Not all homesteaders made it. As far as I know, George Hiram Thoma was the last of my direct ancestors to stake a claim, which he did in western Nebraska on a February day in 1909. George and his brother-in-law Clare Eugene Gibson arrived together at the land office in Valentine in order to pay their respective filing fees; each was granted about six hundred acres of land on adjoining claims in the desolate Sandhills of nearby Rock County, Nebraska.1 While earlier claims under the Homestead Act of 1862 allowed each individual only one hundred and sixty acres, later amendments granted settlers more land in certain areas where, for example, the soil and climate might be less conducive to raising crops. The Kincaid Act of 1904 applied specifically to thirty-seven counties in northwestern Nebraska that contained non-irrigable land.2
Google Earth certainly doesn’t make this part of the country look particularly inviting, and life there may have been even more difficult than expected. The homesteads were located more than twenty miles from the nearest town of Bassett, and the families had likely never experienced such isolation. However, Clare Gibson, along with his wife, Alpha, and their four children, Bernice, Pauline, James, and Florence, stuck it out; his homestead was patented in February 1913,3 and the Gibson family remained there for years to come.4
George Thoma and his wife Leota, on the other hand, lasted only a little more than a year. On 4 May 1910, George relinquished his homestead,5 acknowledging defeat and, apparently, accommodating his wife’s wishes to leave an area that his daughter later described as “all sand, horrible, no trees.”6 To make matters worse, there were rattlesnakes, and with a rambunctious six-year-old son, Fenton, and a two-year-old daughter, Fern, to keep safe, this was perhaps more than the couple had bargained for. They cut their losses, bade farewell to Clare and Alpha—sisters Alpha and Leota would never again have the opportunity to live as neighbors—and moved to town.7
I may never have come across this record had I not attended the course “Advanced Research Tools: Land Records” at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. [Read about my experience HERE.] It was there that I learned about tract books, bound volumes maintained by the Bureau of Land Management that faithfully recorded the filing of all land transactions—including claims that were later canceled, relinquished, or rejected. These claims cannot be found indexed at the Bureau of Land Management, typically my go-to resource for locating land records. Fortunately, however, the United States Bureau of Land Management Tract Books are available online at FamilySearch, and a handy Tract Books Coverage Table makes it possible to navigate the unindexed record images.
While I knew my great-grandmother had said that her father had homesteaded near Bassett, Nebraska, when no final patent could be found on the Bureau of Land Management’s database, I initially came to the conclusion that he must not have actually homesteaded there. Perhaps the family had lived with relatives or rented a farm during their brief time in Bassett, I thought. After all, my grandmother was only a toddler at the time, so her recollections might well have been dim. Well, as it turns out, George Hiram Thoma did indeed have his very own homestead, albeit briefly, and as a bit of a research bonus, the federal records that this homestead created mark the conclusion of his mysterious use of an alias.
Copyright © 2016 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
1 “United States Bureau of Land Management Tract Books,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/search/collection/2074276 : accessed 29 Feb 2016), George H. Thoma and Clare E. Gibson, vol. 113, p. 108.
2 “South Sioux City,” Dakota County [Nebraska] Herald, 29 Jan 1909, p. 4, col. 4; digital image, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 29 Feb 2016). The news item noted, “Clare Gibson was in Brown county filing on a Kincaid homestead.” Whether Gibson initially filed in Brown county before settling in Rock county or whether this was in error has not yet been determined.
3 U.S. Bureau of Land Management, “Patent Search,” database, General Land Office Records (http://www.glorecords.blm.gov : accessed 29 Feb 2014), entry for Clare E. Gibson, Valentine land office, doc. no. 01384.
4 1920 U.S. census, Rock County, Nebraska, population schedule, Thurman, Enumeration District (ED) 214, p. 2181 (penned), sheet 1-A, dwelling 9, family 10, Clare Gibson; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 29 Feb 2016), citing National Archives microfilm T625, roll 482.
5 George H. Thoma (Rock County) homestead file, case no. 1383, Valentine, Nebraska, Land Office; Serialized Land Entry Case Files That Were Canceled, Relinquished, or Rejected, ca. 1909-ca. 1918; Records of the Bureau of Land Management, Record Group 49; National Archives at Kansas City.
6 Fern Lavonne (Thoma) Adam, conversation with the author, 2001; notes in author’s files.
7 1920 U.S. census, Burt County, Nebraska, population schedule, Decatur, Enumeration District (ED) 28, p. 2848 (penned), sheet 24-A, dwelling 8, family 8, Geo. H. Thoma; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 29 Feb 2016), citing National Archives microfilm T625, roll 482.
Thanks Melanie I remember Grandma telling me this story many years ago. I was to dumb to ask many questions at the time
Thanks for commenting, Uncle Dave. It’s nice to know the story was true! :)
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Oh my my my!!! Look at you with more fantastic, exciting, informative news about my Grandpa Thoma. You are so incredible Melanie with your research. I love this so much and am so grateful that I stay connected with you. You are a gem you know it? Thank you for this so much. I will see my sisters Saturday in Soo City at Susie’s house for my sister Barb’s 75th birthday party! She is going to be 75 on March 7th, so the 3 of us are getting together Saturday. We have not done this rendezvous in a long time. I will print this so they can have a copy. Thanks so much! I hope you are feeling good. Love you, Linda
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Thanks, Linda! This was a fun find! :) Hope you have a great time with your sisters celebrating Barb’s birthday!
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