Working the Range: Essays on the History of Western Land Management and the Environment

By John R. Wunder | Go to book overview

actually necessary to obtain the entire site nor how to divide the 320 acres if only a small portion of the site was settled. Could twenty people with one store and three dwellings qualify for a whole site? Or was it necessary to have a building on each lot? each block? each forty-acre subdivision? If a few scattered improvements sufficed, would not the major goal of ensuring the development of actual towns be undermined?

Another provision failed to take frontier conditions into consideration. The law required that corporate authorities make both declarations of intent to settle sites and preemption entries, but what if settlement, as it often did, preceded government? Could a settler enter a claim and have it protected by the law? Or might such a settler later find that, after developing a town, his application for title was rejected because the initial declaratory was not made by proper authorities?

This first town site law contained potentially beneficial provisions for encouraging and regulating the development of +town sites on public lands. Most of its provisions indicate that the law was intended to transfer the land to actual occupants in towns which they built in the years between staking a claim and purchase. People were not to control town sites without living on them nor could they reserve sites, hoping for a rise in value, without building on them. However, the provisions did not offer sufficient and unambiguous protection for the goals of the legislation. One might even venture the view that a central aspect of preemption, that of leaving development in unsupervised, private hands, seemed likely to produce abuse of the law. Certainly the potentially beneficial principle voiced in the law was not underpinned by the provisions.


NOTES
1.
Thomas Donaldson, The Public Domain: Its History with Statistics ( Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1884), has a brief discussion of the various town site acts on pp. 298-299. He also has a list of towns which preempted lands

-124-

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