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Cassity said they had a choice: move to the city or find a new place to farm.

Wyoming's homesteading past

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"Wyoming is open, you have the land there available for settlement, and the homestead ideal has a special resonance for these people," he said. With the Homestead acts, the farmers wouldn't have to pay rent. They could own the land outright and become self sufficient.

The act was part of a larger set of laws passed from 1820 to 1916 that encouraged people to settle the land out here. What's more, these laws helped create a particular kind of society of small landowners and individual owner operated farms and ranches that helped shape Wyoming in its early years, Cassity said.

"It was very horrible," she said. "You got your family together and left in the middle of the night."

When the winter of 1886 1887 hit, harsh weather killed large amounts of cattle, closing many large ranches.

Mary Engebretsen's paternal grandparents had a different reason for ending up in Wyoming.

They are tucked into the woods and can be found off highways and dirt roads all these remnants left behind.

On the Lost Springs Ranch near Keeline, the past can be found in a modest one room house Nike Cortez Black On Foot

On the Fawcett Ranch outside Newcastle, the Fawcett family's history is marked by a cottonwood tree, 23 feet in circumference. "Billy," planted it when he filed on a 160 acre plot of land in 1883.

would check in on them a few times a year.

Because of a farm labor shortage during the war, farmers relied on horse and mule drawn equipment, which was expensive. Farmers bought more land to justify the expense, according to Cassity's research, but that required taking out a loan and mortgaging the farm. Many farms also shifted from self sufficient to commercial, single crop Nike Cortez Pics production. But at the same time, the country was experiencing a deflation.

But where the short lived "bonanza" ended, it gave way to a more dominant trend that had already taken hold: the small homestead, people who used homestead laws to make new lives for themselves here.

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"It was very attractive for people."

that still stands today. Though no longer in use, the home was built by Heinrich Amend in the early 1900s, on 160 acres that grew to 360 acres over the years. It had been his dream to own his own land.

Crumbling wooden shacks and sagging windmills dot the landscape in this state.

Initially, it was the railroad that brought an influx of white settlers to Wyoming.

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But there were problems with the Texas style system of ranching. Cattle were left unattended, allowed to roam the public domain and find food for themselves, and ranchers Cortez Shoes Original

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Amends fled to America on June 19, 1893. Less than a month later, the Amend and Giess families took the train to Lincoln, Neb. Heinrich and Anna married in 1900 and eight years later purchased land for a homestead near Keeline.

Communities formed along the Union Pacific Railroad, and when people realized this land a big public domain could feed a large amount of sheep and cattle, even more settlers emerged with their small herds.

"It was promoting that Jeffersonian idea, that vision of people who were free and who weren't beholden to someone else," said Cassity, who previously worked at the University of Wyoming.

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Billy Fawcett, Mary Capps' grandfather, had been an entrepreneur all his life. He filed for land in Wyoming in 1883 and had a log cabin and horse corrals built. He and his family moved there permanently in 1899, after a fire in Lead destroyed the grocery store, Capps said.

So farmers had more debts and received less in return for their crops.

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Life on the homestead was not without hardship. It was particularly hard on Anna early on. She spoke broken English, and although she later became a successful midwife and nurse, Anna spent many days crying behind the family's one room home, Engebretsen said.

"I'm sure they started with a milk cow and chickens and eked out just enough for their family," Engebretsen said.

Many of Wyoming's early homesteaders would have come from the Midwest, representing a number of different ethnicities.

Some 457 farms were counted in the territory in 1880, according to Cassity's research, and that number grew to 3,125 by 1890. Ten years later, it had nearly doubled to 6,095.

At the time, the rest of the country was growing increasingly urban. The Civil War had been difficult on farmers, and people were being forced off their farms in the east and Midwest.

Cattle ranching took off in the 1870s and early '80s, when many Texas longhorn cattle were driven north in the summer. It was called the "beef bonanza," and while 278,073 domestic cattle were counted in the territory in 1880s, that number expanded to at least 750,000 and as many as 2 million in five years, according to research Cassity conducted for the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office.

Heinrich Amend and Anna Giess were Germans born in an oppressive Saratoff, Russia. Historically, German families were invited to Russia to teach the Russians how to farm. They were given land, but unrest and cruel treatment of the Germans was common, Engebretsen said.

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In his writing, historian Michael Cassity describes antique farming tools, abandoned and still resting in the sagebrush, as "dinosaur bones," remains of a past so distant they seem foreign.

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This year marks 150 years since the Homestead Act of 1862, legislation that turned federal land over to the public to be homesteaded for free. The head of a household, at least 21 years of age, could file on 160 acres of land, and if he improved upon it in 5 years, he could "prove up."

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