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Photograph of homesteader Daniel Freeman

Daniel Freeman, a Union Army scout, was possibly the first of 418 people to file a homestead claim on January 1, 1863. About to leave the Nebraska Territory, he met a local land office clerk at a New Year’s Eve party and persuaded him to open the office shortly after midnight. Freeman claimed 160 acres in Beatrice, Nebraska.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Photograph of homesteader Daniel Freeman

The First Homesteaders

The Homestead Act of 1862 made 160 acres available to any head of household who filed a claim, lived five years on the land, and paid a fee. Homesteaders included citizens, immigrants seeking naturalization, women, men, African Americans, and whites. American Indians, who were not recognized as U.S. citizens, were excluded. Daniel Freeman, a Civil War scout in Nebraska, may have been the first to file a land claim when the Homestead Act became effective on January 1, 1863.