Go West, young man - go West!
On May 20, 1862 (148 years ago), the Homestead Act was signed by President Lincoln. Basically, anybody who wanted it was entitled to up to 160 acres of land outside the original 13 colonies. It was like somebody handed everyone on the East coast a farm and told them to go get it. Wow!
As you can see in the above photograph of a pioneering family, going West was happening before the Homestead Act. But, this was a gigantic helping hand. Kind of like Massachusetts having state-run health care, and then President Obama signing the healthcare bill earlier this spring. It was a major leap forward towards Western expansion and the eventual settlement of the entire country.
Daniel Stuart, in my novel "Daniel's Garden", is enchanted by that dream of going West. Don't all young men feel the hot-blood call of adventure? he wonders to himself as his mother and brother make other plans for him. But, by the end of the story, Daniel has become a soldier and his dream of heading West has faded.
Or has it?
I was resting in bed the other night, playing a computer game, when all of a sudden an idea for a sequel dropped into my head. So, I began jotting down notes for the tentatively titled: "Daniel's Return." Daniel's dream of going West becomes rekindled once he hears of the Homestead Act. Yet ... what about being a soldier? It's 1863 and the Civil War is far from over. He's got to stay and fight. He made a promise, too. I can't wait to dive deeper into his motivations. What choice does he make and why?
Young men today still feel that hot-blood call of adventure: just look at the reality shows about Ice Road Truckers and Axe Men up in Alaska. Some take to the sea, to fight in Whale Wars or haul in seafood in Deadliest Catch. When teenagers have the world at their feet, these dreams tempt them with ideas of glory, money, and excitement. I love writing about that magical age of young adulthood, since it is such a pivotal time.
Let's pretend we're 18 and it's 1862. The Homestead Act is now law, signed by the President. I say we hitch our horses, pack up our stuff, and go West. It sounds thrilling, doesn't it? For Daniel, and for thousands of others, it was. It truly was.