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“We Will All Be Poor Here Together”: A Young Family Homesteads in Nebraska, 1872

by Uriah W. Oblinger

The Homestead Act of 1862 opened the Great Plains for Euro-American settlement. The law allowed anyone to claim 160 acres after payment of a nominal fee. Final title to the land followed after five years of occupation and the improvement of the claim. While many of the Act’s supporters intended its benefits to go to urban workers, city dwellers found it difficult even to raise the fees much less the capital necessary for farm equipment and supplies. Many Civil War veterans did move West, including Uriah Oblinger and other residents of older farming areas such as Indiana. He and two of his wife’s brothers took advantage of the Homestead Act in the fall of 1872. Uriah’s letters to his family described the emerging community of young settlers who had migrated to the Nebraska territory to start new lives with their families.

Letter from Uriah W. Oblinger to Mattie V. Thomas and Ella Oblinger, December 1, 1872

Sabbath Dec 1st 1872

At Gile’s House

Dear Wife & Baby

I am again at the pen talking to you through its silent medium and a great satisfaction it is to be thus blessed but more so if you were here with me and us occupying the Homestead I have in view. but so it is we are separated and we will have to be satisfied with our lot till the joyful day arrives when we will again be together. I suppose ere this you have rec’d the letter telling you what steps I have taken to secure a home, and I hope it will give you some satisfaction with regard to what I came here for. Ma I dont want you to get discouraged about our situation yet for I am not. I did not come here to be baffled off so easily I am going to have my land before I leave here if I live and have health, if I have to sell my team and take the money to live on, and live here alone till I can get a deed for a piece of Land and then I am confident that I can live when I have 160 of my own. so you can just make up your mind that I am going to have a home for ma & pet. when once my Homestead papers are filed on a piece of land you can hold it as well as me if I am called away and if I am called before you can homestead 160 acres am and hold it for the law says soldiers widows and orphans can have the same right as the soldier himself even the guardian for a soldiers orphan can take a piece for the orphan as well as the soldier himself some are doing so at this time so you see uncle sam has been mindful of those who stood by the country in her hour of Peril by providing in a great measure for those who were ever nearest & dearest to us.

Well ma we were all at church today and a good meeting we had, some got up and said they wanted to cast their influece on the side of christianity that were not professors this is more than they will do in Ind where there is more & better church privileges than we have here. Ma the longer I stay here the better I like it, there are but very few old families here they are mostly young families just starting in life the same as we are and I find them very generous indeed. we will all be poor here together and grow up together and I hope be happy together Ma you know I was saying when I left home just for fun I would be a single man when I got here but I soon found that did not pay when I would ask any one to show me vacant land about the next qustion was have you a family and when aswered in the affirmative they were ready show me a claim for they are anxious for people to come in who will be permanet settlers for that is what we want to make the country there is nearly 1/3 the claims here are taken by single men. the Section that Giles is on has 3 single men and the one that Doc is on has 3 and you might say 4 for one man come from england and left his wife in Chicago till he could come and get a claim and when he wrote for her she sent him word that she was going back to England and would not come so he is here alone is that the way you are going to serve me Dear wife if it {Begin deleted text}so{End deleted text} is just send our baby & then I guess ma will come too. Ma you said you had not got anything new since I left. well I have I got new overalls & shirt & a new cap but I was copelled to get them for my old hat was about played & I could not keep it on my head for the wind so I bought me a cap to be out in the wind & cold with. Well I have been down to tend mr Robinsons things for him (he has gone to Beatrice as a witness for mr dewolf,) and when I came back Mr Elliott and wife were here so I did not get to writing till just now they started for home, and here I am talking to you again. ma you know I expected to be a good way off from neighbors when I left home and you will know by my former letters that I am happily mistaken and I think taking everything into view we have good neighbors I do not know of one near that drinks and we can count the improvements on some 75 or 80 farms from here and that is more than we can say of our old neighborhood. Well I suppose Taylor Wilson will hear of his shorness sometime after this I would have thought as sharp as he likes for people to believe him to be he would have said it so as to sound some better. well ma they think here that we are some singers for Mrs Elliott invited us to come down last sunday evening and sing for them. we went you may form an idea of our singing, when I tell you I am soprano. mr Elliott helped us on some of the pieces in the Key Note (she has one) and this evening we had another sing but it not like singing at home where I can take my own part and hear ma & nettie helping. Well I guess you would all like to see us we have none of us shaved since we left Home and I tell yo Doc looks huge he will the glass and sit down and comb them out and if one gets crooked he will take his fingers and straighten it out. Well Ma I must tell you something about prices out here we can buy Sternes make of goods right here for about 5 cts more per yd than it costs at retail at the factory his flannels and his janes both and groceries and other good are no higher than they are in Ind I am trying to make a trade with a man for his cow he wants a well & I am trying to get the job of digging it for the cow. this makes me think of my pig. tell the boys to be very careful that she gets with no scrub for we can make a nice thing here out of Hogs for there is very few good hogs here I will want the best sow pig saved and trade for a good male so they will not be mates then we can get a start in good hogs but this is counting before hatching so more about it when the time comes. Well I suppose my letters are read by all the Family. Father you need not think I am hurt at all by you not writing to me specially (as you said your letter) for your letters are family letters here no matter who they are directed to, and any way I get to hear all from home by Mattie’s letters

Well My dear little pet Grand Pa said he did not see how they would get along without you when the time come for you to leave just ask him how he thinks Pa gets along now. there is not a moment of time passes but I think of the dear little pet and last night I dreamed I kissed her I saw her just as plain as day I thought. tell Ma not to touch yor hair with scissors and then it will always be nice and silken just as nature intended it. I have got Plato yet and am going to keep him till you come. Ma I hope better days are coming for us when we can be together under our own vine and fig tree and I want to see them move me then without paying me well for it. I want you to keep up courage and just think I am all right till you hear different. I am not discouraged yet nor anywhere near it, and the longer I stay here the better I like it I think that there is a bright future for Neb' and us with it. I think you will certainly like it here for mud there has been none yet to speak of and never is there is always a nice grass to walk on and the best roads in the world you can go at all times and never mud bound you said in some of your letters for me not to get homesick, when I do it will not be to go to Ind {Begin inserted text}but{End inserted text} to live {Begin deleted text}but{End deleted text} right here for a few years yet ofcours I expect to visit Ind some time. I think any one that is not able to own a farm in Ind or any of the older states and make their living by farming are foolish for staying any longer than to just get enough to l{Begin inserted text}e{End inserted text}ave on. If I had come here when we were first married and put in as many hard licks here as I have there I would have a farm of my own now pretty well improved as it is I am just where I was then just starting. it is is [sic] going to be rough starting as I always told you but when started it will be ours. I want you to make up your mind to have to take it rough for a few years and then you will not be disappointed I will make {Begin deleted text}it{End deleted text} the way as smooth as I can for you but the best will be rough. those that are here seem to be as happy as birds they are all Homesteaders yet there is not more than one in 25 that has a deed for their land yet

Source: Nebraska State Historical Society, Digital ID, nbhips 1084 Uriah W. Oblinger Collection, Nebraska Historical Society, from Prairie Settlement: Nebraska Photographs and Family Letters, American Memory, Library of Congress. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/award98/nbhihtml/pshome.html