What I Found

As I have described in previous posts, one of the things I have worked on throughout this internship was a research project about Latino homesteaders in Arizona. When I wasn’t helping out with the visitors or working on transcribing the oral histories, I was looking over Homestead entries through land patents issued by the Bureau of Land Management.

The Homestead Act was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862. It gave away up to 160 acres of land to any head of household over the age of 21. The Act was progressive for its time, allowing for women, African Americans, and immigrants to claim land in the West. The law was in effect for 123 years until 1986, during which time more that four million people filed claims in thirty different states.

In order to make this research project relevant to myself and to LHIP, my supervisor suggested I investigate how many Latinos took advantage of the Act and applied for land. Because it would be impossible to search through millions of records, I would research for Arizona Latino homesteaders.

Now that I had my research project, it was time to begin. However, even though I had limited my researching to only one state, there were still a lot of records to go through. Additionally, all the records are grouped together and made no distinction as to ethnicity. Thus, I had to go through the names individually to determine which homesteaders were Latino. Homesteading in Arizona was divided into sections, so beginning with Section 1, I started at the earliest date and began looking for Latino surnames. When I would find one, I would type the name into ancestry.com to look at census information, as they usually list where that person (and their parents) was born. Using this system, I found a lot of Latinos who succeeded in proving up their homesteads throughout Arizona.  I didn’t have enough time to look through all of them, so I chose about sixty to research in depth.

While I came across many interesting stories while researching this project, the one that struck me the most was that of Loreta R. Martinez. Loreta was born in Mexico circa 1857. On June 11, 1901, Loreta went to the Land Office and filled out an application for a homestead in Cochise County, near Benson, Arizona. She paid $16 in fees for the northeast quarter of section 10 in Township 17-south of Range 20-east. In her application she included the following note:

I was born in Mexico, and came to the United States when five years old. Was married to my husband, who was a native born citizen. After several years married life, and owing to the habits of said husband, he not providing for me and family, I separated from him, and supported myself and children without the help of said husband. I have made this entry that I, with my family of seven children, might have a home, and have made said entry in good faith, and for the purposes stated. 

Five years later, on the 4th of March of 1907, Loreta filed notice of her intention to make final proof in support of her claim. The agent that went to verify her land noted that she had a “good house 12 X 34, 3 rooms, 2 artesian wells, 40 acres cleared, and the entire tract fenced.” He placed the value of her homestead at $2,500. Her claim was approved in August of that year, and she received her patent the following month.

While Loreta’s story was one of the more unique I encountered, it stuck with me because of her perseverance. Instead of waiting around for her no-good husband, Loreta found a way to provide for herself and her children. In a time when women were not even allowed to vote, she was a successful homeowner. Her achievements, and those of other Latino homesteaders, demonstrate the rich legacy of our culture in this country.

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