Ose Mountain, The Last Staked Claim in U.S. History

Last Updated: February 26, 2023
Ose Mountain, Alaska

The Homesteader Act of 1862 by Abraham Lincoln

On May 20th, 1862, Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States of America, signed the Homesteader Act into law.

From the 1850s, settlers were encouraged by free land titles to travel westward and claim their stake.

Far and Away, 1992

The House passed the Homestead Act on February 28th, 1862, by a large margin of 107 to 16.

The Homestead Act encouraged western migration by providing settlers with 160 acres of land in exchange for approximately 12.5 cents per acre.

Homesteaders were required to:

  • Stay five years continuously before receiving the title to the land
  • The settlers had to be, or in the process of becoming, U.S. citizens.

To date and as of 1985, when the last claim in U.S. history was made in Alaska by Duane Ose, the Homestead Act distributed 270 million acres of land in the United States.

The Homestead Act of 1862 is one of the most far-reaching pieces of legislation in American history.

Enter: Duane Ose, the One Guy to Go For the Last Claim in Alaska

Born and raised on a farm near Echo, Minnesota, Duane Ose graduated from Echo High School in 1960. Duane Ose enlisted in the Army in 1964 spending three years in Korea as a U.S. Army engineer. After service, he returned home and started his own company selling and delivering concrete.

In the summer of 1982, Duane Ose was invited to Alaska to visit his cousin, Mickey.

“I was tremendously impressed with the vast wilderness. It grew on me rather suddenly. I could see tremendous expansion opportunities for this beautiful country, but I just wanted the wilderness experience.” said Duane Ose.

“It was then I found out the Homestead Act of 1862 was still in existence in that area. Two 30,000 acres had been opened up with one of these areas called the ‘Lake Minchumina Land Settlement Area.’ But I didn’t want a lakeshore claim. Mosquitoes love the lowlands. Also, permafrost is prevalent in lowlands sheltered from the sun. I didn’t want to build on stilts.”

“The next day I found my way into the Federal Land Office in Anchorage, specifically the BLM (Bureau of Land Management). I picked up every folder, brochure, even $20 for a high altitude black and white photo of this Lake Minchumina area. And also something called a staking application; the paperwork for filing a claim.”

64 claims had been filed as soon as the Lake Munchimina Area opened in December 1982.

All the best shorelines had already been claimed. Duane Ose had other thoughts. “Being of Norwegian descent I loved the hills. And I knew mosquitoes would be less an issue than down by a lake area.”

Duane hates mosquitos. In his interview with Senior Perspective (2014), Duane Ose mentions mosquitos at least six times.

People filing the 64 claims down in the lake area simply flew in on floatplanes; then walked ashore and staked out their property.

“But I wanted to do it the old-fashioned way like our homesteaders back in Minnesota. So with my 15-year-old son, Dan, we flew to an airport adjacent to Lake Minchumina which used to be an airfield when the U.S. was ferrying bombers to Russia in WWII. We unloaded our provisions and locked up at the airfield what we didn’t need with us. With an 80-pound backpack on Dan and a 100-pound pack on me, we started the hike to stake out our claim. This was July 4, 1985, and it truly was my Independence Day!”

Staking Their Claim

Ose chuckled when he tells of securing tickets to fly up to this lake area.

“The young lady at the ticket counter asked if we were going to the lake for trophy fishing. I told her we were going to hike to the ‘Federal Land Settlement Area’ to find land to stake. The look on her face was telling me she thought I was crazy. I said no more.”

The first day of the 56-mile journey was mostly on the lakefront shoreline. Once they headed inland, begins Duane’s Ose tirade against mosquitoes.

“[The mosquitoes]…came on like a horde. We had musk oil and Ben’s 100 mosquito repellent. Without that you’re going to be hurting really bad,” said Duane, a former Scout Master back and Army Engineer.

The three years before July 4th, 1985, Duane Ose was truly a prepper and survivalist. After returning to Minnesota in 1982, Duane Ose spent the next three years studying and preparing in detail what needed to be done to stake his claim on this remote Alaskan hilltop.

“Our shortest day we covered only two miles in 18 hours; our longest we covered eight miles in 18 hours,”

“A four-man Eureka tent was our shelter each night. It was a North American jungle experience struggling sometimes through 2 feet of moss. We didn’t want to sprain an ankle or hurt ourselves, so we walked carefully and were well-prepared with medicines. We knew how to treat our water. And in these efforts, it’s important to consume a lot of water.”

“One day the temp reached 100 degrees; we were scaling a hill and had run out of water. I told Dan to stay in the tent while I walked down the hill looking for water. But no water, so what was I going to tell my son? I sat down to think of how I was going to explain this ‘forced march’ without water, and no breakfast. What I sat down on looked like a big sofa, but it was a moss-covered, sponge-like mound. My pants got wet sitting there. I reached down an arm’s length into that moss sponge and came up with a handful of wet, whitish-looking moss. I squeeze and moisture dripped. So that day we filled both our canteens with mossy water. We purified that stuff so it was safe for drinking. But that was our solution for that rather perilous experience.”

After 16 days of strenuous hiking, Duane and Dan Ose reached the spot Duane had identified on his map as his claim site.

“For a long moment, I stood looking. A tingling came rushing over me. Dan Ose was looking out over this vast wonderful view.”

Dan Ose said, ‘Just like a picture, Dad.’

“Yup, this is where the front window will be with a deck.
Drive that claim stake in.
This is it.”

Duane Ose, 1985

What’s It Like at Ose Mountain?

Portrayed in BBC’s Win the Wilderness (2020), Ose Mountain is a picturesque homestead location. Made from 2,000 “gopher-fetched”, hand-peeled spruce trees, the homestead construction took place over almost 30 years of collective effort first started by Duane Ose, and later enhanced by his second wife, Rena Ose.

Duane Ose’s cabin overlooking Mt. Denali’s crest

“And the beauty of this spot. Looking due south we could see Mt. Denali’s crest glistening in the sun. Plus we have water, wild game, plenty of big trees for shelter.”

Duane Ose’s Three Possible Choices for the U.S. Last Claim

After the 64 claims had been filed, Duane Ose had three possible homestead choices.

One. The first claim choice provided 80 acres of land but with the requirement that this had to be generating income shortly after settling and building.

Two. A second choice was a 5-acre headquarters site for guide services for visitors to the remote area.

Three. A 5-acre hillside point strictly for homesite purposes without having to prove any income.

Duane Ose chose the homesite.

“So this was my choice. Heavy wilderness area with my proving property lines brushed off (trimmed down) leaving me with a piece 360 feet wide and 660 feet long. The next year (1986) we had to build a habitable dwelling site much like our forefathers. So we first built a hillside dugout.”

“That dugout was sort of cozy being 11 feet long, 9 feet wide and 9 ½ feet high.

I found out you need to have a high ceiling to hang things.

I call it a two-step cabin because it was 2 steps to everything in that place… the bed, the table, the kitchen stove.

But it was something that gave me a good feeling of how our forefathers made things work in their early pioneer days.”

“The land cost me 12 ½ cents per acre. That cost originated way back in 1862 with the original designation of the Homestead Act passed by the United States Congress.”

Building Ose Mountain

Having established a base of operations in his dugout to beat the Alaskan winters, a neighboring Alaskan woman chided Duane Ose into finding a wife. Fondly referred to as a “mail order” wife, Rema Adeline Ose was definitely Duane Ose’s favorite wife. His third was a gold-digging writing version of Cathy Bates in Stephen King’s Misery.

Those first couple of years, Duane Ose built his base with friends and his sons from his first marriage. Duane and Rema Ose officially started construction of their current home and guest lodge in 1987.

The two newlyweds drove to Alaska separately in their own cars and subsequently took a floatplane, each driving their own car. The float plane flew them to the shoreline 3.5 miles away from Duane Ose’s dugout. The plane did not come back for six months.

This is when, in the Senior Perspective interview retelling the story of coming to Ose Mountain, Rema laughs, “Well it was what it was….a dugout in a hillside. I used 5-gallon buckets for storage of flour, pancake mix and sugar. These buckets fit under the bed. One time I forgot to mark the cans. Made a batch of cookies and a cake but turned out I used pancake mix instead of flour. You could bounce those cookies off the wall.”

The hole-in-the-ground-two-step dugout eventually turned into a three-story log house encompassing over 2,000 spruce logs, encompassing nine years of homestead life. All stripping the logs, sanding the logs, and painting the logs was done by Rena. In the series, Win The Wilderness, Rema’s nose can be observed twitching in delight as she reflects on her heart-pumping work.

With only about five months of extended Alaskan daylight hours per year, the story of Ose Mountain is one for the history books. The coldest temperatures they experienced were -45° F with winter days of 20+ hours of darkness. A true testament to human ingenuity, purpose, and survivalism in a classic homestead journey. With idealism bordering on purism, Duane Ose and Rema made some incredibly tough choices to build Ose Mountain.

Ose Mountain, on the other hand, is off the grid and runs water systems, necessitating daily attention to its water systems. With solar panels and a generator, Ose Mountain has Internet access. From a hole in the ground to a two-step dugout, the property boasts a 30 by 40 foot home with a basement with a cellar with constant temperatures at 38-40 degrees.

Win The Wilderness 2020

In 2019, Duane Ose was approached about the idea of the program by a media group known as Twofour, which later partnered with BBC to launch the reality show, Win The Wilderness.

“It was a great life, but it had to come to an end,” said Duane Ose. Rema had had a heart stent all the while peeling 2,000 logs.

Coming down the mountain back to Redwood Falls, Minnesota was the right thing to do for the aging couple after nearly three decades.

In 2019, Ose and his wife Rema came down from their home on what he called Ose Mountain after living off-the-grid together for nearly three decades. Unfortunately, Rema Ose passed away later on May 14th, 2022.

Emily Padfield and Mark Warner won the reality show, but during the pandemic of 2020, all efforts to continue the legacy were halted. It was then the new Mrs. Ose, formerly Ellie Mae Blair, formerly Elanor Ribera, and formerly Eleanor White entered the picture.

Scams, arguments, distancing, and identity/credential theft of Duane Ose ensued.

A 2023 Update on Duane’s Story

Duane Ose still lives in Redwood Falls. He has since the scandals of 2021, distanced himself from Facebook as many of his user logins had been hacked. It is unknown if his current books for sale on Goodreads.com in July of 2022 are managed in fact by him, in his name, or by his family. They’re in contact with him and hope for the best as they seem to be managing the Ose Mountain Facebook page. On it, there are comments and hearsay on unofficial reports of the Ose Mountain title deed to return to Duane Ose by Mark and Emily.

Mark and Emily continue to conquer the wilderness. Their most recent update is that they are learning about various ways to improve their livestock through collaborative efforts in Zimbabwe.

Duane Ose may not have known he was going to be the last U.S. homesteader in one of the most influential acts of legislation in U.S. history when he set out on his fateful Independence Day of 85′.

Nevertheless, Duane Ose is the last.

Where else in the world does claimable land exist?

In the future, I believe that homesteading is a hybridized process including resources digital, streaming & hardbound. The delivery of catalytic tools/materials and know-how will be multiplied by collaborative learning.

“Always Be Ready” Max

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