Charles Speese used public land programs to build better lives for himself and his family.
Charles Speese married Rosetta (Meehan) Speese in Westerville, Nebraska, in 1907. They moved to join what would become Empire, Wyoming, in 1908. There, Speese homesteaded 320 acres under the Enlarged Homestead Act.
By the time he earned his patent, he owned a 26’ x 26’ shingle-roof home with five rooms—a large house for any homesteader.
Speese’s garden expanded to more than three acres by 1909. But he suffered many failed crops—during 1910-1912 his corn, rye, alfalfa, and potatoes repeatedly failed. He was unable to support the family in Empire. So they moved to DeWitty, Nebraska, another black homesteading community. There, they joined other members of their extended families.
Speese filed for 80 acres of land in DeWitty in 1920. Unlike their spacious home in Empire, the family’s dwelling in DeWitty was a more humble soddy. It was small, but it provided the family with a place to eat, a stove to cook on, a heater for warmth, beds, and an organ for entertainment.
Charles spent most of his time working outside. Like many other homesteaders, he took off-farm jobs that kept him away from his family for months at a time. He supplemented his income by selling hay and renting land, and was able to winter his cattle elsewhere.
Charles and Rosetta valued education. They sought to provide the best possible educational resources for their children. They made extensive use of the state lending library to obtain extra reading materials.
Speese advocated for his rights as a citizen to claim public land. Local land agents refused to accept some of his claims for additional land, but Speese pursued what he understood to be his rights under the law. At one point he wrote directly to the Secretary of the Interior, seeking support for his claim.
In 1925, Charles Speese continued his quest for better land by moving with his family to Sully County, South Dakota.
Learn more about Black Homesteading in America.
Wyoming Patent Details - BLM GLO Records 320 acres