“We can get a hundred and sixty acres out west, just by living on it, and the land’s as good as this is, or better. If Uncle Sam’s willing to give us a farm in place of the one he drove us off of, in Indian Territory, I say let’s take it. The hunting’s good in the west, a man can get all the meat he wants.”
Laura wanted so much to go that she could hardly keep from speaking.
By the Shores of Silver Lake, Chapter 1: Unexpected Visitor
The 160 acres that Charles Ingalls, Laura’s father, was referring to was the Homestead Act of 1862. It was a federal law passed by the US government during the Civil War.
The Act provided a way for people to acquire up to 160 acres of public land for a nominal fee if they agreed to live on and improve the land for a period of five years. In Charles Ingalls case, he mentions that he “bet Uncle Sam fourteen dollars against a hundred and sixty acres of land, that we can make out to live on the claim for five years.” (By the Shores of Silver Lake, Chapter 25: Pa’s Bet)
The purpose of the act was to encourage the settlement and development of the western United States. The Homestead Act opened up large areas of land to homesteading and helped to facilitate westward expansion. The act had a significant impact on American history and continues to influence land use and property law in the United States.
Charles Ingalls proved up on his claim in De Smet, although he failed to prove up on the one in Walnut Grove, which he relinquished when he moved West. Almanzo Wilder’ Laura’s husband, proved up on his homestead claim in De Smet, as did both his brother Royal and sister, Eliza Jane.