The Department of the Interior

While the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) scope and presence spans across the country, its main offices are found in Washington DC. There, a grand building has been the hub of public land management since its construction was completed in 1936. Along with offices, the building houses a museum and an extensive collection of murals celebrating the various roles of the DOI.

Among these murals are Rush for the Oklahoma Land—1894 andThe Homesteading and Building of Barbed Wire Fences by John Steuart Curry painted in 1939.  Oklahoma was notable for a series of land runs that occurred as congress opened up land for homesteading. In accordance with the Homestead Act of 1862, potential homesteaders could claim up to 160 acres of qualifying land so long as the lived on and developed it. In the Land Run of April 22, 1889, two million acres of Oklahoma territory were opened up to an eager 50,000.*  These oil on canvas pieces are split between a comedic portrayal of the land grab as homesteaders rushed to settle the Oklahoma territory and the eventual domestication of this wild land as settlers farmed and fenced the territory.  Curry took a particular personal interest in the content of these paintings as a native of Kansas.

John Steuart Curry Rush for the Oklahoma Land—1894 Oil on canvas, 1939

John Steuart Curry
Rush for the Oklahoma Land—1894
Oil on canvas, 1939

About the Department

The United States Department of the Interior (DOI) oversees the maintenance and conservation of most public lands and resources. Due to the wide range of its responsibilities, the DOI is often referred to as the “Department of Everything Else.” This was particularly the case when the DOI was first established in March 3, 1849. Many preexisting departments quickly passed their less desirably tasks to the DOI such as the management of the DC sewer system. Yet, other bureaus found a much more proper seat in the DOI. The Indian Affairs Office was transferred from the Department of War and the General Land Office from the Treasury. As of 2004, the DOI managed about one fifth of the United States’ land mass—overseeing organizations such as the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Park Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Among these organizations is the Bureau of Land Management which oversees the uses of public land for a wide range of purposes including land patents. The bureau was formed in 1946 by combining the General Land Office and the Grazing Service. The Bureau of Land Management oversees approximately one eighth of the land mass of the United States. There have been over 700,000 homesteads filed for use on public lands.

John Steuart Curry The Homesteading and Building of Barbed Wire Fences Oil on canvas, 1939

John Steuart Curry
The Homesteading and Building of Barbed Wire Fences
Oil on canvas, 1939

More Resources


* According to estimates

  1 comment for “The Department of the Interior

  1. December 17, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    Need some land to live and hunt

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