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Historical Eras:

Homesteaders in the Mojave

Starting in the early 1900s, land was homesteaded in the Mojave Desert. In many areas 160-acre parcels were available. Claimants had three years to “prove up” on their property. “Proving up” meant building a small cabin and an outhouse. When the “proof,” a photo was mailed to Washington, D.C., the claimant received a deed to the property.

There were several wet years beginning in 1912, and crops were good enough to attract more people to the area. Veterans of World War I, suffering the effects of mustard gas, came hoping to benefit from the dry desert air. Later, because of hard times created by the Depression, some people sought out a rural lifestyle where they could raise their own food without relying on unstable markets and unpredictable prices.

But the rains didn’t last. The scarcity of water led to conflicts between homesteaders and ranchers over water rights. In the Mojave National Preserve the Rock Springs Land and Cattle Company had enjoyed exclusive use of the water and the land for the last fifteen years and had filed claims on them. Homesteaders drilled water wells, but were unsuccessful. In many cases, water had to be hauled several miles even for household purposes. Crops depended on rainfall. Several years passed with little or no rainfall and the crops failed.

This scenario was repeated in many areas. Besides the scarcity of water, life in the desert presented other challenges. Temperatures were extreme for those used to more temperate climates. Few homesteaders met the challenge. Many farms and small homesteads were abandoned, leaving behind the tiny cabins which are still scattered about the desert in some places.

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