Staking a Claim in Kansas

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Kickapoo land office661x315In my last post I referred to men from the Emigrant Aid Company staking claims on land via the Law of Preemption. John Doy, one of D.R.’s early emigrant friends, explained that law to his family back east:

Under the preemption law of Kansas Territory, a man who squats or settles upon unsurveyed land and improves it, is entitled to take that lot of land, not exceeding one hundred and sixty acres, at the government price, whenever it is surveyed and brought into the market. But he must prove his continued improvement, as well as his first and continued occupancy of the land, to get it. “Jumping a claim” is a technical term applied when a second comer squats upon land already occupied.

The Preemption Act of 1841 further stated that the “squatter” had to be:

  • a “head of household”;
  • a single man over 21, or a widow;
  • a citizen of the United States
  • a resident of the claimed land for a minimum of 14 months.

Because of their never-married status, Susan B. Anthony and her sister Mary Stafford Anthony did not qualify as squatters, so D.R. and his brother took matters into their own hands to acquire land for their sisters. D.R.’s early letters include gritty accounts of traveling over trackless prairies, fording streams, and arriving early to be first in line at the claim office to establish land ownership. In a letter later reprinted in the Leavenworth Times, D.R, described some of his travels to Susan:

July 13, 1858 Dear Sister Susan,

We have had heavy rains and the creeks were high, some overflowing over the bottomlands. One we could not take the stage over and had to cross in a skiff and get another stage. So the trip from St. Joseph up took two days and two nights and I was pretty well bunged up, but on investigation think it has benefited the bilious indispotion[sic].

   When at the hotel in Glenwood I was attacked in the night by numberless bedbugs and in the morning I had the satisfaction of seeing the villains weltering in their own blood. It may be that they sucked only the bad blood out of me.

On August 7, 1857 he notified Susan that he had purchased lands for her and Mary (whom he designated as SBA and MSA). After explaining how he acquired the land, he described it is “A no 1 Prime Land but if you do not like the investment I will take it off your hands at any time.” He attached a detailed diagram of the lands as well as an itemized bill, as follows:

SBA and MSA Credit by Cash

Express charges……………………………………….…………..  $2.00

SBA 86 73/100 land at $3…………………………………….$260.19

Cost of putting up cabins for SBA and

MSA on the Kickapoo Lands……………………………………39.11

MSA Land receipt …………………………………………………48.20

Paid Mr. Osborn for putting cabin and for

His interest in the claim……………………………………. …30.00

Balance due……………………………………..………………..380.00

In addition to the land D.R. that purchased and improved for Mary and Susan, he  owned 2,000 acres of his own. Some of this undoubtedly became the stock farm north of Leavenworth where he bred horses and cattle—an occupation that will cause big trouble in book two of my Dauntless Series.

Pictured above is the Kickapoo Land Office where many such claims were established.

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