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The Desert Land Act was passed by the United States Congress on March 3, 1877, to encourage and promote the economic development of the arid and semiarid public lands of the Western states. Through the Act, individuals may apply for a desert-land entry to irrigate and reclaim the land.
See the fact file below for more information on the Desert Land Act or alternatively, you can download our 20-page Desert Land Act worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
OBJECTIVES OF THE DESERT LAND ACT
- The Desert Land Act was passed on March 3rd, 1877 in the United States Congress.
- Its aim was to “encourage and promote the economic development of the arid and semiarid public lands of the Western states”.
- The public lands of the Western states are shown on the map below, in the unshaded regions.
- The idea was that a citizen could apply to reclaim, irrigate, and/or cultivate the lands.
- The act allowed for an adult married couple to pay 25 cents per acre for up to 640 acres.
- The couple needed to promise to irrigate the land within three years, and any excess water on the land that wasn’t used for irrigation had to be accessible to the public for free.
- Anyone taking advantage of the act needed to submit proof that they were indeed irrigating the land, as per their agreement.
LEGAL HISTORY OF THE DESERT LAND ACT
- The Desert Land Act was originally put out as an amendment to the Homestead Act of 1862 which opened up over 160 million acres of public land for free to almost 2 million homesteaders (most of which were west of the Mississippi River).
- The Lassen Country Act in 1875 was a precursor to the Desert Land Act, as it was put forth to speed up the privatization of land in and around California.
- The first decade after the Desert Land Act was passed, a lot of illegal and fraudulent activity took place, primarily by cattle farmers.
- Between 1888 and 1893, an amendment was made to reduce fraudulent activity. Settlers were required to submit maps and plans of irrigation, as well as placing irrigation systems in communal places.
- In 1893, there was a depression called the “Panic of 1893”.
- The Panic of 1893 was a four-year-long serious depression that affected all economic sectors.
- Wheat prices crashed, stock prices declined, banks closed, businesses failed, and many farms that had been operating on land granted by the Desert Land Act ceased operations.
- Furthermore, unemployment skyrocketed and people became desperate to earn money, feed their families, and keep their homes.
- Following the depression in 1893, the economy began to recover.
- The Desert Land Act peaked in 1910 with over 15,000 original entries in one year. By 1920, almost all present irrigation systems had been secured across the Western United States.
FAST FACTS ABOUT THE DESERT LAND ACT
- While the claimant was required to improve the land by irrigating and preserving the land, they did not need to actually live on the land while the improvements were made.
- The idea that the claimant didn’t need to live on the land sparked large companies to acquire thousands of acres of land by using “dummy entry men” to make false claims of settlement.
- The Desert Land Act played a significant role in the development of water rights.
- Water rights have been a contentious issue in arid climates for decades, and the creation of the Desert Land Act forced farmers and settlers to think about how to use and share the water.
- If irrigation had been accomplished within the three years set out by the act, the land would be transferred to the settler.
- Following the Desert Land Act, the Newlands Reclamation Act of 1902 allowed for 95% of the money made from sales of public lands in the Western United States to be used for irrigation projects to entice more settlers, as the Desert Land Act itself didn’t attract as many settlers as it originally set out to.
Desert Land Act Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about Desert Land Act across 20 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Desert Land Act worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the Desert Land Act which was passed by the United States Congress on March 3, 1877, to encourage and promote the economic development of the arid and semiarid public lands of the Western states. Through the Act, individuals may apply for a desert-land entry to irrigate and reclaim the land.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Primary Source Analysis
- Homesteading in the U.S.A
- See, Think, Wonder
- Desert Land Act Wordsearch
- Terms of the Act
- The “Gilded Age”
- Diary of a Settler
- Unscrambling Challenge
- Desert Land Act Crossword
- Opinion Piece
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Link will appear as Desert Land Act Facts & Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, April 29, 2019
Use With Any Curriculum
These worksheets have been specifically designed for use with any international curriculum. You can use these worksheets as-is, or edit them using Google Slides to make them more specific to your own student ability levels and curriculum standards.