If your ancestors settled in Kansas between 1850 and 1900 they may have obtained their land through a number of distribution mechanisms including the Homestead Act, Timber Act, Bounty Land, or the School Land Act(s).
Unique, but not exclusive to Kansas, is the phenomenon of the Federal Government granting very, very large land tracks to the railroads, i.e. the Atchison, Topeka & the Santa Fe, for resale to recoup the capital expense of laying down tracks across the state. I wrote in great detail about this in an earlier post.
Today’s contribution to the discussion is the discovery of a map. The Historical Atlas of Kansas has the most wonderful map of the land granted to the railroads. The land was granted either side of the right-of-way/tracks at a distance of 10 miles either side. But that over simplifies the distribution. The railroads didn’t receive a solid block of land; instead they received a “checkerboard” pattern of land amounting to all of the odd numbered townships. The remaining even-numbered townships (except for 16 & 36, which were reserved as school lands) were distributed through conventional means and often garnering a higher price because of the near proximity to the railroad. The map clearly gives a visual of where the railroad land was located. If your ancestors settled in any of the highlighted areas, consider that they may have purchased the land from a railroad and not the government. Their story and records will reflect a very different experience.
One more item to notice is the near empty block of land devoid of railroad land grants in south-central Kansas. This is the Osage Indian Land Reserve. The Osage Indians remained sovereign over their land long after other tribes were removed. Further and uniquely, they negotiated with the Federal Government for at least some monetary compensation for their land. It’s a fascinating story.
Nonetheless, today we have a visual reference to better understand how and where our Kansas forefathers settled with respect to the Railroad Land Grants.