Territorial Governor John W. Geary said in 1856:
"One of the greatest, if not the greatest, obstacle to overcome in the production of peace and harmony in the territory, is the unsettled condition of the public lands…." [Gates, Fifty Million Acres, 59]
"Kansas pioneer staking his squatter claim, 1855"
Samuel Reader (self-portrait) moved to Kansas from Illinois in 1855, attracted by "rich, cheap farm land."
When Kansas Territory was opened for settlement there was not a single acre of land available for sale. The Preemption Act of 1841 permitted claims to be filed only on surveyed land and no government surveys had been conducted in Kansas. Legislation in July, 1854 corrected this problem by allowing filings on unsurveyed public land to which Indian rights had been surrendered, but Congress did not address the consequences—how would the inevitable conflicts be resolved after later surveys showed overlaps in the claims? Along the eastern border of the Territory where most of the settlers were moving, an array of Indian reserves remained. The Indian Intercourse Act of 1834 prohibited settlement of whites on Indian ground. Altogether the 1853 reserves of the indigenous and emigrant tribes constituted 17 million of the 52.5 million acres of what became the statehood boundaries of Kansas. The nine treaties of 1854-1855 provided a system for cessation of territory but also established trust lands, diminished reserves and allotments for the Indians. Many years passed before all public and treaty lands were surveyed and became legally transferable. [Lee, Homestead, 45]
The lack of legal title did not deter claimants, however. They staked out claims with confidence that the government would eventually recognize their titles. William Addison Phillips wrote in 1856:
The leading historian of Kansas land issues said the first objective of those who went to Kansas in territorial days was to secure land-claims which might be sold profitably to other claimants, actual settlers or town builders. Claiming land became a preoccupation that interfered with the ordinary business of establishing a farm. Both pro-slavery and free-state men participated. [Gates, Fifty Million Acres, 52ff]
"Scarcely a merchant or storekeeper’s clerk—in fact, scarcely any one in Westport or Independence—but had a ‘claim staked out’…(which) rests on a bowie-knife and revolver basis..."[Phillips, Conquest, 14]
Two Ohio visitors, writing a guidebook for prospective settlers, gave a picture of 1855 land values, when they wrote of Platte County, Missouri:
If land could be purchased at the Government price of $1.25 an acre and later sold for $20 to $50 an acre, there was clearly room for speculation.
The lands in the vicinity of Weston, Missouri, are among the most fertile and beautiful in the State; and we thought it well to visit them before crossing into Kansas, in order that we might have the means of comparing the Territory with the richest regions in the States. We accordingly rode back among the hemp-growing farms around Weston…. This country is divided from Kansas only by the Missouri river, and farms are worth from twenty to fifty dollars per acre, according to location and other circumstances which affect value…[Boynton and Mason, Journey, 28]
The Bogus Legislature passed several statutes concerning land. The first, an "Act to Prevent Trespass on the Possessions of Settlers on the Public Lands," authorized 320 acre claims of which 160 acres might be timber and required that boundaries be distinctly marked and improvements to the value of $50 be made within six months after establishment of the claim. To answer a frequent free-state objection, the law provided that "occupancy by tenant shall be considered equally valid as personal residence." James Whitlock, a House member, was a tenant on a Douglas County claim, for example. Another statute was intended to protect speculator and non- resident rights by making contracts for sale of claims legally enforceable. Further, quitclaim deeds and other conveyances were made as effective as transfers of patent titles. [Statutes of Kansas, 301, 711-712]
Since legal title could only be granted by one of the two federal agencies, the General Land Office for public domain lands, and the Office of Indian Affairs for lands of the emigrant and other tribes, it is unclear what legal effect the statutes of the Bogus Legislature had. On the other hand, General Land Office policies were frequently vague and ill-defined and required numerous amplifying regulations. Officials of the Indian administration were political appointees who took advantage of their power over Indian land. [Gates, Fifty Million Acres, 27] In the general confusion, the Bogus Legislature statutes might have provided some make-weight for a disputed claim.