Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

Skip Navigation

Electronic Publishing Center
Oklahoma Historical Society
Encyclopedia Homepage
Search all Volumes
Disclaimer and Usage
© Copyright 2003

Table of Contents Search All Entries Home


The Homestead Act of 1862 and later homestead legislation provided the mechanism for transferring federal land to private ownership. The act was applied in Oklahoma after 1889. A popular movement for distributing free land in the West had begun in the 1850s and resulted in the passage of the Homestead Act in May 1862. According to statute, a citizen over twenty-one years of age and head of a family could claim up to 160 acres of surveyed, unclaimed public domain. Title to the land could be established after the homesteader resided on the land for five years, made certain improvements, and paid claim registration fees. The Homestead Act, and subsequent laws that amplified it, regulated the disposition of millions of acres of unoccupied federal land west of the Mississippi River. Through 1890 more than 1.6 million homesteads were patented in the West, but much of the public domain was granted to railroads or purchased for speculative purposes.

Homestead Act regulations generally governed the process of distributing land by "run" in territorial Oklahoma. After the Civil War, treaties between American Indian nations and the U.S. government rearranged tribal holdings in Indian Territory. Later negotiations removed millions of acres from Native control and placed the land in the public domain. Beginning with the opening of the Unassigned Lands of Oklahoma Territory on April 22, 1889, a series of land runs took place in the western portion of the present state through 1895. Other methods of Land Openings, including distribution by lottery, auction, legislation, allotment, and court order, did not fall under the Homestead Act. By 1905 all surplus Indian holdings in present Oklahoma had been placed in the public domain and opened to settlement.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Berlin B. Chapman, "Federal Management and Disposition of the Lands of Oklahoma Territory, 1866-1907" (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin, 1931). Paul W. Gates, History of Public Land Law Development (rev. ed.; Holmes Beach, Fla.: Gaunt, 1987).

Dianna Everett

© Oklahoma Historical Society

Return to top

Electronic Publishing Center | OSU Home | Search this Site