History of Iowa From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century/3/14
|←Chapter XIII||History of Iowa From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century/Volume 3 by
Company. The court decided that the Des Moines Navigation Company had good title to the land. The case was taken to the United States Supreme Court and that tribunal confirmed the decision in December, 1866.
That Court held that the lands above the Raccoon Fork, within five miles of the Des Moines River, which were at one time claimed to belong to the grant of 1846, had been withdrawn from sale and entry on account of a difference of opinion on part of the officers of the Land Department as to the extent of the grant. That it had never been legally restored to market and that the Congressional legislation of 1861-62 conferred the title on the Des Moines Navigation Company and its grantees, thus reversing in effect the former decision in the Litchfield case and laying the foundation for the confiscation of the homes of all of the settlers on the “river lands” who held titles from the Government of the United States.
Under this decision the Navigation Company and its grantees claimed more than 100,000 acres of land above the Raccoon Fork and at once began to notify the settlers upon these lands to vacate their homes. After this decision was made, however, the Secretary of the Interior, O. H. Browning, reviewed the various acts of Congress, the decisions of the courts and the Land Department and decided against the claim of the Navigation Company to the lands held by actual settlers.
This decision was given in the case of Herbert Battin who settled on a tract of land lying within five miles of the Des Moines River in an odd numbered section above the Raccoon Fork and claimed as a part of the grant to Iowa for the improvement of the Des Moines River made in 1846. It was also within the six miles limit of the railroad grant of 1856, and was approved and certified to the State under both grants. Herbert Battin had purchased the improvements made on the land by a pioneer settler and complied with all of the requirements of the preëmption laws and was allowed by the Land Department toenter and perfect his title. The Secretary in reviewing the law in this case refers to the Walcott decision in the following language:
“The effect of this decision is therefore only to exclude from the railroad grant, lands lying north of the Raccoon Fork, and to restore them to the public domain, at least so far as to subject them to the operations of the preëmption and homestead laws. Further by act of Congress, June 2, 1864, amendatory of the grant of 1856, additional lands were granted to the State, and new provisions were engrafted upon the original law. One of these, the last proviso to the fourth section, excludes from the railroad grant any land settled upon and improved in good faith by any bona fide inhabitant under color of title derived from the United States, or the State of Iowa, adverse to the grant. The bona fide inhabitants need not necessarily be preëmption settlers but must be bona fide settlers claiming from the United States or the State of Iowa. It is not material to consider whether this land has ever been reserved so as to exclude it from the operation of the preemption laws. Even if such had been the case the difficulty would be removed by the proviso of the act of 1864, and it is only necessary to ascertain whether he is a bona fide settler. From the evidence it appeared that Battin settled upon the land in good faith in October, 1857, and has complied with the requirements of the preëmption laws and has been allowed to enter the land. That entry is in accordance with the law and will be carried into patent.”
Mr. Browning was not only the highest official of a Government Department having control of the public lands, but he was one of the most eminent lawyers of the United States. His decision in this case was in strict accord with the various acts of Congress and of the State of Iowa and with the intention of the individual members of these legislative bodies who framed the acts, all of which were designed to fully protect the rights and homes of the actual settlers from all classes of adverse claimants.
The ruling of the Secretary of the Interior was followed in numerous similar cases. On the 10th of June, 1868, the Commissioner of the General Land Office directed the Register of the Land Office at Des Moines to allow Jeremiah Elliott to prove up and pay for a tractof land upon an odd numbered section within the five mile limit of the Des Moines River above the Raccoon Fork.
On the 17th of June the officers of the Des Moines Navigation Company brought suit in the United States District Court to enjoin the officers of the Des Moines Land Office from carrying out the orders of the Secretary of the Interior in the case of Herbert Battin and others. The Secretary immediately instructed the Des Moines officers to employ counsel at the expense of the United States to defend the action of the Department.
On the 28th of August, 1868, the Commissioner of the Land Office, under instruction of the Secretary of the Interior, instructed the Land Office at Des Moines to receive and file all declaratory statements from actual settlers in all cases falling under the ruling made in the Battin case regardless of the injunction. The officers of the Fort Dodge Land Office were instructed to admit preëmption and homestead applications upon this class of lands.
In July, 1855, a man by the name of Riley made a claim and settled with his family on the northwest quarter of section thirty-three, in township eighty-nine, range twenty-eight, near Fort Dodge, in the county of Webster. He built a house and improved the land. In 1857 he died and his wife, Hannah Riley, with her children, continued to live on the farm. In July, 1860, after the public lands had been surveyed in that part of the State and a Government Land Office had been established at Fort Dodge, Mrs. Riley filed a preëmption claim to it and in 1862 located a land warrant upon it at the Fort Dodge Land Office. On the 15th of October, 1863, she received a patent for it signed and executed by Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States. This is the highest and best title that the Government can give to a citizen who purchases a tract of public land.
At a time when the Des Moines Navigation Company claimed the odd numbered sections north of the Raccoon Fork and within five miles of the Des Moines River, aNew York capitalist, William B. Welles, purchased the title, such as it was, of that Company to section thirty-three, which embraced the one hundred sixty acres upon which Mr. Riley settled in 1855, and which became the home of his widow and her family. In April, 1868, after Mrs. Riley and her family had lived on her farm thirteen years, improved and made it valuable and Fort Dodge had become a flourishing town, Mr. Welles brought suit to dispossess Mrs. Riley of her home and have her title from the Government annulled and his claim declared valid. Fearing to risk the decision on his claim before an Iowa court or jury, Mr. Welles made affidavit that he could not obtain justice in the State courts and, being a non-resident, succeeded in having the case transferred to the United States Circuit Court for trial, where Mrs. Riley discovered when it was too late, she could not obtain justice.
The Court declared that the preëmption entry and patent issued to Mrs. Riley by President Lincoln were null and void, that they conveyed no legal title and that the patent was hereby cancelled, that the claim of Mr. Welles was confirmed and that Mrs. Riley should at once surrender possession of her home to Mr. Welles, she paying all costs of the suit, and that an execution be at once issued by the clerk of the court to enforce such collection of costs.
When this astounding decision became known to the thousands of settlers on the so-called “River lands” who held titles from the United States, they were filled with dismay and could not believe that the highest title the Government could give to a citizen for a home purchased from its officers would be set aside by the Supreme Court. They could not believe that tribunal from whose decree there was no appeal would rob them of their homes for which they had paid their hard earnings and had complied with every requirement of law in preempting or entering the public lands. They therefore contributed to a fund toemploy counsel and meet the expenses of taking the case before the United States Supreme Court. Galusha Parsons, an eminent lawyer of Fort Dodge, was employed to conduct the trial before that tribunal.
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Circuit Court and more than 2,000 bona fide settlers were driven from their homes by the United States marshals and their farms awarded to eastern speculators who had risked trifling amounts on doubtful titles and then sent a strong lobby to Congress to have their titles made good by legislation. It seemed incredible that the highest court of the country would utterly ignore the rights of bona fide settlers which Congress, the Iowa Legislature and the United States Land Office, Secretary of the Interior, United States Attorney-General and the President, had sought to protect in their homes by every official act in their power. It was shown in the debates in Congress, when the resolution of 1861 and the act of 1862 were under consideration, that every possible protection was given, or intended to be given, to guard the settlers on the lands involved, before any other claim was recognized. But the lawyers who made up the highest courts found a way to annul the intent of the lawmakers and all of the executive officers who had sought to protect the rights of the settlers and awarded their homes to non-resident speculators. The pretense of these courts that the lands above the Raccoon Forks were “withdrawn from sale and entry from 1846, to the time that Congress passed the acts of 1861-62” was not true. The Land Department had restored them to market, granted preëmptions and homestead entries and the President had issued patents for the lands thus sold to settlers. In order to reach its decision the Supreme Court was obliged to annul all of these official acts of the executive officers of the Government and utterly ignore every act and intent of legislation to make good the titles of the settlers. This decision of the Supreme Court will always rank with the famous DredScott decree in ignoring the dictates of humanity and the principles of equity.
Now began an era of inhumanity which has never been equalled in the history of our State. United States marshals armed with writs of ejectment came among the settlers and forcibly drove them from their homes, turning the women and children out of their houses to wander homeless over the prairies; while it was only by virtue of a State law that any compensation was wrung from non-resident speculators for the valuable improvements the farmers had for long years made on the homes from which they were driven.
The unfortunate farmers organized a “Settlers Union” for mutual defense and protection and in some cases reinstated the ejected farmers in their homes. In other cases they attempted to resist the marshals and their posses but in the end they were overcome and some of them imprisoned. The conflict was kept up for years but in the end the settlers were doomed to defeat. Their more discreet friends advised them to submit to the inevitable and apply to Congress for indemnity for the loss of their homes.
In February, 1870, Charles Pomeroy, member of Congress from the Sixth District which embraced most of the lands in controversy, introduced into the House of Representatives the following bill for the relief of the settlers:
“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in Congress assembled, that the grant of lands made by the act of Congress approved July 24, 1862, for the improvement of the Des Moines River and for other purposes, shall not be held to include any tracts of alternate sections designated by odd numbers, within five miles of said river, between the Raccoon Fork and the northern boundary of the State, upon which any bona fide settler shall have made settlement and improvement at or prior to the date of such act; and any actual bona fide settler having made such settlement, improvement and residence on any of said lands as herein prescribed, shall if otherwise qualified, be entitled to the right of preëmption thereto under the provisions of the act of Congress, September 4, 1841.”
The bill failed to become a law. At the next session Senator Harlan introduced the following bill:
“Be it enacted by Congress, that should any settler on any of the public lands who made said settlement with bona fide intent to enter the same under the provisions of the homestead or preëmption laws of the United States and who has continued to reside upon and improve the same, or the assigns of any such claimant, who has continued such settlement, as aforesaid, until judgment may have been or may be rendered against him by a competent court of the United States; such settler shall be entitled to all the remedies and reliefs provided by the laws of the State in which said lands are located, enacted for the protection of the rights of occupying claimants. But nothing in this act shall be so construed as to affect the rights of the United States.”
This bill also failed. Mr. Harlan then introduced a
“bill to authorize the President of the United States to ascertain the value of certain lands in Iowa, north of the Raccoon Fork of the Des Moines River, held by settlers under the preëmption and homestead laws of the United States and subsequent to the settlement thereof determined by the Supreme Court of the United States to be Des Moines River improvement lands.”
This bill was not acted upon, as it was near the close of the session.
Captain Jackson Orr succeeded Mr. Pomeroy in Congress and at once proceeded to collect all of the important facts involved in the long controversy, had the statement printed and laid upon the desks of the members. The Iowa Legislature at its session of 1872, passed an act providing for the appointment of a Commission by the Governor
“to ascertain and report the names of all claimants, the amount and value of improvements, the value of each tract of land, the date of preëmption, homestead entry or purchase, the loss sustained by each claimant and such other facts as they may deem important, of all persons who have made improvements upon what are known as Des Moines River lands and have sustained or will sustain loss by reason of the decision of the courts in favor of the title of the Des Moines Navigation Company, or its grantees. The report shall be made to the Governor before the first of August, 1872, and a copy sent to the Senators and Representatives in Congress from Iowa, with a memorial asking for relief for such settlers as have lost their lands as aforesaid.”
The Governor appointed as Commissioners Norman Hart of Webster, Charles Aldrich of Hamilton and John A. Hull of Boone counties. On the 25th of July the Commission reported to the Governor that it had found 1,032 claimants who would lose by the late decision 109,057 acres of land. That the value of the land was in the aggregate $902,777, and the value of the improvements on the land was $758,031, making a total value of the property of the claimants $1,560,808. The number of suits brought against the settlers then pending was reported at two hundred forty-five.
The Commissioners prepared the memorial to Congress giving a concise history of the case, in which they say:
“The United States has sold and granted preëmption and homestead rights to actual settlers on lands she claimed to own in Iowa, but which by the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of William B. Welles vs. Hannah Riley, determined at the December term, 1869, were not public lands; hence the titles of such settlers have failed. This much said, we believe every friend of justice will extend to us a helping hand.”
Governor Carpenter in forwarding the memorial to Congress says:
“If a case has ever arisen since the organization of the Government, wherein land titles have become so involved by the action of the officers having the Land Department in charge, as to warrant Congress in securing the rights of innocent settlers and purchasers by appropriations of money, then no argument in addition to a simple statement of facts can strengthen and no reference to pledges of administrative economy can either weaken or dissipate the consideration to which these suffering claimants are entitled.”
“The annals of the Land Department of the Nation fail to furnish a full parallel to the case presented by these gentlemen. No other instance can be found in the records of that department where the misinterpretation of a law, by ministerial officers respecting the boundaries of a land grant, has ever before produced so much suffering to the settlers on the public domain; threatening the irreparable ruin of so many families and the desolation of so many homes.”
Upon the presentation of this report and memorial by Jackson Orr to Congress, he introduced a bill in the House and secured its passage providing for the appointment of Commissioners—
“To ascertain the value, exclusive of improvements of all such lands lying north of the Raccoon Fork of the Des Moines River, in the State of Iowa, as may now be held by the Des Moines Navigation Company or persons claiming title under it adversely to persons holding said lands either by entry or under the preëmption or homestead laws of the United States and on what terms the holders thereof will relinquish the same to the United States.”
The Commissioners appointed were O. P. Chubb of Minnesota, Charles Aldrich of Iowa, and James Robinson of Ohio. Their report was made on the 20th of November, 1873, to the Secretary of the Interior, showing the number of acres to be 39,549, the average value was reported to be $10.22 per acre, making a total value of $404,228; and $14.25 as the average price per acre asked by the River Company and its grantees, making the total amount required to purchase it $563,416.
These lands were only such as were then claimed by the Navigation Company and its grantees and did not embrace those where the settlers had become discouraged in seeking justice from the Government and had purchased the title a second time rather than be driven from their homes. This accounts for the difference in the amount reported by the State and National Commissioners.
Upon the receipt by Congress of the report of the National Commissioners, Captain Orr promptly introduced a bill to indemnify the settlers whose titles had failed and appropriating $404,288 for that purpose. Willis Drummond, an Iowa man, was at that time Commissionerof the General Land Office and while the bill was before the committee on public lands, he addressed a communication to that committee strongly urging its passage as an act of justice. He said:
“The settlers are without remedy to save their homes which they have practically been invited by the officers of the Government, acting in their official capacity, to rear upon these lands * *nbsp* Considering the fact that these settlers have acted in good faith, relying upon the decisions of the Government officers, who were supposed to know the law, I think they are entitled to relief. * *nbsp* As the settlers in going upon these lands had a right to believe that their titles would be perfected in the ordinary manner and have invested their labor and means in improvements which they cannot abandon without ruinous loss, an exception to the general rules and practice should be made in their favor.”
After a full hearing the act was seen to be one required by every consideration of justice and it passed the House by a large majority.
If all of the settlers could at this time have realized that this decision was to be final, that their homes were lost to them beyond hope of recovery, that the only remedy possible for Congress to provide was compensation for their losses, and had all united in urging the passage of the bill, there is no doubt that it would have been passed by the Senate and become a law in 1874. But many of them could not be made to believe that the Government which had given them its highest title to their homes, for which it had taken their money, would permit them to be driven from them; and still entertained a strong hope that, in some way, it would make their titles good. In this belief they not only refused to apply to Congress for indemnity but actively opposed that remedy.
George Crilly who had entered his farm when the Government lands were offered for sale, had received a patent signed by the President of the United States conveying to him the best title it was possible for the Government to give a citizen. This farm was adjoining the town of FortDodge and was worth, not less than one hundred dollars per acre. It had been Mr. Crilly’s home since the early settlement of the pioneers in that region. After the Welles-Riley decision an eastern capitalist by the name of Burrows, who claimed Mr. Crilly’s farm, having purchased the claim of the Navigation Company, brought suit to eject him and his family from their home. Mr. Crilly would not believe that he could be robbed of his home by any legal process. It seemed incredible to him that the Government which had taken his money and given him its title, would permit any one to seize his homestead and turn his family out of doors. He borrowed money, went to Washington, laid his case before Congress and appealed to that body for protection. When informed that his only remedy for the great wrong inflicted upon him by the courts, was such indemnity as he could prove himself entitled to, he refused to believe it, declaring that his farm was not for sale and no power could compel him to sell it. The Orr indemnity bill which had passed the House was then before the Senate. Mr. Crilly was so confident that some branch of the Government could and would protect him and his home that he had a memorial prepared denouncing the indemnity bill as unjust to the settlers and in their behalf he urged the Senate to defeat it. This memorial and Mr. Crilly’s personal efforts defeated the bill. When this was accomplished he returned to Fort Dodge and for a long series of years in the courts and by all other means that could be devised, continued the fight. He suffered imprisonment and poverty in defense of his rights but it was a hopeless struggle of a despairing man; he was finally ejected and the farm passed into the possession of eastern speculators.
For more than twenty years the rights of the settlers who had lost their homes were ignored by the Government. Millions were appropriated by each successive Congress during all of this period for public buildings to ornament ambitious cities and strengthen the hold of Congressmen upon their constituents; millions more were poured out among the districts to improve the navigation of rivers that were only navigable at flood time and to annually dredge harbors of shifting sand, while the pioneers whom the courts had dispossessed of their homes, plead in vain for justice and common honesty at its hands.
In the meantime the United States marshals were driving the settlers from their farms and imprisoning them for resisting the evictions. Some became insane over the loss of their homes, some were reduced to abject poverty in their old age and became finally inmates of the poorhouses, others wandered off to the distant Territories with their families in emigrant wagons, to find cheap lands and again endure the privations of the pioneer which they had years before, in youthful days encountered in Iowa. Many purchased the title of the Navigation Company and its grantees and encumbered their homes with heavy mortgages which absorbed their hard earnings for the remainder of their lives. During all of these long years of fruitless struggle and suffering many of the settlers still had a hope that the decision of the Supreme Court might be reversed; and in order to give them an opportunity of again placing their claim before the courts. Senator James F. Wilson, in 1888, secured the passage of a bill through Congress requiring the United States Attorney-General to begin proceedings in the courts, to cancel the claim or title of the old Des Moines Navigation Company to the lands conveyed by the Government to the actual settlers. This bill passed both branches of Congress but was vetoed by President Cleveland, for which he gave the following reason:
“I am not unmindful of the fact that there may be persons who have suffered loss through a reliance upon the erroneous decisions of Government officials as to the extent of the original grant from the United States to the Territory of Iowa. I believe cases of this kind should be treated in accordance with the broadest sentiments of equity and thatwhere loss is apparent, arising from a real or fairly supposed invitation of the Government to settle upon the lands mentioned in the bill under consideration, such loss should be made good.
“But I do not believe the condition of these settlers will be aided by encouraging them in such further litigation as the terms of this bill invite, nor do I believe that, in attempting to right the wrongs of which they complain, legislation should be sanctioned in principle and in its practical operation doing injustice to others as innocent as they and as much entitled to consideration.”
The reasoning and conclusions of the President were correct and sound, as will be seen hereafter.
Senator William Evarts of New York, one of the most eminent lawyers of the country, in discussing the bill when it was before the Senate, said:
“My judgment is that the settlers who are sought to be benefited by this act, are ill-advised or misconceive their resort. Indemnity would answer their purpose as well as the maintenance of their footing on the land. I do not wish to disparage the adherence to what they may suppose their right; but in my judgment this act will only introduce a new series of litigation which must terminate in the utter disappointment of the plans and hopes of the settlers, and must finally bring us back after much litigation, and after their hopes are still longer deferred and still more bitterly disappointed, to the only proper remedy which I submit with great respect to the Senate.”
He then introduced a bill, similar to the one introduced by Captain Orr which passed the House in 1874, granting indemnity to the settlers whose titles had failed through the decision of the Supreme Court in the Riley and Crilly cases. The Navigation Company and its grantees were willing and anxious to join with the settlers in securing indemnity for those who had lost their homes, in order that their titles might be no longer questioned, but many of the settlers still had a hope that there was a chance to reverse the decisions of the courts which awarded the title to the Navigation Company. After the repeated confirmations of those decisions there was no good reason to believe that they would ever be reversed. The Evartsindemnity bill was presented as a substitute for the bill which was passed and vetoed, but it was not adopted.
After Harrison became President, Attorney-General Miller was instructed to begin a suit, such as was contemplated by the act which was vetoed. The case was brought in the United States Circuit Court for the Northern District of Iowa and was tried at Fort Dodge before Judge Shiras. The suit was entitled “United States of America vs. Des Moines Navigation and Railroad Company, et al.”
John Y. Stone, the Attorney-General of Iowa, Whiting S. Clark and D. C. Chase appeared for the Government and B. J. Hall and C. H. Gatch for the defendants. The case was decided in favor of the defendants (the Des Moines Navigation Company) and the Government appealed to the United States Supreme Court which confirmed the decision.
In the course of his opinion Judge Shiras said:
“Should the court in the effort to protect the settlers, now hold them entitled to their homes, a manifest wrong would be done to the grantees of the Navigation Company, who for many years have paid taxes on these lands and have sold and conveyed the same in many instances, to parties paying full value thereof. If the courts, disregarding the many decisions heretofore made, should find some ground for holding that the United States might, at this late day, make a decree adjudging the title to be in the Government for the benefit of the settlers, Paul might thereby be paid, but Peter would be robbed. * * * I cannot refrain in concluding this opinion from urging upon Congress the claim of these settlers for some relief.
The question is not as to the legal title to these lands as between the Navigation Company and its grantees and the settlers, but as to the duty and obligations resting upon the United States to remedy a wrong done to its grantees and resulting from the acts of its own officials.”
This decision was accepted by all parties as the end of litigation. There was but one way to, in some measure, repair the great wrong done the settlers by the Government and the courts and that was the method proposed by Captain Orr in his indemnity bill which passedthe House in 1874, and failed in the Senate. Congress, therefore, in 1894, after twenty years of delay, finally appropriated $200,000 to begin to indemnify the surviving settlers and the heirs of the great majority who did not live to see their wrongs righted. The Commissioner appointed to settle the claims was required to investigate, hear and determine the claims of all settlers, their heirs and assigns, who under the homestead, preëmption or other public land laws, entered or filed upon lands included in the grant of August 8, 1846, or by the joint resolution of March 2, 1861.
The Commissioner was also required to find the reasonable sums due the respective claimants, the measure of whose damages should be the amounts heretofore expended by them respectively to purchase the paramount title of the lands; or in case they had not purchased such title, the reasonable value of such title, if they were still in possession, or in case of eviction the reasonable value of the same at the time of such eviction.
He was further required to find and determine:
“First—The amount of just claims of persons, their heirs or assigns holding patents or other written evidences of title from the United States, who are now or have been in continuous possession thereunder.
“Second—The claims of persons, their heirs or assigns, holding written evidence of title from the United States who have been evicted from said lands by process of court at the suit of the Des Moines Navigation Company, or its assigns.
“Third—The claims of persons, their heirs or assigns, for a valuable consideration, whose claim of title runs back to the person making the original entry of said lands who have heretofore purchased the paramount title.”
There was a further provision that
“if the amount appropriated is not sufficient to settle all claims for entries where the entry men or their grantees appeared and presented their claims to the Commissioner, such remaining claims unpaid shall be submitted to Congress by the Secretary of the Interior, giving the amount of such claim, and payment made, and shall not include any claim or any prëemptor or homesteader who had actual notice of the adverse claim of the Des Moines Navigation Company at the time of making such preëmption or homestead claim, and only paid the necessary fees to the land officers, and who made no valuable improvements on the land so preëmpted or homesteaded. Such claims and all the facts relating to them shall be reported to Congress. All other just claims shall be paid in the order of their approval, by the Secretary of the Interior; and no money shall be paid thereunder in any case until the findings of the Commissioner, in each case, are approved by the Secretary of the Interior, who shall have full authority to control all proceedings authorized by this paragraph.”
Finally a clause was incorporated in the Sundry Civil Act of March 3, 1893, in the Fifty-third Congress which read as follows:
“To enable the Secretary of the Interior to ascertain what persons made entry of lands within the limits of the so-called Des Moines River land grant for the improvement of the navigation of the Des Moines River in Iowa, the date of such entry, and the respective amounts paid to the United States and the date of such payments; also the names of the persons who received certificates of entry or patents from the United States and the date of such certificates or patents: also the sum or sums paid by the holders of such certificates or patents, their heirs or assigns, to purchase the paramount title as settled by the decisions of the courts and also the value of such paramount title in cases where such purchase has not been made by any of the holders of such certificates or patents and to ascertain such other facts as in his judgment are necessary to enable the United States to properly and equitably adjust the claims of persons who entered upon such lands, receiving from the proper officials written evidence of entry or settlement upon any of such lands, $8,000 or so much thereof as may be necessary, to be immediately available and the said Secretary shall make report thereon at the first session of the Fifty-third Congress.”
In pursuance of this act Robert L. Berner was appointed a special agent to investigate the Des Moines River land grant claims. He proceeded to make a thorough examination of the entire complicated subject with eminent fairness and ability, and on the 7th of May, 1895, submitted to the Secretary of the Interior a comprehensive history of the original land grant with a clear statement of all of the various decisions of the officers of the Land and Treasury Departments, the different Attorney-Generals, the conflicting decisions of the courts, the supplementary legislation of Congress and the Iowa Legislature and all other official acts concerning this grant.
The report is accompanied by a detailed statement of the names of all of the claimants, dates of entry, description of the land, number of acres, to whom patented, where recorded, amount paid the government, date of payment, the purchaser of the paramount title, the present holder of the title, the present value of each tract of land, the amount paid by each settler who had purchased the title the second time from the River Land Company or any of its grantees, with remarks in each case showing other facts of interest.
Mr. Berner found the aggregate value of all of the lands where title had failed in consequence of the decisions of the highest courts, under which the settlers were dispossessed of their homes, to be $387,232.64.
Congress at last began to realize the enormity of the wrongs inflicted upon the innocent settlers on the Des Moines River lands, and on the 19th of August, 1894, made the first appropriation to be applied towards in some degree indemnifying the survivors and heirs of those who wore out their lives in vainly waiting for justice. This appropriation amounted to $200,000. As the examination of claims proceeded, it soon became evident that nearly as much more would be required to meet the payment of the just dues to which the settlers were entitled. On the 1st of July, 1898, $25,000 additional was appropriated; and on the 3d of March, 1899, another appropriation of $150,000 was made, making a total of $375,000.
Of this amount there had been paid to the settlers, up to the close of the year 1900, $183,854.07, leaving a balance of the appropriation of $191,145.93 still to be paid as the claims are adjusted and reported by the Commissioner to the Secretary of the Interior.
It was largely owing to the persistent efforts of Hon. J. P. Dolliver, Representative in Congress from the Tenth District, and of Senator Allison, that these indemnity appropriations were finally secured for the wronged settlers and their heirs.