Homesteaders and Farmers Work the Land

The Homestead Act of 1862 would forever change the face of the west.

 

 Act allowed any citizen at least 21 years old to obtain 160 acres of land in the west to get the land, the homesteader had to live on the property for five years, farm the land, build a home, make improvements and pay a small fee. From 1863 to 1890, over 956,900 people filed for land.

Many settlers discovered that 160 acres in the arid west was not enough land to support their family. In 1873, the U.S. Congress modified the Homestead Act so people could get more than 160 acres.

Before homesteaders could receive title to their land, they had to "prove up." This involved filling out an affidavit.The homesteader had to swear they lived on the land, made improvements and farmed. Witnesses also had to fill out forms saying they saw the homesteader living on the land.

The 1887 Homestead Affidavit of Saul Wixon tells much of a settler’s life in the Wet Mountains. The 51-year-old Idaho native, his wife and six children had 100 acres of farmland and 10 acres of timber. The rest of their land was used for grazing.

The Wixons moved onto their claim in August of 1876. They toiled to build a 16 x 24-foot log house. Can you imagine eight people living in a home the size of most modern-day living rooms?

Later the Wixons added frame additions to their home. They also built log barn, smoke house, root cellar two chicken houses. Saul describes his furnishings as: "5 bedsteads, tables, 8 chairs, 3 stoves, 2 cupboards, 1 clock, 3 trunks, 1 clothes closet, bedding, dishes, knives & forks, maps, pictures and other small articles."

They tended 55 head of cattle, 5 horses, 3 pigs and 10 chickens-and survived by raising hay, oats, barley turnips and potatoes. For a short Saul worked as a teamster in the nearby mining town of Querida.
 
When asked on the Affidavit how of he had been absent from his proper Saul responded:"...I have not been absent...except to go to Pueblo, Rosita, or Silver Cliff for groceries and I hauled one load of potatoes to Pueblo in the fall of 1882...I have been to Pueblo not over 6 or 7 times in the last 12 years."

Compare that to the number of times modern families go to the grocery store. As you can imagine, settlers were very self-sufficient.

The remains of the Wixon Homestead are visible near the 4-mile marker Colorado Highway 165, just north of Wixon Divide on the west side of the highway.