Always read the land lawYears ago, I learned that my great grandfather Jasper C. Robertson had acquired land in the Big Pasture area of pre-statehood Oklahoma — Indian Territory — by way of a sealed bid.1 But for years, getting an actual copy of the federal land entry file was low on my priority list.
Now, in my own defense, there were a couple of good reasons for that.
Second, and I hate to admit this, I wasn’t keen on spending the money just to get the kind of file you usually get with a cash sale. Each of these files costs $40 to get from the National Archives,4 and in so many cases I’d dropped $40 on a cash sale entry file only to receive — if I was lucky — two scrawny pieces of paper in the mail: a copy of a patent I already had from the online BLM site and maybe some sort of a signed receipt.
I can’t begin to tell you how much I resented people whose ancestors were homesteaders — folks whose land transactions were under the Homestead Act, signed by President Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago last week.5 Homesteaders had to file affidavits and prove up their claims with witnesses.6 Those files were always nice and thick.
Here, alas, the patent itself made it abundantly clear that this was just another cash sale — a transaction “according to the provisions of the Act of Congress of the 24th of Aprtil, 1820”7 and specifically recorded as a cash entry.
So… no big deal. This could wait. There sure wouldn’t be much more in this file.
You’d think I’d have learned by now: always, always, always, get and read a copy of the law under which a land transaction takes place. Always.
On 5 June 1906, a statute passed by the United States Congress called “An Act to open for settlement five hundred and five thousand acres of land in the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Indian reservations, in Oklahoma Territory” was signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt. And yes, it certainly provided that the land was to be “sold for not less than five dollars an acre” with one-fifth down and the rest in four equal annual payments thereafter.8
Looks like a cash sale, sounds like a cash sale, smells like a cash sale… but wait.
That’s not all the statute said. It also provided that the land
shall be opened to settlement … and be disposed of upon sealed bids or at public auction … to the highest bidder under the provisions of the homestead laws of the United States …, and such purchaser must be duly qualified to make entry under the general homestead laws.9
Holy crap. Could it be…? Was it…? Could it be a Homestead Act transaction after all?
And so, I discovered last summer when I actually pulled the file at the National Archives while attending the National Institute for Genealogical Research, it was indeed. Let me share with you just a few things that were in that file (click to enlarge any image):
|Sealed Bid10||Livingston Affidavit11|
|Allen Affidavit12||Claimant’s Affidavit13|
Now don’t get me wrong. It’s still my experience that cash-sales files are wimpy little things with only a few sheets of paper at best. (I pulled somewhere in excess of 25 cash-sales files last summer and it was a rare file that had anything more than that.)
But I’ve sure learned my lesson: making assumptions about what kind of a sale a federal land sale is — even if it says it’s a plain-vanilla cash sale — can be a big mistake.
I repeat: always, always, always, get and read a copy of the law under which a land transaction takes place.
- Linda Norman Garrison, Successful bidders of the Big Pasture land opening, 1906 (Lawton, OK: Southwest Oklahoma Geneal. Soc., 1992), 17. ↩
- Jasper C. Robertson (Tillman County, Oklahoma), land patent no. 123635, 7 Apr 1910; “Land Patent Search,” digital images, General Land Office Records (http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/PatentSearch/ : accessed 278 May 2012). ↩
- Tillman County, Oklahoma, Deed Book 23: 508, Jasper C. Robertson patent, 23 Apr 1913; County Clerk’s Office, Frederick. ↩
- See “Federal Land Entry Files (NATF Form 84),” National Archives, Archives. gov (http://www.archives.gov/forms/pdf/natf-84.pdf : accessed 28 May 2012). ↩
- “An Act to secure Homesteads to actual Settlers on the Public Domain,” Act of 20 May 1862, P.L. 37-64, 12 Stat. 392. ↩
- Ibid., § 2. ↩
- Jasper C. Robertson (Tillman County, Oklahoma), land patent no. 123635, 7 Apr 1910. ↩
- “An Act to open for settlement five hundred and five thousand acres of land in the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Indian reservations, in Oklahoma Territory,” Act of 5 June 1906, P.L. 59-197, 34 Stat. 213-214, § 3. ↩
- Ibid., § 2. ↩
- Form of Bid for Oklahoma Pasture Lands, 3 December 1906, Jasper C. Robertson (Tillman County, Oklahoma), cash sale entry, certificate no. 246, Lawton, Oklahoma, Land Office; Land Entry Papers, 1800-1908; Records of the Bureau of Land Management; Record Group 49, National Archives, Washington, D.C. ↩
- Ibid., Homestead Proof–Testimony of Witness R. L. Livingston, 29 August 1908. ↩
- Ibid., Homestead Proof–Testimony of Witness Ben F. Allen, 29 August 1908. ↩
- Ibid., Homestead Proof–Testimony of Claimant, Jasper C. Robertson, 29 August 1908. ↩