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   Chapter 13 No.13

Two Years in Oregon By Wallis Nash Characters: 11743

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Land laws-?Homesteads and pre?mption-?How to choose and obtain Government land-?University land-?School land-?Swamp land-?Railroad and wagon-road grants-?Lieu lands-?Acreages owned by the various companies.

To make this book useful, I must run the risk of making it tedious by some account of the land system relating to the pre?mption and homestead laws applicable to the public lands of the State.

It is true that, long since, the prairie-lands of the Willamette Valley have all been taken up and are in private ownership. But there are very large tracts indeed of public lands in the hilly and wooded portions of Western Oregon still open; there is also an abundance of open land in the fine valleys of Eastern and Southern Oregon available. There are still upward of thirty million acres unsurveyed out of the sixty million nine hundred thousand which the State contains.

There are five United States land-offices in Oregon: namely, at Oregon City, for the upper and central parts of the Willamette Valley, including also Northwestern Oregon generally; at Roseburg, for Southwestern Oregon; at Linkville, for the southeastern portion; at La Grande, for Eastern Oregon, strictly so called; and at the Dalles, for the great counties of Wasco and Umatilla-the northern part of the State. At each of the land-offices a register and a receiver are stationed; and the maps of the district are also deposited there for general reference.

When the settler has ascertained that a piece of land is eligible-that is, that it will suit him not only for clearing and farming, but also to build his house on and live there-he goes to the neighbors to find out the nearest corner posts or stones, and thence by compass he can determine roughly the boundary-lines. The land must lie in a compact form, not less than forty acres wide; thus he can take his one hundred and sixty acres in the shape of a clean quarter of a section or of an L, or in a strip across the section of forty acres wide; but he can not pick out forty acres here, and a detached forty there, and so on.

HOMESTEADS AND PRE?MPTION.He then goes to the county clerk's office, where duplicates of the land-office maps are kept. He finds out there with sufficient correctness if the piece he wants is open to settlement. The land-office is the only source of quite certain information, because it is possible that a claim may have been put on file at the land-office, particulars of which have not yet reached the county clerk. Being satisfied that the land is open, the intending settler must next determine whether to pre?mpt or homestead. If he desires to pre?mpt, and by payment to Government of $1.25 per acre for public land outside the limits of railroad and wagon-road grants, or $2.50 per acre for land within those limits, to obtain an immediate title, he must be sure that he does not fall within the two exceptions; for no one can acquire a right of pre?mption who is the proprietor of three hundred and twenty acres of land in any State or Territory, nor can any one who quits or abandons his residence on his own land to reside on the public land in the same State or Territory.

But, first of all, he or she must have one of the following personal qualifications: the settler must be the head of a family, or a widow, or a single person; must be over the age of twenty-one years, and a citizen of the United States, or have filed a declaration of intention to become such. Further, the settler must make a settlement on the public land open to pre?mption, must inhabit and improve the same, and erect a dwelling thereon.

No person can claim a pre?mption right more than once. But the settler on land which has been surveyed, and which he desires to pre?mpt, must file his statement as to the fact of his settlement within three months from the date of his settlement, and he must make his proof and pay for his land within thirty-three months from the date of his settlement. The fee of $1.50 is payable to the register, and a similar fee to the receiver at the land-office on filing the declaratory statement above mentioned. It should be added that, if the tract has been offered for sale by the Government, payment must be made for the pre?mpted land within thirteen months from the date of settlement. If the settler desires to obtain a homestead, he must come within the following description: the head of a family, or who has arrived at the age of twenty-one years, and is a citizen of the United States, or who has duly filed his declaration of intention to become such.

The quantity of land thus obtainable is 160 acres, which is, at the time his application is made, open to pre?mption, whether at $1.25 an acre or at $2.50 an acre. There was until recently a distinction between land within the limits of railroad or wagon-road grants or outside of such limits, only 80 acres of the former class being obtainable, but the distinction is now done away. The applicant has to make affidavit, on entering the desired land, that he possesses the above qualifications, that the application is made for his exclusive use and benefit, and that his entry is made for the purpose of actual settlement and cultivation. He has also to pay fees of $22 for 160 acres when entry is made, and $12 when the certificate issues; and of $11 for 80 acres when entry is made, and $6 when certificate issues. Such fees apply to land of the $2.50 price. They are reduced to totals of $22 for 160 acres and $11 for 80 acres, for land of the $1.25 price.

Before a certificate is given or a patent issued for a homestead, five years must have elapsed from the date of entry. Affidavit has to be made that the applicant has resided upon or cultivated the land for the term of five years immediately succeeding the time of filing the affidavit, and that no part of the land has been alienated. Th

e patent gives an absolute title. In case of the death of the settler before the title to the pre?mption or homestead is perfected, the grant will be made to the widow, if she continues residence and complies with the original conditions; if both father and mother die, leaving infant children, they will be entitled to the right and fee in the land, and the guardian or executor may at any time within two years after the death of the surviving parent, and in accordance with the laws of the State, sell the land for the benefit of the children; and the purchaser may obtain the United States patent.

From what has been stated, it will be seen that no title to land can be obtained from pr?emptor or homesteader who has not perfected his title. Nothing can be done to carry out such a transaction except for the holder to formally abandon his right, which can be done by a simple proceeding at the land-office, and for the successor to take the chances of commencing an entirely fresh title for the land in question. Another point to be noticed is that the homestead is not liable for the debts of the holder contracted prior to the issuing of the patent. The law allows but one homestead privilege: a settler relinquishing or abandoning his claim can not thereafter make a second homestead entry. If a settler has settled on land and filed his pre?mption declaration for the same, he may change his filing into a homestead, if he continues in good faith to comply with the pre?mption laws until the change is effected; and the time during which he has been on the land as a pre?mptor will be credited to him toward the five years for a homestead.

The above information is obtained from the statutes of the United States, and is generally applicable. The rates of fees given are those which apply to Oregon, and vary slightly in different States.

SCHOOL AND RAILROAD LAND.Besides the public lands open to homestead and pre?mption, a settler may purchase school lands, university lands, State lands, or railroad or wagon-grant lands. In each township of thirty-six sections of 640 acres each, the two numbered 16 and 36 are devoted to school purposes, and are sold by the Board of School Commissioners for the State to settlers in quantities not exceeding 320 acres to any one applicant, and at the best prices obtainable; such lands are valued by the county school superintendents for the information of the commissioners, but the minimum price is two dollars an acre. A further number of sections has been granted by the United States to the State of Oregon for the support of the University and of the Agricultural College. The greater part of these lands has been sold; some still remains; the average price of previous sales is somewhat under two dollars an acre. The State also possesses some further lands donated by the United States for various purposes, but the quantity is not extensive-except of lands known as swamp lands. Where the greater portion of a section is properly describable as wet and unfit for cultivation, it is called swamp land. Such lands have been granted by the United States to the State of Oregon, and are not open to pre?mption or homesteading. A very free interpretation is put on the words "wet and unfit for cultivation," and a very large acreage is included. The State has given rights of purchase over large bodies of these lands to different parties, and at prices which I have heard bear but a small proportion to their real value. At every session of the Legislature some fresh bills are brought in for dealing with the swamp lands, and a vast amount of "lobbying" goes on, which I suppose some people or other find a profit in. The great bulk of these lands are situated in Southeastern Oregon, in the vicinity of the lakes, such as Klamath Lake and Goose Lake; but a good many acres are scattered throughout Eastern and Southern Oregon.

ACREAGES OWNED BY COMPANIES.The largest land-owners in the State are the railroads and the military wagon-road companies. The great grant to the Oregon and California Railroad extends over the alternate sections within twenty miles on either side of the road, to the extent of 12,800 acres for each mile of railroad. The total estimated amount of this grant is 3,500,000 acres. The West-side Railroad, called properly the Oregon Central, has a grant estimated at 300,000 acres. The prices at which these companies sell these lands do not exceed seven dollars per acre; and the amount may he spread over ten years, carrying seven per cent. interest. The wagon-roads have grants the amounts of which are stated as follows:


Oregon Central Military Road Company 720,000

The Dalles Military Road Company 556,800

Corvallis and Yaquina Bay Wagon-Road Company 76,800

Coos Bay Military Road Company 50,000

The Willamette Valley and Cascade Mountains

Military Wagon-Road Company 850,000

This last grant is attached to the road company described in a previous chapter. The Willamette Valley and Coast Railroad Company also has a grant of all the tide and overflowed lands in Benton County, the amount being estimated at about 100,000 acres of alluvial land. In many cases the companies were unable to obtain the full amount of acreage which their grants give them out of the odd-numbered sections within the belt covered by the grant. The alternative is for them to get what are called "lieu-lands," outside of their declared limits.

So rapid is the tide of settlement, especially in Eastern Oregon, that the land-offices are thronged with applicants. A young Englishman who came out with me wrote from the Dalles to us last spring that on three successive Fridays he had come in from his range to file his homestead application, and after waiting the whole day he had been unable to get the business done, and had to return to his quarters disappointed.

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