What is the Timber Culture Act?

Good question!  I had never heard of it before.  So, I did some digging.

I discovered the term when I was checking out GenealogyBank.com through the Seattle Public Library, a collection of historic newspapers.  My ancestor’s name, Henry Bode, is fairly common and so I randomly inserted his brother’s name, Cornelius, instead.  Up popped the following article in the South Dakota newspaper:

Timber CultureCornelius had a proof of a Timber Culture entry in North Dakota even though he lived in Aplington, Iowa.

Black’s Law Dictionary refers the reader from “Timber Culture Entry” to “entry.” Entry is described as “used in the public land laws, covers all methods by which a right to acquire title to public lands may be initiated.”  Four types of entries are described.  The most commonly known are the Homestead Entries, but there are also Mineral Land and Pre-Emption entries.  According to Black’s Law Dictionary, a Timber Culture Entry is an “entry of public lands … opening portions of the public domain to settlement and to the acquisition of title by the settlers on condition of the planting and cultivation of timber trees.”

So, it appears that Cornelius, procured the right to this land by agreeing to plant trees on it, had satisfied the requirements and now had full possession of the property.

To find out more, I went to the University of Washington library (virtually) and found a wonderful article by C. Barron McIntosh on the Act and its uses and abuses.  Based on his article here are some of my findings:

  • The Act was passed in 1873 and repealed in 1891 because it was deemed a failure. (note: in the newspaper entry in the exhibit, Thomas Tuma has an entry but the newspaper article was published in 1893.  It is possible it was a Homestead or Pre-Emption entry and not a Timber Culture entry.  Otherwise, I cannot resolve that discrepancy.)
  • The theory of the act was to encourage settlement and encourage the planting of trees.
  • The planting of trees was to provide timber (cash crop).
  • Since it was the belief that “rain followed the plow,” the intent was to adjust the climate to bring more precipitation to the arid portions of the Great Plains.
  • The entry man was to plant 10 a. of trees on a 160 a. of land.
  • The four states of North and South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas combined for over 9.5 million acres of Timber Culture Act land.
  • It was felt that most entrymen would be individuals who were already settled in the area and could use the Act to add 160 a. to their present holdings, often obtained through that other Act–the Homestead Act. (Investigation by the author of the article found that the addition of land to existing holdings wasn’t as prevalent has assumed but still approached 50%.

Did it work?  McIntosh actually toured some areas of Nebraska in 1974 to determine whether their was timber on the land.  He found that only 4 of 49 had a timber stand remaining.  Two had recently cut their timber for trash, not for profit.

“The intentions of the law could be abused because an entryman did not have to live on his tree claim, nor in the same county, or even in the same state.” (p. 353)

So, Cornelius…were you a speculator?  I know he did not live on the land.  Perhaps a relative did and he was aiding that relative in obtaining more land.  If so, he would have been a part of the “problem,” i.e. fueling speculation, rather than part of the solution.  The Bode’s, generally a wealthy land owning family, may have, like many others, used the law to benefit themselves, …until they couldn’t.

Obviously, more research is needed to find the property, see who was living on it and determine a relationship if any, but that’s a search for anther day.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting:  had a delightful “picnic lunch” with a friend of mine while she received chemo; attended the ProGen chat on transcriptions and started reading the next assignemnt, worked on my invoice for my big project client and remain feeling guilty about how my other clients have been ignored.  Started reading Mozingo’s book about the search for his heritage (African freeman who entered North America in the 1600’s, married white and the family passed for white to today.  Heard him speak at Jamboree.  Cleaned my desk and started work on the OGSA conference to be held in Mpls in August of 2014.

McIntosh, C. Barron. “Use and Abuse of the Timber Culture Act.” Annals Of The Association Of American Geographers 65, no. 3 (September 1975): 347-362. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed June 30, 2013).

“Land Office.” Bismark (ND) Tribune.  20 September 1893, Online Newsbank. http://genealogybank.com : 30 June 2013. accessed through Seattle Public Library.


2 comments on “What is the Timber Culture Act?

  1. Stella says:

    Hi Jill, by I just happened to come upon this post as I was searching for other relatives. I saw that you posted on ancestry.com about Rev. Henry Bode being your relative (who then later adopted Henry (Saake) Bode). Henry Saake was one of the Saake brothers brought to the midwest by the orphan train. Anyway, I was wondering if you could tell me about you’re relationship to Rev. Henry Bode (his son, Henry (Sakke) Bode is my great-grandfather). Henry (Saake) Bode’s son (my grandfather) and I are trying to find information about the son Henry and Rev. Henry C. Bode. I couldn’t find your email on ancestry…but just happened to find this and I think that you are the same poster. If you have any info to pass along that would be wonderful. I know it would mean the world to my grandfather to find out more information about his own grandfather.

    • jkmorelli says:

      Rev. Henry C. Bode is the son of Cornelius Jans Bode who is the brother of my great grandfather, Rev. Hendrick Jans Bode. If you go to Rootsweb and search on Cornelius Bode (easier than Henry/Hendrik etc.) you should find a World Connect project by bmj genealogy–that’s me. I suspect you won’t find Henry Sakke there (I have the spelling as Saake). I have additional information about Henry Saake/Sakke Bode. If you will contact me directly by email I can send the information. I have two orphan train individuals in my family, but none in my direct lineage.
      Glad you wrote, cousin!

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