Sunday, November 13, 2022

The Homestead Act, Westward Expansion and Quilts

By Kimberly Grist

When Congress presented President Abraham Lincoln with the Homestead Act of 1862, he believed that his signature would send a clear message that this nation would endure despite being in the midst of a bloody Civil War.

A poster advertising millions of acres of land available in Iowa and Nebraska for sale on 10 years credit by the Burlington & Missouri River R. R. Co. circa 1872. Wiki Commons

As a result of this legislation, the Federal Government offered 270 million acres of land in thirty states for homesteading, creating what would be later called the Western Movement and one of the largest migrations of people in our nation’s history.

Covered wagon and settlers crossing the West c.1850 (Apic/Getty Images)

Preparation for the Trip

Much preparation was necessary to make a trip West. Pioneers often spent months gathering supplies, wagons, animals, weapons, equipment, tools, household supplies, and food, purchasing coffee, beans, sugar, and flour.

Illustration from: Story of the Great American West. The Reader's Digest Association, Inc, 1977

Pioneer women prepared salted meats, dried fruit, sweet corn, packed dishes, clothing, and utensils, and spent considerable time sewing to prepare for the trip. In addition, travel guides suggested that each family bring two-three blankets or quilts for each family member. As a result, as Western Expansion continued, friends and family members often created friendship quilts as tributes for those who left to go West.

A wagon is loaded with supplies for the trek west on display at the Trail Center.

The first 1000 Miles

Since the first 1000 miles heading to California and Oregon followed the same trail, women had a thousand miles to create friendship quilts for friends they made before reaching a point near the Continental Divide at South Pass called “The Parting of the Ways.”

A parting gift reminiscent of the journey
These parting gifts often had visual patterns reminiscent of the journey, such as Wagon Wheel, Wandering Foot, Snail’s Trail, Wild Rose, Indian Trail, Evening Star, Road to California, and Friendship.

A Wagon Wheel Design - Artist Unknown

An example of the Evening Star Pattern

The Pin Wheel design reflected the power of the constant prairie wind that blew against the cloth-covered wagons.

In my new release Olive- Christmas Quilt Brides Book One, our heroine is running from her past and sick of living her father's lifestyle as an itinerant preacher turned peddler. The latest tar-and-feather incident has made her desperate enough to enlist in a matchmaking venture. Olive accepts a job as a seamstress in a town where single men outnumber women thirty to one. But the last thing on her mind is matrimony. No man is going to tell her how to live her life. Olive would rather spend the rest of her life chained to a sewing machine.

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Fans of historical romance set in the late 19th -century will enjoy stories combining, History, Humor, and Romance, emphasizing Faith, Friends, and Good, Clean Fun.

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  1. Thank you for posting today! The fact that quilts were made on the way west took me by surprise, I wouldn't have thought that a quilt could be accomplished while traveling and living outside.

    1. I agree- I was surprised too - I can't imagine sewing while traveling on a wagon- or having the time when making camp. They were definitely industrious