Unknown American Photographers, Homesteaders with claim shacks, ca. 1907-1920s

Unknown American photographers: Homesteaders with claim shacks, ca. 1907–25. 36 gelatin silver prints on postcard paper, each: 8.8 x 13.8 cm. Collection of Michael Williams, Images courtesy Michael Williams

Beginning in 1862, a series of federal Homestead Acts encouraged settlement of the western prairies by granting a parcel of land to anyone willing to stake a claim to a plot of land, improve it, and live on-site for five years. With the advent of Rural Free Delivery in 1902 and the introduction of postcard-backed photographic paper a few years later, itinerant photographers on the Great Plains began offering homesteaders a way to mail an image and a word to their loved ones. Over the past generation, postcards such as these have gradually emerged from the albums and attics of their recipients. Collectively, they manifest a narrative of pioneer self-reliance and house-pride, told in the arduous progress from tents to sod huts to clapboard houses.

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