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This, no doubt, was wormwood to Secretary Seward, but it was all based on "the absence of specific legislation by Congress."
The country was under the rule of the War Department until June, 1877, when the troops were withdrawn and the country practically abandoned. The Treasury Department, for the most part by a deputy collector, ruled for two years, until a massacre was threatened by Katleean and his tribe at Sitka, when the Naval Department assumed charge and held it until the arrival of the civil officers, appointed by President Arthur under the organic act of May 17, 1884. Section 8 of this remarkable piece of legislation created a land district of the whole cession, and a United States land office with exofficio surveyorgeneral, register and receiver. It is as follows:
SEC. 8. That the said district of Alaska is hereby created a land district, and a United States land office for said district is hereby located at Sitka. The commissioner provided for by this act to reside at Sitka shall be an ex officio register of said land office, and the clerk provided for by this act shall be ex officio receiver of public moneys, and the marshal provided for by this act shall be ex officio surveyor-general of said district, and the laws of the United States relating to mining claims, and the right incident thereto, shall, from and after the passage of this act, be in full force and effect in said district, under the administration thereof herein provided for, subject to such regulations as may be made by the Secretary of the Interior, approved by the President: Provided, That the Indians or other persons in said district shall not be disturbed in the possession of any lands actually in their use or occupation or now claimed by them, but the terms under which such persons may acquire title to such lands is reserved for future legislation by Congress: And provided further, That parties who have located mines or mineral privileges therein under the laws of the United States applicable to the public domain, or who have occupied and improved or exercised acts of ownership over such claims shall not be disturbed therein, but shall be allowed to perfect their title to such claims by payment as aforesaid: And provided also, That the land, not exceeding six hundred and forty acres at any station now occupied as missionary stations among the Indian tribes in said section, with the improvements thereon erected by or for such societies, shall be continued in the occupancy of the several religious societies to which said missionary stations respectively belong until action by Congress. But nothing contained in this act shall be construed to put in force in said district the general land laws of the United States.
Since that day mining has prospered, for it has had as much encour agement by the extension of the mining laws of the United States and the rights incident thereto as this industry has had in any State or Territory, and many mineral patents have been issued. The terms under which title might be acquired by persons who had squatted and waited for years were reserved for future legislation by Congress; that is, agriculture, stock raising, lumbering, and coal mining received no encouragement. Those who believed that they could undertake such enterprises with success simply had to wait and hope.
On March 3, 1869, the islands of St. Paul and St. George were, by act of Congress, made a special reservation for Government purposes, and no one is allowed to land on these islands unless he has permission from the Secretary of the Treasury. (See Revised Statutes, sec. 1959.) President Benjamin Harrison, by Executive order June 21, 1890, reserved certain lands in and about Sitka, Juneau, Douglas Island, and Fort Wrangell for public buildings, barracks, parks, wharves, coaling stations, and for military and naval purposes. (See Appendix A for the whole of this order.) The next step in this land question occurred March 3, 1891, when, at the very end of the session of Congress, an act was passed and approved for the repeal of the timberculture laws and for other purposes. Sections 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15 of this law pertain to Alaska. They are given in Appendix B. They have reference to lands which may be entered for town sites and
for the purpose of trade or manufacture, and the setting aside as a reservation for the Metlakahtla Indians the body of lands known as Annette Islands. There has been great confusion in the interpretation and execution of this law, especially in regard to those provisions pertaining to trade and manufacture.
There has been a long and costly struggle for the applicants who have obtained very few patents. The sums which they have put up for field and office work, and for which they have never received an acre in return, will aggregate a large amount. It has been a veritable wrestling match, with the General Land Office standing victor in almost every contest. It is astonishing to see what grips and underholds can be taken in one of these onsets.
The next specific legislation was approved May 14, 1898, entitled "An act extending the homestead laws and providing for right of way for railroads in the district of Alaska, and for other purposes. "" The thirteen sections of this act may be found in Appendix C. Section 1 relates to homestead right in Alaska and provides:
SECTION 1. That the homestead land laws of the United States and the rights incident thereto, including the right to enter surveyed or unsurveyed lands, under provisions of law relating to the acquisition of title through soldiers' additional homestead rights, are hereby extended to the district of Alaska, subject to such regulations as may be made by the Secretary of Interior; and no indemnity, deficiency, or lieu lands pertaining to any land grant whatsoever originating outside of said district of Alaska shall be located within or taken from lands in said district: Provided, That no entry shall be allowed extending more than eighty rods along the shore of any navigable water, and along such shore a space of at least eighty rods shall be reserved from entry between all such claims, and that nothing herein contained shall be so construed as to authorize entries to be made or title to be acquired to the shore of any navigable waters within said district: And be it further provided, That no homestead shall exceed eighty acres in extent.
A stranger reading over this law might get the impression that it is on the whole a pretty fair law for Alaska, but when he begins to inquire how it has worked for the four years in which it has been in force he will begin to understand why we groan. In the first place, not a single homestead entry has been allowed, for the reason that the homestead land laws of the United States apply only upon lands which have been surveyed, and not an acre has been marked out for settlement. Nowhere has there been established a meridian or a base line. Why? The answer is the same as was given by Secretary Seward in October, 1867-"the absence of specific legislation by Congress."
At the instance of Commissioner Hermann, of the General Land Office, the sundry civil bill which was approved March 3, 1899, extended the system of public surveys to the district of Alaska, and included Alaska among the States and Territories which were to share in the sum of $325,000 voted for public surveys. The same amount was voted in 1900 and Alaska was included, but no land was surveyed for homestead purposes. A similar amount was voted for the year ending June 30, 1901, and $5,000 was the part apportioned to Alaska, and yet not a line has been run.
The surveyor-general advertised for bids to establish an initial monument and run the necessary base and meridian lines in the Copper River Valley. He addressed personal letters to every deputy land surveyor. The law fixes the maximum price for this kind of work. No surveyor who is acquainted with the conditions in that part of the country felt that he could earn anything, even at the highest rate allowed; so no bids came in. At last, Mr. A. J. Adams, of Valdez, on
the 1st of June, 1901, entered into a contract with the surveyor-general to establish an initial point and run a meridian and base line. not make a bond until last October, and since that time he has not in any way attempted the work, and it is altogether probable that he will not.
It is a matter of the very greatest importance to the land office that this initial work should be accurate, and therefore let to a surveyor who has a well-established reputation for that kind of work. Congress should allow the land office to go beyond the maximum rate now allowed, and make the best terms possible to begin the work without further delay.
Last year the surveyor-general requested $108,872 for the survey of mission stations and the Government reservations, and the governor asked that $200,000 be given to start the surveys and that the Commissioner of the General Land Office be authorized to make terms with the surveyors, so as to start the work. These recommendations were not favorably considered. "We've carved not a line; we've raised not a stone."
The experience of applicants under the act of 1891 has been so unsatisfactory that very few are willing to avail themselves of its provisions and the amendments thereto in the act of 1898. All applicants who can afford to acquire title on these unsurveyed nonmineral lands have only one means of such acquisition, namely, by the use of soldiers' additional homestead rights. All other kinds of scrip are debarred. Why? It is difficult to determine, but perhaps through the influence of those who controlled large amounts of this kind that its market price might be very much enhanced by the greater demand. They have certainly succeeded, and perchance this same influence may be the all-powerful one that keeps the land laws and the absence of surveys as they now are.
Soldiers' additional homestead rights are used by nearly all who wish to acquire immediate title for cannery or sawmill sites or for other trade or manufacturing purposes of speculation. This scrip is certified and uncertified. The applicant buys it in the market at the best terms possible. The price ranges from $8 to $20 per acre. makes his own bargain with a deputy land surveyor to do the work on the piece of land which he desires to enter. This work-plats, field notes, etc.-is taken to the surveyor general's office, and if all is approved, the applicant can then go to the land office with this approved work and his soldiers' scrip and make entry of that piece of land. He will then have to comply with all the regulations of the land office by advertising, posting, final proof, etc. An applicant may consider him self fortunate if he goes through all this and obtains his patent at a total expense of $30 per acre.
The opportunity to take land in this manner is abused by some of the large fishing corporations, as has been done this season along the banks of rivers emptying into Bristol Bay, where all possible sources of water have been preempted in order to keep out rivals, for no cannery can be conducted without an abundance of fresh water.
The coal-land laws were extended June 6, 1900, but, like homesteads, coal must be located upon surveyed lands. In some places, like the Cook Inlet coal fields at Homer, the enterprises started in the neighborhood of Comptrollers Bay, and elsewhere large amounts have been invested in development of mines, building wharves, railway tracks,
etc., but these people have no assurance of title nor security of tenure if they begin the shipment of coal. In fact, an ice company would not know that it was secure if it began the export of ice from Muir Glacier.
Two land offices which had been established were discontinued upon a chain of reasoning which appears valid, but if pursued in another department would disband almost every post-office in the district. It is the same kind of reasoning which, in 1877, made out a clear case against the country as a customs district and recommended its abolition. Last of all comes a forest reserve covering the largest part of the islands in southeast Alaska. This will be considered more in detail elsewhere.
Now, in all this legislation and Executive action there is no encouragement for the ordinary home seeker-the true frontiersman. Who can assign any valid reason why the general land laws should have been withheld all these years? No other division of our public domain has been dealt with in such a manner. Why should a man and his family who are enterprising enough to strike out to Alaska to build up a new home be limited to 80 acres, with a Government reservation of 80 acres on either side, if he happens to locate upon the shores of navigable waters, when everywhere, since the homestead law was created, a settler has been allowed at least 160 acres? These measures have not been framed in the political wisdom which has been in accord with our traditional policy since the ordinance of 1787. There is lacking a trustful and liberal spirit toward the people, as if those who come to Alaska are of a class who should be either repressed or discouraged. We hope that the time has now arrived when Congressmen will carefully inform themselves in regard to the conditions prevailing here and that they will promptly and cheerfully give the desired relief. What, then, can Congress do to give immediate relief on the land question? If it should vote an ample sum to begin the surveys, it would probably be somewhere in the year 1907 before settlers could come in and acquire title under the homestead act, and then only in a few places.
The General Land Office has its established way of carrying on the public surveys and it is necessarily slow, and especially will this be so in Alaska. The Commissioner must have authority to make terms beyond the maximum rate now allowed by law. He will have to advertise for bids and make contracts. The surveyors will have to prepare outfits on an extensive and expensive scale. The seasons for the work are short. After they submit their work or any part of it the examiners will have to go upon the field, and if they find errors or willful fraud the delay will then be doubled. So it is not unreasonable to assume that it will be 1907 before land can be ready for entry. Does Congress wish to keep immigrants out until that time? Fifty thousand of our people from Minnesota and the Dakotas have gone of late into Manitoba. Home seekers' trains are run in sections on the great trunk lines. People are pouring into Washington, Oregon, and California. There is no longer a western frontier of unoccupied domain for the settler. The prosperous years of good crops in Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri have set free a young generation who wish to get farther west, where they shall have greater opportunities. They are our own people, brought up in our own schools and churches; they understand and love our institutions; they are the best people on earth to pour into a new country
and maintain all that our flag stands for. Behold Oklahoma! Can such things be accomplished in Alaska? Yea, verily. There can be no doubt that there is a tide of immigrants ready to turn toward this northwest frontier if Congress will but clear the way by passing at its next session generous laws for the acquisition of title to grazing and agriculture lands. This can be done by a donation act.
There is precedent for such a step. On August 4, 1842, Congress passed "An act for the armed occupation and settlement of the unsettled part of the peninsula of East Florida." One thousand three hundred and seventeen entries were made, covering 210,720 acres. "This was the first of the donation acts to induce settlements on the public domain in dangerous or distant portions of the nation."
The early condition of the first settlers in Oregon was much like that of the people in Alaska to-day. The boundary line along the forty-ninth parallel was not agreed to until June 15, 1846. Three years before this, under the lead of Marcus Whitman and others, the intrepid people cried, "Westward, ho!" and started a current that has never ceased to flow.
Out of a feeling of their weakness and isolation and for self-protection they organized the provisional government of 1843. This Government donated lands to settlers, but in the organic act of August 14, 1848, Congress, while sanctioning most that had been done by this government, said:
But all laws heretofore passed in said Territory making grants of land or otherwise affecting or incumbering the title to lands shall be, and are hereby, declared to be null and void.
Two years subsequent to the passage of this organic act, on the 27th of September, 1850, it enacted the famous donation law. This no doubt was prompted by a feeling of admiration and of justice toward those brave and hardy pioneers who crossed the plains and mountains under such severe hardships. The entire act will be found in Appendix D. This law made a distinction between settlers, dividing them into two classes-first, those who were actual settlers prior to the 1st of September, 1850, who should obtain by donation 320 acres, or a half section if a single man, and if married an entire section or 640 acres, one half to the husband and the other half to the wife in her own right; second, to those who should become settlers between the 1st of December, 1850, and the 1st of December, 1853, 160 acres to a single man, and if married 320 acres, one half to the husband and the other to the wife in her own right. By the act of February 14, 1853, the law was amended, extending the time to December 1, 1855. March 2, 1853, Washington was cut off from Oregon and constituted a Territory, and by a section of a law enacted July 17, 1854, all the provisions of the donation law were extended to the new Territory. The law expired for both Territories December 1, 1855.
The number of donation certificates which were issued in Oregon amounted to 7,317, covering 2,563,757 acres; in Washington Territory there were 985 donation certificates issued, covering 290,215 acres.
Many thoughtful men who have lived in Oregon for many years have been questioned in regard to the wisdom of this legislation and nearly all responded that it was wise, that it established in the minds of the settlers who had been kept long in suspense a sense of ownership at once, where there was an intention to comply with the condi