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Post Has Land Reform Ever Been Done "Right"?
Created by John Eipper on 08/10/18 4:46 AM

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Has Land Reform Ever Been Done "Right"? (Istvan Simon, USA, 08/10/18 4:46 am)

When commenting on my post August 9, John E asked:

"If we scan the globe, have there been any examples of land reform done right?"

My answer:  Yes and No. Yes, because the United States did land reform right when it distributed correctly sized land parcels to farmers in the expansion of the West for free, without favoritism and more or less honestly.

No, because the American Indians got cheated and got the short end of the stick.

JE comments:   Was the 1862 Homestead Act "land reform" or theft, pure and simple?  To echo Istvan Simon, I'd say yes and no.  Turning again to South Africa, Rodolfo Neirotti has sent a further comment on this subject from Mqondisi Ngadlela (next).

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  • Homesteading in Texas, New Mexico: My Father's Experience (Richard Hancock, USA 08/11/18 4:06 AM)
    Istvan Simon (10 August) characterizes land reform in the US as fair and honest. It is a much more complicated story than he asserts. The Homestead Act of 1862 provided 160 acres of public domain to American citizens at the age of 21.

    The homesteader received ownership after 5 years of residence. The 160-acre grant was impractical for lands west of the 100th Meridian because of dry conditions, so the grant was raised to 640 acres, still not adequate for the Great Plains and lands further west. The only exception was Texas, where a person could homestead on 8 sections (5,120 acres,) a much more practical size although a minimum for ranchers.

    My father homesteaded in Texas, sold his land there and moved to New Mexico, where he purchased a ranch of approximately 20 sections (10,240 acres) near Corona, in central New Mexico. There were three 640-acre homesteads on this ranch. They were basically fraudulent because the homesteaders did not live on these properties. They built a small house and pretended that they were in residence. Their goal in homesteading was to sell the property as soon as they acquired ownership. This was troublesome to my father, who had free use of their land but was eventually obliged to purchase each of these homesteads with money borrowed at 12% interest at a time when money was short.

    The treatment of Indians is a complicated subject. American Indians were not peaceful "paisanos" living in a rural paradise. To get a feel for the real life of American Indians, one needs to read Cabeza de Vaca's Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America, written in 1542. It tells the story how he and three others, after being shipwrecked in Florida, made their way for 6,000 miles from Florida through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, and finally to Mexico City. They were disillusioned by the backwardness, poverty and hostility of the Indian nations that they lived with.

    One other book that I would recommend is Empire of the Summer Moon, by S.C. Gwynne. It is a history of the Comanche Indians in Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. The Comanches were perhaps the greatest warriors among all the tribes of North America. They owned thousands of horses and were superb horsemen, raiding throughout the "Comancheria," and deep into Mexico. There was no way to negotiate successfully with them, so the US Army eventually defeated them and also killed off all the buffalo that sustained them, so that they were forced to file for peace.

    There were many instances of mistreatment of American Indians in American history, but I think no more than other such mistreatments which have occurred throughout the history of the world when a stronger nation conquers a weaker nation. The betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes by removing them from southeastern states, requiring them to travel to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) was one definite instance of mistreatment. Today these tribes are quite prosperous. As sovereign nations, they have established more than 100 gambling casinos throughout Oklahoma and seem to have an abundance of money and power in the state.

    JE comments:  You have to be in awe of the Homesteaders' courage.  Imagine arriving on barren land and having to do everything from scratch.  I possess exactly 0% of the skills necessary for survival.  What?  No CVS?  No Home Depot?  No Internet?

    I've said it before, but it bears repeating: Richard Hancock's first-hand stories of the Old West are WAIS treasures.

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    • Smallpox and the Native Americans (Henry Levin, USA 08/12/18 4:09 AM)
      Richard Hancock's stories of the Old West and the run-of-the-mill suffering of the indigenous population, no worse than others who were conquered, is missing an enormous piece. That is the devastation of indigenous populations from European diseases for which they had no natural defenses. And, although some of this was not deliberate, some of it was.

      All that one need do is read any biography of Lord Amherst (yes, the person honored by Amherst College) and his gifts to the Indians of blankets contaminated deliberately and surreptitiously with smallpox, a particularly contagious and deadly disease. By the time of the Homestead Act, much of the nasty devastation was completed, which explains the "backwardness" of the native population. We need to avoid so much of the presentism when referring to historical outcomes.

      See: https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/impact-european-diseases-native-americans


      Further, the Wikipedia on "Native-American Disease and Epidemics" seems to have
      good documentation on the devastation of our Indian population by transmission of European disease.


      JE comments:  There are some suggestions that Cortés used the smallpox blanket tactic centuries earlier, in Mexico.  The second link above gives no documentary proof that Amherst deliberately infected blankets to give to the Native Americans, although there is no question about his hatred of the "savages" and desire to eradicate them.

      In 2016, Amherst College did "fire" Lord Jeffery as their mascot, adopting instead the Mammoths in honor of a famous skeleton in their Natural History museum.

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