History of Sioux City, IA (Part 2 Land Office)
From: History of the Counties of Woodbury and Plymouth, Iowa
A Warner & Co., Publishers
Chicago Illinois, 1890-91


A GOVERNMENT land office was established at this point in the month of December, 1855, and continued nearly twenty three years and did a vast amount of business. The district assigned to it comprised all of the lands from and including range thirty four, west to the Missouri river to about range forty nine, an average distance of eighty five miles, east and west; and reaching north from townships eighty six to 100, inclusive, or about ninety miles, making the territory included nearly 8,000 square miles, or equal to 5,000,000 acres of land. This territory is now comprised in the counties of Lyon, Osceola, Dickinson, Sioux, O'Brien, Woodbury, Clay, Plymouth, Cherokee, Buena Vista, Ida and Sac and the western tier of townships in Emmet, Palo Alto, Pocahontas and Calhoun counties.

The following served as registers:

Dr. S. P. Yeomans, from 1855 to 1861; William H. Bigelow, from 1861 to 1864; S. T. Davis, from 1864 to November, 1866; F. M. Ziebach, from November, 1866 to March 4, 1867; William G. Stewart, from March 4, 1867 to June 1867, at which time he died; John Cleghorn, from July 19, 1867 to July 19, 1871; George H. Wright. from July 19, 1871, until the office was closed and transferred to Des Moines in July, 1878.

The receivers of the office were Gen. Andrew Leech, from 1855 to 1860; Robert Means, from 1860 to 1861; James P. Edie, from 1861 to 1865; Dr. William Remsen Smith, from 1865 to March 1, 1867; Capt. C. L. Rozelle, from March 4, 1867, for a period of four days, his term expiring under the tenure of office act, a short interregnum following; Dr. William R. Smith, from April 17, 1867, to the final cloning of the office in July, 1878.

Locations and entries of public lands by individuals were made after a variety of methods, of which the following were the most usual: Location of land warrants issued by the government at various times, as a sort of bounty to soldiers who served in the war of 1812 and the Black Hawk and Mexican wars.

Purchasers for cash; in which the title passed from the government to individuals for a definite consideration as soon as the transfer could be made at the general land office at Washington.

Pre-emption, in which the purchaser is given one year's time from date of settlement thereon, in which to pay for land already offered for sale.

Location of Agricultural College scrip, which in 1862, was apportioned to the several states for the benefit of agriculture and mechanical arts.

Entry of land as homesteads, under an act of congress of 1862, which provided that persons living on such lands five years should receive a title to the same by the payment of the survey and other expenses. He who had served in the Union army during the Civil war was entitled to a reduction of time equivalent to the time he had served in the army.

Timber culture entries being provided for by acts of 1873-74 for the encouragement of tree planting, provided the occupant a free title if he produced one fourth of the tract in growing trees by the end of ten years.

The number of locations and entries at the Sioux City land office from date of opening, up to the last year it transacted business was as follows:
Land warrant locations 6.000
Cash entries made 4,862
Pre-emption of offered lands 9,846
Pre-emption of unoffered lands 7.122
Agricultural College scrip entries 1,505
Homestead entries 8,993
Homesteads proved up 4,493
Timber culture entries 307

The years 1856-57 were the times when the most rushing business was done in land warrant locations and cash entries; but 1869 is noted as the year of the largest cash sales, the receipts from this source during that year being nearly $1,000,000. Some single days it went as high as $40,000. More homesteads were taken in 1871 than in any other one year, the number amounting to 1,950. During October of that year 411 were taken. The month of January, 1876, saw the greatest number of "final papers" proving up homesteads there being 234.

The number of "contests" to which the land officers were called upon to attend to, reached far up in the thousands, many of them occuping two weeks' time.

The United States land office was, in years gone by, much of a help to Sioux City. It brought thousands of men from all parts of the east with money to invest in lands. We quote from the Sioux City "Journal," date of December, 1877, a description of the burning of the old land office building, in which that paper said: "* * The material for this old landmark structure arrived from St. Louis on a steamboat in 1856, all ready framed, to be erected on Douglas street, above the corner of Sixth street. In it the first general election ever had by the Sioux City people was held; that was in August of 1856 - the Buchanan-Fremont campaign. In this building was sold more land than at any other point along the Missouri slope. During the palmy days just preceding the collapse of 1857, time was, literally, money here in Sioux City. There were crowds of settlers and speculators who came here to locate land warrants and scrip, and it was impossible to transact, in any ordinary way, the business which pressed in upon them. A rule was therefore made that applicants for locations should register their names in the order of their arrival at the office, and that each should be allowed only ten minutes for business. There was a number of men who had no special business to attend to, who would register their names and then sell out their chance or "turn" to those who had warrants with which to locate lands. The usual price was $50 for each ten minutes, which was freely given, especially where the buyer stood near the foot of the long column of men seeking entrance. The seller would then go and register again, and dispose of his chance when it appreciated in value by nearing the top. Men were just wild, and the scramble was terrific. Prior to this plan, it was "first come, first served," but this soon led to such conflict and disorder it had to be changed. Men would remain up all night, forming a line leading to the office door, and he whose hand grasped the door knob, slept there."

Selling lands by auction was followed, also, and Judge J. P. Allison was auctioneer. Sales were made in forty acre lots, and no bid received under $1.25 per acre. Some tracts in Sioux county sold as high as $3.50 per acre. Sales usually reached as high as a township per day, and one can hardly appreciate how tiresome it was to dispose of so much territory in such a short time.

With the close of the year 1877, an order from Washington removed the office (which had outlived its usefulness) to Des Moines. From 5,000,000 acres sold in 1856, the offerings had dwindled down to about 2,000 acres of laud so rough as to be untillable. Just think of it! Only 2,000 acres in all northwestern Iowa which nobody wants!

The old land office building was used for a meat shop until destroyed by fire in 1877. It was the earliest erected in Sioux City, and in it was deposited the first ballot cast hereabouts. The years have told profitable and unprofitable stories for those who so eagerly scrambled at the land office for titles to portions of Uncle Sam's domain, and the scene of their strife has gone with the memories of the great majority of those who engaged in them. Those who are now big folks, but who then were little folks, will no longer be reminded of those pioneer days by the sight of the old brown building, for it rests in ashes!

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