Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Fall 2012


Great Plains Quarterly 32:4 (Fall 2012).


Copyright © 2012 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska.


James R. Beck laments the fact that he cannot tell us why the early settlers bought and sold land in Union Township. Although his microscopic land history can illuminate what land was acquired-as well as how, when, and by whom-he says only "social histories provide the flesh of human stories to the bones of deed and mortgage details that are recorded in dusty courthouse record books." I see no need for apology. Beck deserves our gratitude for sweeping away the dust and revealing the underlying structure of settlement in northcentral Kansas.

The chief subject here is the variety of means by which 23,000 acres of the Public Domain in Clay County were slowly but steadily acquired over four decades by private individuals and families. More than half of the settlers were homesteaders. Beck shows us that, despite the sentimental aura that has surrounded this federal program, it was a complex bureaucratic process that surely tried the patience of the pioneers. Other methods of obtaining land included the use of military land warrants, purchase of railroad land, payment in cash, abiding by the terms of the Timber Culture Act of 1873, and buying land the sale of which helped finance public schools.