After the Homestead Act, how did early settlers stake out their land?
Sun City, Arizona
Before barbed wire, the cattle grazed on open ranges, which large ranchers often claimed as their own—even without a legal basis. Those land barons eventually filed claims with government land offices (after surveying). In some cases, parts of the claim were denied, with land being granted to other settlers. But in the meantime, only men with bark could protect their lands from interlopers, homesteaders or small outfits who settled on the fringes of their ranches.
Those unofficial claims often led to armed fights between big ranchers and small operators or cattlemen driving their herds through the open ranges. The 2003 movie Open Range, although fictional, presents a good idea of how some of those conflicts played out.
Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian. His latest book is Wyatt Earp: Showdown at Tombstone. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org