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quarter section / quarter-section

One-fourth of a square mile, consisting of 160 acres.

Send for free descriptive pamphlets giving all details about the land and how to secure a quarter section of it; free on application to any C.&N.W.ticket agent. – De Smet Leader

Me. With Deed. Why? This is my idea of a vacation photo. Me, holding a deed or homestead file of some Little House character or Laura Ingalls Wilder relative aimed at the camera while standing in front of the land the deed or homestead file pertains to. Usually, I’ve been in a car way too long, the wind is blowing, and I’ve dragged someone along to take the picture, someone who really isn’t all that keen on seeing where George Wilmarth homesteaded or where Margaret Garland had a tree claim.

You might be interested in the photo shown here, though; it’s the quarter section on which Almanzo Wilder grew that seed wheat he supposedly hoarded behind a wall in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter. The quarter section is in Marshall, Minnesota. Not that it matters, but the original patent owner – the person who first proved up on this quarter section as a homestead – was someone named John Pears.

Section / Township / Range. Public lands acquired by the federal government from states, a foreign country, or by the cession of Indian lands by treaty or purchase were legally designated according to the “Section, Township, Range” system. They were laid out in a large grid broken down by Section, Township, and Range and identified by their distance from a particular Baseline and Meridian. Thirty states, including all of those in which Laura Ingalls lived, used this system of identification.

4 Quarter Sections = 1 Section

Metes and Bounds. Others typically used a system of “metes and bounds,” which referred to descriptions of local vegetation and obvious physical features of the land (mountains, bodies of water, trees, rocks, proximity of neighbors) for location of property boundaries.

The federal township and range system recorded surveyed public lands by grids or “squares,” which were broken down into successively smaller squares for ease in identification. The basic unit of measure is the Section – a square tract of land measuring one mile by one mile and containing 640 acres. Each section contains four quarter sections of 160 acres. A quarter section, therefore, is one-fourth of a square mile; it was the common size of homestead, preemption, and tree claims, and was typically the largest amount of land an individual could file on per type of claim under the United States Public Land Laws.

Section line. In These Happy Golden Years (see Chapter 20, “Nellie Oleson”), Wilder wrote that the Oleson’s shanty was on the section line, a mile east of Almanzo Wilder’s homestead. This would be one of the boundary lines that fell on the line designating the perimeter of the section itself, as opposed to the boundary lines which crossed each section. In the drawing above, the blue lines are section lines; the green lines are not.

If you don’t yet have a copy of the booklet I co-authored with Penny Linsenmayer – Charles Ingalls and the U.S. Public Land Laws, pick one up at the gift shop at the LIW Museum in Walnut Grove or at the Ingalls Homestead in De Smet. The booklet explains Pa’s land dealings in detail, including the story of Charles Ingalls’ preemption claim (the dugout site which is called the Ingalls Homestead but wasn’t a homestead), and his tree claim and homestead in Redwood County, Minnesota.


quarter section / quarter-section (SSL 18, 25; THGY 1, 14)

section line (THGY 20)