From Homesteading the Plains Toward a New History, by Richard Edwards, Jacob K. Friefeld, and Rebecca S. Wingo (University of Nebraska Press, 2017), Kindle pp. 8-10:
A second pressure forcing the government to divest itself of its land were speculators, or less pejoratively, land investors, who were a continual presence. Squatters took action right on the land, but speculators operated everywhere, not only on the ground but in nearby cities like Omaha and Denver, in fashionable New York and Boston offices, and in the halls of Congress. The Nebraska City News in September 1867, for example, noted that “seven thousand acres of land lying west of Lincoln were entered by a gentleman from Pennsylvania” and the Kansas Farmer groused that the worst land monopolists used agricultural college scrip to gobble up vast tracts. Although it was (and is) easy to focus on the few immensely successful and therefore notorious speculators, the truth was that nearly every landowner tried to profit from rising land prices. Indeed, many players both large and small invested in land, a long-established activity that was hardly dishonorable. Aside from Henry George and the Single-Taxers, no serious effort was made to prevent people from profiting from the rising value of their land, for the simple fact that it was widely assumed to be the landowner’s right, and besides, so many hoped to benefit.
Stories of speculators profiting from insider dealing, fraud, and outright theft provoked great outrage because most people distinguished between those landowners, labeled “speculators,” who were only interested in profiting from the rising value of their holdings, and the quicker the better, and other landowners, “actual settlers” in the words of the Homestead Act’s title, who wanted land as a long-term holding on which to build a farm and create a lifetime livelihood. The St. Paul Weekly Pioneer, observing that two whole counties had nearly been gobbled up by speculators using agricultural college scrip and military bounty warrants, thundered, “These two counties had far better have been visited by the locusts of Egypt or the grasshoppers of the Red River than by these speculators.” The fact that some actual settlers did not succeed, and others changed their plans after the hard experience of trying to make a farm in hostile conditions, did not change matters. Moreover, as Gilbert Fite has noted, “Despite the fact that millions of acres fell into the hands of corporations and speculators who held them for profitable prices, there was no real lack of good land on the Minnesota, Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas frontier in the late 1860s and early 1870s.” Nineteenth-century farmers were said to be perpetually overinvested in land, betting that land prices would rise, and as historian Roy Robbins explained, “Many settlers had invested in lands on credit hoping to pay out of the increase in the value of their holdings. . . . Some were able to do so but many were not.” Investors who grabbed title to public land simply to profit from its rising price were widely disliked, although they had much influence in the halls of Congress and other power centers.