Massachusetts Historical Society


Montana Dreamin’: Booster Fantasy and Farm Building in the Twentieth-Century Homestead Boom


Author: Sara M. Gregg, Indiana University-Bloomington
Comment: Sarah T. Phillips, Boston University

This is a hybrid event. The in-person reception will begin at 4:30 pm.

During the tumultuous first decades of the twentieth century tens of thousands of aspiring farmers swarmed into northeastern Montana, lured by boosters’ claims that the rolling shortgrass steppes were the continent’s most promising “next-year country.” The Great Northern Railway carried Midwestern farmers and migrants from Northern and Eastern Europe enticed by a period of favorable weather, railroad promotion, federal incentives, and global economic conditions. Federal policymakers urged the development of the Northern Great Plains, funding the U.S. Reclamation Service’s irrigation projects and dismantling the last large tracts of reservation lands in Montana and the Dakotas as they opened vast acreages to homestead settlement under revised land laws. Wartime prices and the modified homestead acts contributed to the broad social and economic changes of this era, shaping the trials of many homesteaders on the Northern Plains as drought and economic constriction descended; this paper explores these transformations through the story of how Lily B. Stearns defended her claim to a 320-acre homestead in Tampico, Montana.

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