Monday, September 10, 2012
This Land is Your Land . .
John H. Patrick is my Great grandfather. This is his signature from his Land Entry File. A Land Entry File is the record that documents the transfer of public lands from the United States to private ownership.
From the National Archives website :
"The Homestead Act established a three-fold homestead acquisition process: filing an application, improving the land, and filing for deed of title. Any U.S. citizen, or intended citizen, who had never borne arms against the U.S. Government could file an application and lay claim to 160 acres of surveyed Government land. For the next 5 years, the homesteader had to live on the land and improve it by building a 12-by-14 dwelling and growing crops. After 5 years, the homesteader could file for his patent (or deed of title) by submitting proof of residency and the required improvements to a local land office."
"These files can contain a wealth of genealogical and legal information. Depending upon the type and time period of land entry, the case file may yield only a few facts already known to the researcher, or it may present new insights about ancestors, family history, title, and land use issues."
In my Great Grandfather's case, we already have known much about his life. Living long, writing and telling family stories, he left us with quite a record. I am one of the older great-grandchildren, and Grandpa lived to 104, so I was able to know him personally.
So what could this 42 page record do for me ?
In the stack of papers, there were witness statements, affidavits, and claimant verification forms. Ah, government and paperwork are not newlyweds, for sure. But in all these forms, between all the dry legalese, were pieces of my great grandparents' lives--the details that so often get brushed over in deference to bigger stories of special events and milestones.
A young married couple in the late Fall of 1914, John and Lura Patrick with their baby son, made a Homestead entry for 153 acres in Spanish Fork Canyon, Utah. In less than 2 weeks, with the help of three hired men, John had built their house-one room, 14' x 16'. I don't know if they felled the trees themselves or bought lumber, but either way we do know the wood did not come from the land he contracted. The site was described as clay, rock, and scrub oak-with no big timber for a house. Materials would have to be brought up by horse and wagon.
After building the house, now in November, the land had to be cleared in order to plant. In addition to his own two horses, John hired two men with teams, and they "cleared, grubbed, and plowed 18 acres of land; and planted 10 acres of wheat". Cold weather stopped any further land clearing, so John set to work on preparing fenceposts--160 of them.
So began a pattern of living on the ranch from Spring to December, planting and clearing, building and improving. Winters the family would travel back into town, rent a place to live, and John would find work, as a miner or blacksmith in order to raise money for the next Spring's provisions.
Setbacks and obstacles were ever-present. One year, he was "taken down" by appendicitis. Weeks bedridden and a stay at the Provo hospital, disrupted his farming-rendering 10 acres of wheat unsuitable for sale. It would be used as feed for the livestock. Another year, a flood swept over his land, leaving a layer of rocks over his fields. It took a month to haul the rock off.
To fence the entire tract took longer than one season, and left parts of his land unprotected. Range cattle had to be herded away. When his fence was complete, he had to deal with the angry government ranchers who had been accustomed to letting their herd water at his spring.
Over the years, they planted wheat, oats, and potatoes. A cellar was dug, and a well, also. At the end of five years, he was required to submit proof of all his improvements. Three additional witnesses attested to John's marital status and residency. In these certificates and witness papers are names my grandmother remembers from her youth. One of the men hired to help build the fence was named as John's step-brother.
Years passed after having been granted this land before John was able to buy a house in Springville. That first winter, the family did not get to live in their new home. John's load of seed potatoes for the next year's planting got wet on the wagon-ride down from the canyon. The family stayed somewhere else while the potatoes were spread out on the floor of the new house, being kept dry and warm, turned over repeatedly to keep them from rotting. If there was no Spring planting, there would be no money, and they would lose the house. Those potatoes got top priority.
My great-grandparents farmed their whole lives, providing for their family, one hard year at a time. For me, gardening is a hobby, kind of a therapeutic luxury. I sigh when my Amana orange tomatoes get blossom-end rot, and I wonder what I will ever do with all this basil.