Early Calhoun County History

Chapter XII

People who became owners of Government land previous to the passage of the Homestead Bill in the year 1862 did so either by purchase or pre-emption or by the location of land warrants. Those who purchased made their selections and with descriptions properly noted down, township, range and section, made their way to the land office of the district in which the land was located and there made the original entry of their land by paying $1.25 per acre and receiving thereforE from the register of the land office a certificate of entry on which a patent was afterwards issued to them by the general land office, signed by the President of the United States. Those locating by pre-emption filed at the land office a pre-emption claim and were given a certificate on which they were entitled to receive a patent, provided they appeared at the office on or before the expiration of one year, and paid $1.25 per acre for the land included in their filing. Persons having land warrants located on any government land in a manner similar to those mentioned. Previous to entry or location however lands must have been surveyed and brought into market which was opened by a general land sale. At this sale or opening for entry for all bids of $1.25 an acre or over were received and certificates given to the highest bidder.

After this sale or bringing into market the lands were subject to entry at any time on the payment of $1.25 per acre, unless, as a rare occurrence, two persons happened to appear at the office at the same time each demanding the right to make an entry on the same tract of land. In which case the land was sold to the highest bidder; and naturally much ill feeling prevailed between the competitors on occasions of this kind; the one for having lost the selection of his choice, the other for being forced to pay more than the market price. Previous to March, 1853, there was no land office west of Iowa City, but at the time two offices were established for Western Iowa, one at Des Moines and the other at Council Bluffs. The boundary lines between these districts unfortunately divided Calhoun county in such a manner that the eastern three-fourths of the, or ranges 31, 32, 33, belonged to the Des Moines district, while the western tier, or range 34, belonged to the Council Bluff district. Consequently those pioneers who entered or located in what is now Jackson township or any where west of the line indicated, had to make the long journey over an almost entirely unsettled country to Council Bluffs; and if, as sometimes happened, they wished to purchase land lying on both sides of the line they had to make the trip to both offices in order to do so. Reference is made here to land offices and the procedure for making entry, or other location of land, merely the average reader may the more readily understand the difficulty and embarrassments of the pioneer under the condition of things existing at that time. First after having the required amount of cash on hand, was the long distance to the land office to be traveled on foot in some cases, and at the best either on horseback or by farm wagon for conveyance. Next after reaching Des Moines to find the town crowded with land buyers, composed of settlers from all over the district in addition to a swarm of eastern as well as resident capitalists and speculators. here, then, all parties meet, The speculators to buy land, sight unseen, nearest to country already settled, as shown by the plats furnished him from day to day, and hold the same until it should increase in value. These gentlemen did not interfere so very much with the earliest settlers as with those coming several years later and who had to purchase the land for their homes from the eastern capitalist at greatly increased prices. The other class and the one most feared by the settler was the speculator of curb stone brokerage variety; whose business it was to scheme and watch and by one means or another find the numbers of desirable locations and anticipate the settler, so that when he came to make his entry he was met with the announcement that Mr. Speculator had forestalled him by entering the land he was after. In this case our pioneer would be nonplused in knowing what to do, whether to hunt up the speculator and offer him an advance on the entry price, or select, and enter some other land that he knew of. If he had plenty of money or borrow he sometimes did the one thing, otherwise he was forced to make a new selection, (some missing) enter land on time, being assured of course that the selection of the settler was a choice tract of land and good security for the investment. In transactions of this kind a high rate of interest was paid, rates that would astonish the banker or business man of today, for as high as 30 or 40 per cent. Was paid on a large proportion of the money used for the entry of land on time. The land office was sometimes so crowded with applications for entry of land that the rule had to be adopted by the officials of passing over the district in regular order by township, and range, and permitting entries only, as they came to the land wanted, in passing back and forth through the district. This expedited matters greatly, but even then the person arriving just after the entries in his township and range had been passed, might have to wait several days before the district had been gone over and the point reached again at which his entry could be made. During the great rush for land in the year 1855, there were cases of people having to wait two weeks or more before their entries could be made. Some of these delays were submitted to by some of the early settlers of Calhoun county, during part of the time that lands were subject to entry at Des Moines, but finally on the 5th day of November, 1855, a new land district was formed, including Calhoun county, with the land office located at Ft. Dodge, and the trouble growing our of land entries was over with to a great extent until something of a different nature took place, which will be dealt with later in this history. During the time of settlement and after land buyers and speculators of Des Moines and other places became acquainted with the county to some extent, the settler who had some choice piece of land in view that he wished to add to his farm as soon as his means would justify, looked with suspicion on the prowling stranger for fear he might be a speculator, seeking for numbers and descriptions of lands adjoining their farms with a view to making entries on the same in advance and speculating off the settler, by asking a high price for the land which he had been expecting to purchase from the government. Illustrating this matter is an incident referred to By Mr. J.M. Toliver in reminiscences of our county history published in the Lake City Graphic some three or four years ago and which we are permitted to refer to:

In the fall of 1855, a well known land speculator of Des Moines came into the county and looking around over the country for some time, took descriptions of several tracts of land with the intention of entering them, as a matter of speculation, but the ever watchful eye of the settler was on him. So when he left for the land office at Des Moines Peter Smith gave chase to see who would get the land first. Mr. Smith had no horse suitable for riding purposes so went on foot. Mr. Speculator, thinking probably as did the hare in his race with the tortoise that he was safely ahead when reaching Des Moines took a bed and went to sleep, postponing the matter of his entries until morning, when he could attend to the business at his leisure. In the meantime Peter Smith by indomitable pluck and endurance, and by traveling late into the night was on hand and ready when the office opened early in the morning. Having procured the money from Hoyt Sherman with which he proceeded to enter his land before Mr. Speculator had roused himself from his peaceful slumbers. Tableaux in land office two hours afterwards. Register: "Mr. ------, I am sorry to inform you that the lands on which you wish to make entry as shown by these descriptions were entered early this morning by a gentleman from Calhoun county."