The groups who settled on the Great Plains were the Mennonites, or immigrants, unmarried women, farming families, descendants of earlier pioneers, and the Exodusters. - The Mennonites were immigrant members of a Protestant religious group who moved to the Great Plains from Russia. They were also some of the first people to begin large-scale farming in their region. - Unmarried women were also settlers because the Homestead Act granted them land to encourage the rate of families and settlements in the West. They were needed to populate the West. - Farming families had to move from areas, like New England, where farmland had become scarce and too expensive. - Descendants of earlier pioneers were some other settlers in the Midwest. - The Exodusters were a South African American group that also moved to the Great Plains because of the promise of land. These settlers were given the name Exodusters because of their exodus, or mass departure, from the South. Some members of the group were also sharecroppers. The reason that most settlers moved to the Plains was because they hoped to find success there. They did this usually by starting their own farms.
Life was difficult on the Plains because settlers had to face many challenges each day. Building a house was a big challenge for settlers because there was not much wood available. So many families used bricks of sod that were cut out of the ground to build their houses. Even though these houses were cheap to build, they were very small and often very uncomfortable. But the houses provided the shelter that they needed. Daily chores usually kept pioneers busy during the day. They had to mend their own clothes and hand wash them because they didn't have washing machines. The women usually prepared the meals, grew vegetables, and raised chickens or made butter in order to earn money for their family. Farming became a family effort that required everyone to have chores every day. They would raise livestock and work hard in the fields, plowing and planting crops. Farmers also formed communities that allowed everyone to assist each other in times of need. Many pioneer communities established local churches and schools. The churches provided families a place to meet and schools were often built with the help of townspeople. In the schools, all ages of children would learn in the same class and not everyone would have a schoolbook. Since most children needed to help out on their farms at home, they would only go to school for part of the year. Even though pioneer life was hard at times, the new communities that they established resulted in more people finding the West a nice place to live and raise a family.
Acts and Opportunities on the Plains
The Homestead Act and the Morrill Act were the two important land-grant acts that were passed in the Great Plains during the mid-1800s to help open the West to settlers. The Homestead Act was passed by Congress in 1862 to encourage settlement in the West by giving government-owned land to small farmers. This act allowed any adult U.S. citizen, or any adult who planned to become one, to receive 160 acres of land. Homesteaders needed to pay a small registration fee in exchange, and they promised to live on the land for five years. The Homestead Act also granted land to unmarried women in order to encourage the presence of families and settlements in the West. The Morrill Act was also passed in 1862 and was a federal law that gave land to western states in order to encourage them to build colleges to teach agriculture and engineering like Texas A&M. There was much economic opportunity on the Plains because of cheaper land. This less expensive land drew many settlers to the West. They saw this as an economic oppotunity. Many farming families had moved from their homelands where things were becoming too scarce and expensive to the Plains for the reason of cheaper land. Southern African Americans called Exodusters were also drawn west by the promise of land. Black communities were soon formed and drew even more African Americans west because of advertisements. Not only were African Americans drawn to the west by the land, but immigrants also were attracted to the inexpensive land. They could also, like Americans, get land grants under the Homestead Act if they were planning to become U.S. citizens and stay on the land for five years.