Friday, December 31, 2010

U. S. Land Laws

The Homestead Act of 1862 was just one of many laws passed by the United States to transfer land from the public domain into private ownership. Below are just a few of those other laws:

SALE LAWS – The sale of public lands at auction was the first general means of disposing of the public lands. The Congress under the Articles of Confederation first provided for sale in the Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Land Ordinance of 1787 [Northwest Ordinance]. Under the Constitution the first sales act came in 1796, with changes enacted in 1800, 1803, and 1804. The Act of April 24, 1820, became the major sales act until repeal in 1891. Lands were offered at public sale to the highest bidder under the 1820 law at a minimum price of $1.25 an acre. There was no limitation on the acreage that could be purchased by an individual. None of the laws had residence or cultivation requirements.

MILITARY BOUNTY LAND LAWS – To reward those who had served in the nation’s armed forces; it was the practice of the federal government before the Civil War to give veterans public lands in reward for their service. The amount of land provided and how it could be taken differed under the numerous military land bounty acts. The practice was discontinued with the Civil War; however, veterans were given concessions under the homestead laws.

PREEMPTION LAW – Preemption allowed for settlers who built a residence and improved public lands to purchase claims at minimal price for public lands prior to the lands being offered at public sale. The first preemption law was enacted in 1799, after which, Congress continued to enact preemption laws of temporary nature from time to time. A permanent preemption law came with the passage of the Act of September 4, 1841. This legislation permitted an individual to settle and cultivate up to 160 acres of land and to then purchase that land within a specified time after either survey or settlement at $1.25 per acre. It was repealed in 1891.

SCRIP – By definition, scrip is a certificate which allowed the recipient to select a specified number of acres from the public domain. There were numerous types of script, among them being Agricultural College Scrip, Supreme Court Scrip, and Sioux Half-Breed Scrip. Conditions as the use of each type of scrip varied, as did the acreage given

DESERT LAND LAW – The Act of March 3, 1877 provided for the entry of 640 acres of irrigable public land. Claimant had to construct an irrigation system but no residence required. At the end of three years, land could be patented after payment of $1.25 per acre. In 1890 acreage for entries was reduced to 320 acres. Provisions of the act were at first extended to only the states of California, Nevada, and Oregon, as well as the territories of Arizona, Dakota, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. The law was extended to Colorado in 1891. This settlement law is still “on the books.”

DONATION LAWS – In an effort to encourage Anglo-American settlement of certain territorial acquisitions, Congress offered grants of lands to individuals who were already in possession of lands or were willing to immigrate to the areas of concern. Donation acts were passed for Florida in 1842 and 1844, Oregon and Washington in 1850 and 1853, and New Mexico in 1854. Most of the laws required residence and cultivation.

ENLARGED HOMESTEAD LAW – This legislation provided for 320 acre homesteads on semi-arid public lands designated as not susceptible to irrigation. Residence and cultivation were required. Enacted on February 19, 1909, the law was an act first extended to Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. In 1910 the law was amended to include Idaho and in 1915 South Dakota was brought under its provisions. It was repealed 1976.

GENERAL SEVERALTY LAW – The primary purpose of the act of February 8, 1887, also known as the Dawes Act and the General Allotment Act, was to provide Indians living on reservations with individual freeholds, or allotments. A little-known provision of the law, Section 4, however, provides allotments to Indians who occupied public lands. These public domain allotments were administered in a manner similar to the other public land settlement laws.

FOREST HOMESTEAD LAW – The Act of June 11, 1906 opened entry lands chiefly valuable for agricultural purposes within national forests to entry under the Homestead Law. Entries limited to 160 acres. It was repealed 1962.

RECLAMATION ACT LAW – The Newland Act of June 17, 1902 provided for federally funded irrigation projects. Lands within the projects were subject to the basic provisions of the Homestead Law. Individuals limited to overall ownership of 160 acres. In effect, the homestead provisions of this act were repealed with the Homestead Act in 1976.

STOCK-RAISING HOMESTEAD LAW – The last major settlement law, enacted December 29, 1916, this act provided for 640 acre entries on public domain classified as chiefly valuable for grazing and forage crops. Residence and certain improvements required. Passage of the Taylor Grazing Act in 1934 made this ineffectual. It was repealed in 1976.

TIMBER CULTURE LAW – This 1873 legislation offered 160 acres of public land to an individual willing to plant 40 acres of trees for ten years. Later amendments changed planting and time requirements. Residence on the claim was not a requirement. The act was of little success. It was repealed in 1891.

[This information came from a document published by the Bureau of land Management in March, 1992: “A Few of the Major Public Land and Mineral Laws” by James Muhn, Denver, Colorado.]

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