PBS created a series called Frontier House in which they took three families and put them into the Montana countryside and re-created the challenges the early pioneers and immigrants faced living off the land.
In 1862, the Homesteading Act was created by the U.S. government, which declared that any citizen of the United States could claim 160 acres of surveyed government land. Many jumped at the opportunity, including impoverished farmers from the East and immigrants from Europe.
After a payment of a nominal filing fee, homesteaders were then to "improve" their land by living on it, building a home and planting crops. If the settlers fulfilled these requirements, and remained on their homestead for a period of five years, the land became their property. This was a great opportunity to start a new life for many people living in the cities and abroad.
270 million acres, or 10% of the continental United States were essentially opened up to private citizens. Immigrants from Scandinavia, Germany, Poland, Yugoslavia, France, Italy, Spain, and Ireland flooded into the Territory.
Over the 124-year history of the Act, more than 2 million individuals filed claims, but of these claims, only 783,000 -- less than half -- ultimately obtained the deeds for their homesteads.
Life was rough. I couldn't imagine the harsh winters in Montana without a furnace and how they could survive off of food they stored up from the garden over the months from the summer.Many homesteaders that took claims, came with little or no farming experience. In addition, Montana is quite cold in the winter with conditions comparable to Northern Canada. Growing crops in the harsh conditions of the West was a difficult task for even the most seasoned farmers.
You tube has many of the episodes for free. Watch the first episode below and enjoy how these modern families equip to living in the 19th century. It might become your new nightly program