In my new novella, “Proving Up”, in The Homestead Brides Collection from Barbour Publishing, my story is about the struggle to survive and thrive on the open prairie. The great expanse of the Nebraska plains harkened not the faint of heart. With golden fields ripe for homesteading, the land beckoned those to who had the gumption to stake a claim, cultivate the land, and create a community, such as the Swedish settlement of Swedeberg, Nebraska. Earning a government land grant of 160 acres was no easy task as the settler’s endured drought, prairie fires, and grasshopper plagues as they cultivated the land they resided on in order to “prove up.”
But when the homesteaders first arrived on their claims in the Great Plains there was nary a tree in sight. Some trees grew by the moist riverbeds, but the prairie was dry and treeless. What trees were available soon became exhausted and people were known to travel over fifty miles to obtain the lumber they so desperately needed.
Without the availability of trees, homesteaders had to rely on alternative means for supplying them with fuel and lumber. In the absence of firewood, cow and buffalo chips became a precious commodity for providing fuel to cook by and heat homes. This “prairie coal” burned well and surprisingly produced an odorless flame. Some people owned a hay burner stove, that was outfitted with a firebox and cylinders that were filled with twisted hay. The hay was quickly consumed and required constant tending.
The lack of lumber meant that there was no wood for building dwellings, so earth was used instead. Sod from the ground was cut into large bricks and stacked to create houses. They were often lined with plaster or newspaper to prevent bugs from getting in. These “soddies” became one of the most common dwellings on the western frontier. But lumber was also needed for furniture and wooden fences.
If only there were more trees. Or any trees at all.
To encourage the growth of trees on the Great Plains, Congress passed The Timber Culture Act in 1873. Naturalists believed that the growth of trees would produce rainfall and transform the prairie by bringing moisture to the dry land. The trees would not only provide needed lumber, but would also provide a windbreak or shelterbelt that would reduce the force of the wind, direct the movement of snow, and provide much needed shade. It also provided shelter from the elements and a natural fence for the livestock.
“This country’s going to be covered with trees,” Pa said. “Don’t forget that Uncle Sam’s tending to that. There’s a tree claim on every section, and settlers have got to plant ten acres of trees on every tree claim. In four or five years, you’ll see trees every way you look.”
~ By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Homesteaders could add another 160 acres of land to the 160 acres they obtained from the Homestead Act of 1862 in exchange for planting one quarter (40 acres) of the property with trees. Once they proved that they had a successful crop of trees the government would issue them the title to the land. Initially the regulations required one quarter of the 160 acres to be planted with trees and cultivated over a period of ten years. In 1878 this was reduced to ten acres over an eight year period due to the extreme hardships on the Great Plains such as prairie fires, grasshopper plagues, and drought. On each of the 10 acres 2,700 trees (27,000 total) were to be planted with a stipulation that 675 (6,750) of them would thrive. About 20% of homesteaders filed a tree claim. But many were abandoned as people used the land free of rent and taxes for years and then moved on. There were other abuses such as land speculation and fraud. In 1891 The Timber Culture Act was repealed. Nevertheless, millions of trees were planted and although it did not result in great forestation, the Great Plains was transformed into a landscape that is now dotted with trees.
I’m giving away a copy of The Homestead Brides Collection autographed by all nine authors who contributed to the book!
Through nine historical romance adventures, readers will journey along with individuals who are ready to stake a claim and plant their dreams on a piece of the great American plains. While fighting land disputes, helping neighbors, and tackling the challenges of nature the homesteaders are placed in the path of other dreamers with whom romance sparks. And God has His hand in orchestrating each unique meeting.
Proving Up novella by Carla Olson Gade
Elsa Lindquist applies her scientific theories to growing trees on the Nebraska plains, intruding on a handsome homesteader’s hard work and experience. Will their dreams come to ruin, or will love prove their success?
Pinterest story board for “Proving Up.” http://tinyurl.com/provingsb
Available for purchase at Amazon.com.