|In the latter years of the nineteenth century, the number of homesteaders, who mostly were farmers (also called "grangers") grew. This put pressure on the ranchers who were using large tracts of public lands to graze their cattle. Not only were homesteaders taking the land, but they were taking the land with access to water, which the ranchers’ cattle needed.
Tobias Family, Dry Valley, Custer County, Nebraska, 1886.
Courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society, RG2608-1160
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for an extreme close-up.
Photo faked for newspaper article of the time:
"Settlers taking the law in their own hands, cutting 15 miles of the Brighton Ranch fence in 1885. Copyright S. D. Butcher, Kearney, Neb."
Courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society, 12299v
Both farmers and ranchers wanted to use public land for their own purposes. In Wyoming, these groups shot at each other, but in Nebraska, "backstabbing" was the preferred method. Farmers shot cattle or cut ranch fences to let cows loose. Ranchers ran cattle through farmers’ crops. It was time to bring in the law.
In other western states, the problem of grazing cattle on public lands was resolved with leases. In Nebraska, the problem was solved by forcing the public lands into private ownership. If you wanted to ranch in Nebraska, you were supposed to own the land. The federal government accomplished this transfer of lands by cracking down on those who were illegally using public lands for grazing, and by increasing the number of acres that an individual homesteader could take.