NEW DIGGINGS ON THE FEVER 1824-1864
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Southwest Graphics, Box 96, Darlington, WI 53530
"...Order Out of Chaos" - Sale of Reserved Lands
Pages 80- 84
During the early 1840's, the New Diggings had been represented in the territorial legislature by Robert M. Long, elected in 1842 and by Solomon Oliver, elected in 1845. In the 1846 session, two counties were created from Iowa County, and the present Lafayette County came into being, after a referendum vote that year showed 1,115 for division and 882 against it. 1 New Diggings at once became a contender with Shullsburg and Avon (or Center, South of the present Darlington's city limits) in the county seat contest. "Shullsburg and New Diggings were fully alive to the exigency of the occasion", wrote the county historian, " and their representatives strenuously exerted themselves to procure selection of their own villages." Avon, however, was strategically located geographically, "and therefore entitled by laws to the honors and profits of a county seat." "New Diggings and Shullsburg did not advance any natural pretensions," added the chronicler, "but asserted their claims for recognition as centers of population." The choice was made in favor of Shullsburg as a temporary location, but after a decade or more of bickering and lawsuits, Darlington was finally chosen as a permanent site. Funds from the New Diggings area helped make this eventuality possible, William Field having loaned Jamieson Hamilton money for his initial operations in favor of Avon, and Matthew Murphy, son of Dennis, having provided the funds for building the present commodious courthouse building in Darlington.
At about the same time that Lafayette County came into existence, the day approached toward which the settlers had been looking and for which they had been planning and petitioning almost since the first small band of miners arrived at Natchez in 1824. This was the day of the first sale of reserved lands, held in Mineral Point on May 26, 1847.
After a total breakdown of the leasing system in 1836 and the years following, the government, in 1839, sent David Dale Owen to map and chart the reserved lands of the Upper Mississippi. In the meantime, Moses Strong, who had been appointed to investigate conditions in the mines, reported, as had other government agents in the past, that "the only solution to existing conditions lay in Congressional action legalizing continued entry
of mineral lands after a commission had investigated present claims, designated boundaries and approved certificates." 2
But when Owen reported in glowing terms of the money making potential of the mineral lands, Stron's suggestions were disregarded and the leasing system was continued. In other words, all who dug or smelted on the public domain were required to pay 6% in rent mineral to the government. for a time, and attempt was made to make the individual moner rather than the smelter responsible for the 6%, but this system worked no better than the other. By this time, the people had come to regard squatting on reserved land as an acceptable and necessary prelude to claiming preemption rights. But unless the squatter remained in the good graces of his neighbors, or, in case the land had been entered at the land office, on good terms with the landlord tenant, his claim to his "lot," or to any "leads" he might uncover, was precarious. If he dug on reserved land, he must protect his claim against the invasion of thers, and in order to protect it, he must have the good will of other moners in the neighborhood. 3 If he had recourse to the law, "justice, if ever obtained in the scramble, was most dearly bought...No uniform principles, rules, no precendents guided the courts in their decision." 4
Since neigher law nor courts could cope with the problem of land claims, the "landlords", -those who had been allowed to enter land - were at a distinct advantage. If ore was discovered on the land for which they held certificate of entry, they could extract from lessees up to 20 or 30% of the mineral produced from the diggings. "Mining agreements" were the rule in such cases. Field executed one in 1842 which read:
"Artical of an agreement entered this day Between Wm. Field of the first Part John Person an Benjamin Collins witnessed that i have agreed to let the said Person an Collins have a sirtin (certain) pease of mineral ground to wit the west End of the dun Kin (Duncan) Range commencin at the North and south line running east one hundred yards on the old Range an eny thing that tha (they) ma (may) strik (e) tha have the privilege of working the(y) ar(e) to work the ground mineral like an return the ground when tha quit working of it an Do agree to pay unto the said Wm. Field the one forth of all mineral Riased as witness our hands the fourth of May 1842"
"One fourth", or 25%, was far in excess of the ^% demanded by government landlord. Thus, the itinerant miner and the squatter tended to favor the government leasing system, since they naturally preferred the rent demanded by the government to the much higher rent demanded by the local landlord. One government agent after another was sent to Galena to superintend, to investigate, to collect rents and to attempt to reinstate the leasing system on a stable basis. meanwhile the squatter and small scale miner were buffetted about. They were unable to obtain protection from the government, and could not, in most cases, afford lawsuits. When they did have recourse to the law, the suit was almost invariably decided in favor of "the most popular, vigilant and influential suitor." 5
A landlord, knowing of "leads" on property for which he had supplied the requisite cash and oaths to the Register at Mineral Point and not in a position to do his own mining or prospecting, could hire men to work his leads, making whatever arrangements he found advantageous.
By the end of 1843, it was estimated that 9/10 of the lead exported came from land privately owned or claimed. No activily enforced policy existed, and the agitation for sale of reserved lands continued. The editor of the Northwestern Gazette and Galena Advertiser in April, 1844, advised the Secretary of War to "have at least one agent to every square mile...Whose duties shall extend underground as well as above ground, and who shall be qualified to look both ways in the daytime and sleep with one eye open at night", in order properly to bring some order out of the chaos resulting from the government's inept handling of the reserved lands.
Supervision once more was permitted to lapse. Finally, Pres. Polk, in his first annual message in December, 1845, charging that the government had lost $20,000 from 1841 to 1845 in its attempts to carry on the leasing system, recommended that the reserved lands should be sold under supervision of the general Land Office. In June, 1846, a bill was passed in Congress stipulating that the land be sold at $2.50 an acre. All land not sold at that time would be subject to private entry, except that at the end of a 12 month waiting period, the preemptor could purchase this claim at $1.25 an acre. 6
The miners were jubilant. The editor of the Semi-Weekly Galena Jeffersonian, on Sept. 28, 1846, wrote,
"The miners will be able to invest their gains advantageously, romping bachelors will be transformed into
sedate householders, and every man will be interested in permanently improving the country and conditions of society, externally and internally, in business and intelligence and morality. The country will improve immediately and immensely."
As the time approached for the sales, there was a sudden rush to obtain leases from superintendent Mitchell, the last of the government agents to be stationed at Galena. Those who "lacked substantial evidence of their rights to retain possession and whose claims would not bear the scrutiny of their fellow miners" 7 visited the agent and obtained a receipt for rent paid, for they considered this the best guarantee against prior claims of others. William Field, on June 15, 1846, received from Mitchell a receipt for $3.65 "in lieu of one hundred and twenty-five pounds of pure lead, estimated to be at the rate of 6% of the metal extracted from 3000 lbs. of all mineral admitted to have been dug from the land held by him under Lease 1750 and on which rent has not heretofore been paid to the United States." Field also took pains to have his certificate of entry for the eighty acres he had deeded to the Williamses validated, although subsequent events reveal that although the certificate was validated in 1848, he lost the land.
Holder of reserved timber lands likewise took whatever precautions they felt necessary to insure that their claims to these lands would be validated, while holders of timberland already entered made arrangements for its occupation and improvement, feeling that these precautions put them in a better position to defend their claims in case they were challenged. Field, for instance, whose claim to the land he had purchased from Doyle for $900 in 1837 was to be contested over a period of years, signed an "artical of agreement" with one T. L. McGuin in 1846. Field leased "40 or 50 acres" of this land (Sec. 25, T2, RIE) to McGuin for a period of 4 years. He promised to furnish lumber for buildings and to provide "cows, hogs, etc." for McGuin, who in turn was to "prepare timber off the land" and make a "sufficient number of posts to fence it". He was to till "as much soil as he saw proper", retain the profits, "put up such buildings as he saw proper with timber from the land." For the use of cattle and hogs, he was to give Field "1/2 of the butter made from said cows" and "1/2 the increase of said cattle". Field would furnish the team to haul lumber and McGuin would"perform the labor, fencing, etc. at his own expense."
That this particular piece of land was a well timbered tract
was indicated in a letter written by a local merchant at the request of Sarah Field to her husband while he was in Kentucky in 1851. She urged him to return home "at once, for
"Mrs. Nagle has got a Patent from the Land Office in the name of James Nagle for the land formerly owned by Doyle which he deeded to you. Mrs. Nagle claims it and has employed Kowlton and Simpson of Shullsburg to defend the case for her and they tell her they can gain it for her. Now she has given liberty to a number of Persons to cut timber on the land and there has been a good many cutting and hauling timber away."
Arguments like this concerning tracts of land brought on the rash of lawsuits which egan after the first land sales in 1835 and '6 and grew in number before and following the sale of reserved lands in the late forties. during the fall and winter of 1846, miners, farmers and squatters gathered in schoolhouses and public buildings for the purpose of organizing "protective associations" to insure that their respective claims wuold be validated. Each township appointed a board of adjudicators to whom all claims were submitted. All members of the association promised to abide by the decisions of the board, to attend the land sales, to permit an elected official to bid for them on all settled claims, and to prevent by force, if necessary, all attempts to bid against their representative.
Thus, protected, "the fullest representation from the diggings that ever assembled in the mines" 8 gathered at Mineral Point in May of 1847. All claims were not settled peaceably. Here occurred, for instance, a misunderstanding leading to tragic consequences when Dennis Murphy, in a fit of anger, struck Samuel Crawford with the crop of his riding whip and Crawford, in retaliation, shot Murphy in the thigh, crippling him permanently. but as a general rule, the will of the combined membership of the associations prevailed and most claims were satisfactorily adjusted without casualties.
The people of the mining communities could at last feel that they had "secured their homes". The English and Irish newcomers saw the rough and ready days of the frontier diggins receding was the "organization men" appeared upon the scene and the territory moved toward statehood.
New Diggings and the "Forty-Niners" Pages 85 - 90
County Coordinator Dori Leekley
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