January 1, 1863, 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. We commonly think of this as freeing all the slaves, when it fact, it did not; it was only the beginning.
On that same day, the Homestead Act went into effect. The land was not completely “free,” improvements were necessary: (minimum) living on the land for five years, clearing a percentage of the land, and planting a harvestable crop. Each state had its own challenges. On the prairie lands of Kansas, where my forefathers and mothers moved from the Ukraine, grains could be planted and harvested.
From those wheat fields, my parents moved to Alaska in 1955. In 1962, they got in on the tail-end of the Homestead Act on the Kenai Peninsula. That area was not prairie land; it was a forest of short and tall straggly black spruce with shallow, webbed roots. Clearing this terrain was arduous. My parents spent three winters with ax, chainsaw, and burn piles to clear a half-mile airstrip — for amount required to “prove up” the land. Next came planting a crop. The growing season was too short for many grains planted by homesteaders in other states. My father tried oats and timothy. A nearby homesteader planted potatoes.
Our family still holds the Gaede-80 (acre) homestead, which my father added 33 more acres to later. The airstrip shows up on aviation maps as “Gaede Private.”
Personal freedom, land, and just about anything else we dub as “free” is not really free. Someone has worked for it, fought for it, or paid for it. There are many things we take for granted that someone before made possible. We live in the Land of the Free because of the Brave.
Look for the new Emancipation Proclamation stamp – “Shall be FREE.”