Pros and Cons of the Homesteading Act

Niki Welde

5th Grade Teacher

Cleveland School, Fergus Falls, MN


  1. Students will read and put together pros and cons for homesteaders deciding to make the journey west in the mid-1800’s, using newspaper articles, first accounts, and posters advertising this opportunity.  

  1. Students will discuss and debate their research in a full class setting.

Minnesota Standard:  The student will demonstrate knowledge of western expansion, conflict, and reform in America.

Time Frame: Two class periods.

Resources needed:  

Our Nation.  Macmillan/McGraw-Hill Social Studies Series.  Unit 7 Lesson 3. 2003.

Hannah Kempher An Immigrant Girl, Linda Frances Lein.  1973.  Pgs 11-17

The Checkered Years, A Bonanza Farm Diary 1884-1888, Mary Dodge Woodward. 1937. Pgs 21-110

Aunt Jennie’s Diary, Jennie McCallum Richardson (1852-1895).  Ottertail County Historical Society Archives.

Various pioneer stories from the Fergus Falls Advocate. Ottertail County Historical Society Archives. See attached PDF File.

Example of poster for free land in the west:

Lead In:

Review The Homesteading Act of 1862.  Students should be able to explain what the act included for homesteaders, who were able to homestead, and why people would choose to take the government up on this act. 


Day One:  

Divide student into groups to examine provided documents.  Each group should use these first hand accounts to collect both pros and cons for a person leaving their home for free land.  Students should be searching for aspects that made success difficult, and rewarding.  Each group is responsible for compiling good examples from these documents.  Handing in their findings before leaving.  Teacher prep before the next day includes compiling data collected by each group.  Separate pros from cons.  

Day 2:

Share compiled data from the previous day.  Questions to consider for discussion include: What made this life great?  What did the area around us provide for settlers?  What made life difficult?  What stood in the way of a settler trying to find success in homesteading?  The class will then complete a reality poster including information a new settler really needs to take into account before moving west, comparing and contrasting it to a sample of posters and advertisements for free land.  See attached PDF and website connections.  

Assessment:  Students will take a role in completing the classroom bulletin board display showing their “reality advertisement”.  Each person will report on their part when completed.  


Questions? Contact Project Director Audrey Shafer-Erickson

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