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Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 10/The Financial History of the State of Oregon: Oregon's Public Domain

Second Paper.

THE FINANCIAL HISTORY OF THE STATE OF OREGON

CHAPTER II.

Oregon's Public Domain.

As with the other Western States, excepting Texas, the title to the lands lying within the borders of Oregon was originally vested in the national government. The early American settlers in Oregon had, however, become entitled to more than an average measure of liberality on the part of Congress in its disposition of these lands. These Oregon pioneers by their long, hazardous and wearisome journey across the plains and occupation of this remote region, had largely won the Pacific slope to the Union. The Donation Act of 1850, securing to each man and wife a tract of 640 acres, was but a fair acknowledgment of this national service of the early Oregon pioneer.

But these liberal grants to individuals affected the finances of the territory and state only in that they brought large tracts privately owned under taxation. More directly do the grants to the state collectively, for education and internal improvements, and to corporations for providing transportation facilities within its borders, figure in the public finances.

From the Oregon lands received from the national government the state treasury secured income of two quite distinct kinds. The proceeds of some of these grants, the educational, went into irreducible funds, only the interest incomes from which could be used for public educational purposes. Of the proceeds from the other class of grants the principal itself was available for public expenditures. Along with this latter treasury resource from the sales of internal improvement lands by the state was a money payment of five per cent of the net proceeds of the sales of public lands within the state by the national government. Closely allied with this last are the more recent payments of percentages of the sales of timber from the forest reservations within the state.

In addition to the grants of lands that were made over to the state to have and to hold, or to dispose of for the purposes for which they were accepted, there were land grants to railroads and wagon roads in connection with which the state acted merely as an intermediary. The proceeds from these did not figure in the treasury statements.

The public domain has figured in Oregon's finances in the following ways and items:

  1. Through grants for common and higher education: a, the common school grant first made in the act organizing the the territory, August 14, 1848, of sections 16 and 36 of each township; b, a grant for the use and support of a state university first made in the donation act, September 27, 1850, of two townships and the "Oregon City Claim"; c, the grant under the Morrill Act, July 2, 1862, for the support of a college for the cultivation of agricultural and mechanical science and art, of 30,000 acres for each of the three members of Congress Oregon then was entitled to.
  2. Through grants for internal improvements, public buildings and other uses of the state: a, a grant of 500,000 acres to which Oregon was entitled under the act of September 4, 1841, for internal improvements; b, a grant of 10 sections for public buildings made at the time of admission into the Union, February 14, 1859; c, a grant of not exceeding 12 salt springs with six sections of lands as contiguous as may be to each, at the time of the admission into the Union (but this grant lapsed because of neglect); d, swamp lands for reclaiming, under act of September 28, 1850, and extension to Oregon through act of March 12, 1860; e, tide lands through sovereignty of state; f, five per cent of the net proceeds of the sales of public lands within the state by the national government. At first 10 and now 25 per cent of the receipts from sales of timber from reservations within the state.

The measure of wealth that the people of Oregon have in common today for the support of the public activities absolutely essential to a democracy has been determined by the policy they permitted in the disposition of the grants of land made to them by the national government. The social conditions involved in the distribution of land ownership are to a certain extent resultants of the same policy. That policy either supported or opposed the forces making for wide and uniform distribution, or for uneven and massed holdings. Even the speculative mania was fostered or starved. Oregon's administration of its various grants reflects the ideas and spirit of the people during the first 50 years of statehood.

For what transpired in connection with the grants made by Congress of public lands lying within the borders of Oregon to railroads and wagon road companies this state has not been largely responsible. In connection with these the most that devolved upon the state legislature, aside from memorializing Congress for the different grants, was to designate the corporation that should be the beneficiary of the grant, or upon the executive to pass upon the construction work as to whether or not it fulfilled the conditions under which the title to the lands was to pass to the corporation.

The disposition of the lands of which the state did become the owner will be traced mainly for the purpose of illustrating the results of the presence or the absence of the requisite civic spirit and foresight to conserve the common weal of the present and coming generations. Considering the fact that only a mere remnant of the lands are still held, and the bad taste left from the transactions of a decade or so ago, the matter may appeal to some as merely a "spilled milk" episode. It is, however, of transcendent importance that the lesson it teaches should be learned' by the Oregon people. These lands were a tangible public interest and the outcome with them should make clear the attitude to be taken and the course followed with the more intangible resources the public is ever developing. So the real significance for this generation of Oregon's public land policy lies not in what "might have been" done with this particular resource, that for the public has been so largely squandered, but rather in the suggestion it gives of the need of the public spirit and intelligence that arouses the imagination to take hold of the problem of conserving the common and collective good latent at every stage of social evolution. Every day brings a turn of events in which the genuinely loyal and competent citizenship will find opportunity. The present day stock of public resources in timber, water power, and public utilities generally, should challenge enlightened thought and patriotic purpose. The whole status of property rights in its relation to the welfare of democracy should be clearly comprehended.

It goes without question that it was most salutary that the valley lands and the arable uplands of Oregon should have passed as rapidly as possible into the hands of the actual cultivator. Little valid objection can be raised even to the giving away of vacant lands under conditions that bring them into use by the independent husbandman. What the national homestead act contemplated was sound public economy. It was particularly so if the farming it gave opportunity for was not characterized by soil butchery and soil wastage. But the disposition of vacant lands for the nominal sum of $1.25 per acre under conditions which resulted in their being massed into larger holdings, in their being largely exempt from taxation, and in bringing communities under the blighting disadvantage of sparse settlement and long continued isolation, while the land speculator was amassing a fortune through unearned increments — such a policy of quick sale of public domain has none of the redeeming features of the normal working of the homestead law.

The story of the endowment of the State of Oregon with its lands is probably best made clear through a reference to the successive stages in Oregon's development to statehood and in the creation of titles to lands within its borders. There was first the period of the provisional government from 1843 to 1849. Under this organization of the settlers a land law provided for the establishment of and definition of claims to tracts of not more than 640 acres in extent. No provision existed for collective commonwealth holdings. Through the act of Congress of August 14, 1848, by which the laws of the United States were first extended to the Oregon country and the territory created, all legislation of the provisional government affecting titles to lands was "declared to be null and void." This organic act creating the territory did not, however, provide any law in place of that set aside. What legal rights private individuals had to their claims were thus dissolved or at least held in abeyance. Commonwealth interests fared better. Bountiful provision was made for its common schools in reserving, as they were surveyed, sections 16 and 36 of each township for the schools.

The settlers were left in suspense as to their claims for some two years. By the Donation Act of September 27, 1850, each family settled in Oregon was entitled to a section and each unmarried man to a half-section. The reservation of sections 16 and 36 for schools was reaffirmed, and these public lands of the people of the territory were supplemented by a grant of two townships, and the unsold remnant of the "Oregon City claim," to aid in the establishment of a university. The special liberality to Oregon settlers was continued down to 1855.

On the passage of the act for the admission of Oregon, February 14, 1859, and the acceptance of certain specified conditions affecting the grants it made, by the Legislature of Oregon, June 2, of the same year, this state was vested with complete rights not only to the common school and university grants previously received, but also became possessed of the following additional grants:

The internal improvement grant, 500,000 acres; the public buildings grant, 6,400 acres; the salt springs grant, 46,080 acres ; the tide lands within the borders of the state; five per cent of the net proceeds of the sales made by the national government within the state.[1]

By act of Congress of March 12, 1860, the swamp lands were secured to the state in order that it might through the means they would provide have funds for reclaiming them by levees and drains; and on July 2, 1862, 90,000 acres were added to the state's endowment, as its quota for the support of an agricultural college.

It will be noticed that the common school lands have their location specifically described, while to secure title to specific tracts under the other grants required that a selection be made. Even in the case of the common school lands, the settlement prior to survey of sections 16 or 36 necessitated selection of lieu lands as also did a mineral character of the school sections.

I. The Selection of Oregon Lands.

The selection, and the securing of the approval of such selections by national authorities, was the first step of administration necessary on the part of the state in availing itself of the congressional grants of lands other than the school lands. Even in the case of the common school grant sections 16 and 36 were found occupied in the valleys of Western Oregon when the surveys were made — as the settlement of this part of the territory had been in progress for some ten years before the survey was begun. The law respected the rights of these prior claimants. The selection of lieu school lands was thus necessary to make up for the loss sustained in the valleys of the Willamette, Umpqua and Rogue Rivers. Furthermore, lands of a mineral character were excepted from the common school grant, and the state's quota of school lands was cut down in the creation of Indian reservations and more recently through the setting apart large tracts covering water sheds for national forest reserves. The state was entitled to indemnity school lands for all these losses. It was in connection with the securing of lands in lieu of these losses that the most grievous blunders were made.

The conduct of the work of selection throughout creates an impression of dilatoriness and lack of intelligent procedure. The salt springs' grant of 46,080 acres was wholly forfeited through neglect.[2] The state would have fared likewise with other grants had not extensions of the periods within which selections were to be made been allowed by congress. It must be admitted that there was little to suggest to the early Oregonians that the lands away from the centers of the valleys would ever be worth securing. An unlimited timbered wilderness and beyond that to the east a continental stretch of semi-arid plains hedged about the small settled areas in the valleys.[3] These were mitigating circumstances that excuse the early dilatoriness, but they in no way exonerate the state from blame for the policy most perserve later pursued in making indemnity school land selections. Instead of proceeding in a business-like way by inspecting the areas available from which selections could be made, and conserving the interests of the people as a whole by making a selection of the best, the state assumed a passive attitude that played into the hands of the speculative exploiter. Under such a policy the hard-working creator of wealth doing a real service to the community was placed at a great disadvantage, and the speculative schemer with parasitic inclinations was given every opportunity. The inevitable out- come was to make the state the harbor of a goodly number of notorious land thieves. Yet the national land legislation must share with that of the state the ignominy in the looting of the public domain in Oregon. The national land laws were not made with Oregon conditions in view and were not adapted to them, but lent themselves to practices that meant the sacrifice of the public good.

To take up the story of the Oregon grants in detail. The selection of the lieu or indemnity school lands was first to be undertaken and has been in constant progress, as the surveys have been extended, and always of major importance; yet since the complications and the abuses in connection with these selec- tions were quite recent, a decade or two ago, the account of them is best reserved until last.

University Lands. The selection of the areas of the undefined grants began with the university lands. It will be remembered that this two-township grant was made by Congress in 1850 in the Donation Act. The first selections of university lands were made in 1853. About $9000 worth of the selected lands were sold at public sales in 1855 and 1856. Selections sufficient to make up the two townships granted were located, but as will appear later the procedure necessary to perfect the title of the state to these lands was not carried out. A $4 per acre minimum price put on them brought activity in selling to a close. For some ten years nothing more appears on the records concerning these university lands except that they were to be found among the river bottom lands along the Willamette and its tributaries and in the foothills and that they were being despoiled of their timber and the trespassing was resistless.[4] The board of commissioners for the sale of school and university lands say in 1868 as to the university lands that "there appears on the record to have been selected and approved 7,494.35 acres (an excess of 1,414.35 acres.")[5] Governor Grover, however, in his biennial message of 1872 makes the astounding statement "Efforts at locating these lands began as early as 1853, but owing to irregularities of the work, and misapprehension of its conditions, the locations remained totally unrecognized by the United States, and consequently open for pre-emption or homestead settlement. From these facts, many of the lands first selected under this grant have been lost to the state, and others of necessarily a poorer quality, had to be located to fill the grant."[6]

Of the selection of its university land, then, it must be said that the territorial authorities in the first instance were not dilatory, but having secured an inchoate title to the lands, they suffered them to be despoiled and in part taken from the state's possession so that lands of a poorer quality had to substituted.

The Agricultural College Lands. Through the conditions of the Morrill Act of July 2, 1862, Oregon became entitled to 90,000 acres for the support of an agricultural college. The selection of these lands under the act of the Legislature of October 15, 1862, providing generally for the selection of state lands, devolved upon the Governor of the state. Two years later in reporting progress with this matter Governor Gibbs in his biennial message says: "There is great difficulty in finding lands subject to location in this state. I have considered it of paramount importance to first select lands for the benefit of the common schools. Enough of that class has not yet been found to make up the amount to which the state is entitled, therefore no lands have yet been selected for the benefit of the agricultural college."[7]

As these lands had not yet been selected in 1868 and as the state's extension of time in which to erect the college would have nearly elapsed by the time of the next session of the Legislature, the Legislature of 1868 appointed a special commission to select the agricultural college lands and to prepare plans for the college. This committee reported in 1870 that it had selected all such lands to which the state was entitled excepting some 92 acres. These selections were made in a block in the Klamath Lake country. This was then a region remote from settlement. The lands were located there because no considerable body of surveyed lands subject to private entry near settled districts was available. The Klamath lands, however, were not technically subject to private entry as the terms of the act of Congress required they should be to make them available for selection by the state for agricultural college lands.[8]

It required an act of Congress to legalize this selection by the state. This was secured in the session of 1871-2, and the administrative ratification of the selection soon followed. The lands of the agricultural college grant were thus fully vested in the state after a lapse of some ten years from the time the act making the grant was passed.

The Internal Improvement Grant. An act of Congress of September 4, 1841, provided that 500,000 acres of public lands shall be granted "to each state that shall hereafter be admitted into the Union," for internal improvements. This act was in force at the time of the admission of Oregon. The dilatoriness that characterized the state's action in making selections of university and agricultural college lands did not obtain with this grant. It was rather a form of precipitancy in the legislation affecting these lands that caused considerable of a tangle and some loss. By an act of the Legislature of October 19, 1860, it was intended to secure to individuals the right to pre-empt lands that should later be selected as part of this grant.[9] The transaction arranged for under this statute clearly constituted a case of contracting to sell property to which the state as yet had no claim. The lands thus pre-empted under state law were still national property and were liable to be sold or taken as homesteads without regard to the interests of those who had made payments to the state treasury as pre-emptors. The state had no control over any public lands until these had under some grant been selected and approved.[10] By an act of October 15, 1862, the act of the preceding session essaying to provide "possessory and pre-emptory rights" was formally repealed and the claims taken under it, and held, whether amounting to 320 acres or not, were so accounted by the state to the national government in order to make their selection valid.[11]

The Governor by this act of 1862 was authorized to employ temporarily an agent acquainted with the locality where it was proposed to select lands. By 1868 some 300,000 acres of this 500,000-acre grant had been selected, the greater portion being in Union, Baker and Umatilla Counties.[12] By 1870 the amount approved to the state had reached 431,516 acres.[13] Nearly 457,000 acres had been approved by 1872, the selection of the remainder was certain to be ratified in a short time.[14] So this internal improvement grant after which the state started precipitantly in i860 was fully vested in the state after a period of some fourteen years.[15]

The Public Buildings Grant. As this grant to Oregon amounted to only ten sections (6,400 acres) it was not strange that it should have been overlooked for some time.[16] However, Governor Grover, during his first term, 1870 to 1874, made the securing of title by the state to all public lands granted 10 it the leading object of his administration and was able to report in 1874 concerning this grant that the lands had been selected during the last preceding biennium, the selections approved at the local land offices and were awaiting final approval by the Department of the Interior.[17]

The Salt Springs Grant. Oregon on its admission as a state became entitled to all the salt springs within its borders, "not exceeding twelve in number, with the six sections of land adjoining or as contiguous as may be to each. ... the same to be selected by the Governor thereof within one year after the admission of the state." No selection of these springs or lands was ever made. It was not, however, the fault of the first Governor, John Whiteaker. He made three successive applications to the Commissioner of the General Land Office for instructions in accordance with which the selections might be made. He was not enlightened.[18] Congress extended the time for selection for three years from December 17, 1860, and this period expired without selections having been made.

Governor Grover in 1874 claimed that there were "several salt springs of superior character and great future value already known," and thought others would be discovered. He requested that Congress be memorialized to extend again the time for selecting salt springs and contiguous lands. The Legislature, however, did not respond, and a possible addition of 46,080 acres of lands for the state was not secured.

Probably it was just as well that the right of Oregon to the salt springs grant was forfeited. Oregon's excellent mineral springs are not of the character or type of the salt springs of the Ohio valley in connection with which and similar springs this grant to states became customary. Nor have the Oregon springs had a similar function in the early economic conditions of the state. It was not strange that Governor Whiteaker under the peculiar circumstances existing in Oregon should have anxiously sought instructions before making selections. And it may be possible that Governor Grover's zeal in finding a basis for Oregon's right to the salt springs grant was due more to his laudable ambition to get a full share of the public lands for the state rather than to carry out the purpose for the public welfare under which the custom of the grant originated.[19]

The Swamp Land Grant. The application of the customary swamp land grant to conditions existing in Oregon was attended by an even nearer approach to chicanery than the realization on the salt springs grant would have been. Oregon has very little surface area that approximates in character to the lands bordering on the Mississippi River in the States of Louisiana and Arkansas, to which the swamp land grant was first applied. Moreover, it has but a small extent of surface like that of the lake and marsh districts of glacial origin to be found in Minnesota, the state with which Oregon was linked, in the extension of the swamp land grant. Under these circumstances we expect to find Governor Whiteaker, upon whom the selection of the Oregon swamp lands devolved, again in trouble when he took up his task of the selection of them.

The act of Congress of March 12, 1860, extending the provisions of the swamp land grant act to Oregon and Minnesota further prescribed that the selection of the swamp lands," from lands already surveyed, at the time of the passage of the act must be made within two years after the adjournment of the Legislature of each state at its session next after the date of the act, and as to all lands thereafter surveyed, within two years from such adjournment at the next session, after notice by the Secretary of the Interior to the Governor of the state that the surveys have been completed and confirmed."[20] It was the rule of the Department of the Interior to allow the different states the option (1) of taking the field notes of the survey designating the lands swampy in character which would pass to them under the grant; or (2) of selecting the lands by the state's own agents and report the same to the United States surveyor-general with proof of swampy character of the same. The Governor accordingly submitted the matter to the Legislative Assembly of 1860 in September and again called its attention to the matter of expressing its option the following month. But that body did not choose to take any action in the premises. Again in 1862 Governor Whiteaker reminded the Legislature that if there should be no exception made in favor of Oregon its swamp lands would be forfeited and that they were passing into private ownership through sale and pre-emption along with the general body of public lands so offered.[21] Notwithstanding these repeated warnings there was utter neglect of the swamp land grant on the part of the Oregon Legislative Assemblies until 1870. Neither did the Department of the Interior have the deputy surveyors in Oregon designate in their notes the land of swampy character; nor did it give notice to the Governors of the state when surveys were completed, with intimation that the state should: select from among them lands claimed as swamp lands. However, in 1870 the Oregon Legislature woke up to a realization of commonwealth interests centered in the state's getting its swamp lands. It proceeded summarily and boldly to appropriate the swamp lands of the state without so much as asking "by your leave" of Congress. The board of school land commissioners were ordered to appoint an agent to select and to offer for sale at one dollar an acre the lands selected as swamp lands without asking the approval of such selections by the national authorities.[22] A list of their selections, amounting to 174,219 acres in 1872, was filed at the local public land offices, but there the same lands were being offered to homestead and pre-emption settlement. Governor Grover had during the preceding year taken up the matter with the Department of the Interior charging that the general land office of the United States had been neglectful in the execution of the laws of Congress making this grant in so far as it related to Oregon. Special apprehension was expressed concerning the fact that the large railway land grants, which were being located at this time, would infringe upon the swamp land areas.[23] This most unsatisfactory situation was continued another two years. The agents of the state extended their selections and had filed lists amounting to 266,600 acres by the time of the meeting of the Legislature in 1874. The Secretary of the Interior, however, had no attention paid to these selections as he held that in the act of 1870 the state had not complied with the regulations of the department as to indication of mode of selection it had chosen, nor did that act provide for proof of swampy character of lands selected. That headway might be made toward securing a clear title to the lands chosen Governor Grover counselled the Legislature to pass a resolution specifically electing to select the swamp and overflowed lands by agents of the state and to instruct the board of school land commissioners to furnish such evidence, and in such manner to the Department of the Interior of the character of these lands as it should prescribe. The Legislature complied and passed[24] an act requisite for securing the selection of swamp lands in accordance with rules of the Department of the Interior. The handling of the Oregon's swamp land grant during the seventies and eighties was wholly discreditable to the state. To say that it exhibits the extreme of credulity and supineness on the part of the Legislatures and Governors of these decades is placing the most charitable interpretation possible upon the policy pursued. It was not an orgy of land looting in which any considerable number of Oregon people participated but rather a neatly executed scheme on the part of foreign capitalists who got a half a million acres of valuable lands for a song. A few private citizens served as tools and Legislatures and state officials were duped into acquiescence.

The Legislature of 1870 was befoozled into passing the act, already referred to, under which a single individual could become purchaser of an unlimited area of such lands as amenable state agents could be induced to designate as swamp lands. A payment of 20 cents an acre secured possession of these lands from the state and if three crops of hay were cut within ten years they were accounted "reclaimed" ; a further payment of 80 cents an acre secured full title to the lands so far as the state could give it.

The sale of the swamp lands was so bound up with the selection of them that it is exceedingly difficult to discuss these transactions separately. In fact, we shall see that the great body of the lands were construed as sold some years before they were selected. But to return to the progress in selection. The first fruits of the perverse handling of the matter of selection appear in the statement of the board of school land commissioners of 1876. By that time the selections by the state agents in the aggregate amounted to some 324,000 acres; yet only 1,336 acres had been approved to the state by the national authorities. Several purchasers who had made first payments to the state, on the basis of its right to these lands under the procedure of the act of 1870, were withdrawing their money as their lands were being taken away from them by preemptors under national law.[25] The nature of the influences that dominated the situation is revealed through the report for 1878 of this same state land board : "There has been selected and listed 237,864 acres [during the last two years] making in all 562,083.97 acres. There are on file in the office at the present time applications for a large lot of lands that have not been listed or selected; also there are applications on file for about one million acres that are yet unsurveyed. . . . Some lists have been approved by him [the surveyor-general] and forwarded to the Commissioner of the General Land Office, and are awaiting his action. He has, however, approved to the state about 2,000 acres in all." This report, however, fails to divulge the fact which would have been a very pertinent one for it to have made known, namely, that this prodigious filing had nearly all been done by one party. As it was it made it quite evident that there was a wide disparity between the views of state officials and swamp land purchasers on the one hand and the national approving officials on the other as to what were swamp lands.

The mistaken notion, acted upon under the law of 1870, as to the summary power of the state in determining what belonged to it as swamp lands, arose in a measure from the fact that the courts, both national and state, had declared the grant as in praesenti, vesting the right to the swamp lands in the state whether it had title to specific tracts or not. In the eighties it receded from its presumption and proceeded in co- operation with the authorities of the national government to make selections.

In the early eighties the national government sent out "special agents" to investigate character of swamp lands listed. With these state agents conferred in making selections. The Legislature had in 1878 attempted to balk the wholesale grabbing of the swamp lands under the act of 1870 by raising the price to $2.50 an acre on all lands applied for under this act. Furthermore, the applicant under act of 1870 must now under the law of 1878 take all he applied for at $2.50 instead of $1 an acre, or be limited to 320 acres as were all purchasers under the act of 1878. But alas, the Legislature of 1870 had been too pliant. It had legitimized the application by any purchaser of an unlimited amount of swamp lands at a price of one dollar an acre. Notwithstanding the repeal of the law of 1870 by the act of 1878 before the state had approved lists of swamp lands above a few thousand acres, the enormous areas applied for by one or two parties under the conditions of the act of 1870 had to be delivered. So ruled the state land board of two successive administrations of the eighties. This was the most preposterous part of the whole swamp land transactions. A single party — the tool of foreign capitalists — received a deed to at least 350,000 acres on the ground that filings had been made for that amount before the law of 1870 had been repealed. These filings were for lands which the state at the time did not own and on which not a cent had been paid before the law under which they were made was repealed. Yet the administrative officials held that they had the force of contracts which neither the Legislature nor the Governor could set aside. A pretty result we have in this of the status and strength of private property rights as against the power and general welfare of the people.

The purpose for which the swamp land grants by the national government to the states was initiated received only nominal recognition in the first Oregon legislation pertaining to the grant. In all subsequent acts this purpose was completely ignored. The morale exhibited throughout in connection with the handling of Oregon's swamp land grant was about as follows: After an ineffectual effort by the first Governor to develop the state's claims to its swamp lands the matter lay in abeyance some ten years. Then, beginning with 1870, Governor Grover makes the realization by the state on its different land grants his leading activity. His attitude, however, suggests strongly that he felt that all the public domain of right should have belonged to the state unconditionally, though he outlines no large purposes that might thus have been served. The several Legislatures, with their attention directed to these resources of the state, seemed mainly susceptible to suggestions that promised traffic in lands and money in the treasury. Legislators with purposes pitched on such a low plane naturally became the victims of ingenious schemers who were on hand with plausible objects, in the shape of wagon road projects, to solicit appropriations anticipating the receipts from swamp land sales. With no adequate administrative supervision these wagon road appropriations became what they were planned to be—means for relieving the treasury of expected surplus funds. In this account of the selection of the swamp lands the sale of them and the disposition of the proceeds from them have been anticipated, as all these transactions were bound up together. In fact, binding contracts for the sale of these lands and appropriations of anticipated proceeds were practically all made before the selection of any had been completed. In it all there was not the least service by the state government to the people. Only syndicates of land-grabbers, on the one side, and, to all appearances, sets of treasury swindlers, on the other, profited.

In a state in which the extension of the government survey has been so gradual and not yet completed, the swamp land selection must go on apace. Oregon's geological formations do not include those giving rise to any considerable areas of swamp lands, except in its southeastern counties. The swampy areas of that section were exploited in the seventies and eighties. Even there large areas were, through the connivance of state and national agents, adjudged swamp lands simply because they were overflowed during brief periods at certain seasons.[26]


  1. General Laws of Oregon, 1843-1872, pp, 101-104.
  2. It is a question whether Oregon had the kind of springs or the conditions that originally inspired the custom of a salt springs grant. Yet there is no evidence that the state officials were deterred on that score from attempting selections.
  3. The first governor in his first message spoke of the difficulty of making selections of value. He says: "Although this grant [Oregon's aggregate endowment in 1860] appears liberal and generous, yet, it may be difficult to find lands in any of the valleys west of the Cascade range of mountains of a desirable quality, unoccupied, subject to be located under the provisions of this bill."—House Journal, First Session, 1859, p. 27. The following also indicates somewhat the ideas entertained concerning the resources in the public lands: The "Memorials and Resolutions" of the session of 1864 contain the copy of a memorial praying for favorable action on a bill the legislature proposed to have presented by the Oregon senators and representatives, asking for the granting to the State of Oregon all the unsurveyed lands within her boundaries. The ground on which they made this request was that "the great body of lands now unsurveyed within the boundaries of Oregon is of little value; and that scattered through it are many small tracts of comparatively small extent, that the expense to the government to extend the surveys to include these small isolated sections of good lands and to bring them into the market, can never be repaid by their sale; that, therefore, while being to the government of no value, they may be by economical systems of surveys under state authority be of much value to the state, and might be applied to create a fund for internal improvements to great advantage to Oregon."— Special Laws, 1864, under "Memorials and Resolutions," pp. 11-12.
  4. University Land Commissioner's Report, 1858.
  5. Report Commissioners for Sale School and University Lands, 1868, pp. 40-41.
  6. Governor's Message, 1872, pp. 10-11.
    A feature of the original grant for university purposes in addition to the two townships was the "Oregon City Claim." This involved cruel injustice to Dr. John McLoughlin, to whom the land of right belonged. Naturally there was resistance to the State in taking possession. The tract comprised the site of Oregon City. After selling a few lots, the State made over its rights to the heirs of Dr. McLoughlin in 1862 for $1000.—General Laws, 1862, p. 90.
  7. Appendix to House Journal, 1864, p. 5.
  8. Governor's Message, 1872, pp. 12-13.
  9. General Laws, 1860, pp. 55-57.
  10. Governor's Message—Appendix to House Journal, 1862, pp. 26-27.
  11. General Laws, 1862, pp. 105-7.
  12. Report of the Commissioners for the Sale of School and University Lands, 1868, pp. 44-46.
  13. Report of the Commissioners for the Sale of School and University Lands, 1870, p. 18.
  14. Governor's Message, 1872, p. 14.
  15. Governor's Message, 1874, p. 10.
  16. Governor's Message, 1872, p. 10.
  17. Governor's Message, 1874, pp. 13-14.
  18. Governor's Message, 1862, p. 5.
  19. Governor's Message, 1874, p. 15.
  20. Donaldson's The Public Domain, p. 703.
  21. Governor's Message, 1862, (Appendix to House Journal), p. 5.
  22. General Laws, 1870, pp. 54-57.
  23. Governor's Message, 1872, pp. 14-20.
  24. General Laws, 1874, p. 24.
  25. Report of Commissioners for Sale of School and University Lands, 1876, p. 14.
  26. Selections of lands under the robbers' act of 1870 have been made with the view of cutting off access to the water. All the lands bordering on lakes and streams are taken. Every acre where hay can be cut. As no one can find means to live away from the water, the surrounding country for some miles becomes a cattle range for the land grabber. Up to the highest high water mark and above it the land surrounding lakes or lying along streams is called swamp land, even in places where water could not be had by digging to the depth of 30 feet. . . . . . Agents of the general government and of the state paid to protect the public interests, have connived at the scheme of spoliation; or, even worse, have taken the money of the spoilers to aid them in consummation of the outrages upon the country."—Daily Oregonian, February 29, 1884.