restricted access 6. John Sparks: Capital, Credit, and Courage
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94 The Land Acquired obtaining patents to public lands were not satisfactory for building ranches because of their acreage restrictions. Every contemporary reviewoffederalpoliciesmadefrom1870to1900conWrmedthisfact ,but to no avail.4 No changes were made in government land policies to accommodate ranchers’ needs. Probablythemostfamousofthelate-nineteenth-centurypublicland reviews were those made by Major John Wesley Powell. Among his recommendations were the following: The grasses of the pasturage lands are scant, and the lands are of value only in large quantities. The farm unit should not be less than 2,560 acres, the pasturage lands need small tracts of irrigable lands, hence the small streams of the general drainage system and the lone springs and streams should be preserved for such pasturage farms, the pasturage lands will not usually be fenced, and herds must roam in common. As pasturage lands should have waterfronts and irrigable tracts, and as residences should be grouped, as the lands cannot be economically fenced and must be kept in common, local communal regulations or cooperation is necessary.5 Powell felt that existing land laws were inadequate for settlement of irrigable lands. Powell’sreportcapturedtheinherentnatureofthesagebrush/grasslands environment: irrigable lands and rangelands had to be tied together . Settlers needed small blocks of irrigated land to raise forage for winteringstockaswellasextensiveblocksofrangeland.The2,560-acre blocksofrangeproposedbyPowellwerestillmuchtoosmallforthemore arid areas, but the proposal was a step in the right direction. One of Powell’s more radical proposals was abandonment of the rectangular system of land survey to allow land claims toWt the soils and topography of speciWc situations. If irregular shapes were allowed, the 80-acre irrigable tracts could Wt available alluvial soils along streams. Thousand Springs Valley, which constituted a major portion of the Buy, Beg, Borrow, or Steal a Ranch 95 Sparks-Tinnin ranches, provides a classic example of the stringing together of 40-, 80-, and 160-acre pieces of land astride alluvial and irrigable soils. Thousand Springs Creek starts and ends in the checkerboard of the Central PaciWc Railroad grant. As the creek swings north in a great arc around Tony Mountain, it passes out of the checkerboard. In this area the private land occurs as a narrow band along the stream. The edges of the band are stair steps caused by the joining of surveyed rectangles .HadPowell’ssuggestionbeenfollowed,asmoothbandalongthe streams could have been obtained. Ranches in Nevada were built not by direct entry on the public domain ,butindirectlythroughthepurchaseofstatelands.Morethanonehalf of the deeded land in Nevada was originally obtained through purchase of state school lands.6 When Nevada became a state in 1864, it received a number of land grants from the federal government, including3 .9millionacrestobesoldforschoolsupport.After1848,everystate entering the union received two sections (16 and 36) in each township tobesoldforschoolsupport.Aninternalimprovementgrantof500,000 acres was the second largest grant, followed by 90,000 acres for an agriculture college, 46,080 acres for public buildings, and 9,228 acres as an indemnity grant.7 The initial demands for state land were not met from the 700,000 unspeciWed acres ceded by the federal government in the statehood settlement. By 1871, timber, ranching, and farming withdrawals had depleted most of the unspeciWed acres, leaving the speciWc sections 16 and36ofstateschoollandgrantsineachtownship.In1873thestatelegislature of Nevada asked Congress to exchange this grant for 1 million unspeciWedacres,pointingoutthatsections16and36oftenoccurredin the middle of barren playas or on the top of rugged mountains. In 1879 the Nevada legislature again approached Congress, this time asking for 1.5millionacresinexchangefortheoriginalgrantofsections16and36. This exchange was Wnally implemented on June 16, 1880, when a generousCongressauthorizedthetransferof2millionacresofunspeciWed 96 The Land Acquired land to Nevada and accepted the unsold acres of the original public schoolgrantinreturn.Oftheoriginal3.9millionacresinsections16and 36, slightly more than 63,000 acres had been sold.8 The government’s 2-million-acre grant, sold to applicants in maximumunitsof640acres ,wasdepletedinlessthantwentyyears.Thebulk ofthesestateschoollandswereselectedinElko,Humboldt,Lincoln,and Washoe Counties, where there were large ranching companies. John Sparks became a major purchaser. Between1883and1893,367,926acresofstatelandsweresoldinElko County. Between 1893 and 1903, 230,808 acres were sold, far above total acreage for any other county in Nevada. Most state school lands were sold for a down payment of twenty-Wve cents per acre, with the entrant eithermeetingthecreditprovisionsofthepurchasecontractorforfeitingtheacreage .Acreagerestrictions,landprices,andinterestrateswere easedbysuccessivelegislaturestomakethelandacquisitionprocessless cumbersome and expensive. Ranchers and speculators often held the landfordecadeswithoutmakingasinglepayment,andthestatesurveyor generalandlegislaturesilentlypermittedthepractice.By1902onlydefaultedlands ,oftenovergrazedandstrippedofusabletimber,wereavailable to prospective buyers of state school lands. Fromcongressionallandgrantsin1862and1864,theCentralPaciWc Railroadreceived5millionacresofpubliclandsinNevada.Therailroad lands formed a checkerboard on the right-of-way, which paralleled the Truckee and Humboldt Rivers over much of their length and included a high proportion of the Wnest agricultural lands in the state.9 The grant of public lands to...


Subject Headings

  • Grazing -- Environmental aspects -- Great Basin -- History -- 19th century.
  • Great Basin -- History -- 19th century.
  • Beef cattle -- Great Basin -- History -- 19th century.
  • Ranch life -- Great Basin -- History -- 19th century.
  • Range ecology -- Great Basin -- History -- 19th century.
  • Sparks, John, 1843-1908.
  • Ranchers -- Great Basin -- Biography.
  • Harrell, Jasper, 1830-1901.
  • Ranchers -- Great Basin -- History -- 19th century.
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