Homesteads were easy to apply for — nothing like today’s bureaucrat stuffed pol system. In some areas a small 5′ x 6′ bldg, or office was called a “land office.” Inside was a man who would simply write in the name and area (number of lot) into a survey ledger — for plats of land (divided by a surveyor). The gov’t would print up the ledger for the locals, and it became the “abstract” for that township.
Remember that the times were fresh with gold fever and claims. There were simple laws/regs covering these. Mining claims varied from homesteads, but contained mostly the same info. Most simply required driving some stakes, or making rock “ducks” around one’s claim. On the stake or under a rock would be a piece of paper with date and name of owner (notorious).
Homesteading was similar. One went out to his desired location, and, if not already taken, drove wagon or buggy around it, planted posts at the four corners — left a “prominent” note (notorius) with name and date. As times progressed, then the gov’t surveyor actually left posts or some other item flagging the area. You see these today (for those that know where to look) as blazes or brass nailed on special trees, or brass plates with numbers on them fastened to a nearby rock.
And later, some surveyors would leave a cement form called a monument so that surveyors can find it. (In my day, when we had a professional surveyor mark property, then we took an old car axle (high carbon steel from car junk yard) and pounded it deep in the ground, deep enough so you could farm over it. Later, you could locate them with metal detector or just dig around until you hit it. I have marked many such corners.)
After marking the corners you established some activity. Homesteading required one to actually live on the property for five years. Some areas required a certain physical improvement signifying “working” the property, and a “habitable” dwelling. Example: around Tonopah, NV, south of here a hundred miles or so, flying over it you see these bulldozer berms every so many hundred feet or so. The bulldozer meant that one had spent the required work to “work his claim” signified by the pushed up earth (sufficient only for bureaucracy’s sake). It had nothing to do with whether what he did was inane or sensible. Just that he had “worked his claim.” These were mining claims.
Living on the homestead, building an abode (cabin or even lean to or tent) was sufficient proof you were “living on it and working your claim” it being “notorius” or obvious to anyone who saw it.
I used to practice in a small town, Corcoran, in CA central valley. At one time this was a shallow lake, Tule Lake. But bureaucrats are bureaucrats, so the Homestead Act put the lake within the homestead boundaries. Being liquid instead of land, well, that meant some innovation required. One of my dental patients at the time, Old “Hawk Eye” Salyer — later a major land owner and farmer — to satisfy the regulations — which required one to “drive a wagon around the periphery, plant a post at all four corners, and build an abode” simply built a barge. Poled the barge with a wagon on it around the periphery, drove pointed posts into the four corners, then lived in a lean-to on the barge for five years — then “sold” the homestead to Salyer for $500.00. Salyer had “staked” the guy to “grubstake” for his five years. Salyer became the largest farmer in CA by doing that many times. In effect, finding a willing guy, staking him to food, etc., and a promise to buy for $500.00, was all it took.
Homesteading was first come-first served. So the best land was taken first. The last land taken could be long after the better land was long gone. Even though the district was homesteaded shortly after Lincoln signed the homesteading bill,1862, the last land around NP was still open in 1940s and 1950s.
An application for a homestead cost nothing. A man was only allowed one homestead claim at a time. But, you could “prove up” one claim, and then move onto another — if another was open That was Abe Lincoln’s Homestead Act of 1862. First come first served, and for 160 acres (quarter section). The Timber Act of 1865 was similar, but was for just 80 acres. The goal was to have someone plant trees, water as necessary, or provide irrigation, for five years — then you got title to the land — with no further requirements. It was geared to provide timber in desolate places where no timber for housing was available.
Over the years, Congress fiddled with homesteading from time to time — varying the land acreage that could be homesteaded and/or other wise modifying it. But all were premised the same and operated similarly. Surveying (remember George Washington was a gov’t surveyor?) enabled all of this. While a mining claim was not limited by survey just by visible bounders (called notorious by lawyers — a public or published impediment), homesteading had to be limited by surveys.
Actually Payette Valley was filled with many settlers because of homesteading — especially western Nebraska where 640 acres (one square mile) was allowed (but also allowed and institutionalized loneliness). This was very forsaken territory (you can tell the inducement necessary to settle it by the size allowed!) The very fact that it was so very harsh provided both the means and the stimulus for many to leave it and come to Payette Valley.
I would guess that the preponderance of Payette Valley settlers were previously homesteaders! We know that many homesteaded the Fruitland area. Goldsmiths homesteaded in Colorado before coming to Payette Valley. Several of my neighbors homesteaded in Oklahoma. Many of the German immigrants, so noticeable because of their names, came via Nebraska. The immigrants who settled the Palouse and northern Idaho mostly came via the Dakotas. Across the canal from us, Max Multerer (on old Bishop place—later Joel Miesbach) first homesteaded in Wisconsin, then came to NP.
Homesteads were allowed up on the Black Canyon land, opened when that canal was built after Black Canyon Dam was built in 1930. I knew and worked for many of these folks while they proved their claim. It was not easy living out there. Several lived up above the Pritzls (Woofleys, Walt Little). After homesteading up there, and acquiring a stake, many of these families then sold and bought better land in the valley.
When the homesteader could, after five years residency, “prove up” his homestead claim, then he would be issued a certificate like that above. My grandfather has several. Often a homesteader would occupy a strategic position — say the only well or spring, or the center of a small valley. That pretty much precluded someone else filing near him. After he had proved up the first, then he could simply move his cabin over to another and do still another homestead. Many simply homesteaded in order to sell, acquiring the capital to do something else. Some, even found homesteading better than working, and made no effort to really work the place. Some later Congressional acts, allowed additional land — if say a settler had a 320 homestead, then an additional 320 might be claimed. Most often, the additional land was because they were cattle ranches, not farm ground.