Plains Folk

The Welk Homestead


The State Historical Board has voted to enter into a purchase agreement to buy the Welk Homestead, in Emmons County, and make it a state historic site. Thus for the first time, the State Historical Society of North Dakota will have a historic site on which to present and interpret the history of homesteading and pioneer farming. You have wonder, in a state like North Dakota, what the heck took us so long?


Many people know this historic site as the Birthplace of Lawrence Welk, which of course it is, and his fame adds to the cachet, but the bedrock historical significance of the place has to do with two things: homesteading and pioneer farming, and the culture of the Germans from Russia, our state’s largest ethnocultural group. Lawrence Welk’s parents were Ludwig and Christina Welk, German immigrants from Russia, and Ludwig proved up a homestead claim under the Act of 1862.


Many of us claim homesteading ancestors, and so some may be interested in how to acquire records of a homestead claim. The process begins with the US Bureau of Land Management, which holds the records of land patents. You start at the website of the BLM, take the link for Land Records, and keep clicking through until you get to the page for Land Patents. (If you’re a little goofy about matters historical, then be careful, because you’re going to have to navigate your way past all sorts of other interesting records.)


On the Land Patents page you can search by homesteader name, legal description, and other variables. The search, in turn, serves up the file number and other information you need to order the land patent file on the homestead you’re interested in.


Take that information over to the website of the National Archives, and locate the interface for ordering a homestead file. Pay the modest fee charged, and in a couple of weeks you get a file of documents on a CD.


What sort of documents are those? All the paperwork pertaining to the process of obtaining a homestead, from the original filing of a claim, through the process of improvements, plus the process of obtaining American citizenship if necessary, and finally securing a clear patent. This sounds like it might be dull reading, but in fact it is fascinating.


The homesteader, you see, had to “prove up” by making improvements on the property that would increase its value and show the homesteader’s serious intent to farm. Improvements included plowing the prairie, constructing buildings, and putting up fences, among other things.


So, as soon as the state historical board voted to purchase the Welk property, I ordered up the homestead file of Ludwig Welk.


From this I know that Ludwig commenced the homesteading process by filing a claim at the US Land Office in Bismarck on May 4, 1894. His final patent was issued on December 31, 1903. Nine years was a long time for proving up, but I’ll get into that another day.


Here’s the legal for the Welk Homestead: SE/4 NE/4 & NE/4 SE/4 S20, plus N/2 SW/4 S21, T131 R76. Did you get that? Well, take my word, it adds up to 160 acres.


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