Students watch a video about the hardships faced by homesteaders in the Great Plains, and learn how homesteading was different in Iowa compared to other states. Then, they write a letter or journal entry about life as a homesteader in Iowa that answers the questions, “What attracted your family to homesteading in Iowa?” and “What are the challenges?”
This lesson is part of "Great States: Iowa | Unit 3: Explorers and Settlers." In this unit, students will learn about the various incentives and events that drew European explorers and early settlers to the American West.
FL.SS.3.16: Describe how people take risks to improve their family income through education, career changes, and moving to new places.
G.SS.4.19: Explain influences on the development and decline of different modes of transportation in US regions.
An interactive whiteboard, projector, or another type of screen to show videos to the class
Notebooks or loose-leaf paper
Class set of Homesteading Letter handout
- Explain to students that, with the passage of the Homestead Act in 1862, Congress provided 160 acres of land to anyone willing to farm it for five years. Even though much of Iowa was previously sold, some land in north central and northwest Iowa was still eligible for homesteaders to claim. Unlike settlers in the mostly treeless Great Plains, homesteaders in the prairie lands of Iowa were fortunate to acquire land with timber for building their homes and fences, and adequate water for farming.
- Tell students they will watch a video about the failures and successes of homesteading in the Great Plains. Instruct students to take notes of these failures and successes in notebooks or on loose-leaf paper.
- Play the video, Homesteading – Failure and Success. [5:47]
- As a class discussion, have students answer the following questions:
- What things contributed to some homesteaders’ failures on the Great Plains?
- Why were railroads key to the success or failure of a homestead?
- What adjectives could be used to describe the homesteaders in the video?
- Distribute the Homesteading Letter handout to students. Using their notes and answers to the discussion questions, have students write a letter or journal entry as if they were homesteading with their family. Remind students that, although only about three percent (3%) of Iowa land was available to homesteaders, it was generally well-suited to farming, with good soil, water, and plenty of timber for fuel and building.
Answer Key for Class Discussion:
- Drought, blizzards, hail, grasshoppers, disease, poor markets [1:05]
- Railroads were essential to transport supplies to the homesteaders and crops to market [0:20]
- Determined, hard-working, family oriented, optimistic, hardy [1:44]