“Free Homes!” advertised the poster sent to H. F. McIntosh, editor of the Western Stockman and Cultivator in August of 1892. “Free Homes! For the Hundred Thousand on the line of the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad.” Antelope, Boyd, Holt, Rock, Brown, Cherry, Sheridan, and Dawes counties, Nebraska, were listed as the sites of free government land still available for selection. Schools, churches, courts, and “Society” were said to be already established. However, McIntosh (who was later to serve as editor of the Nebraska Farmer after its consolidation with the Western Stockman and Cultivator in 1898) was skeptical of the inducements offered to prospective settlers by the railroad and explained his point of view in the Stockman and Cultivator on August 15.
McIntosh believed the misleading poster would be widely distributed east of the Missouri River. “The whole scheme is well designed to lead honest home seekers astray, to locate them in a wilderness or to get ‘one fare for the round trip’ out of their scant savings and send them home disgusted with Nebraska.
“The facts in regard to the inducements held out in this poster are as follows:
- There is not a quarter section of free government land in Nebraska that will furnish a living for anything more domestic than the coyote.
- The counties in which this free land is advertised are made up of two kinds of soil, small fertile spots along a stream or lake and sand hills where nothing but a sparse covering of blue stem grass grows.
- That section of Nebraska, on its fertile soil, grows a fair crop about once in every six years and the rest of the time the settlers run neck and neck with starvation.
- The schools are supported mostly by taxing the mileage of the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley railroad and on school lands rented for grazing. The churches are in the straggling towns founded by the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley road’s townsite system and are mostly mission churches. Both schools and churches would be practically unoccupied if the resident settlers could sell out.
“As for ‘courts and society;’ well, the courts flourish, and society is of the best to be found in a miserably poor and sparsely settled frontier section.”
McIntosh concluded: “Out here in Nebraska it is considered ‘bad business policy’ to tell the truth about some things. But in this case it is certainly much worse to fail to tell the truth and permit hundreds of people to be taken into a section of our state which is not farming land but merely a range country.”
The Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad, taken about 1905 near the Fort Robinson Depot. NSHS RG1517:38-1