Small Tract Act of 1938

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From JackRabbit Homestead by Kim Stringfellow:

One of the many land acts designed to dispose of “useless” federal lands from the public domain, the Small Tract Act (STA) authorized the lease of up to five acres of public land for recreational purpose or use as a home, cabin, camp, health, convalescent, or business site to able-bodied U.S. citizens. If the applicant made the necessary improvements to his or her claim by constructing a small dwelling within three years of the lease, the applicant could file for a patent—the federal government’s form of a deed—after purchasing the parcel for the appraised price (on average $10 to $20 an acre) at the regional land office. This highly popular mid-century homestead movement reflects the quintessential American desire to claim territory and own a piece of the land even if the property in question is virtually “worthless” from an economic perspective.

Although jackrabbit homesteading occurred sporadically throughout the United States beginning in the 1940s, it proved most popular in Alaska and the far Western states—especially in the southern Mojave Desert’s Morongo Basin region near Joshua Tree National Park. The Los Angeles Times called the phenomena “one of the strangest land rushes in Southern California history.” Hundreds of applicants flooded regional land offices managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) after reading how simple it was to file a claim. Still, jackrabbit homesteading did not take off until the end of World War II when building materials again became readily available and gas and tire rationing had ended.

A Distant Planet

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