“Homestead is where the art is.”

History of the homestead cabins

Joshua Cabin model brochure

Homesteading on government land is a tradition in the United States, but the typical 160-acre parcels for farming made little sense in the desert. However, recognizing the health and recreation benefits of the high desert, in 1938 Congress passed the Small-Tract (“baby”) Homestead Act, making 5-acre parcels available not to would-be farmers so much as weekenders seeking relief from crowded urban conditions. The boom really got going after World War II when thousands of claims were filed in the Morongo Basin, sometimes sight-unseen in unbuildable washes or rock piles. Local companies such as Homestead Supplies grew by serving the “Five Acre People”, developing the quick-rising “jackrabbit” cabin models that could be put up almost overnight to help meet the requirements for proving up a claim. The boom petered out and homesteading came to an end by 1976.

The wisdom of the baby homestead act is debatable, as neglected cabins became nuisances and providing infrastructure and services proved a challenge. The proliferation of small residential structures altered a wild desert unsuited to most human uses, but the desert, in turn, has continued to act on both the cabins and the residents, resulting in a dynamic “tidal zone” of wilderness and human endeavor. Today, the 5-acre homesteads have become the basis of a special edge-culture built upon a combination of resourcefulness, creativity, determination, and diversity that is increasingly rare in the monotonous suburban landscapes of California.


QUESTION:  Are the homestead cabin communities eligible for protection under the National Historic Preservation Act?  Learn more here.


  1. Is homesteading on government land still available in the United States to day?

    Comment by Kay Dunn — June 14, 2008 @ 11:34 pm

  2. My former understanding was that it was only still available in Alaska, but I heard rumors there are now some places again in the lower 48 where you can do it. I’d query the Department of the Interior.

    Good luck, and I’m sorry I can’t be more help.

    Comment by magicgroove — June 15, 2008 @ 12:45 am

  3. Hello,
    I am currently writing a book, a photo book on the shanties of Wonder Valley entitled “Second Chances.” I have been going there for 4 years and I asm in the process of gathering whatever research material I can get my hands on. Please visit my website under the “Second Chances” gallery and call or email me with whatever help or information you might be willing to add.

    Comment by Jacques Garnier — October 6, 2008 @ 8:53 am

  4. At Homestead National Monument near Beatrice, Nebraska, it states that the last homestead under the now-expired Homestead Act was in 1994 in Alaska.

    Comment by LM — February 21, 2009 @ 5:34 pm

  5. in the art add at the top who is the builder contractor of that pic we are going to renovate a cabin in wonder valley that looks just like that pic and am having a hard time trying to find any information about what materials to use for siding and want to keep the old fell of the cabin. right now it has a roof like material for the siding but want to change it to a ruff swan 6in wood plank, any suggestions that would help i am great full for thanks for your time. My goal is to keep the style and felling of the homestead. not have it look like a mobile home or the OC thanks – Joey Bolohan

    Comment by joeybolohan — February 9, 2012 @ 4:11 pm

  6. I apologize this comment got missed, Joey! I believe that ad is from Homestead Supplies, an outfit that erected many, many of the cabins. They had outlets in Banning, L.A., and here in the Basin and were still in business until not that long ago. Their ads listed “Kaiser insulating siding.” Check out Kim Stringfellow’s book for more reproductions. http://www.jackrabbithomestead.com/ Good luck!

    Comment by magicgroove — March 9, 2012 @ 1:21 am

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