This week we are going to look at the effects of the Homestead Act in Boise, and learn more about one of the famous homesteaders in the valley. It needs to be pointed out that in the Boise River Valley, few abuses of the Homestead Act occurred, and most claims were farmed instead of being used as a way to grab large tracts of land and turn a profit. According to the Boise State University thesis, “The Economics of Homesteading in the Boise River Valley, Idaho, 1869-1870,” by Rodney J. Valentine, Homestead Act claims in Ada County were financially rewarding. For example, in 1870 there were 414 farms and the value of the land was at $5.11/acre, and by 1880 those numbers increased to 1,885 farms with the value of the land at $8.64/acre. Not only was the land profitable, it was also productive: between 1870 and 1880, the population of Ada County doubled but the wheat output increased 7 fold, and in 1880 Idaho produced 1,483 pounds of edible beef for every man, woman, and child. This excess in meat and crops sold for a profit in the mining regions north and south of Boise, as well as to markets outside of the region. The majority of individuals in Boise producing this excess had come to the valley shortly after the Homestead Act was enacted. In Isaac Coston’s case, he arrived in 1863, the year that Boise incorporated as a city.
Coston located his ranch seven miles from the city, on the south side of the river. The log cabin that he built is currently located in the Pioneer Village next to the Idaho State Historical Museum. Coston’s cabin was only one of the many improvements he made to his land; the others included an irrigation ditch he built in 1864 with F.C. Ghost, and various agriculture experiments. Coston was actively cultivating his land, making a profit growing buckwheat, a grain that was typically imported. He also experimented with growing fruit trees on both his sloped and flat land, resulting in the fruit trees on the slope performing better and resisting cold weather because of improved air flow. In addition to homesteading, Coston became a prominent member of the community; he was elected to the Territorial Council and the Territorial House of Representatives. There are many other examples of people like Isaac Coston who arrived in Boise, claimed land under the Homestead Act and proceeded to create a home and shape Boise’s community. There were individuals who abused the Homestead Act, but Coston and others in Boise used the Act to find economic security for themselves and their families.
If you want to share the story of your family’s contribution to Boise, or their homesteading story, please email Brandi Burns.
Have a question about Boise’s history? Ask a Historian.