Checkerboarding in the West often occurred due to railroad land grants wherein railroads would be granted every other section along a rail corridor. These grants, which typically extended 6 to 40 miles (10 to 64 km) from either side of the track, acted as a form of subsidy to the railroads. Unlike older, per-mile subsidies which encouraged fast but shoddy track-laying, land grants encouraged higher quality work, since the railroads could increase the value of the land by building better track. Furthermore, the government hoped to benefit from the increased value of the remaining public parcels.
The first such grants were given to the Mobile and Ohio and Illinois Central Railroads in 1850. Further grants were made under the Pacific Railway Acts between 1862 and 1871, when they were stopped due to public opposition. In total, 79 grants were made, totaling , later reduced to .
Checkerboarding also occurred due to Native American land grants, wherein native land was intermingled with non-native land. Many Native American tribes were and are against checkerboarding, because it broke up traditionally communal native settlements into many individual plots, and allowed non-natives to claim land within those settlements.
The Dawes Act of 1887 was responsible for much Native American checkerboarding. The act was intended to bolster self-sufficiency among the natives by giving each individual between 40 and 160 acres.