NEW DIGGINGS ON THE FEVER 1824-1864
by
Margaret S. Carter

The book can still be purchased from:
Southwest Graphics, Box 96, Darlington, WI  53530  
   1-608-776-4042

A "Land Office Business"  
Pages 34 - 40

(Page 34)

A settler coming into the mines at about this time wrote:

    "On the morning of the 8th of April, we entered Fever River, a small stream which empties into the Mississippi from the east, steamed up the river about six miles, and landed at Galena, which was at that time the most important city in the northwest.  the day was clear and bright, and Galena, built as it was upon the side of a hill, the streets forming terraces one above the other, presented a most picturesque view, far superior to anything I had expected to find in a country which but a few years before was almost unkown to civilization and had but recently emerged from the horrors of a cruel Indian war....The country around Galena for a distance of forty or fifty miles east and north was dotted with crude log furnaces for smelting the mineral, the products of all of which had to be hauled by teams to this port for shipping down to St. Louis, from which place it found its way all over the country....There were several stores in the town, with well assorted stocks of goods, suitable to supply the wants and necessities of the settlers and miners throughout the country, and the volume of business transactions  was surprising....We left Galena on a bright morning on horseback to visit Col. Henry Gratiot.......The road led through a very fine country, alternately prairie and hill, crossing Fever River which we had to ford....We passed through Council Hill, Benton, New Diggings and other small settlements.  On every side we saw scores of men digging and prospecting for mineral, and windlasses in operation." 1  

The settler arrived in "the diggings" in the busy months preceding the first land sales.   As the time approched for the land office to open for business, great excitement prevailed.  according to the pre-emption laws of the time, any person who occupied and cultivated any part of a quarter section during the year previous to the establishment of the land office could purchase the quarter section at $1.25 an acre before the date of land sale.  All he needed to do was to file proof of cultivation and occupancy  

(PAGE 35) ( picture)  Map of the Lead Mine Region - 1836  --This Map has been Reproduced from a Rare Tourist's map Published in Philadelphia in 1836--

(PAGE 36)  

and to declare that, as far as he knew, the land he wished to enter was not ore-bearing; since ore-bearing lands would continue to be held in reserve by the government.

In July of 1834, a description of the first lands to be offered for sale was published in various papers.  Attached to the description was a notice, reading:

          "All tracts of land in which lead mines or diggings are indicated to exist by the official plats of survey together with such tracts as from satisfactory evidence to be adduced by the Register of the Land Office prior to date of sale shall be shown to contain a lead mine, will be excluded from sale."

But John Sheldon, the register at Mineral Point, realized that the separation of mineral from on-mineral lands was impossible.

     "In the present state of things,"  he wrote to a friend, in 1834, "gross frauds can be practiced by unprincipled persons without the possibility of their being detected.  The most valuable land in the country may be discovered and entered as ordinary farming land.  "A"  may discover a valuable vein of Lead ore and bring forward "C" or "D" (his neighbor, perhaps, but ignorant of the discovery) to prove that the quarter section is not considered to be mineral land.  "A" may enter the quarter, and afterward, at his pleasure, he can announce the discovery."  2

Sheldon knew and understood the mining community.  The method he outlined in his letter was one of several, apparently, that the miners used to enter land they felt should belong to them.  It was said that witnesses occasionally were led blindfolded over mineral land so that they might testify in better conscience that the land they had walked across was not ore-bearing.  It was rumored too that maps at the Land Office were tampered with.  Whether these rumors were true or untrue, the government, indifferent to the problems of the miners and failing to ascertain in advance which lands were ore-producing, invited the evasions and questionable procedures.

To protect the miner who might lose his small holding when land was sold out from under him, Sheldon ruled that if two men were occupying the same quarter section at the time of sale, they could divide it between them, whereupon each would receive a certificate from the land office authorizing him to lacate and additional eighty acres elsewhere.  These certificates were called "floats".  They did not in many cases serve the purpose

(PAGE 37)  

for which they were intended.  Prospectors or settlers who had more use for money than for land sold their floats just as they had sold their digging permits, to their fellow miners or to speculators, who thus could enter choice lands without "proving up".   The Register discontinued the practice of issuing "floating rights", belatedly, in 1837.

Sheldon urged the settlers to visit the land office before the sales in order that they might examine the surveyor's maps and notes and make sure that the township, range and section numbers of the land the wished to enter corresponded with those appearing in the Register's Office.  Each prospective landowner must also arrive at some sort of settlement with his heighbors in regard to the land he intended to buy if he was to avoid trouble with them in the future.  

In the case of reserved lands, a settler, knowing definitely that he would not be allowed to enter the land, must eighter occupy and improve it, thus holding it for pre-emption, or arrange with others to hold it for him.  Thus a sort of farmer-miner tenant system sprang up throughout the diggings.  a son of James Murphy described his Uncle Dennis Murphy as landed proprietor of such a system, with Irish immigrants scattered in profusion over his extensive holdings; Field's records reveal another instance of this sort of sub-leasing.

Many speculators of the time preferred timber land to mineral land.3  Timber was an absolute essential in the economy of the region since it must be available not only for home consumption -- buildings, fences, fuel, - but it was needed to "shore up" the mine shafts and to feed the "voracious smelting furnaces" that "mercilously claimed the sacrifice of the splendid trees." Smelters had been allowed to lease timber lands along with their mineral land;  miners had been granted permits to use what timber was necessary to build their cabins and fences.

The surveyor's records showed a scarcity of timber in the New Diggings area.  As early as 1827, James Murphy and Peter Lorimier had disputed over timber lands near Horseshoe Bend.4  It was necessary for the government, because of this scarcity, to reserve hundreds of acres of timber as well as mineral lands.  

But here again, speculators, as well as settlers, took advantage of the situation.  For instance, a smelter who wanted the land could "release" his timber land to the Register at the land office.  Sheldon would then notify the agent at Galena, who, thinking the land no longer valuable for its timer, would remove it from the reserved list, thus making it available for purchase.

(PAGE 38)

Then too, as with mineral land, not all timber kand was reserved; the lucky purchaser of such land could resell it and make himself a tidy profit.  Field's records show that he and one Patrick Doyle traveled to Mineral Point in 1837 where money and land changed hands from one to the other, Field paying $900 for land that had been entered only shortly before for $200.  A letter written subsequently to Field while the latter was on a trip to Kentucky, shows that this was timber land on which"trespassing" was taking place during Field's absence.  The fact that Field was hired by the Bank of Galena to prevent trespassing on timber land to which the Bank had obtained title is further evidence of the value attached by landseekers and owners to timbered lands.  

Before the day came that the settler was ready to travel to the land office, he had his prospective holdings surveyed.  At the land office, he presented the necessary papers and witnesses, entered his quarter section, or the halves of two quarter sections if he wished to take full advantage of the pre-emption laws and enter a full quarter section, paying for his land at $1.25 and acre.  Eventually he was given a parchment certificate of entry, sometimes called a pre-emption certificate or "patent".  armed with this certificate, he had the best weapon possible, except for his tow fists or a gun, for preventing others from digging on his land.  He neede this protection because the land he had bought was suposed to be farmed; not mined.  Thus he had no recourse to the law if others dug on his land unless he could prove that discovery of ore had been made after he entered the land, and often, of course, he could do no such thig as his neighbors and friends, as well as his enemies, knew very well that he or others had mined on the property before it was entered.  If he later turned any part of his land over to others by agreement but retained the certificate, he had at hand the legal evidence necessary to claim the land when mineral lands were released for sale by the government.

Since Lyon named Sections 23, 24, 25 and 26 in 1833 as "still affording profitable employment to the persons engaged in them", and since the early settlers we have mentioned entered most of the land in the four sections, let us turn to the records to see what happened in these four sections when the land was put up for sale.  

Out of the total 2560 acres, 920 were reserved from sale until 1847.  None of Section 23 was reserved.  All the land in this section was entered in 1835, '36 and '37 by James Nagle,

(PAGE 39)  

William S. Dering and Amos Brown.  It was the southeast corner of this section that contained the earliest settlement, - the cluster of cabins some where "pleased to call"  Washington, now part of the village of New Diggings, on the land platted by Benjamin Crossman north of the Branch.

Most of the New Diggings Ridge is contained within sections 25 and 26, south of the Branch.  In these two sections, 240 acres in Section 25 and 440 in Section 26, or total of 680 acres were reserved from sale, indicating that their mineral content was well known.  This left 600 acres available for entry.  From these two sections have blossomed such prolific mines as the Little Joe, the Monroe, the Longhorn, the old Blackstone, the North Monroe, the Field Upper Run and the mighty Champion, this last-named by 1881 having 'probably yeilded more than any single range in the lead region', and having since that time operated almost continuously until recently.

The entries in Section 25 during 1835, '36 and '37 were made by Solomon Oliver, William Field and Amos Brown together with three others (D. McMullen, Wm. Huling and B. Robinson) who held three "forties" for a short time before they became Field's.  The reserved 240 acres were entered in 1847 by John W. Blackstone and Phillip Earnest.

In Section 26, the 440 that were reserved were held for pre-emption by five men.  Robert H. Champion and Frank Dering (brother of William S.) for many years petitioned the legislature, territorial and state, for the release of the 240 of these acres they claimed, insisting as the village of New Diggings gradually spread up the side of the Ridge that the land in the vicinity had little mineral content.  It was not until 1847, however, that the land was fnally released to them at the farming land price, $1.25 and acre.  The other 200 reserved acres were entered in 1847 by Abraham Looney, William G. Rea, and J. Nier.

The fact that this section was of particular value in the eyes of landseekers seems evident when it is noted that four men (including Champion and Dering) entered jointly a single "eighty", not reserved, when the first lands were put up for sale in 1836.  In other parts of the lead section, especially in sparsely settled area, large tracts of land were entered by a single pruchaser or by a speculator representing group interests.  But this was not true in the 'new diggins' area.  The fact that the land in the three sections 24, 25, and 26 was not in any instance sold in lots of more than 80 acres to any one person during these early sales suggests not only that the land was in demand and known to have mineral or timber content, but that the settlers may have agreed as to how the sections ere to be divided before the land was

(PAGE 40)  

entered.  The additional 120 acres not reserved in Section 26 was entered by Reynold H. Meyers and John Duncan.

Section 24, where 240 acres were reserved, has produced such mines as the Luckey Twelve, the Indian Mound, the CAT, and the Penna-Benton.  In this section, rich in mineral through the years, the land not reserved was entered in 1836, '37 and '38 by William field, James Williams, William S. Dering, B. Robinson, John Davis and John Roberts.  The 240 acres of reserved lands were held and entred in '47 by John W. Blackstone, Montgomery Cothren and D. McCausland.  The entries of McCausland, divided into small lots, later became the property of Field.

This it may be seen that it was the early arrivals who came to stay that were favored here in the matter of land selection.  In another twenty-five years, the landowners would be replaced in these four sections, with the exception of Field and Champion, by English and Irish immigrants, - Redfern, Peacock, Edge, Thompson, Raisbeck, Hardy, Longhorn, Monroe, Murphy, Bird, Dawson, Robson, Curwen, Booty, Richardson, Wiseman, Sedgwick.  But that change had not begun when the first land sales occurred.  It was during the sales of reserved lands that the English and Irish were to acquire lands that led to the building up, in some cases, of family fortunes.  It was then too that corporations such as Mineral Point Lead and Zinc and Wisconsin Lead and Zinc were to accumulate large holdings.

An Old Journal  Pages 41 - 47

  "New Diggings on the Fever 1824 - 1864"       Lafayette County Homepage

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