Wednesday, May 1, 2013

New York Newspaper Trumpets the Vast Lands Available in Idaho, and the West Generally

On May 1, 1863, the Evening Post in New York City published an article titled “The Great West.” It said: “Our territorial domains in the far West may truly be characterized as great. This a few facts clearly exhibit. In the ten territories of Dakotah, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Oregon, Idaho, Washington and Nebraska, there are 1,256,305 square miles and 804,035,200 acres, of which 757,481,503 yet remain to be disposed of. Idaho alone will make six states as large as New York, and is rich in gold, silver and precious stones, while some of the other territories are almost if not quite as prolific as California.”

Of course, the folks in Oregon, which had become a state in 1859, would have been annoyed to be lumped in with all those territories. But otherwise, the paper made a good point. That included the fact that Idaho Territory, as it was then constituted, was almost exactly six times the size of New York state. (Of course, even the smallest borough in New York City had probably eight to ten times the population of Idaho at the time.)
Early Homesteaders. National Archives.

The Post’s statement about land that “remain to be disposed of” referred to acreage that was still in the public domain. President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Homestead Act slightly under a year earlier (May 20, 1862), and it had gone into effect on January 1, 1863. That Act allowed individual settlers to claim 160 acres of public land at a very nominal price, if they made some minimal improvement within five years. Already, the measure had prompted considerable movement onto the public lands.

The newspaper article included a table with acreages for the Western states and Territories, and for several Midwestern states. Idaho, of course, was essentially all public land, all 326 thousand square miles. In fact, most of the Western divisions, even California and Oregon, had 85-90% of their land unclaimed. In contrast, states like Illinois and Iowa had almost no unclaimed public land left. In the years to come, the prospect of “free” (essentially) land would draw thousands of land-hungry settlers to the West, including Idaho.

References: [Brit]
“The Great West,” Evening Post, New York City (May 1, 1863).

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