From Marysville, the Oregon Trail crossed into Nebraska and headed northwest following the Little Blue River towards Fort Kearney. Today, there is no set of roads that closely follows the trail. Much of this land is now being cultivated in large patch work fields of corn. So it takes some zig zagging on back roads to follow the general route. And there are few historical sites in this area.
I left Kansas and continued northward doing a short detour to the town of Beatrice, NE. This town attracted me because the Homestead National Monument is right outside of town. This National Monument is dedicated the Homestead Act of 1862, which encouraged people to migrate to the western states and claim a piece of free land.
Homestead National Monument
The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed people to file a claim for 160 acres, to settle on the land, and attain ownership after residing on it for 5 years. It was meant to encourage people to settle the new western states. It was hugely popular. Over 1.6 million claims were filed over the life of this act.
The National Monument sits on an original 160 parcel that was claimed by Daniel Freeman in 1863. Freeman filed one of the first claims in Nebraska. There’s a nice museum that has several displays about farming on the plains. There’s also some hiking trails through the tall grass with historical plaques.
Farming and ranching is such a big part of the mid and western states. We New Englanders don’t get to see much of it anymore, but it dominates the land use once you get away from the Atlantic coastal states. The Homestead Monument is a nice tribute to farming and to the people who farm the land.
My visit to the Monument helped explain a question about why many of the back roads in some of these mid-western states all seem to run in north south and east west grids. The Land Ordinance of 1785 layed out the township areas in 6 mile by 6 mile blocks. Within the townships, land was further divided in to 1 mile by 1 mile sections. A Homestead claim was for 1/4 of a section. The roads were built to run on the edges of the townships and sections.
I had a nice visit at the Homestead National Monument. My Dad, who was a farmer and later made a career working for the USDA, would have loved to visit this place.
Driving Though the Great Corn Desert
I spent the night in Beatrice at Chautauqua Park. This was another great little town park that had a small camping area for RV’s. A great deal – a full hook-up site for $18 per night.
From Beatrice, I headed west towards Rock Creek Station State Historical Site. This site was a stop over on the Oregon Trail. This site is in the middle of nowhere. I got close but found that I had to drive 7 miles on a dirt road to get to the site. I decided to skip this stop and stay of the black top.
My route west took me through miles and miles of newly seeded corn fields with an occasional farm-house located every few miles. This area of Nebraska is flat. Really flat. I drove most of the way west on Rt 6 to Minden. Much like the pioneers, my destination was Fort Kearny.
I remember several years ago while on a bike tour in Montana, I met some bikers from Nebraska. The all wore cycling jerseys with the wording – “Riders of the Great Corn Desert”. I remembered that phrase and it came to mind while I was driving the 60 straight line miles to Kearney. Yup, I can see where it’s a desert of sorts. Almost treeless and very few people.