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THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR.
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
IVashington, D. C., November 19, 1866. SIR: I have the honor to submit the following exhibit of the operations of this department, and of the various and diversified interests connected with the branches of the public service committed to its supervision.
During the fiscal year ending June 30, 1866, public lands were disposed of as follows: Acres sold for cash ....
388, 294.15 entered under the homestead acts...
1, 892, 516.86 located with military warrants
403, 180.00 approved to States as swamp...
1, 199, 658.27 approved to States for railroads.....
94, 596.99 located with agricultural college scrip
4, 629, 312. 87
During the same period 6,423,984.18 acres were offered for sale. The cash receipts from sales and other sources were $824,645 08. The number of homestead entries exceeded that of the preceding year by more than sixty per cent.
There are sixty-one land districts and ten surveying departments. During the past year surveying operations have been prosecuted with energy in Minnesota, Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, California, Oregon, Nevada, and Washington, but have been deferred, on account of Indian hostilities, in New Nexico and Arizona. The anomalous condition of affairs in Utah has preFented any surveys there since the year 1857. At that date two and a half million acres had been surveyed. In order that they may be disposed of, it is recommended that a land district be created in that Territory.
The entire amount of the public domain is 1,465,468,800 acres, of which 474,160,551 acres have been surveyed.
The attention of Congress is again respectfully invited to the expediency of making early provision for the adjustment of claims to land situate in New Mexico and Arizona, arising under the laws of Spain or Mexico. The act of July 22, 1854, directs the surveyor general to ascertain the nature and extent of such claims under the laws, usages, and customs of Spain and Mexico, and to make a full report on all such as originated before the cession of the territory to the United States by the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Congress reserved the right to confirm, by its action, bona fide grants, and to give full effect to the stipulations of that treaty. Until such action, the lands covered by those claims are reserved from sale or other disposal by the government. The act does not apply to that valuable region of country acquired by the treaty concluded at Mexico, December 30, 1853. Good faith and sound policy require the separation from the public domain of private property held by an incipient and unperfected right, or by a complete title, under a grant of the government which preceded us in the exercise of jurisdiction and sovereignty over the soil. The confirmation of a private claim secures to the party a valid title. The location of his land, when ascertained by authentic surveys and noted upon our records, identifies the property of the United States, and facilitates the disposal of it. The authority of the surveyor general should extend to the lands ceded by the later treaty; and by a special tribunal created for the purpose, or through the action of the courts, all grants of this character could be definitely and finally disposed of.
The boundary between New Mexico and Colorado, as well as that between California and Nevada, should be permanently established, and the limits between Florida and Georgia finally adjusted.
It has been the cherished policy of the government to assure upon the most liberal conditions to the actual settler a title to his home and improvements. His preference right of purchase is not confined to lands which were surveyed at the time of his settlement; nor is he required to pay for them, or for those surveyed but unoffered, until the day designated by the President's proclamation for the public sale. Differences of opinion exist as to the applicability to particular localities of some of the acts of Congress prescribing the period within which the declaratory statement for unsurveyed lands must be filed. No distinction ought to be made in regard to the time allowed for the payment for unoffered lands, and those which have been offered. I concur in opinion with the Commissioner of the General Land Office as to the changes that might be advantageously made in existing pre-emption laws. They also should be greatly simplified and rendered more uniform in their operation. In this way controversies such as have been occasioned by incongruous and conflicting provisions will be avoided, and the benefits of this wise and just policy effectually secured.
The right of the pre-emptor attaches from the date of his actual personal settlement; that of the homestead settler from the date of his entry at the local land office. The latter is confined to surveyed lands. In either case the title may be consummated by a full compliance with the terms and conditions imposed by the law under which it was initiated. A party who has settled, with a view to pre-emption, upon a particular tract, and thus excluded all others from acquiring a right thereto, should not be permitted to abandon his original claim and enter the land under the homestead law. Such a privilege would, in many instances, inevitably lead to great abuse. The modes prescribed for acquiring title to land by these enactments essentially differ ; and if the claimant under pre-emption law fails to perform the condition which it enjoins, he should incur the consequences of such failure.
Authority should be given to the head of the department to close up the local office, and transfer its archives, where the lands in a State are nearly all disposed of. The powers vested in the local officers might be conferred upon the Commissioner of the General Land Office, to enable him to give title on the sale of the remaining tracts.
A few tracts have been entered in California at the minimum price of twenty dollars per acre, under the supplemental act of March 3, 1865, for the disposal of coal lands. The propriety of reducing this minimum, where the coal is of inferior quality and cannot be obtained without difficulty, is submitted for consideration. The area of the coal lands of the United States is estimated at two hundred thousand square miles.
Land offices have been reopened in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas. By the act approved June 21, 1866, public lands in these States are reserved exclusively for homestead entries; and for the period of two years from the date of its passage, only eighty acres can be entered by one person. The opinion of the Attorney General that patents for lands sold under the revenue laws must issue from the General Land Office, will govern the action of this department.
The law forbids any incumbent in the General Land Office to purchase public lands. I suggest the propriety of extending it so as to include every officer in any way connected with the administration of the laws relating to them.
The grant to Iowa for the improvement of the Des Moines river has been fully satisfied. It embraced eight hundred and thirty-three thousand and seventynine and ninety hundredths acres.
There still remain unsold seventy-seven lots, situate within the Fort Howard reserve, in Wisconsin. They will be disposed of in aecordance with the act of July 4, 1866.
Up to June 30, 1866, forty-three million two hundred and four thousand seven hundred and seventy-four acres of swamp lands had been patented to the several States, and the aggregate indemnity to them on account of such lands sold or otherwise disposed of by the United States was, in cash, five hundred and ninetyseven thousand two hundred and one dollars and thirty-seven cents, and, in other lands, four hundred and seventy-eight thousand and thirty-six and ninety-three bundredths acres.
It is recommended that the time for making selections of such lands be limited to two years after the official plat is received at the local office
, and that the purpose of Congress in relation to this subject be explicitly.
Instructions have been issued to the surveyor general and the local officers in California to give full and summary effect to the provisions of the act of July 23, 1866,“ to quiet land titles in California.”
The registers and receivers act as agents of government to prevent trespassers on the public lands from removing timber therefrom. By imposing fines, and compelling the offenders to enter the tracts trespassed on, the government has been
, to a considerable extent, protected in its rights. A bona fide settler is allowed to appropriate the timber on his claim only so far as may be necessary for indispensable uses. The Commissioner presents the importance of promoting by
legal enactments the planting and growth of trees on the public domain, and he suggests the mode by which that object may be accomplished.
Under the donation laws, patents for one million two hundred and eightytwo thousand four hundred and twenty-three and ninety-three hundredths acres of land in Oregon have been issued. Additional legislation is recommended to enforce the survey of donation claims on which settlement was made prior to the public surveys. Twelve hundred Indian patents were issued during the last fiscal year,
for two hundred and ninety-eight thousand two hundred and fifty-six acres of land.
Attention has been repeatedly invited by this department to the immense value of the deposits of precious metals within our territorial limits. The mineral lands on the Pacific slope belong to the government, but it has not provided for the disposal of them, or for the development of the treasure which they contain. In the absence of legislation by Congress, and with its tacit consent, these mines have been worked by individuals, vast expenditures made, and a species of possessory right acquired which has been recognized by State laws, and maintained and vindicated by State tribunals. The act of Feb. ruary 27, 1865, declares that no action in the courts of the United States for the recovery of any mioing title, or for damages thereto, shall be affected by the fact that the paramount title to the land on which such mines are is in the United States, and the Supreme Court has held that mining interests, apart from the fee-simple rights in the soil by patent, existed before that act, with the implied sanction of the federal government. The exploration and working of these mines have largely contributed to the national wealth, and our legislation should, I submit, be controlled to some extent by existing rights and interests, which are the legitimate results of our policy of inaction. The wisdom of Congress can devise measures which, by placing this vast interest under the control of positive law, will render it tributary in a greater degree to the public prosperity.
Copious details are furnished and many topics connected with the public lands ably discussed in the interesting and elaborate report of the Commissioner. ·
By reason of the increased rates of pension, more than thirty-three millions of dollars will be required for this branch of the service during the next fiscal year.
Samuel Downing, of Edinburg, Saratoga county, New York, is the only surviving soldier of the Revolution. His name was inadvertently omitted in the last annual report of the Pension Bureau to this department.
The names of nine hundred and thirty-one widows of revolutionary soldiers appear on the pension rolls at the close of the last fiscal year.
The invalid pensioners disabled in the wars prior to that of 1861 do not ex: ceed three thousand. The widows and minor children who receive a pension by reason of the services and death of those who served in such wars number one thousand two hundred and twenty-seve
During the last fiscal year twenty-two thousand six hundred and forty-five original applications for invalid pensions were granted, at an aggregate annual rate of one million seven hundred and fifty-six thousand eight hundred and twelve dollars and twenty cents. The number of such pensions that were in