The Half-Breed Tract was a contentious struggle
between many factions of people for the right to own the tract
of land in Lee County, Iowa originally set aside in 1824 for the people of
the Sac and Fox Nation who had inter-
married with Caucasians. Most of the time the intermarriages took
place between the native women and men who
were French trappers, explorers or military men from the U.S.
Government. This struggle for ownership would
span many years before a final solution was agreed upon. There are
many opinions written on this. Some of which
only scratch the service of the struggle. Many are mere opinions and
often subjective in nature. It's a struggle that
encompasses the greedy and those who would be blissfully ignorant and
complacent. I have tried to post a bit of the
flavor of the literature available. It is a thorny issue with many sides,
but none-the-less extremely interesting topic,
for which I hope someone will eventually write a book on.
The Struggle for the Half-Breed
by B. L. Wick
(This is an excerpt from
the article out of the Annals of Iowa, pgs. 19-21)
"During the year 1833, a
meeting of half-breed Indians was held at Farmers’ Trading Post, to
prepare a petition to
Congress requesting the passage of an act authorizing the half-breed to
sell and dispose of the land holdings
granted them by the treaty of 1824. Congress it seems, on June 30, 1834,
passed an act, whereby the government
relinquished to the half-breed, as a class, the reversionary interests it
held, together with power to convey.
(4 Stat. At Large p. 740.) It
was due to the mistake or carelessness of this act by Congress, that the
became possessed of a fee simple title, which caused the trouble.
Many questions arose in the
construction of this statue. One
of the first raised by the courts was, who are the half-
breeds for whom this tract is intended?
It is not questioned but that it was intended to be for the use of
of the Sac and Fox nations, who did not wear a blanket, and who were not
entitled to annuities conferred upon the
Indians of those tribes. It
was further contended that the half-breeds preferred the annuities as many
had decided to
reside among the Indians; all agreed that they would be wiling to accept
the lands and annuities both. Soon
breed tract became on of the most active real estate localities in the
west. It is state on good
authority that one Indian
trader at Agency, now Agency City, purchased claims worth several thousand
dollars, for a horse, a pony, a saddle,
or a barrel of whiskey. Keokuk,
as chief of the tribe, would attach his signature to the paper, to the
effect that a certain
person was a half-breed, and related by blood to the Sac and Fox nation.
The person was easily influenced to partake
of whiskey, and would then dispose of his title for a pony to some
land-shark. So many
transactions of this kind went
on, that all these land contracts became known in law, as “blanket
We must not however, imagine
that all this fraud was carried on by the whites alone. The Indians, on
the other hand,
soon discovered how they could take advantage of the situation, and soon
those of mixed blood would get some
Indian to swear that they were of Sac and Fox blood, and would dispose of
land to which they held no title whatever.
There were no boundary lines, no proper surveys, and as a result conflicts
arose which effected the titles for years
afterwards. The main
difficulty seems to have been that the right to sell was not given to
individual Indians, but to
the half-breeds as a class.
The act of Congress was silent
as to the method to be used in dividing the land, and soon full-blooded
breed Indians sold land without regard to any legal rights.
Often the same tract would be sold to several persons.
Whites had located on this land as squatters, believing that as
soon as it was thrown open to settlement, they would
come in as originals settlers, hoping that the title was still in the
United States. Thus there
might be on the same land,
half-breeds, Indians, speculators and squatters, all claiming title to the
land through some pretext or other.
A number of companies were
organized to deal in half-breed lands, the most important being the New
Company, and the St. Louis Land Company, the latter company being finally
absorbed by the former. Henry
Austin, an attorney of New York, located at Montrose in 1837, and with Dr.
Isaac Galland as agent, looked after
the interests of the New York Company.
The territorial legislature of
Wisconsin on January 16, 1838, passed an act requiring all persons
claiming land under
the half-breed tract to file their respective claims with the clerk of the
District Court of Lee county, within one year,
showing the nature of the title upon which they relied.
The same act provided that Edward Johnston, Thomas S.
Wilson and David Brigham were appointed commissioners to take testimony as
to the titles claimed by the respective
parties at a per diem salary of $6.00."
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