Homestead National Monument
—Daniel Freeman, first to file claim, Jan. 1, 1863
Here, an abundance of trees, stream, prairie—
enough to sustain a family, prove up this plot of land,
the first of thousands to be claimed across America.
Place that was first inhabited by natives, lodge-
and tipi-dwellers, who also relied on the wood, water,
flourishing wild game—hooved, pawed, and winged.
Prairie, where wild grasses are capable of growing
taller than humans, sustained through heat, drought,
cold, hail, snow, wind, by roots of unimaginable depth.
Today, those lives and roots have been forever altered:
settlement, industry, and agriculture that marched
our nation westward, the trails that led us to homes.
This nation-center of sod-grass that was plowed,
its soils rich, yielding an abundance, the foundation
of farms and ranches that sustain the multitudes.
Here, on the Homestead trails, we touch a multitude
of seed-heads, inhale green-blue-gold, hear the music
of insect-leaf-bird, bridge the creek-flow that connects
us to the past, where we ponder the flow of hope,
hardship, joy, and sorrow of this preserve, from all
that once roamed, to those spellbound as we step.
Copyright © 2016 by Twyla M. Hansen. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.
"Nebraska is located on the Great Plains, once a deep-rooted prairie ecosystem that sustained abundant large mammals— bison, elk, deer, mountain lions, wolves— and nomadic/ semi-nomadic native tribes who made use of the abundant wild animals, plants, and clean water found here. Native culture changed drastically in the mid-1800s when our government subdued them through wars and treaties, and relocated/restricted them to reservations; then, conveniently, this region was parceled out to Europeans immigrants and others who wished to own and cultivate land through the Homestead Act. My own life directly benefited: I was raised on land in northeast Nebraska my Danish grandparents farmed in the late 1800s, land purchased from sod-busting homesteaders. Today, the landscape has been greatly simplified by agribusiness, the majority of the population lives in cities, and prairies mostly exist only in remnant parcels. I consider myself lucky to live in a place I love, but often in my writing, I contemplate an earlier time and all that is now forever lost."
—Twyla M. Hansen