Kansas State Historical Society.

The Kansas historical quarterly (Volume 20) online

. (page 29 of 76)
Online LibraryKansas State Historical SocietyThe Kansas historical quarterly (Volume 20) → online text (page 29 of 76)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

for cultivation and improvement. Crumpton stated explicitly what most later historians
have not understood, namely that land was not free for the taking; administrative pro-
cedures among other factors nullified the law and defeated the avowed intent of those


quently the process was repeated by a whole series of contestants
until either the settler had to pay out more money in fighting con-
tests than the land was worth or give up his entry. 59 The quest
for personal revenge was a fruitful source of contests. 60 A com-
munity quarrel, a jilting by a boy friend, 61 a real or imagined loss in
a business deal, a political controversy, all of these and many more
excuses of similar character were involved in the initiation of con-
test cases. 62 The persistent habits of some pioneers of telling tales,
informing on neighbors, writing letters, venting prejudices and going

who drafted it. J. A. Nelson of Buffalo Park, on May 20, 1886, wrote Perry a detailed
description of his experiences with the professional claim jumper. In his case the original
price for being left alone was $250; this was reduced to $200 and later to $87. He
refused all offers to compromise and made a successful defense. Wm. Don Carlos, of
Kirwin, in writing to Perry on May 28, 1887, concerning a perjury case that had developed
out of a contest affidavit, asserted that it was founded upon spite and was brought for the
purpose of scaring some money out of the defendants. He continued, "This class of cases,
is becoming frequent, and in my mind are generally brought, or instigated, for the purpose
of making money out of a compromise, by certain Attys, and witness fees, and mileage
by other impecunious parties." James P. Bums of Oberlin, wrote to Perry on February 3,
1888, "Now there is lots of this contesting going on for the mere purpose of extracting
money out of parties holding claims, or for the mere purpose of annoyance." Frequent
reference is made to the professional claim jumpers in the contemporary discussion of
homesteaders' protective associations. In this connection The Eye, Oberlin, on December
29, 1887, reprinted the following from the Atchison Champion: "Next to prairie dogs,
jack rabbits and coyotes, one of the worst pests of a new country ... is the 'claim
jumper,' the party who prowls around like a wolf to hunt up opportunities to dispossess
some honest and well meaning settler. . . ."

59. In a letter to J. R. Hallowell on October 6, 1884, M. B. Jones of Corwin, esti-
mated the cost of prosecuting a contest against an entry at $200. In a letter on December
26, 1885, to W. C. Perry, Y. R. Archer estimated the cost of defending against a contest
at $100 to $1,000. The Rooks County Record, May 20, 1887, placed the cost of defend-
ing at $50 to $200. M. F. Dean, Sappaton, told Perry on January 16, 1888, that one of
his neighbors had been forced to defend his claim against four contests.

60. L. D. Seward, St. Louis, to J. R. Hallowell, September 5, 1881; J. P. Campbell,
Harper, to Hallowell, March 20, 1882. The Zickefoose-Shuler contest case in the Wa-
keeney land office seems to have originated in a desire by Zickefoose for revenge. W. H.
Pilkenton, receiver of the Wakeeney office to W. C. Perry, April 7, 1885. Wm. Lescher,
Lawrence, wrote Perry on February 12, 1886, alleging "malicious meanness" as the cause
of the sequence of contests against his entry in the Oberlin land district. W. T. S. May,
Kirwin, to Perry, June 5, 1886. Ira T. Hodson, Burr Oak, to Perry, June 9, 1886. W. C.
Perry, to John McDonald, Dun Station, November 11, 1886. George Cotton, La Crosse,
to Perry, July 29, 1887. W. C. Perry to Clark S. Rowe, special agent of the General Land
Office at Larned, December 14, 1887. J. P. Burns, Oberlin, to Perry, February 3, 1888.
Frank Thanhouser, Garden City, to Perry, August 10, 1888. R. M. Wright, Dodge City,
to Perry, September 22, 1888. W. C. Perry to E. E. Thomas, special agent of the General
Land Office, Salina, November 28, 1888.

61. Such an instance is described in a letter by W. C. Perry to J. G. Allard, special agent
of the General Land Office at Oberlin, September 20, 1888. Perry's remarks, based on an
affidavit made by Dolly Hayes, contained the following: "In the first place Dolly having
kept with the young man for three years and that beautiful and heavenly relation now
having ceased, is undoubtedly angry with Alvin, and if he is keeping company with some
other young lady, is also undoubtedly suffering from a severe attack of the green-eyed

62. W. M. Skinner, Gaylord, in letters to J. R. Hallowell, July 14 and 15, 1882,
recited a particularly long tale of woe concerning contests growing out of personal quarrels
and political differences. Hallowell had received letters from H. C. Sunderland, Gaylord,
on February 13, 1880, and from G. W. Hodson, Gaylord, of March 22, 1880, relative
to the Skinner case and had written to the commissioner of the General Land Office on
February 24, 1880, describing the case as a neighborhood quarrel. Tully Scott, receiver,
Oberlin land office, to W. C. Perry, October 27, 1885, describing the Wheelock-Cass con-
test as a "neighborhood fight." C. H. Barlow, Kansas Banking Company, Goodland, in a
letter to Perry on April 12, 1888, said that the man who had contested his claim "is owing
this Bank of which I am a member and he came around and hinted as though he would
release the contest if I would cancel his note and informed me that we did not treat him
right last fall in some of our deal is why he contested it." J. G. Lowe, Washington to
Perry, October 10, 1886.


to law probably confused the federal land officials as completely as
they do the historians of today. 63

Probably there was as much informality with respect to the resi-
dence requirements as toward any other feature of the operation of
the federal land laws. Again, as far as the evolving community
was concerned, the immediate effect of such informality was to con-
tribute to instability and impermanence. It was regular practice
for the business and professional men in the towns to enter a tract
of land, go through the motions of compliance by eating a meal
sometimes cooked in a hotel and carried to the claim or by sleeping
on the land at infrequent intervals, and then make final proof before
the local land office. 64 Sen. Preston B. Plumb stated in the senate
that these practices were considered normal and legal in the parts
of Kansas with which he was familiar. While defending the settlers
in Kansas against charges of fraud he described the contemporary
attitudes and practices in the following words:

A man goes out from the East; he is a tinner, a shoemaker, a blacksmith,
a wagon-maker, or a tradesman of some kind. He goes West for the purpose
of getting a home, and in the mean time he must live. He goes into the near-
est town, follows his calling, and takes a quarter-section of land outside, lives
upon it between times, so to speak, having his domicile part of the time perhaps
in the town and part of the time on his claim, and at the end of six months he
proves up on it. Perhaps the intent and the act do not fully combine, and yet
the intent is as good as that of any man ever was to make that place his home,
and to all intents and purposes it is his home. ... It may be called in
law a fraudulent entry, and yet so far as the essential elements of fraud are
concerned they are entirely lacking." 65

At almost exactly the time that Senator Plumb was placing a

63. The letters of J. B. Tillinghast, Myrtle, to W. C. Perry, illustrate this point. See
the one written on April 16, 1888; A. C. Mende, another resident of the same community,
wrote an extraordinarily gossipy letter to Perry on July 15, 1888. Letters written by
Mrs. M. E. Warner, Oxford, to J. R. Hallowell on January 19, February 13, and March 26,
1885, are in the same category. In many respects the brochure-length letter written by
I. V. Knotts of Schoharie on July 5, 1886, to W. C. Perry, is the most fantastic of them all.

64. Decisions of the Department of the Interior Relating to the Public Lands, v. 1, pp.
77, 78. The document referred to is a letter of Secretary of the Interior Henry Teller to
the commissioner of the General Land Office, N. C. McFarland, dated October 2, 1882, and
concerned with the contest case of W. P. Peters vs. George Spaulding. Report of William
Y. Drew, special agent of the land office at Wichita, dated November 26, 1884, and con-
tained in the "Report of the Commissioner of the General Land Office," 1885, loc. cit., pp.
206, 207. Report of Walter W. Cleary, special agent of the land office at Garden City
included in "Report of the Commissioner of the General Land Office," 1887, loc. cit,, pp.
149, 150. Lamed Chronoscope, March 11, 1887.

65. Congressional Record, 49 Cong., 1 Sess. (1885-1886), pt. 6, p. 6,073. In the
course of the debate Plumb implied that the zeal with which Commissioner W. A. J. Sparks
was enforcing the land laws in the West and Northwest was rooted in partisan considera-
tions. "Is it not a little singular that the individual whose duty it is to scan the horizon
should be afflicted with such a political, geographical, isothermal strabismus that he has
never allowed his eagle eye to cover anything south of Mason and Dixon's line, but has
kept it as steady as the needle to the pole on the West and Northwest?" Ibid., p. 6,075.
A week earlier Plumb had described his own experience at pre-empting a quarter section
of land, remarking in one place, "I have no doubt that I committed a fraud upon the law;
. . . the claim was my home though I was printing a newspaper in a hamlet a mile
away." Ibid., Appendix, p. 426.


"loose" construction upon the residence requirement in pre-emption
entries, Commissioner Sparks was defining his views in response to
a series of questions directed to him by a resident of Kansas. In
answer to the question, "Can a married man pre-empt or homestead
a claim and prove up without his family?", Sparks replied, "The
home contemplated is the home of the family. It is inconceivable
that a homestead entry is made in good faith when the permanent
home of the family is elsewhere. The pre-emptor is also expected to
make his home on the land." In reply to the question, 'What con-
stitutes six months residence?", the commissioner replied briefly
but specifically, "The actual living on the land for the period of six
months." GG The local newspapers took the practices described by
Senator Plumb for granted and reported individual instances as
news: railroad employees were visiting their claims; school teach-
ers, merchants, and artisans were spending short visits on their
homestead or pre-emption entries; entrymen were returning to their
claims after a prolonged absence during the winter months. 67 One
entryman who was a member of a banking firm that operated bank-
ing houses in Goodland, and Burlington, Colo., complained bitterly
to the federal district attorney when his claim was contested. 68 An-
other banker in Sherman county in discussing compliance with
residence requirements and in response to a question concerning
what he raised on his claim remarked, "Last year I raised riell and
watermelons/ This year it is too dry to raise anything; I shall try to
raise the mortgage next year and skip." 69 Another entryman wrote
to Sen. John J. Ingalls protesting against the cancellation of his entry
simply because he left his claim to work in a near-by town from
Monday morning to Saturday night of each week in order to provide
food for his family. 70 Still another tried to retain his claim in the
face of a contest, even though he spent the winter months near Boul-

66. W. A. J. Sparks to C. T. Connelly, Terry, June 10, 1886, "General Land Office
Correspondence," A, Miscellaneous, pp. 363, 364.

67. Kansas Herald, Hiawatha, March 12, 1880; Larned Chronoscope, January 28, 1881;
Lane County Herald, June 3, July 24, September 11, and September 25, 1885; June 3,
September 9, September 16, November 11, and December 16, 1886; February 24, and
December 8, 1887; and June 7, 1888. The Eye, Oberlin, December 11, 1884; September
10, and November 26, 1885; March 25, and April 1, 1886. Scott County News, Scott
City, March 19, April 12, May 12, and May 14, 1886. The Oberlin Eye, January 27,
1887, in commenting on the shooting of a claim jumper said, "a number of persons whose
claims were contested are working on the railroad for a livelihood and were vexed with
having contests put on their claims."

68. Charles H. Barlow, Goodland, to W. C. Perry, March 19, April 12, and August
7, 1888.

69. E. E. Blackman, "Sherman county and the H. U. A.," Kansas Historical Collec-
tions, v. 8 (1903-1904), p. 53.

70. Bishop W. Perkins, representative in congress from Kansas, quoted from the speech
by Senator Ingalls during the course of a debate in the house of representatives.
Congressional Record, 49 Cong., 1 Sess. (1885-1886), pt. 6, p. 6,289.


der, Colo., working in a mine. 71 Even a United States court com-
missioner on one occasion closed his office while he undertook to
fulfill the residence requirement by living on his claim. 72 A dili-
gent shoemaker left his family on his claim while he maintained his
shop and residence in Dighton during the entire period that he was
supposed to be in residence on his claim. 73 After the Fort Dodge
military reservation was opened to settlement 75 filings were made
on land within its limits. Of these, 18 were made by gamblers,
saloon-keepers, bartenders and sporting women engaged in business
or plying their trade in Dodge City; four were made by widows
living in town; six were made by railroad employees and five were
unknown. Only eight or ten were made by actual settlers. 74 One
entryman on trial for perjury in connection with his attempt to prove
up replied to the question concerning continuous residence in the
language of a college freshmen, "Yes, except when temporarily
absent." 75 Another one of Teutonic ancestry, extremely anxious
to secure some choice land adjacent to his own claims and unable
to comply with the residence requirement, left the following note
on the back of a township plat:

Dere Misses : Know your name as you hat Bad Lugg in your man and

lost him I tell you I am for sale I am a widderwor and after Land and
woman and home I have som land Now how would this sude you, you gitt
a devores and a home state & timber clame and I have some land now and
I gitt a home state and timber clame and we can have lots of land Com and
see me in Rume No 1 or rite. 76

Beyond the physical facts of unimproved land and undeveloped
claims the effects upon community spirit of such activities as have
been described, together with the accompanying absentee owner-
ship and control, must have been important. Certainly it was dis-
couraging to newcomers to discover that the land near town, al-
though apparently unoccupied was in the hands of nonresident

71. James Baird writing from Longford, Colo., to W. C. Perry, January 15, 1888.

72. W. T. S. May, Kirwin, to W. C. Perry, November 25, 1886.

73. Lane County Herald, December 8, 1887. Actually the news item revealed the
fact that the entryman was proving up on his second claim. The Herald for June 3, 1886,
reported that a carpenter who was working in Dighton was surprised while paying a visit
to his claim to discover that he had become the father of twins, the first set to be born
in Lane county.

74. "Report of the Commissioner of the General Land Office," 1886, loc. cit., p. 96.

75. Letter from the commissioner of the General Land Office to J. R. Hallowell, March
3, 1880.

76. Oberlin Eye, August 12, 1886. It should be suggested that the plan would have
been perfectly legal. On August 11, 1879, the commissioner of the General Land Office
wrote to Hughes and Corse of Larned that if a man and woman having adjacent home-
stead entries should marry they could fulfill the residence requirement by living in a house
on the dividing line between the two claims. "Report of the Commissioner of the General
Land Office," 1880, in Report of the Secretary of the Interior, House Ex. Doc. No. 1
(serial no. 1,959), 46 Cong., 3 Sess. (1880-1881), p. 484.



entrymen. 77 One homesteader who had to walk a good many
miles to a small town remarked in a letter that the only thing wrong
with the town was that everyone in it had land for sale. 78

The problems arising out of contests and the evasion of residence
requirements led to the formation of various types of protective
associations. In many respects they were the direct descendants
of the claim associations of an earlier period. There were all kinds
of protective associations. Some were organized by entrymen who
were residing on their claims for the purpose of protecting them-
selves against chronic contestants and professional claim jumpers. 79
Others, although masquerading under such names as "Old Settlers'
Association" or "Homesteaders' Union," were composed of residents
of towns and villages who had never settled on their claims and did
not propose to do so. 80 Their objective was to maintain their entries
by intimidation if need be until final proof could be made or a
relinquishment sold. 81 Whatever might have been their purpose
or form of organization, these protective associations introduced a
disruptive influence into the early development of some communi-
ties. 82 The incoming correspondence of the federal district attor-
ney's office was burdened with letters describing incidents of intimi-
dation and violence to which entrymen had been subjected. 83 It

77. The complaint of T. B. Hatcher, Grenola, addressed to W. C. Perry on September
25, 1886, with reference to the activities of J. G. Hiatt is reasonably typical: "The masses
here want to see the land grabbers punished for we know to what extent it is practiced
and detrimental to the settling of the country. West and north of us the people have no
direct roads to town but have to go 5 & 10 miles around and have no schools on account
of the large tracts that are fenced."

78. John Ise, editor, Sod-House Days: Letters From a Kansas Homesteader, 1877-1878
(New York, 1937), p. 153. These letters written by Howard Ruede of Osborne county
contain a great deal of information on matters pertaining to entering claims, proving up,
residence requirements and the like.

79. The Larned Chronoscope alleged that this was the motive behind the formation
of an Old Settlers' League near Larned. See the issues for March 12, March 19, May 14,
and May 21, 1886. W. J. Calvin in a letter to the Chronoscope which appeared in the
issue for February 19, 1886, suggested a protective league as the answer to the epidemic
of contests that had broken out. He attributed the frequency of contesting to the Sparks'
policies. The Chronoscope echoed this point of view in the issue for May 14, 1886.

80. The character of the Rooks County Homesteader's Union was argued in the columns
of the Rooks County Record and the Rooks County Democrat during the spring and summer
of 1887. The issues of the Record for April 29, May 6, 20, and 27, September 2, 9, 16,
and 23, and of the Democrat for May 17 and August 23, contain particularly relevant
information. The varied activities of one organization are described in Blackman, loc. cit.,
pp. 50-62.

81. E. R. Cutler, Meade Center, in a letter written to the United States district attorney
for the Garden City land office on December 20, 1886, and forwarded to W. C. Perry, de-
scribed a typical instance. In a letter to Walter W. Cleary, special agent for the General
Land Office at Garden City, on February 23, 1887, Perry described the type of evidence
that would be necessary for the successful prosecution of the individuals accused by Cutler.

82. The Stockton Democrat on May 21, 1886, used the phrase "guerilla warfare" to
describe the friction between rival settlers in northwest Kansas. It was stated that five
persons had been killed, that the sheriff had refused to act, and that an appeal for
assistance had been sent to the governor.

83. Charles L. Chittenden, Nickerson, to W. C. Perry, January 28, 1886- John W
McDonald, Dun Station, to Perry, November 7, 1886; J. W. Carson, Wakeeney, to Perry ^
November 22, 1887; Charles P. Dunaway, Stockton, to Perry, January 2 1888- Blanche

FS 61 "^ 6 ^ 116 ' t0 Perry ' November 21- 1887; C. B. Dakin Colb, to Perry' May 2
INKS >IAWMAV>J *^ e Edsall case and *-' - - * - - "


should be noted in this connection that the federal laws did not af-
ford any protection against the threats or acts of an individual. It
was only when two or more persons conspired to deprive an entry-
man of his rights under the federal land law that a prosecution by
federal officials could be undertaken. 84 It should be clear that it
was in precisely such instances that the entryman was outnumbered
by the parties whom he was accusing. As a result the federal dis-
trict attorneys were never optimistic concerning the likelihood of
securing convictions. Vigilante activities, with all of the disturbing
features that usually accompany them, seem to have been a char-
acteristic feature of the instances of overt or threatened violence
that plagued entrymen in some new communities. 85

It has been pointed out by many writers that the federal land laws
were not well adapted to the Great Plains environment. It has also
been pointed out in connection with the homestead act that it "would
have worked badly on any frontier" because of the incompatibility
of the five-year residence requirement with the frontier tendency
toward mobility. 86 It may be suggested that it was not only the
land laws that were unadapted to the Great Plains, but the rules
and regulations with which they were surrounded the administra-
tive procedures as well as the laws. It may be remarked further
that the tendency toward rapid turnover among early settlers was
stimulated rather than checked or restrained by the operation of the
federal land laws. The technical and involved rules of procedure,
the invitation to contest, and the absence of any effective method
of dealing with violations of the laws contributed to the atmosphere
of uncertainty and insecurity that surrounded western Kansas com-
munities during their early and formative years.

84. W. C. Perry to G. E. Rees, Scott City, January 14, 1888; Perry to C. B. Dakin,
Colby, May 7, 1888; Perry to Thomas J. Richardson, Wichita, May 26, 1888. In the last
letter Perry quoted section 5508 of the federal statutes, "if two or more persons conspire
to injure, oppress, threaten or intimidate any citizen in the free exercise or enjoyment of
any right or privilege secured to him by the constitution or laws of the United States,
or because of his having exercised the same, he shall be punished. . . ."

85. G. E. Rees, Scott City, to W. C. Perry, January 6, 1888, alleging that a vigilante
committee was trying to intimidate legal entrymen in Scott county is a case in point.

v ??'-* J i m : eS C ' . M in ,' " Mobilitv ^d History: Reflections on the Agricultural Policies of
October 181* " On tO a Mechanized World," Agricultural History, v. 17 (1943),

The Rev. Louis Dumortier, S. J., Itinerant
Missionary to Central Kansas, 1859-1867


THE Rev. Louis Dumortier, a colorful frontier personality was
to be the first to work among the Catholic white settlers to
the north, south and west of St. Mary's Indian Mission between
1859 and 1867. His French name proved to be a stumbling block to
his German and Irish parishioners, to the extent that in the prepara-
tion of this piece of research it has been found in 16 incorrect ver-
sions. 1 Therefore, he was usually referred to as "Father Louis." 2

He was a Frenchman by birth, born near Lille in 1810 at the
height of the Napoleonic era. In 1839 he entered the Jesuit Order
in Belgium and began his theological studies there. Soon, however,
he was sent to the United States where he continued his studies at
St. Stanislaus Seminary, Florissant, Mo. According to contemporary
records, he completed his studies with distinction, specializing in
mathematics, chemistry and theology. 3

After his ordination to the priesthood, Father Dumortier engaged
in teaching in various Jesuit colleges at Cincinnati, Bardstown, Ky.,
and St. Louis. His work was successful and he was portrayed as
"a man of cheerful temper, alert, and witty in conversation and one

Online LibraryKansas State Historical SocietyThe Kansas historical quarterly (Volume 20) → online text (page 29 of 76)