What Brought Settlers to the Midwest?

Students will examine a Nebraska land advertisement from 1869 to discuss the reasons that settlers moved to the midwest.

Historical Background

The emergence of advertisements for land in the west was a new occurrence after the Homestead Act of 1862. The Homestead Act accelerated the settlement of the territory in the west. Heads of families were granted 160 acres of land for a small amount of money and were required to live on that land for five years before gaining permanent ownership. Many land speculators and railroad companies bought land out west and offered the land for a fee (that usually could be financed with interest). At times, the federal government also offered the land for free in order to populate it. The advertisements used by the federal government, land speculators, and railroad companies were aimed to attract all types of people to the land. This is evident in the different types of ads produced. Some of these ads appealed to those who could read, while others were aimed towards people who could not. Promises of "bountiful" and "fertile" land drew many to the western territory of the United States.

Lesson Objective

AHRII.20: Explain why people settled in the Middle West and identify problems they encountered.



  1. Opening Thought: Adventure and opportunity? I’ve heard that somewhere before! Discuss the opening thought and cite examples from our past units (American Revolution, Civil War, Midwest basics).
  2. Look at the colonial advertisement and do a whole group “3-2-1” activity

    3 observations about the advertisement (date, key words, illustration, 5 W’s); 2 questions to be asked about the advertisement; and 1 prediction to be made about the advertisement.

    Connect this discussion back to the opening thought.
  3. Examine more modern examples of land advertisements (late 1800s) for Texas, Colorado, and northern Midwest. Identify the similarities between the colonial ad and other land ads.
  4. Pass out pieces of the Nebraska land advertisement (three different sections; two groups per section)
  5. Pass out the student response handout to each student
  6. Show the whole advertisement on the board and identify the different pieces of the advertisement
  7. Discuss the questions as a small group and answer the close reading, sourcing, and contextualizing questions individually.
  8. Reconvene as a whole group and put the whole ad together. Compare the different sections of the advertisement as a whole group and answer the corroborating question individually.


Formative Assessment: Historical Reading Skills Questions


Johnson, Robert. Nova Britannia: Offering most excellent fruites by planting in Virginia London: J. Windet for S. Macham, 1609. Available online from the University of Pennsylvania, Cultural Readings: Colonization & Print in the Americas. http://www.library.upenn.edu/exhibits/rbm/kislak/promotion/a609n001.html (accessed April 12, 2012).

“Millions of Acres. Iowa and Nebraska. Land for Sale on 10 years Credit by the Burlington & Missouri River R. R. Co. at 6 per ct Interest and Low Prices,” 1872. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress. Call Number Portfolio 134, Folder 13. Available online, http://www.americaslibrary.gov/jb/civil/jb_civil_homested_1_e.html (accessed December 19, 2011)

“Nebraska, The Garden of the West. 50 Million Acres of Grain & Grazing Land.” Broadside. Nebraska State Department of Immigration, 1869. From Library of Congress: Emergence of Advertising in America: 1850-1920. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.award/ncdeaa.B0157 (accessed April 6, 2012).

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