.
Townspeople would drive downtown and park their cars on Saturday
afternoon so they would have a good seat to watch all the activity and be where
friends could see them and come over to the car and talk.
It was the social event of the week.
World War II and into the 1950's and 1960's both automobiles and roads were
greatly improved. Saturday night in
the nearest town died out as people bypassed the smaller towns for bigger ones
with more goods and services. Many
of the small towns became practically deserted and business dried up and people
left for the larger cities and towns. There
are places where thriving little communities once existed that now show not a
trace that they ever existed, and many towns have numerous deserted and decaying
stores and houses.
farmers and their families began to disappear also after World War II.
Over time the farms had become less self-contained family units with
cows, chickens, pigs, gardens, and crops used to provide most of the needs of
the family. More and more farms
became like businesses. Livestock
and crops were raised to produce surpluses large enough to be sold for cash.
This cash was then spent to buy things no longer produced on the farm,
such as milk, butter, eggs, flour, etc. Improvements
in farm machinery and techniques made it possible to raise much larger crops.
The machinery and new techniques grew increasingly more expensive.
More land was required to raise large enough crops to pay for everything.
Farms of 160 acres or less became viewed as uneconomic using modern
techniques and farmers would buy out their neighbors to double and triple the
size of their farms. This reduced
the number of farms and farm families.
and more of the farm sites in the mid-west became abandoned and the buildings
left to fall into decay and ruin. In
the discussions with my family members that follow, many farm sites are
identified where our grandparents' families lived.
I have traveled to many of them and find deserted and ruined buildings.
No trace is left of some. The
buildings have been torn down and the trees removed and the area plowed and
planted in crops.
They Make The Right Decision?
our ancestors left Norway, or other countries, and came to America they did so
with the expectation that life would be better here for themselves and their
children in economic, social, and religious terms.
They were pursuing happiness. I
think they succeeded. The first
generation, those parents who emigrated, lived the life of pioneers in all its
harshness and drudgery, but their lives would in all probability have been just
as difficult or more so had they not become immigrants.
Most of them built up estates that exceeded that which they would have
had if they had stayed in the "old country."
They owned larger and more prosperous farms than they could have expected
to in Norway. When we look today on
how hard they worked and the conditions in which they lived, we are thankful we
have it so much better. But in
those days everyone they knew worked hard and lived in similar conditions.
That's the way life used to be. At
least their work and lives improved their lot.
second generation, their children, still worked hard by today's standards but
the quality of their lives improved even more.
My Grandmother and Grandfather Hofland were not wealthy farmers.
They were renters and never owned their own farm until Grandpa was 64
years of age, and then they bought one that had only 90 acres of field land and
70 acres of pasture and hay land. However,
they were never really needy. They
raised 10 children and always had enough to eat.
There were milk and dairy products and eggs and always potatoes. It's true they never had much money and lived in some small
and poorly built houses, but so did many other people.
started farming after their marriage with one cow and a few chickens and a team
of horses. Their conditions
continually improved. At one time
around 1920 they owned 19 horses to do the field work and had 32 cows, plus
calves, chickens, turkeys, geese, some pigs, and at least one dog.
They farmed a half section of land, 320 acres (1.295 square kilometers or
129.5 hectares). They had a house,
a big barn, a chicken coop, and several out buildings.
Did anyone living in Årdal have more?
I believe not many, if any, did.
the depression and drought of the 1930's they struggled through some tough
times, but so did most other farmers. They
were even able to support some of their grown children who could get no work.
They never received any government support. Grandma didn't file to collect social security payments for
some years after she was 65. "Hoflands
never took charity," she said, "even during the depression when others
did." It took some convincing
to make her believe that social security was not some form of welfare.
third and fourth generations had it even better.
Many had escaped the farm for businesses and salaried jobs in towns and
cities. Those that still farmed
tended to have more prosperous farms than their parents did.
Technological improvements made life easier, and usually more prosperous,
for all. The 20th century has seen
the greatest rise in the standard of living for the common man in history, at
least for the descendants of Norwegian immigrants.
The examples used above reflect the progress made through the generations of the Hoflands but the same holds true for my Mother's family (Anderson, then Danielson) as well. They arrived in America a generation earlier and each generation had it better than the previous. I am a 4th generation Hofland and a 5th generation Anderson/Danielson.
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