Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in Great Plains Quarterly 13:4 (Fall 1993). Copyright © 1993 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln.


"S ettlement" of the West-by common understanding-has meant the taking up of the public domain, especially homesteads and preemptions, under federal law. Obviously, "settlement" in this sense has little to do with actual occupation, or the property rights of Native Americans and long-resident Hispanics would not have been so long ignored. The specific process of settling involved three steps: filing a claim, proving up and/or making payment, and obtaining title or ownership. Each of these steps had its pitfalls, which, when they occurred, were usually resolved by the General Land Office (GLO), a division of the Department of the Interior from 1849 to 1946. This body, composed of an advisory board under a presidentally appointed commissioner, reported to the Secretary of the Interior and its decisions could also be appealed to him.1 Selected decisions, usually chosen for their illustration of some new point or clarification of a rule, were then published annually. In addition, regulations promulgated independently of any case, pronouncements of the Land Commissioners and the Secretary of the Interior, and infrequent advisory statements by the Department of Justice and other federal entities dealing with public lands were also published in the series.2 The richness of these volumes for scholars derives not only from their geographical, social, and economic spread, but from the generally short presentation of each of the cases (one to four pages), the anecdotal nature of the illustrative material, and the precise legal wording.3