Historically, homesteading was quite risky. It not only required steely determination, the most successful homesteader also held an arsenal of skills that were needed for his survival. One such man was William Campbell, the son of Scottish immigrants. He established his homestead in 1897 on the edge of the Salmon River in the mountains of Central Idaho.
A recent gold discovery at nearby Thunder Mountain brought an increase in travelers looking to strike it rich. Seeing the need to get men, supplies, and cattle across the river, he began a ferrying business which proved to be very lucrative. Successful homesteaders earned their living by various means and were not always farmers. Their prosperity was reliant on the needs and opportunities of the surroundings and the ability to recognize and respond to those conditions. William Campbell was able to provide a necessary service for his community while eking out a moderately comfortable lifestyle. Unfortunately, his dream was cut short, lasting only about five years. He disappeared in a
snowstorm and was never found. His name lives on in Campbell’s Ferry, a spot near the main fork of the Salmon River.
The Donation Land Act of 1850, set in place prior to the Homestead Act, focused on settling the Oregon Territory of modern-day Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and a small portion of Wyoming. The Homestead Act of 1862 was signed into existence by the Lincoln Administration. It provided up to 160 acres per person over the age of 21 if they could live and work the land for 5 consecutive years. Several additional Acts were passed that provided for different kinds of environmental constraints, such as the Desert Land Act of 1877.
These courageous people were the first settlers to work the land. Some came to mine for elusive gold, but many came for the opportunity to establish farms and create homes for their families. The land varied from climate to climate, from extreme winters to blistering summers to lengthy droughts. Often, they were unprepared for what they had to work with, such as rocky, sandy, or hard-clay soil. Only half of the initial homesteaders remained after five years, indicating the harshness of the conditions.
Today, there is momentum for a new breed of homesteader. Not unlike our ancestors who sought a better way of life away from the industrialized urban spaces that choked the air with smoke and fetid odors, today’s homesteader looks to escape their urban confinements and burdensome laws for sweet alfalfa fields and cock-a-doodle-doos. Homesteading can mean many things. One person’s passion for herbaceous gardens and frolicking pygmy goats can diverge from another’s love of everything bovine. Creating a homestead is not dissimilar to creating a home, which you can do no matter if you reside in an urban or rural context. Plainly there are urban constraints that may limit your grander goals but homesteading is completely possible on a smaller scale. Regardless of your location, no two homesteads will choose the same journey. Each is a reflection of the people who create it, and all are beautiful in their own unique way. Off-grid or on, animals or none, urban or rural, we are a community that grows and learns together. Tell me in the comments below, in what ways do you homestead?
“Man takes root at his feet, and at best he is no more than a potted plant in his house or carriage till he has established communication with the soil by the loving and magnetic touch of his soles to it.” -John Burroughs