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202,498.48 acres over the previous year, in the States of California, Oregon, and Nevada, and Washington Territory, to which States and Territory only the act is applicable.
It is a condition of this act that the land shall be valuable chiefly for timber, but unfit for cultivation. Entries are restricted to 160 acres for any one person or association of persons.
The restrictions and limitations of the act are flagrantly violated. Information is in my possession that much of the most valuable timber land remaining in the possession of the Government on the Pacific coast is being taken up by home and foreign companies and capitalists through the medium of entries made by persons hired for that purpose.
I have found it necessary to suspend all entries of this class and to direct an investigation in the field with a view to the procurement of evidence in specific cases to authorize the cancellation of illegal entries and the prosecution of guilty parties.
The rapid decrease in the timber areas of the country invites attention to present methods of appropriation of public timber lands, and suggests the expediency of some modification of the laws by which remaining forests may be better preserved, or a more adequate revenue derived from their sale.
The present and increasing value of timber is an inducement to individuals and companies to make large investments with a view to the control of the timber product, and the further enhancement of prices resulting from such control. The facility with which the restrictions of the public land laws are evaded is a temptation to the illegal acquirement of title for the purpose of such investments.
It would, perhaps, be of little moment how soon the public title to lands should pass to private holders, since that is the ultimate purpose of the laws, if the further purpose of the laws that public lands should in the original instance be widely distributed among the people could also be secured. But if this cannot be done, and the systems of public disposal are to result, as they now do, in permitting capitalists to indirectly obtain great bodies of public land, it is certainly but provident for the United States to require a price to be paid for its timber lands. somewhat commensurate to their value.
Several propositions have been presented in Congress looking to a change in the methods of disposing of lands valuable chiefly for timber. The subject is one of difficulty, and it is important that the wisest action be taken. I am of opinion that such lands should be reserved by law from ordinary disposal, and sold only after appraisement and upon sealed bids, at not less than the appraised price. It would be proper that an act to such effect should not deprive settlers on the public lands of the right to take timber for domestic purposes or the support of their improvements.
The swamp-land selections reported to this office for adjudication the past year aggregate 449,188.17 acres, making a total of 70,445,957.58 acres selected under the swamp land grant at the close of the fiscal year.
Lists embracing 686,295.53 acres have been approved, making a total of 56,455,467.56 acres certified or patented to the several States. The unadjudicated claims still pending amount to 14,000,000 acres, the same as at the commencement of the fiscal year.
Twenty-eight thousand four hundred and ninety-six acres were patented as indemnity for swamp lands disposed of by the United States between the years 1850 and 1857, under military warrant and scrip locations, making a total of swamp indemnity lands patented to the several States of 504,812.99 acres.
Cash indemnity claims were approved for payment to the amount of $90,333.38.
The act of March 2, 1855, extended to March 3, 1857, confirmed all swamp selections previously made, whether or not properly so made, for lands intended to be granted, and also provided indemnity in lands or money for tracts disposed of by the United States subsequent to the swamp-land grant and prior to March 3, 1857, which should be found to have been swampy in character at the date of the swamp-land
The effect of the indemnity provision has been to incite claims by States or their agents or assigns to claims for land or cash indemnity for a large quantity of the public land disposed of under general laws between 1850 and 1857 in the swamp-grant States. The validity of these claims is in many cases of a questionable character, and the allowance of them is a considerable and constant draft upon the Treasury. I have been compelled to reject probably the larger portions of the selections presented. If the State agents would exercise more discrimination in presenting cases much labor would be saved. The appropriation available for the examination of claims for swamp lands and swamp indemnity has permitted the employment during the year of but four special agents for this important service. The Southern States, to which the swamp grant in part applies, are urging the adjustment of their claims, and much progress has been made during the past year in their settlement. A portion of the force of the swamp division has been engaged in perfecting the records of the office, and preparing indexes, a fact not elsewhere referred to in this report.
PRIVATE LAND CLAIMS.
Eight confirmed private land claims in California have been patented, ⚫ and nineteen others docketed, but not finally disposed of.
Twenty-six private claims in Louisiana, Florida, and Illinois, and three in New Mexico, have been passed to patent. One in Louisiana and one in New Mexico presented for recognition have been rejected. Twenty-seven confirmed claims in New Mexico and Colorado, and forty-one in Louisiana and Florida, are awaiting final action. Three claims within the Las Animas grant in Colorado have been adjudicated. Six approved and twenty-four rejected claims within the same grant remain to be considered.
Scrip has been issued for two claims in Louisiana under the act of June 22, 1860, and subsequent acts. Three have been reported to Congress. Three hundred and six entries have been allowed on private land-scrip locations, and ninety-three are pending.
Thirty-nine donation claims in Oregon and Washington Territory have been patented, twenty-six in New Mexico rejected, and five hundred and forty-seven in Oregon, Washington Territory, and New Mexico remain to be adjudicated. Eighty-four Indian claims have been patented.
Several thousand private land claims in Florida and Louisiana, and a smaller number in the several States of Missouri, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan, which have been con
firmed by Congress, by various Boards of commissioners, or by the courts, still remain undisposed of.
In Florida.-Plats of confirmed claims in Florida which have been surveyed by the United States are on file in this office, but it is found in many instances that the subsisting surveys embrace more land than was included in the confirmations.
All lands within the lines of these surveys are regarded as reserved until the claims are finally adjudicated. Meanwhile claimants treat the whole as their private property and make sales and conveyances. Numerous conflicts between settlers seeking title under the public land laws, and grant claimants or their assignees, arise from this unsettled condition.
It is desirable and important that sufficient provision be made by Congress for an investigation of these surveys in the field, and for such examination and investigation of the titles and claims in other respects as may be required in the public interests.
In New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona.-Attention is again called to the condition of private land claims in New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona. Nearly thirty years have elapsed since the passage of the act of July 22, 1854 (10 Stat., 308), providing for the settlement of these claims through their presentation to the surveyor-general and the submission of his reports to Congress.
About seventy claims bave been confirmed by Congress. Ninetyfour are pending before that body, while an unknown number remains on the files of the surveyors-general.
The claims presented under the act of 1854 (and subsequent acts, extending the provisions of that act to Arizona and Colorado) are chiefly in New Mexico and Arizona, a few only being in Colorado.
The presentation to surveyors-general of claims for confirmation, whether the same are finally confirmed or not, operates as a statutory reservation of the land claimed, although the situation of the land and the quantity embraced in the claims are ill-defined and uncertain.
The existence of these undetermined and unsettled claims is a perpetual menace to the industrial occupation of the soil. Settlements are retarded and to a large degree practically inhibited owing to the liability that the land upon which a settlement is made may fall within the limits of some unconfirmed and unsurveyed grant. There is a further lability of the assertion of claims heretofore unknown. The increasing value of land, owing to increased facilities of communication and the general settlement of all the Territories, invites the assertion of such claims, and is an incentive to the manufacture of fraudulent titles. The lapse of time favors claims of a doubtful character and especially favors a broad expansion of original claims. Complaints have been made that grants have been confirmed by Congress, or surveyed and patented under Congressional confirmations, for a far greater quantity of land than is embraced in the grants.
The inadequacy of the present system of adjustment is shown by the statement just made that only seventy claims out of a possible thousand have been settled, while less than one hundred more have been in any manner reported for action, and this, as to number, is the result of thirty years' operation of the system. In other respects the results of the system are even less satisfactory. Repeated applications have been made for the institution of judicial proceedings to set aside patents already issued, either on the ground of fraud in original titles or of a fraudulent enlargement of boundaries. A suit is now pending for the recovery to the United States of nearly 2,000,000 acres embraced in a single confirmation by Congress upon a surveyor-general's report.
This situation illustrates a more fundamental defect in the present system than that of mere interminable delay. It is that the machinery employed does not admit either of that scrutiny of title or of that accuracy in the determination of boundaries which the public safety demands. The surveyor-general is fully occupied with the ordinary duties. of his office. He cannot give the time required for a thorough investigation of these cases even if he were always qualified for the duty and interests of such magnitude could properly be confided to the intelligence, discretion, or integrity of a single individual.
The determination of the boundaries and extent of claims rests almost wholly with deputy surveyors. They are only nominally officers of the the United States. Actually, they are contractors. They are not required to exercise judicial functions, and cannot be expected to devote much of their own time to a critical investigation of boundaries shown them by interested claimants. For several years past, and until the beginning of the present fiscal year, after a claim had been favorably reported by the surveyor-general, the first step was to make what is called a "preliminary survey." This was not considered a finality. It did not purport to be founded upon any accurate basis. It purported only to describe boundaries which parties interested in extending claimed limits had pointed out. When a claim is confirmed by Congress, the confirmation may carry the survey as reported, and thus the merely preliminary survey becomes a Congressional grant.
These preliminary surveys were not required to be examined by this office, but in contemplation of law were simply transmitted to Congress as exhibits to the surveyor-general's reports. But if they had been examined here, such examination would, of necessity, have been a superficial one. Under the present system this office is without proper means to judge of the substantial correctness of surveys of private land claims. Minor errors, incident to any survey, may be detected. But whether the deputy surveyor found the true boundaries of the grant, or whether the monuments accepted as being the monuments called for by the grant, were such in fact, are matters wholly beyond the facilities of this Department to ascertain from any data furnished by the surveyorgeneral's reports.
The unauthoritative character of preliminary surveys has repeatedly been stated to Congress in my annual reports and in reports upon special cases.
An instance has been called to my attention where the original claim was for a quantity of land shown upon a plat presented to the surveyorgeneral as containing one square league, or less than 5,000 acres, and described as having fixed natural boundaries which claimants stated were well known and easily identified. And yet, upon the assignment of this claim to other parties a preliminary survey was obtained purporting to show identically the same boundaries, but embracing an area exceeding 300,000 acres.
The title papers transmitted to Congress for its judgment upon the validity of claims are not the originals or purported originals on file in the surveyor-general's office, but are copies merely. It is manifestly impossible for an opinion to be formed upon the authenticity of papers by an inspection of copies. Moreover, the organization and duties of legislative committees do not admit of that kind of scrutiny and inves. tigation which claims of this character should receive before a confirmation of title to unknown quantities of land is made.
The reluctance of Congress to continue the confirmation of private land claims in New Mexico and Arizona, in view of the difficulties and
uncertainties involved in such procedure, has been marked by its omission in late years to take action upon such claims, and by various propositions looking to some different mode of settlement.
I have heretofore been disposed to regard with favor the proposition of sending these claims to the courts, but upon a more mature consideration I am satisfied that the courts, with their present organization, would be unable to cope with the vast volume of additional business which would be thrown upon already overcrowded dockets. It is also coubtful if methods of judicial procedure are adequate to the proper investigation of such claims. The evidence to be produced is generally ex parte. Conflicting interests are apt to be removed, or a confirmation effected, through which the demands of all parties are satisfied out of a larger portion of the public domain. Settlers having adverse claims are not usually able to pay the expenses of a legal contest with wealthy grant claimants. The United States attorneys are occupied with their general duties, and provision is not made by which they can be compensated for the special and extraordinary labor that would be entailed by the proper defense of the public interests in such suits. The appropriations for special counsel do not permit the payment of fees approximate to those which experienced and able lawyers can obtain from private claimants of great bodies of the public lands.
The examination of these claimed titles is a work of protracted and patient labor, requiring in many cases detective experience and skill as well as legal acumen and learning, and in all cases close and painstaking individual effort. The nature and validity of claims being settled, questions of boundary and extent are to be determined, and such properly require investigations in the field. Usually testimony upon these points is furnished chiefly or wholly by claimants. It is obvious that a better knowledge of facts than can be obtained from such sources is essential to a just adjudication.
The old population of New Mexico and Arizona is permanent in its character. The lands occupied and cultivated by these people for generations are well known. The location of original claims in their neighborhood is ascertainable. I believe it possible, through a personal examination of monuments and boundaries by responsible officers of the Government, and by taking testimony in the neighborhood, to establish the limits of grants with a greater degree of accuracy than has yet been attained or that can be attained in any other manner.
My best conclusion is that a commission should be appointed for each of the Territories named, the duties of which should embrace a thorough examination and investigation of the foundations of all alleged private land claims in these Territories, together with an actual investigation of boundaries and limits, and that all claims before Congress or this office, as well as those depending before the surveyors general, should be remanded to such commission for examination and decision with proper appeal for review upon error of law.
Much care would be requisite in framing such measure, which should not, I think, invest the commissioners with so great or irresponsible powers of confirmation as given to previous boards, but should require as preliminary to any result the most thorough research and exhaustive practical investigation.
The obligations of treaty stipulations are apt to be magnified into a recognition of property rights that had no existence under Spanish or Mexican law, and into the support of speculative schemes to dispossess the United States of its own property. The time has come when, in my opinion, the rights and interests of the United States should be