Plains Folk

Proving Up the Welk Homestead


Here is the happy ending to a story I have been telling for weeks. On December 31, 1902, the US Land Office issued a certificate of patent for 160 acres to Ludwig Welk, of Tirsbol, in Emmons County, North Dakota. And here is another happy ending. With acquisition of this property, the State Historical Society of North Dakota will have, for the first time, an actual homestead on which to tell the story of homesteading on the northern plains.


I have explained the many difficulties facing an immigrant seeking to gain a homestead on the American frontier, but Ludwig Welk persevered. His perseverance, and payment of a final fee of $4, got him the certificate.


On May 3, 1902, Ludwig went in to sign papers before the clerk of the district court, in Linton. He was, he swore, a naturalized citizen, age 37 years, born in Russia, come to the US by way of New York in April 1893.


He had received his citizenship on June14, 1900, in the same district court. At that time two witnesses, Kasper Feist and Michael Baumgartner, had sworn that Ludwig Welk had resided in the United States for five years; they also said, “he has behaved himself as a man of good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the same.” Ludwig himself allowed, “I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure, forever, all allegiance and fidelity to every foreign Power, Prince, Potentate, State or Sovereignty whatever, and particularly to the Czar of Russia whose subject I was.”


All this citizenship information was referenced at the time of final claim in 1902, when Ludwig also filled out his homestead proof testimony. This included an inventory of improvements to the property, as required by the Homestead Act of 1862. Here is the list of improvements given:


Sundried brick and lumber house 20×40 ft; Sundried brick and log stable 20×20 ft. We just completed a new house 20×36 ft. made of sundried brick and lumber; a well and 30 acres broken and cropped. Total valuation of improvements is worth at least $600.


As for satisfying the residence requirement, Ludwig stated, “I have never been absent except on short business only to town.”


He had raised crops the past eight years, he said, breaking thirty acres of ground. Asked as to the character of the land he was taking, he simply said, “It is ordinary prairie farming land.”


The two witnesses to Ludwig’s testimony, Anton Scherr and Karl Gagne, swore affidavits confirming what Ludwig said.


There were other details to sort out yet. For instance, it had to be determined that Ludwig was not grabbing mineral treasures from the public domain under the guise of agricultural land. He therefore swore that his quarter had not “any vein or bed of quartz or other rock in place, bearing gold, silver, cinnabar, lead, tin, or copper, or any deposit of coal,” nor “any placer, cement, gravel, or other valuable material” that would interest miners.


Then it was time for the Final Affidavit Required of Homestead Claimants, in which, after affirming again he was a naturalized citizen, Ludwig swore, “I have made actual settlement upon and cultivated and resided upon said land since the 15th day of July, 1894 . . . that I am the sole bona fide owner as an actual settler; that I will bear true allegiance to the Government of the United States.”


It took a while for the paperwork to move through the county court and the Bismarck land office and then Washington, thus delay issuance of the final certificate until the last day of the year, and I do not know on what specific day the Welks actually got their certificate. But they had their homestead.


Over the generations there has been considerable contention among historians as to the merits of the Homestead Act of 1862. Historians of my generation were inclined to say it was a big mistake, Congress never should have parceled the prairies into 160-acre homesteads, and besides, there was terrific fraud in the handling of homesteads. I never quite subscribed to that line of condemnation, and in the past decade, historians have come around to my way of thinking—that the Homestead Act, all things considered, worked pretty well.


I am so glad that as North Dakotans we have a good, honest, successful homestead, issued to and worked by a worthy family, on which to celebrate our homesteading heritage.



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