A Pioneer History of Becker County

Chapter XII.

Abstract of Title.

It is customary among all careful business men, and particularly with dealers in real estate, before investing money in land or taking security in the same, to investigate the title to the land in question. Becker County is now nearly all except what is on the White Earth Reservation, in the hands of white people as owners, and they, I believe feel secure in their right and title to their homes, and such other real estate as they possess, wherever they are able to trace the different instruments of conveyance link by link in one unbroken chain back to the deed or patent from the United States Government.

But for the satisfaction of all such that have any fear that there may be a flaw in their title previous to Uncle Sam's patent, and for the satisfaction of any person who may on any moral grounds, or who may have any conscientious scruples as to whether Uncle Sam himself had a good and sufficient right, both morally and legally, to convey to us these lands, we will proceed to investigate the title to the soil of Becker County, back to the very beginning of the history of the real estate business on the American continent.

Becker County was a part of the Louisiana purchase, which was ceded or deeded to the United States by Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France, on the 30th day of April, 1803. And now the gigantic question arises: how did France acquire a legal right to this country to begin with? And here we come to the first instrument of conveyance ever executed in writing affecting the title to the farms and homes of the people of Becker County. Early in the year 1689, Nicholas Perrot, a Frenchman. with a party of forty men, established a trading post at Lake Pepin, and commenced trading with the Sioux Indians. That same year he formally claimed the country in the name of France.

The official document reads as follows:
I, Nicholas Perrot, commanding for the King at the post of Nadoues-sioux, and commissioned to manage the interests of commerce among the Indians, and to take possession in the King's name of all places where I have heretofore been, and whither I will go.

I, this day, the 8th of May, 1689, do, in the presence of the Reverend Father Marest of the Society of Jesus, Missionary among the Sioux; of Monsieur de Borieguillot, commanding the French in the neighborhood of the Wisconsin; Augustin Legardieur, Esquire; Sieur de Caumont; and of Messieurs Le Seur, Herbert, Lemire and Blein, declare to all whom it may concern, that being come from The Bay Des Puants, and to the Lake of the Wisconsins, and to the River Mississippi, we did transport ourselves to the country of the Sioux, on the borders of the River St. Croix, to the mouth of the River St. Pierre (Minnesota River), on the bank of which were the Mantantans; and farther up to the interior, to the northeast of the Mississippi, as far as the Menchokatonx, with whom dwell a majority Of the Sioux who are to the northwest of the Mississippi, to take possession for, and in the name of the King, of the countries and rivers inhabited by the said tribes, and or which they are the proprietors.

The present act done in our presence, and signed with our hands and subscribed, etc.

We here find the Minnesota country west of the Mississippi River claimed by France, and this instrument is one of the links in the chain of title by which our lands are held. But to a man of ordinary intelligence and moral sensibility we are still in the mire of doubt and uncertainty, and are far from "reading our title clear" to the soil we now occupy, and I here come to a question that has puzzled many an able writer, and been the theme of many a long-winded controversy.

When Washington Irving began to write up the history of New York, he encountered this same overshadowing question. lie, however, met the question heroically, and came forward with an array of arguments and statement of facts that must forever settle the question of the right of the King of trance to this section of our country to the entire satisfaction of all conscientious philanthropists and legal quibblers. He says:

The question which has thus suddenly arisen is: What right had the first discoverers of America to land and take possession of a country with-out first gaining the consent of its inhabitants? A question that has stood many fierce assaults, and has given much distress of mind to multitudes of kind-hearted people. And indeed, until it be totally. vanquished and put to rest, the worthy people of America can by 'no means enjoy the soil they inhabit with clear right and title, and quiet, unsullied consciences.

The first source of right by which property is acquired In a country in discovery. For as all mankind have an equal right to anything which has never before been appropriated, so a nation that discovers an uninhabitated country and takes possession thereof is considered as enjoying full property, and absolute, unquestionable empire therein.

This proposition being admitted, it clearly follows that the Europeans who first visited America were the real discoverers of the same; nothing being necessary to establish this fact hut simply to prove that it was totally uninhabitated by man. This would at first appear to be a point of some difficulty, for it is well known that this quarter of the world abounded with certain animals that walked erect on two feet. had something ol the human countenance, uttered certain unintelligible sounds very much like language and in short, had a marvelous resemblance to human beings. But the zealous and enlightened fathers who accompanied the discoverers, soon cleared up this point, greatly to the satisfaction of his Holiness the Pope and all Christian voyagers and discoverers.

They plainly proved, and as no Indian writers arose on the other side to dispute the fact, it was considered as fully admitted and established that the two-legged race of animals before mentioned were mere cannibals, detestable monsters, and some of them giants; which last have always been considered as outlaws. Indeed the philosophic Lord Bacon declared the Indians to be people prescribed by the laws of nature.

Nor are these all the proofs of their utter barbarism. Ullo tells us. "Their imbecility is so visible that one can hardly form an idea of them different from what one has of the brutes. Nothing disturbs the tranquility of their souls, equally insensible to disasters and to prosperity. Though half naked, they are as contented as a king in his most splendid array. Fear makes no impression on them, and respect as little." And M. Bouguier says, "It is not easy to describe their indifference to wealth and all its advantages. One does not well know what motives to propose to them to persuade them to any service. It is vain to offer them money; they answer they are not hungry." And Vanegas assures us that "Ambition they have none. The objects of ambition with us -- honor, fame, reputation, riches, positions and distinctions -- are unknown among them In a word, these unhappy mortals may be compared to children, with immature intellects."

But the benevolent fathers advanced still farther, and stronger proofs, Lullus affirms: "The Indians go naked and have no beards! They have nothing of the reasonable animal except the mask. And even that mask was allowed to avail them hut little, for it was soon found that they were of a hideous copper complexion, and being of a copper complexion it was all the same as if they had been negroes, and negroes are black, and black, said the pious father crossing himself, is the color of the devil." Therefore, so far from being able to own property, they had no right even to personal freedom, for liberty is too radiant a deity to inhabit such gloomy temples. All of which circumstances plainly convinced the righteous followers of Cortes and Pizarro that these miscreants had no title to the soil they infested -- that they were a perverse, illiterate, dumb, beardless black seed -- mere wild beasts of the forests, and like them should he either subdued or exterminated.

The right of discovery being fully established, we now come to the next, which is the right acquired by cultivation. To cultivate the soil we are told is an obligation imposed by nature on mankind. Now it is notorious that the Indians knew nothing of agriculture when discovered by the Europeans, but lived a most vagabond, disorderly, unrighteous life; whereas it had been unquestionably shown that Heaven intended the earth should be plowed, and sown, and manured, and laid out into cities, and towns, and farms and pleasure grounds and public gardens -- all of which the lndians knew nothing about; therefore they did not improve the talents Providence had bestowed on them; therefore they were careless stewards; therefore, they had no right to the soil; therefore, they deserved to be exterminated.

It is true the Indians might plead that they derived all the benifits from the land which their simple wants required -- they found plenty of game to hunt, which, together with the roots and wild fruits of the earth, furnished a sufficient variety for their frugal repasts; and that so long as these purposes were answered the will of Heaven was accomplished.

But this only proves how undeserving they were of the blessings around them; they were so much the savages for not having more wants. Therefore, the Indians, in not having more wants, were very unreasonable animals, and it was not just that they should make way for the Europeans, who had a thousand wants to their one, and thereefore would turn the earth to more account, and more truly fulfil the will of Heaven. Besides. many wise men who have considered the matter properly have determined that the properly of a country cannot be acquired by hunting, cutting wood, or drawing water therin. Now as the Indians (probably from never havinig read the above decision) had never complied with any of these forms, it follows that they had no right to the soil, but that it was completely at the disposal of the first comers who had more wants and more desires than themselves.

But a more irresistible right than either that I have mentioned, is the right acquired by civilization. All the world knows the lamentable state in which these poor savages were found. But no sooner did the benevolent inhabitants of Europe behold their sad condition, than they immediately went to work to improve it. They introduced among them rum, gin, brandy, and other comforts of life; and it is astonishing to read how soon the poor savages learned to estimate these blessings. They likewise made known to them a thousand remedies by which the most inveterate diseases were alleviated and healed; and that they might comprehend the benefits and enjoy the comforts of these medicines, they introduced among them the diseases which they were desigued to cure. By these and a variety of other methods was the condition of these poor people wonderfully improved.

Here, then, are three complete and undeniable sources of right stablished, any one of which was more than ample to establish a property in the newly discovered regions of America, and this all at once brings us to a fourth right, which is worth more than all the others put together; and this last right may be entitled the Right by Exterinination, or, in other words, the Right by Gunpowder.

But lest any scruples of conscience should remain on this head, and to settle the question of right forever, His Holiness Pope Alexander VI issued a bull by which he generously granted to the Catholic nations of Southeastern Europe all the newly discovered quarters of the globe. These nations having both law and gospel on their side, were clearly entitled to the soil, and also to the eternal thanks of these infidel savages, for having come so far, endured so many perils by land and sea, for no other purpose but to improve their forlorn, uncivilized, heathenish condition; and for having made them acquanted with the comforts of life."
W. I.

We now find France with a securely established title to the soil we now occupy, in Becker County.

In 1762 France ceded the whole of the province of Louisiana to Spain who was the sole and undisputed owner for thirty-eight years, when by the treaty of St. Ildefonso, Spain ceded the Province back to France on the first day bf October 1800.

France never took formal possession of the entire province, but occupied a few places on the Mississippi River jointly with Spain, the most important of which was New Orleans; both nations having troops stationed there at the same time. Finally on the 30th day of April, 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte, by the treaty of Paris, as I have before stated, sold the province to the United States for $15,000,000.

Spain was displeased with the transfer of the province to the United States, and her minister at Washington was instructed to warn our government to suspend the ratification of the treaty of cession of Louisiana; as the French government, in securing the province had contracted with Spain not to retrocede it to any other power, and France, not having adhered to that agreement, the treaty cession was declared void by Spain. This controversy was not settled until the 22nd of February 1819, when Spain ratified the treaty of Paris, and relinquished all adverse rights she may have possessed.

When our government took possession of the country, they found what is now northwestern Minnesota, occupied jointly by the Sioux and Chippewa nations of Indians. Neil's History of Minnesota says:

For more than a century, there had been a westward tendency in the emigration of the Indian nations, and a frequent source of war among the Northwestern tribes, was the encroachment upon each other's hunting grounds.

In the hope that good might result from well defined boundary lines, on the 19th of August, 1825, by order of the authorities at Washington, Governor Clark, of Missouri, and Governor Cass of Michigan, convened at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, a grand congress of Indians, among which were represented the Sioux and Chippewa Nations. After some discussion, it was agreed between the Sioux and Chippewas that a dividing line should be established between their respective countries. In Minnesota, the line of demarkation agreed upon began on the St. Croix River, a day's paddle above the head of Lake St. Croix; thence between two lakes, called Green Lakes; from thence to the Standing Cedar that the Sioux split; thence to Rum River, crossing at Choking Creek, a day's march from its mouth; thence to a point of woods that projects into the prairie a half day's march from the Mississippi; thence in a straight line to the Mississippi. River at the mouth of the first river above the Sauk: thence up that river to a small lake at its source; thence to a lake at the head of Prairie River, a tributary of the Crow Wing; thence to the portage of Otter Tail Lake; thence to the outlet of Otter Tail Lake; thence tn the Buffalo River; midway between its source and its mouth, and down said river to Red River, and down Red River to the mouth of Goose River.

This division line placed nearly all of Becker County in the Chippewa territory, leaving about half of Cormorant Township and perhaps a small fraction of the southwest corner of Lake Park on the Sioux side of the line. By this treaty the Sioux title to nearly all the territory of Becker County was extinguished.

It became evident, however, soon after the treaty, that neither the Sioux nor Chippewas were willing to be pent up by any boundary lines.

The only adverse claim to the soil of Becker County,now, was that of the Chippewa Indians, who had rightfully considered themselves the lawful owners of all of what is now northern Minnesota. from time immemorial.

I am indebted to Gus. H. Beaulieu for the following memoranda of treaties between the United States government and the Chippewa Indians, relating to the territory embraced in Becker County:

The first treaty was made April 7th, 1855, with the Missippi, Pillager and Lake Winnebegoshish bands of Chippewas, and ceded the. following tract of country to the United States Government:
Beginning at a point where the east branch of the Snake River crosses the southern boundary line of the Chippewa country, east of the Mississippi River, as established by the treaty of July 29, 1837; running thence, up the said branch to its source; thence, nearly north in a straight line, to the most westwardly bend of Vermillion River; thence. northeastwardly, in a straight line, to the first and most considerable bend of the Rig Fork River; thence, down said river to its mouth; thence, down Rainy Lake River, to the mouth of Black River; thence, up that river to its source; thence, in a straight line, to the northern extremity of Turtle Lake: thence. in a straight line to the mouth of Wild Rice 'River; thence, up Red River of the North, to the mouth of Buffalo River; thence, in a straight line, to the southwestern extremity of Ottertail Lake; thence, through said Lake, to the source of Leaf River; thence, down said river to its junction with Crow Wing River; thence, down Crow Wing River, to its junction with the Mississippi River; thence, to the commencement of said river of the southern boundary line of the Chippewa country as established by the treaty of July 29, 1837 and thence, along said line, to the place of beginning. And the said Indians do further fully and entirely relinquish and convey to the United States any and all right, title and interest, of whatsoever nature the same may be, which they may now have in and to any other lands in the Territory of Minnesota or elsewhere."

Within the above described territory ceded tinder this treaty, nine reservations were created, and established, viz.: Mille Lacs, Gull Lake, Rabbit Lake, Rice Lake, Sandy Lake, Pokegama, Leech Lake, Cass and Winnebegoshish reservations.

You will see the terms of this treaty that all the land in Becker County was thereby ceded to the United States Government.

By a treaty made March 18th, 1865, with the Chippewas, all these reservations, except the Leech Lake, Cass Lake and Winnebegoshish were ceded to the United States, and in lieu thereof there was set apart for the Indians a long irregular strip of country reaching from a point on the Mississippi River near Grand Rapids, to the mouth of Thief River, and from there down Red Lake River to a point a few miles below Red Lake Falls, but which did not quite take in any of Becker County.

On the 18th of April, 1867, a treaty was made, by the terms of which a11 that part of the last described reservation lying west of the Leech Lake and Cass Lake Reservations was set aside, and in lieu thereof the following was insde a part of the treaty:

"And there is further reserved for the said Chippewas out of the land now owned by them in the portion of their western outlet as may upon location and survey be found within the reservation provided for in the next succeeding section.

Article 2. -- In order to provide a suitable farming region for the said bands, there is hereby set apart for their use a tract of land, to be located in a square form as nearly as possible with lines corresponding to the Government surveys which reservation shall include White Earth and Rice Lakes, and contain thirty-six townships of land; and such portions of the tract herein provided for as shall be found upon actual survey to lie outside of the reservation set apart for the Chippewas of the Mississippi by the second article of the treaty of March 20. 1865, shall be received by them in part consideration of the cession of lands made by this agreement."

Article two above quoted is the stipulation of the treaty of 1867 which established what is now White Earth Reservation. Hole-in-the-Day, Misquadace and Shab-aush-kung were the chiefs that negotiated the treaty.

The treaty of 1855 was negotiated by Hole-in-the-Day, Sr., Flatmouth, Sr., and other chiefs of the Mississippi bands.

It is very doubtful whether the Indians made a very good treaty in 1867, since they ceded a very large tract of country estimated to contain two million acres, although they got a part of White Earth Reservation in lieu of this cession. This was one of the causes which led to the assassination of Hole-in-the-Day by May-dway-we-nind and six other Indians, all of whom were cousins of the former. May-dway-we-nind was one of the Indians who stirred up the Bear Island outbreak and who was afterwards convicted with eight others for resisting a deputy U. S marshal, which was the only charge, under the law, over which the United States had jurisdiction in the Sugar Point fight. May-dway-we-nind froze to death at Leech Lake two years ago last winter.

In regard to the question about the cession of White Earth Reservation, the Indians, as you will notice by the cessions quoted herein, ceded the country which is now a part of the White Earth Reservation, in 1855; in 1865 the government ceded a large strip of country back to the Indians, which included a part of the reservation which was known as the "Western Outlet" of the Chippewas. Under the treaty of 1867, a part of this Western Outlet was retained, although it was the intention of the Indians to retain the whole of it, but they were over-reached in the wording of the treaty.


Northern Pacific Railroad Land Grant.

In the year 1864 the United States congress granted a charter to the Northern Pacific railroad company accompanied by a land grant, which after a few alterations and amendments, including every odd numbered section of land belonging to the United States government for a distance of twenty miles on each side of the center of the main line of that road in Minnesota, and forty miles on each side in territory between Minnesota and Puget Sound. An additional strip of land was set aside to indemnify the railroad company for any land that had been sold or otherwise disposed of within the limits of this land grant. These indemnity lands included all odd numbered sections within the limits of a strip twenty miles in width on each side of the actual land grant in Minnesota, and ten miles on each side in Dakota. I think all these indemnity lands in Minnesota finally passed into the hands of the railroad company, and I am positive that this was the case in Becker County, with the exception of the lands on the White Earth Reservation, none of which were included in this land grant.

The date at which the title of the Northern Pacific attached, or on which their ownership began, was the time of the filing of the plat of the final location of their road with the commissioner of the general land office at Washington, and its acceptance by the secretary of the interior, which for the lands in Becker County was the 23rd of September 1870, consequently any person with a preemption right, who settled on any of these odd numbered sections in Becker County before that date, could hold the land and make final proof and payment at the rate of $1.25 per acre.

A homestead would not hold on these lands, even if taken before they were withdrawn, as such right was held not to be good until a homestead was filed, and such filing could not be made until after the lands were surveyed and the plats returned to the land othce, and none of the plats of Becker County townships were returned to any land office for nearly a year after the odd numbered seetions became railroad lands. At that same date, September 23rd, 1870, all even numbered sections within the twenty mile limit became double minimum land, and when taken after that date must be paid for when pre-empted. at the rate of $2.50 per acre. One hundred and sixty acres could be pre-empted at that rate, but only eighty acres could be taken as a homestead and when a homestead was commuted it must be paid for at the same price per acre. A soldier of the civil war, however, could homestead one hundred and sixty acres and, if he so desired, the length of time served in the army or navy could be deducted from the five year residence required.

A few years afterwards congress passed a law allowing all citizens of the United States to homestead one hundred and sixty acres inside the land grants of the railroads. The Northern Pacific railroad company in the course of time received patents from the United States Government, and a deed from them in considered as good as a patent from the government. A small part of the land in Becker County was located with Sioux half-breed script, a kind of ingenious device for getting hold of valuable lands before they were surveyed, and without settling on the same. This script was issued to mixed bloods for one hundred and sixty acres, in consideration of relinquishing all rights or claims on the general government for annuities or other means of support in the future. This script was transferable, and any government land could be taken with it, whether surveyed or not, and frequently after any one tract of land had been held for a while the script would be lifted and laid on another tract of greater value. Two hundred and eighty acres of land, including the grove of pine timber on a part of Sections 22, 23 and 26, in the town of Erie, a little west of the Otter Tail River, where the old pine stumps now are standing at the present time along the Shell Prairie road, was taken by this script, also a forty on Section 2 in the town of Burlington, now a part of the Pearce farm.

The only other class of lands in Becker County is the state land. As everyone knows all of sections numbered 16 and 36 were granted to thc state for school purposes. Any person, however, with a pre-emption right, could before the repeal of that law hold one hundred and sixty acres of land on either of these sections, provided they settled on such land hefore the government section lines were established.

Congress, also many years ago, granted to the several states, including Minnesota every forty acre tract or fraction which by the government surveys was shown to be more than half swamp. This grant was made to the several states with the understanding that the land so granted should be improved by ditching or otherwise, but by far the best and largest part of the state lands in Minnesota were given away with little or no profit to the state, before any such improvements were made. The first list of state swamp land ever transferred in Becker County was a three thousand acre list, granted to the Canon River Improvement Association, and sold to F. G. Holmes and A. H. Wilcox, in 1882.

Lists of state swamp lands was also selected in Becker County by the Northern Pacific railroad conipany, the Great Northern and the Wisconsin and Minnesota roads.

After these corporations had finished making selectious of land under their grants, the refuse of this magnificent original state swamp land grant to Mimiesota was appraised, and is now being sold by the state to private parties by the same method that school land is sold.

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