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Denton Community
Historical Society


Railroad Land 

As early as 1830, railroad companies were asking the federal government for help in financing railways in the United States. In 1850, Illinois Central Railroad was given a land contract and between 1850 and 1870, 129 million acres of land were given to various rail companies. 

In 1864, Burlington and Missouri River Railroad Company got a contract and in 1870 entered Nebraska at Plattsmouth. As the company moved west through Nebraska, 20 miles on both sides of the tracks were opened up for settlement, with only the odd numbered sections in each precinct available. The federal government retained ownership of even numbered sections. All odd numbered sections in Lancaster County were railroad land. Land contracts for Nebraska were microfilmed and this film is available for inspection at the Nebraska State Historical Society with an index available. 

This online data base is for only a few contracts and more will be added as time permits. It will be noted that some acres appear to be purchased twice as some contracts show that earlier contracts were cancelled by purchaser. In addition to contract terms etc. there were several questions on the contracts (several forms were used) including place of birth, last residence and length of time in the U.S. and Nebraska. Not all contracts have these questions answered however. 

It is assumed that some lands were purchased by speculators as they specified that they had never been in Nebraska. I found it interesting to note that applicant signatures ranged from the "signature mark X" to great penmanship. Others show that the settler was just learning to write his name. Most of the applicants were men but women did buy some land. As with any data extraction from microfilm, there is always the possibility of retrieval errors. 

On a personal note contract #9649 signed with a mark for my great grandfather, Jeremiah U. Sullivan, says that he was from Castleton Ireland and had been in the U.S. for 15 years and had just arrived in Nebraska from Red Jacket, Michigan. Purchase was on July 11, 1877 and he still owned this land and it was part of his estate when he died in 1915.

Researched by Teresa Sullivan

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Denton Community Historical Society of Nebraska