FREE HOMES ACT (1900)
The Free Homes Act of 1900 (Public Law 105) relieved settlers on former Indian lands in Oklahoma and other western states of all charges except filing fees. In the opening of the Unassigned Lands in 1889, settlers filed claims under the Homestead Act (1862); the land was free except for land office fees. In subsequent land openings the government required settlers to purchase the land at a price that varied from one to two-and-one-half dollars per acre under agreements with the tribes, in addition to fulfilling the residency and land improvement requirements.
The settlers faced great hardship in meeting their payments because of drought, a depressed economy, and poverty. As a result, they created the Territorial Free Home League to lobby Congress for relief. The league also worked with Republican territorial delegate Dennis T. Flynn (1892-96, 1898-1902), who became the most vocal proponent of free homes legislation in Washington, and with James Y. Callahan (1896-98), elected following a fusion of Democrats and Populists.
Both Flynn and Callahan secured legislation that provided temporary relief through extended payment schedules. Each delegate also introduced free homes bills, but most died in committee or failed to win either House or Senate approval. The debates in Congress centered on the effect on agricultural and mechanical colleges, whose support depended upon the sale of lands in the public domain, and on whether or not the settlers had entered a contract with the government when they entered and claimed land knowing full well that provisions of the opening proclamations demanded payment.
Finally, in May 1900, after substituting a general bill (H.R. 996) which covered Indian lands in other western states for Flynn's Oklahoma bill, the Congress passed and Pres. William A. McKinley signed the Free Homes Act (Public Law 105), which that relieved settlers on Indian land of all charges except for filing fees and allowed them the privilege of commutation under existing laws. The act provided that payments otherwise promised to an Indian tribe or an agricultural and mechanical college would be assumed by the federal government through direct appropriations. The Free Homes Act saved settlers in Oklahoma an estimated $15 million. Those who stayed on their claims for five years saved on average four hundred to five hundred dollars, money they used to improve houses and outbuildings, purchase livestock and equipment, and prove up their homesteads.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Mary Ann Blochowiak, "'Justice is our Battle Cry': The Territorial Free Home League," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 62 (Spring 1984). Vernon S. Braswell, "The Oklahoma Free Home Bill, 1892-1900," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 44 (Winter 1966).
Mary Ann Blochowiak
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