Folks seeking land in Stutsman County had a free option 120 years ago.
According to an article in The Jamestown Alert in January 1904, the federal land agency announced there were 210,000 acres of Stutsman County land available for settlement.
That would be about 1,300 quarter-section homesteads still unclaimed. According to my calculations, that meant that about 16% of the possible farmland in Stutsman County was still unclaimed.
There was never a land office in Jamestown despite lobbying efforts by community leaders. Filing homestead and preemption claims in Stutsman County was handled by the Bismarck Land Office.
There were 8.7 million acres available for settlement in the Bismarck Land District in 1904, although much of that was probably west of the Missouri River. The Bismarck office had been busy in 1903 with 5,563 homestead claims and 1.2 million acres claimed by settlers.
“At this rate,” wrote The Jamestown Alert, “it will not be many years before there will be no government land left in the district.”
The end of available government land would have marked a transition in the community.
Homestead land meant new settlers coming in from outside the area looking for a new start. This would have meant a continuing population growth and the need for more businesses, schools and churches to provide services.
And it would likely have meant an increase in the land prices for those who already owned land in the county.
After all, it would have been difficult to compete with free as a price point, although there would have been settlers willing to pay for buildings, fences and worked farm fields.
The same issue of the Alert that carried the story about the available federal land noted an existing farm near Courtenay had sold for a whopping $17 per acre.
Adjusted for inflation, that would amount to about $560 per acre today.
Will Rogers, humorist and comedian of the era, said, “Invest in land; they aren’t making anymore.”
And prices did go up once the government quit giving it away for free.
Author Keith Norman can be reached at