Getting free land from the government was amazingly simple. The first thing you had to do was fill out an application form that stated several facts:
That was it for the first step. Next, you had to move onto the land, live on it for five years — unless you were a Union veteran — farm it, and make "improvements" like a house, barn or fences. Finally, after five years, the homesteader had to file a form labeled "Final Proof" indicating you had lived upon and farmed the land for five years, and made some improvements. Certain special acts extended the residency period in case of grasshopper devastation or drought.
To actually claim ownership of the land at the end of five years, homesteaders had to complete a "Proving Up" Form. You had to prove that the improvements required had been done. And to prove it, you had to find two neighbors who were willing to swear to certain facts: