• Kristin Wenger

The Grasshopper Affidavit

Updated: Apr 10, 2019

Want to know one of my favorite aspects of researching family history for clients? I get to “travel” to a variety of locations and time periods by immersing myself in the records that lead to their life stories. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been spending some time with mid-western homesteaders in the 1860s-1880s. Along the way, I’ve fallen in love with homestead files.


If you’ve never encountered one of these gems, here is just a sample of the information gleaned from the file above. [1]


  • 160 acres of land

  • Land location: Southeast quarter of Section 5, Township 3 North, Range 20 West, Harlan County, Nebraska (shown by smallest orange square within larger square on map) [2]


  • Jesse settled the land on 13 June 1873. He built a house by 1 August 1873 with 7 windows and 5 doors. It was 12x26 feet with a wing of 12x15 feet. He cultivated eleven acres of land, dug a well, and built a stable 16x30 feet.

  • In 1880, Jesse said he was 68 years old with a wife and 7 children. By that time, he had broken 52 acres and planted corn, oats, barley, wheat, and rye. He estimated the value of improvements to his homestead at $1000.

  • His witnesses added that he had planted about 500 forest trees and raised sheep.

Homesteading was seriously hard work and not for the faint of heart! Only about 50% of pioneers were successful. [3] Read more about homesteads by the numbers here.


Perhaps the most telling document found within this homestead file was the “grasshopper affidavit.” [4]





The gist of this document?·

  • During the spring of 1874, Jesse planted five acres of corn. During July and August 1874, grasshoppers entirely destroyed the whole crop. In the spring or summer of 1875 his whole crop (7 acres of corn) was again entirely destroyed by grasshoppers.

Read more about the widespread grasshopper plague of 1874 here.


Despite such devastation, this family did not give up. They stuck it out and even went on to purchase additional land in Nebraska. [5]


If you’d like to learn more about homestead files and other land records, both local and federal, please join me on Wednesday, April 17th to explore the fascinating stories hidden in these documents.


Sources:

[1] “U.S. Homestead Records, 1863-1908,” database with images, Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=60593 : accessed 19 March 2019) > Nebraska > Lowell; Bloomington > 1880 > 03 North, 20 West > image 69 of 275 > Jesse W. Murdock, homestead proof, 10 April 1880. NOTE: the majority of homestead files are held at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Nebraska is leading the way in digitization for online access.


[2] U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records (https://glorecords.blm.gov/details/patent/default.aspx?accession=NE0470__.488&docClass=STA&sid=4aoev24k.1cr. : accessed 28 March 2019), map created from patent details for Jesse W. Murdock, Nebraska, issued 10 December 1880.


[3] Todd Arrington, “Homesteading by the Numbers,” National Park Service (https://www.nps.gov/home/learn/historyculture/bynumbers.htm : accessed 28 March 2019).


[4] “U.S. Homestead Records, 1863-1908,” database with images, Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=60593 : accessed 19 March 2019) > Nebraska > Lowell; Bloomington > 1880 > 03 North, 20 West > images 51 and 52 of 275 > Jesse W. Murdock, grasshopper affidavit.


[5] U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records (https://glorecords.blm.gov/details/patent/default.aspx?accession=NE0380__.318&docClass=STA&sid=4aoev24k.1cr : accessed 28 March 2019), sale-cash entry for Jesse W. Murdock, Nebraska, issued 11 October 1887.

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