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Livin' Out on the Land
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A History of Homesteading with Emphasis on the Matousek Farm
by James Matousek
From: A Panoramic View of Oklahoma From Indian Territory to the Present Time:
With Emphasis on the Hennessey Area
1977 Senior Writing Class
Marjorie Henkell, Teacher
Today farming is one of the biggest businesses in the world. There are probably many reasons for the growth of agriculture, but only a couple seem to be actually responsible for setting off the agricultural industry, and both of those deal with the people who settled this wild frontier. The first few brave homesteaders went West, having no idea of what was in front of them or, if and when they did make it, whether they would be able to support a family well or just make a living by the skin of their teeth. The second group of people responsible for a successful agriculture industry are the strong-backboned lawyers and people of high office in government, for they saw the farmers' problems and fought for the farmers with all their knowledge and all the tricks they could pull.
Originally the land allotted settlers was free; however, if for some reason the settler wanted to purchase the land, he could substitute $1.25 an acre for his five year requirement of living there, under the Homestead Act of 1862.
Such Westerners as Andrew Jackson and Thomas Benton wanted the price of land throughout America lowered from $2.00 to $1.25 an acre, because the land was unimproved and it took the settlers about $1,500 to $2,000 to get a successful start. That much money could not be made by a settler in the first few years of farming, so many men had to take up different jobs, and the others just gave up. They wished to reserve the land for settlers, rather than to let it go to speculators who were buying large quantities of land and not developing it, for those who did have the money to buy land were criticized for purchasing more land than they could ever develop in a lifetime.
The pressure of homesteading became so great that the House of Representatives and the Senate went to work on a plan. For many years the House of Representatives and the Senate fought between themselves, trying to get a homestead bill passed. In 1860, the House and Senate came to an agreement on a homestead bill, only to see it vetoed by President James Buchanan. Finally, however, in 1862, Congress adopted the Homestead Bill and President Abraham Lincoln signed it.
Congress considered this Bill a masterpiece since it contained many articles they thought to be superior. The Homestead Act of 1862 stated that anyone twenty-one years old or the head of a family had the right to take up a quarter section of land and develop it for five years. Homesteaders could gain another 160 acres of land for an additional $200.00, and later they could gain a quarter of land by setting out trees on forty acres. When farming became easier and more profitable, homesteaders were allowed plots from 320 to 640 acres. This act extended the limit of the amount of land per person. If a perzon wanted to mortgage his land for additional improvements, he could purchase the land after six months of living there. Later this caused great abuse when speculators used the homesteaders by loaning them money for improvements and then coming back after a short period of time demanding their payments. In most cases the settler could not pay, so the speculators would take the settler's homestead in place of the payment. Rather than to benefit the first poor land settlers, all of these negative aspects caused the Homestead Act to benefit the great cattle ranchers, lumber companies, and speculative capitalists.
Even with the initial land free of charge to settlers, many of them still failed at farming. However, nearly half of those who tried to create farms on Uncle Sam's domain succeeded and made the United States the greatest surplus food-producing nation in the world.
The period between 1863 and 1890 was the greatest time of success in American history for the farmers in spite of the problems they had with the ranchers and Indians. The land boom caused tremendous conflict between the homesteaders and cattlemen. Night-riding and murder were prevalent and the struggle brought about the end of the range-cattle industry. The land boom also brought about tension between the white man and the Indians. This finally contributed to the formation of the Indian reservations and the Indian's old hunting grounds opened for settlement. The cattlemen and Indians were not the homesteaders' only problems, however, for they had their worst one yet to come, the Great Plain's droughts. The homesteaders were warned by many people not to go West, but they thought if they left during the wet season everything would be fine. However, after they had completed their long trip, many of them had their hopes killed by the droughts.
Although the Great Plains was a hard place for homesteaders to make it, many of them did not have a choice. Towns in Texas, Missouri, and Kansas already had hundreds of covered wagons covering their streets, along with all the camp sites and wagonyards full and no land available to farm there. Many men talked of Oklahoma as the land of promise. The rumor in many towns was that the businessmen and railroad companies would enter into an agreement with the federal government to open the country for settlement.
In spite of the hardships and problems a homesteader had to deal with, those who succeeded had the joy of family living and took pride in the ownership of land and in the pleasure of passing that land down to succeeding generations.
[editor's note: There follows a section describing the death of William Noland and the passing of his land through the Noland family until the portion inherited by Mary Noland, wife of the deceased, was sold to John Matousek.]
On March 24, 1930, John J. Matousek bought the Noland estate for two reasons, one being that at this time he was dating Emma Fuksa, and every time they would drive by the farm she would always comment on how beautiful the house was and how someday she would like to own it. The other reason was that he wanted, along with what he already had, more land to farm. He paid a total of $17,775 for the farm, of which he borrowed $7,000 from a mortgage company.
Even after his purchase of the land, he did not move to the farm until about three years later. He remained at his house on the sand farm while his new home on the Noland estate was being rented. After the death of his son at the old house on the sand farm, he moved to the home on the old Noland estate. John used a wagon and team of horses to move his furniture and possessions from the old sand house to the new farmhouse. Even though he now had three places to farm, at first he still used horses and a one-bottom plow to work his land. However, a few years later, he purchased his first tractor. When his son, Ernest, was married, John came to Ernest's place at about four o'clock every morning, and they took their lunch along with them to the field to plow.
While the men were working in the field, the women would do washing and the small chores. Since they had only one wash8ing machine, Emma Matousek, John's wife, would bring her dirty clothes with her to Ernest's house to wash them on a wringer-type washing machine. While she was there she would help Delores Matousek, Ernest's wife, dress chickens, pick peas, dig potatoes and do many other little things.
After working in the field all morning and part of the afternoon, the men would quit plowing and go cut wheat until dark. After coming in from the field and eating supper, Emma and John would wash the dishes while Ernest milked the cows and finished the other chores.
The field work was not the only job that had to be attended to, for after many years of rough treatment, the original buildings collapsed and new ones were built. Some of the structures rebuilt consisted of a hen house, brooder house, barn, shed, wash house, and garage. The windmill tower in the barnyard is the only thing left standing today that was on the farm when it was bought.
Besides in the reconstruction of all the buildings, much time and labor were consumed in building the land into better farming soil. When the land was first bought there were no terraces or water ways on it. Six terraces were constructed by a tumblebug, and later, two waterways were build. One of the waterways was constructed so that every time it rained, the water would fill a pond before running over a dam into a natural waterway. The first dam around the pond was built with a team of horses.
After getting the farm into reasonably good farming land, an additional two acres were purchased on the south side of the farm. This land was purchased from the Felders and was used for a gateway in the southeast corner of the farm and also as a waterway to help drain the farm. The two acres helped form a plot of land that was divided into three sections. One of the sections was used as a garden, the other was a pen for chickens, and the third one was an orchard. There were about twelve fruit trees in the orchard at one time, but later all of them died. There are now, left standing around the farmyard, ten shade trees that were there when the farm was bought.
Gates, Paul W., Free Homesteads For All Americans, (United States Government Printing Office), 1963.
"Homestead Act of 1862," Encyclopedia Americana, volume 14, Lexington Avenue, New York, Americana Corporation, 1972.
"Homestead Act of 1862," ("Civil War Centennial Commission", Washington, D.C.), 1962.
Matousek, Delores, (Oral Interview by James Matousek, February 25, 1977, Hennessey, Oklahoma).
Matousek, Ernest, (Oral Interview by James Matousek, February 13, 1977, Hennessey, Oklahoma).
Matousek, John J., (Oral Interview by James Matousek, February 19, 1977, Hennessey, Oklahoma).
Rister, Carl, "Oklahoma: The Land of Promise," The Chronicles of Oklahoma, volume 23, Oklahoma Historical Society, 1945.