July 7, 2022

Kinkaid Act

In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law the Kinkaid Act. This act, which was an amendment of the Homestead Act of 1862, was similar to its predecessor in that it allowed an individual 21 years of age or older, who was currently a citizen, or in the process of becoming a citizen, to acquire up to 640 acres of non-irrigable land in the Sandhills of Nebraska for free, apart from a modest filing fee. In order to gain title to the claim, the individual must occupy the claim for five years; Commutation, or paying for the land instead of occupation, was not allowed as it was in the previous Homestead Act. It was also required that the claimant improve the property-a minimum of $1.25 per acre.

During the late 19th century, the economy of western Nebraska was dominated by large cattle ranchers who used the public domain land of the Sandhills as grazing for their stock. They put claims in for the sections which contained viable water and use the surrounding public pasture to graze. Some ranchers used fraudulent claims using employee or family members to claim typically thin sections of land, intending to use them for grazing, thus not permitting other ranchers to use their claim & discouraging homesteaders from claiming it.

To alleviate the “public land problem”, President Theodore Roosevelt and his Public Land Committee concluded that the outdated Homestead Act needed to be amended. Moses Kinkaid, a congressman from Nebraska’s sixth district, took it upon himself to workshop new legislation and in 1904 the Kinkaid Act was signed into law. Kinkaid stated the law served three purposes: to get the land into hands of individuals, thus making it taxable, to end fencing and claim fraud controversy over the land, and to build up communities in the region. When the act took effect, 11 million acres became available to be claimed. During one initial land rush, the land office in Alliance saw over 400 people line up outside the office to stake their claim. According to the 1910 census, the population in the area increased by over 50% in the years after the act took effect. North Platte merchants reported record sales due to the influx of new customers. By 1914, 9.7 million acres had been claimed by homesteaders, and by 1915, the University of Nebraska reported that only 200,000 acres were left in public domain.

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