From Indian Country to ‘Free Land’ to Railroad Country

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“Charlie Goodnight grew large on massive cattle drives and trail blazing. When the Santa Fe Railroad reached Amarillo, it marked the end of that trail. Then again, the RR enabled “cattle-harvesting” at an industrial pace, just as it had cleared off the buffalo. And, as the JA Ranch rapidly expanded toward a million acres, it was well-positioned to reap that Bonanza.”

In granting land to railroads, Congress bracketed off much of the map for private sale… [T]he railroads would finance their construction by selling land along the railway corridor or borrowing against it. Until the early 1870s, the Union Pacific, the Central Pacific, the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe, the Atlantic and Pacific, and the Texs and Pacific, as well as a scattering of smaller roads, had received five times more land than homesteaders- the Northern Pacific alone an area larger than New England. [And] Congressmen harvested their gratitude… Largesse to railroads contracted the land available for homesteaders. By the 1860s, prewar land speculation and railroad land grants had closed a third of Kansas to homesteading… By 1890, when the Superintendent of the Census declared the frontier “closed, the “free” homesteads occupied only 3.5 percent of the land west of the Mississippi.

Jack Beatty
Age of Betrayal