Free Land? 1862 and the Shaping of Modern America

The “Free Land” Chautauqua was  a four-year series (2012-2015) presented by Humanities Nebraska.

Each evening, humorist Mark Twain moderated one of five presentations of these historical figures:  Union General U.S. Grant*, author Willa Cather, Ponca Chief Standing Bear, homesteader an d inventor George Washington Carver, and homesteader and author Laura Ingalls Wilder.

HN Chautauqua LogoCentral to the Chautauqua experience are the scholar portrayals of historical figures under the Chautauqua tent.  Each Chautauquan gives a 40-minute, first-person presentation as his or her historical character, then answers questions.  Workshops for children and adults along with other activities are held throughout the Chautauqua week. Free Land Chautauqua allows the audience to experience and explore the impact of landmark legislations through the historical lens of homesteading, migration, and displacement on the Great Plains. TheTues 2 Homestead Act, the Morrill Act, and the Pacific Railway Act all were passed within six weeks of each other in 1862, and set into motion sweeping changes for the Great Plains region and the American West.  The impact of this legislation was felt by millions of people: war veterans, Easterners looking for new opportunities, immigrants, women, African-Americans and Native Americans.  As part of the Chautauqua residency, six scholars explore the lasting impacts of the 1862 legislation and how those events affect Americans today.

*”Free Land” originally included transcontinental railroad builder Grenville Dodge, but the scholar portraying him had to withdraw due to health reasons. 

In 2015, the final year of Free Land Chautauqua took place in Alliance (June 9 – 13) and Kearney (June 17 – 21).

Nebraska Chautauqua is sponsored in part by:

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