Tragedy on the Homestead


This story was tucked away in the Homestead files from the Bureau of Land Management at the National Archives. It involves a family tragedy, the determination of a young widow, and a community coming together to help.

Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act into law in 1862, allowing anyone twenty-one years of age or older to apply for free land. If the settlers stayed five years and showed evidence of making the required improvements on the land, they were given title to the land, free of charge. 

Many people attempted this process, moving west and leaving behind their family, friends and all things familiar. Only 40% of those who attempted this made it through the five years. The other 60% gave up and moved back home. It was a difficult process. Loneliness and hard work plagued settlers who became part of the homestead process.

Charles and Rose Redding began the homestead process on their 160 acres in 1906, moving their family from Missouri to Durango, Colorado. They were both in their early 30s and had four young daughters. A year later, Rose’s 70 year old father, William Teal, also moved there and started his own five year homestead claim on an adjoining 80 acre plot of land.

Two years into the process, while Rose was pregnant with their fifth child, her 35 year old husband Charles was tragically killed while digging a well. The Homestead requirements, which would have been difficult under normal circumstances, became drastically more difficult after losing Charles. The family's future was suddenly in jeopardy. If they couldn’t continue to improve their 160 acres of land, they would forfeit their rights to the land they were on. They had three more years on their homestead claim when Charles died.

Surprisingly though, Rose’s Homestead file had documents that showed that she beat the odds and completed the process! After five years on the land, there were fences built around much of their land. They had a five room house, a barn, a cellar, a hen house, and an outhouse. Her 75 year old father William’s file also had documentation that he completed the process. Despite the odds stacked against them, they both did what 60% of homesteaders were not able to do.

How did they do it? Further research about this family revealed that the Durango Free Methodist Church stepped in and gave Rose and her daughters what they needed on an ongoing basis. Other members of the community came along and helped out too. Rose had to have been a strong woman. Her determination to succeed, along with the assistance of the community and the church, helped Rose to achieve the impossible. She was able to earn title to her land.

Despite being widowed so young, Rose never remarried, and she still has descendants in Colorado today.

What stories are hiding in your ancestry? Contact me and lets see what we can find!

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