The Homestead Act of 1862, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, made it legal for farmers to acquire ownership of land in the West by settling on it.
With a small filing fee, the Homestead Act allowed anyone to claim a quarter section of land (one-hundred-sixty acres) west of the ninety-eighth meridian(Mississippi River). If the settler stayed on the land and farmed it, called "prove it up" it was his or hers in five years and all they had to do was file for the deed. They had to be over 21 and never taken up arms against the U.S. government. Even freed slaves could homestead.