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Excerpt from the Report of the Commissioner of the General Land Office made to the Secretary of the Interior relating to the Land Grants made for the Pacific Railway under the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862, and to the management and increased value of the retained Mineral Rights to the Government of these lands.

General Land Office,
November 29, 1862


By the act of Congress approved July 1, 1862, to aid in the construction of a railroad and telegraph from the Missouri to the Pacific, a grant of land is made, excluding mineral, of every alternate odd numbered section, to the amount of five alternate sections per mile, on each side of the route.

In regard to the Missouri, or eastern division of the road, the agent of the Leavenworth, Pawnee, and Western Railroad Company of Kansas filed in July last in this office a map and diagram of the probable route of the road west of the town of Lawrence, in that State, from a point on the left bank of Kansas river, opposite said town, west, along the left bank of said river to the left bank of the Republican Fork; thence along the left bank of that Fork to the 100th meridian of longitude west from Greenwich, and instructions under date of July 17, 1862, were dispatched accordingly to the proper officers in Kansas and Nebraska to make the requisite withdrawal of public lands along the route, within 15 miles thereof, under the requirements of the 7th section of said act of July 1, 1862.

In regard to the Pacific portion, the agents of the Central Pacific Railroad Company have likewise filed in this office a map and diagram, designating the probable route of said road east from a point at the Sacramento river, near the mouth of the American river, in California; thence in a northeasterly direction to the big bend of the Truckee river, in Nevada Territory. Instructions were therefore addressed, 2d August last, to the register and receiver at Marysville, California, to make the necessary withdrawals.

A question has been raised in connexion with the withdrawals in the Junction City district, as to whether those withdrawals should embrace the even numbered or non-granted sections, and whether such even numbered sections should not be relieved from withdrawal and laid open to preemption, sale, and location.

The subject was considered in instructions bearing date September 12, 1862, for the government of the register and receiver, as submitted to the Secretary of the Interior, and approved by him on September 24, 1862.

The principles laid down in those instructions protect, in virtue of the act of March 27, 1854, preemptors upon either the odd or even numbered sections who had actually settled thereon before the receipt at the district land office of the order of withdrawal, and in accordance with the act of March 3, 1853, recognize the right of preemption settlement upon the even numbered sections, even subsequent to the reception of said order, where such settlements are made prior to the "final allotment of the alternate sections to the railroads," but at the enhanced minimum of $2.50 per acre, as stipulated in said act of 1853.

In view of the 3d and 7th sections of said act of July, 1, 1862, it is held, however, that this office has not the power to lay open to ordinary sale or location the even numbered sections, without the further orders of Congress.

In passing from the consideration of the preliminary questions which have arisen in connexion with the Pacific route, the importance of which to the prosperity of the country cannot be over estimated, it will be found that Congress has dealt with the measure in a corresponding spirit of liberality, as the grant, which awards to the work "an amount of five alternate sections per mile on each side of said road," thus concedes a belt of 6,400 acres for every mile of its length, embracing some fifteen-and-a-half millions (15,500,000) of acres.

That measure, with our existing thirty thousand miles of railway now spreading from the Atlantic beyond the Mississippi, will form a great continental system, reaching from ocean to ocean, eventually intersecting every political subdivision of the United States, thereby giving impetus to domestic trade and intercourse, opening new fields of labor and prosperity within our limits, whilst our wealth will be increased by the rich eastern trade, through our mercantile marine on the Pacific, with China, Japan, and distant India.

The advantages of the Pacific railway will be felt, not merely in carrying with its progress at an early period extensive lines of settlement, thereby subjecting to the toil of the husbandman, with corresponding rewards, plains over which the Indian and buffalo now roam, thus strengthening the foundations of the republic, but it will bring to light and develop the mineral interests now held as a proprietary right by the nation in the public domain.

Among these, coal is found in great variety and abundance between the Mississippi and the Pacific. That important element, so essential for domestic, mechanical, and navigation purposes, affecting our vast internal intercourse and trade and our external commerce, is of course a very prominent subject of interest to our people. The extent of the twelve coal bearing States east of the Mississippi holds but a small proportion to the immense coal fields west of that region, as we have information reporting the existence of coal in Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, and Washington. Information from official sources in California refers to the Mount Diablo coal mines as situated in township 2 north, ranges 1 and 2 east, and the Corral coal mines as located in township 3 south, ranges 3 and 4 east.

From another source it is stated that the principal coal vein is located about one mile east from Mount Diablo, in a low range of hills, about six miles due south from New York; thence running east six miles; thence with the course of the hills, due south some twelve miles, to Corral Hollow, near Livermore's Pass. As far as prospected the vein appears to be some five feet in thickness. The coal is being taken out in large quantities, and is readily sold at $12 per ton. Parties me for coal west of Mount Diablo, and there are indications of coal in that region of country.

A railroad about six miles long is projected from the San Joaquin, extending south towards the Mount Diablo, for the transportation of coal from the mines there, designated as the Pittsburg, Union, and Eureka.

Discoveries of coal have been made as Bellingham Bay, Washington Territory. This coal contains a very large amount of oxygen, and but little hydrocarbon; so much so that it gives off comparatively but little combustible luminous gas or smoke, and appears to be almost as difficult of ignition as semi-anthracite. It is regarded as a fuel superior to any tertiary lignite, approaching the composition of the coal of the western States, taking a high rank as a fuel in comparison with ordinary lignites

Then there are willamette river and Cape Flattery coals, belonging to the lignite type, and serviceable for the smelting of iron and for ordinary fuel, some of the Cape Flattery coal being reported as pretty good for steamboats.

In Nevada good coal has been discovered in the neighborhood of Dayton, formerly Chinatown, and superior specimens have reached here from Colorado, showing the wealth of that Territory in this great industrial agent,.

But the necessities of the times and the financial condition of the country render specially attractive the gold fields of the public domain.

The great auriferous region of the United States on the western portion of the continent stretches from the 49th degree of north latitude and Puget sound to the 31º 30" parallel, and from the 102d degree of longitude west of Greenwich to the Pacific ocean, embracing portions of Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, all of New Mexico, with Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, and Washington Territory.

It may be designated as comprising 17 degrees of latitude, or a breadth of 1,100 miles from north to south, and of nearly equal longitudinal extension, making an area of more than a million of square miles.

This vast region is traversed from north to south, first, on the Pacific side, by he Sierra Nevada and the Cascade mountains, then by the Blue and Humboldt; on the east, by the double ranges of the Rocky mountains, embracing the Wasatch, the Wind river chain, and the Sierra Madre, stretching longitudinally and in lateral spurs, crossed, and linked together by intervening ridges, connecting the whole system by five principal ranges, dividing the country into an equal number of basins, each being nearly surrounded by mountains and watered by mountain streams and snows, thereby interspersing this immense territory with bodies of agricultural lands, equal to the support not only of miners but of a dense population.

These mountains are literally stocked with mineral, gold and silver being interspersed in profusion over this immense surface, and daily brought to light by new discoveries. The precious metals are found imbedded in mountains of quartz, rich washings marking the pathway of rivers and floods.

Besides their wealth in gold, no part of the world is so rich in silver mines as Nevada and New Mexico, yet these may be estimated as only in proportion to the gold fields, which are in process of development with amazing results. The recent discoveries in the Colorado, or southern portion of California, and in the region stretching thence away up to and north of the Salmon river in Washington Territory, are every day stimulating the mining enterprise of our people.

Prior to the gold discoveries in 1848, at Sutter's race, in California, the gold product of the world was only an annual average of 18 millions.

In 1853 the yield of California was $70,000,000, about four times the aggregate gold product of the world prior to 1848, and that sum may be set down as the present average from that State alone. If we compare the known gold fields elsewhere in our public domain with the yield of California, we would have, if an equal ratio of labor was applied, an annual value of between three and four hundred millions. That an adequate amount of labor to this end will be at hand when peace returns is not to be doubted, not only as coming in part from our citizens now in ordinary pursuits, but from the million and a half of men now in arms who are to be restored to civil avocations. These fields of labor will not only solve the difficulty of returning without disturbance this portion of our people to peaceful employment, but they will furnish incentives for effort and toil to the restless and adventurous, under the protection and inducements of wise legislation.

Even in the distant Territory of Washington, the extreme mosaic block of the Union, the product of the Salmon river mines has been estimated at twenty millions the present year, the developments there, too, having been made under every disadvantage: first, in a season of unusual severity, with deep snow; next, in restricted facilities of travel into the interior, and with inadequate labor, and in times of domestic turmoil.

An immense revenue may readily be obtained by subjecting the public mines either to lease, under quarterly payments, or quarterly tax, as seignorage, upon the actual product, under a well regulated and efficient system, which would stimulate the energies of miners and capitalists by securing to such classes an undisputed interest in localities so specified, and when the conditions as to payment for the usufruct are complied with, for unlimited periods, and, whilst effecting this with beneficial results to them, would relieve the necessities of the republic.

The whole amount of our national debt, as reported, was, on the 27th of October, 1862......

Assuming, according to present average expenditure, the accruing liabilities from that date to the 1st July, 1863, as.........


The national debt on the commencement of the next fiscal year would be.................

Less revenue from direct tax in the eight months to elapse between the present date, the next fiscal year may be set down at.........


From imports for same period, according to present receipts, would be.......................
Total debt on 1st July, 1863, say.............................

The average rate of interest now of 4 1/2 per cent. would amount on that sum annually to thirty-five and a half millions; a tax of some 8 per cent. on the whole yield of the mines would, upon the maturity of a proper mining system, and when the same shall eventually go into full operation, pay off this interest, enable the government to reduce by at least two-thirds the existing direct tax, and from the residue and imposts have an annual income sufficient to support the government, and provide a fund for the gradual extinction of the public debt, and restore the currency to a metallic basis.

In order that the facts more in detail may be understood, upon which rests the judgment of this office an submitted in the foregoing, the following is presented:

The usual size of a mining claim in the quartz region is 100 feet on the line of the lode or vein, and 100 feet on each side, equal to an area of 20,000 square feet or say 1,200 claims to the square mile. Allow that only one hundredth part of the mountain surface in occupied by paying leads or veins and there will be space for 3,600,000 claims. But Governor Evens, of Colorado, estimates the already discovered gold bearing region of that Territory as affording ample room for 800,000 claims, and stairs that new discoveries are daily increasing this area. A glance at the map is sufficient to show that the mineral region of Colorado occupies less than one-sixth of the whole extent under consideration; but assume it to be one-sixth, and there will be ample extent on this basis for 4,800,000 claims, which, if worked, would give employment to 20,000,000 of men. Quartz that yields $12 per ton will pay in favorable localities, but there are many veins now worked that yield from $20 to $500 per ton, and some that yield from $500 to $2,000 per ton, varying in different parts of the same lode. Some of the recent discoveries are estimated as high as $20,000 per ton, but these have not been worked.

In addition to the deposits of gold and silver, above especially alluded to, various sections of this whole region are rich in precious stones, marble, gypsum, malt, tin, quicksilver, asphaltum, coal, iron, copper, and lead; mineral and medicinal, thermal and cold springs and streams.

None of these mines have been worked for a great length of time, except the placers of California, and much the largest portion of them are comparatively recent discoveries, yet it has been fully demonstrated that the deeper the mine is worked the richer is the ore or rock. Mines that barely paid at the surface are yielding enormous profits at a depth of 150 to 200 feet. And when the geological formation of this region is carefully considered it will be conceded that even the precious metals must be found in masses and in position if a sufficient depth shall be reached.

The above estimate of the extent of the mines may seem extravagant, but it is believed experience will demonstrate that the estimate is too low. Not now, nor for many years to come, because the population is not there, but as fast as the population does reach that region the correctness of these conclusions, it is believed, will be vindicated.

Within the last eighteen months more has been done to establish the position assumed than all the discoveries previously made. The coming year and a half will do still more.

The yield of the precious metals alone of this region will not fall below $100,000,000 the present year, and it will augment with the increase of population for centuries to come.

The value of these Mines is absolutely incalculable--to the government they may be made to yield, in revenue, just in proportion to the number of men employed in working them. This year they should yield ten millions of dollars, and would do so under the operations of a well matured system. But to establish a just system of revenue from the mines is a work of time. It cannot be done at once without a shock to the mining interest. It should be done gradually and adapted to the peculiarities of locality and population.

Within ten years the annual product of these mines will reach two hundred millions of dollars in the precious metals alone, and in coal, iron, tin, lead, quicksilver, and copper, half that sum, which should give a revenue of $25,000,000; and so, progressing to a distant future, they may be made a rich source of increasing revenue to meet the wants of the government, and relieve the nation from the burden of direct taxation. The experience of miners in those districts which have been successfully worked has demonstrated the propriety, and, I may add, the necessity of dividing the mineral lands into small parcels, or claims, as they are denominated in the language of the country, varying from one hundred to twenty thousand square feet, their size being determined by the character of the mines and the peculiarities of the district in which they may be situated, assigning to the first discoverer two claims, or a double allotment. The eagerness with which these locations are sought carries the explorer far in advance of the public surveys, thereby defying the preparation of the ground by that means either for sale or allotment, in any form now known to the laws, and creating a necessity for adapting the proposed system to the state of things which may exist when the government shall take cognizance of the localities for the purpose of sale or taxation, so that existing and heretofore recognized rights may not be rudely disturbed nor the industry of the miner paralyzed, or his investment of capital rendered insecure. It must be readily seen that no system for the sale of these lands can be devised which can be adapted to all these circumstances; and if it could, no equitable minimum that would afford adequate remuneration to the government can possibly be determined upon in advance of actual mining operations. Miners would not purchase at all save at a nominal price until the value of the location should be fully ascertained, and when so ascertained, they would not consent, nor would it be just, to put them in competition with capitalists who have risked nothing in the exploration. Even if sales could be effected they would cover so small a proportion of the general surface that, at any minimum which would be just to existing interests and give promise of sales in new localities, the amount realized to the government would be but nominal and irregular, forming no basis for permanent revenue; affording no certainty that any sum beyond the expenses of survey would be realized, and no adequate compensation to our people for the surrender of the right of free occupation which they have heretofore enjoyed, and which their interest and that of the government alike demand shall be retained as a common and perpetual inheritance.

For these and other reasons, of which the proper limits of this report will not permit a recital, this office cannot recommend any measure for the sale of the mineral lands; but would advise the retention of the fee in the United States, and that they be held open to the free occupation of all our people, subject only to a nominal annual license, and such monthly, quarterly, or annual moderate percentage upon the product as shall be prescribed by law. A limitation as to the quantity which may be held by any person is also advised, with the guarantee that such quantity may be retained so long as the location shall be occupied, worked, and payments duly made to the government.

This plan presents no obstacles to the complete recognition and protection of existing interests, or to the advance of the mining population beyond the lines of public surveys or exploration, and yet affords ample guarantees for the investment of capital and labor upon any portion of these lands, with a permanent basis for revenue, which will be enlarged precisely in the ratio of the improvements in the process and machinery applicable to this branch of industry and the increase of the mining population.

The immense mineral interests under consideration suggest a recommendation, now submitted, of an appropriation of ten thousand dollars for the purpose of a geological and mineral exploration.


The estimates for the extension of the public surveys within the fiscal year 1864, though nearly double the amount appropriated for the preceding year, are yet considerably less than one-fifth the aggregate recommended by the several surveyors general.

The policy governing the department in this regard is, that during the existing disturbances in the country, and the consequent extraordinary demands upon the treasury, no greater sum should be asked for than is absolutely necessary to meet the necessities of our advancing population, and preserve faith the public to the extension of surveys along the line of the Pacific railroad. The increased estimates for the surveying districts of Kansas and Nebraska Colorado, and California, and Nevada, are made with special
reference to the of settlements on the route of this great proposed continental thoroughfare, in anticipation of demands upon the department, in pursuance of obligations to survey and set off the granted lands contained in the 7th section of the act providing for the construction of said road. The sums named for these surveying districts respectively are believed to be the lowest with which the department can be enabled to meet the actual calls that will follow the progress of this improvement.

The recent discoveries of rich and extensive gold fields in Oregon and in Washington Territory are rapidly filling the interior of those districts with an enterprising population, whose wants will soon demand an extension of the public surveys, and the advantages incident thereto, over a considerable portion of the country between the Cascade and Rocky mountains. And such is the present and prospective movement of population in that direction that but for other and pressing necessities upon the finances of the country much larger sums than those named would have been recommended.

The small area as yet brought within the lines of surveys in Dakota, its navigable streams, rich soil, salubrious climate, and proximity to the great flood of westward emigration, augmented by the beneficent provisions of the homestead law, justify the increased estimate for that surveying district.

In Wisconsin and Minnesota the extension of surveys at this time is desirable, principally as a means of protecting and rendering available to the treasury the valuable public timber of that region.

The suggested appropriation of $10,000, for an exploration of the great interior and western mineral region, rests upon no organic law, and is, therefore, submitted, upon the facts and promises hereinbefore recited, to the enlightened judgment of Congress as to the propriety and necessity of affording governmental aid in the development of the mineral wealth of the public domain. The accompanying tables, statements, and maps, according to schedule herewith, exhibit details of operations under the land system.

All which is respectfully submitted,

J. M. EDMUNDS, Commissioner

Secretary of the Interior

Courtesy of the Bruce C. Cooper Collection

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