Thursday, November 26, 2015

Land Rights In California In The 1850s

California land rights in the 1850s could be very nebulous.

Figuring out how historical land rights worked in California in the 1850s can be difficult. One of the major issues is that often the laws on the books were not the laws enforced. This period saw transition in California as the laws shifted from Mexican in origin to a period without official government, then even falling back on English Common Law before California eventually became a state with a formal legal code.

Legal Land Disputes

California officially became a state in 1850, creating an official code of laws for the state but also causing conflict because of the shift from Mexican law to state law, which was based largely on English Common Law. This meant land parceled out freely when California was part of Mexico was not legally recognized under the new government. Because Mexico served out land under an open parcel system, many long-term land owners didn't have the proof of land holdings needed under the new legal system.

Proof of Land Holdings

To protect their land from seizure, land owners were required under 1850s California law to show proof of land holdings. Families needed official documentation giving proof the land they were on was owned by them, as well as legal maps and further documentation of ownership. This proof was given by the California government after 1850 when land was purchased from the state, but many original Mexican settlers lost their land because Mexico did not require such documentation.

American Indian Land Rights

In theory American Indians enjoyed land rights based on the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians passed on April 22, 1850. The reality is that often law enforcement refused to protect American Indian rights due to widespread racism. Even the government did not fully enforce the protective laws, as the 1850s saw 18 different treaties unratified, ignored or broken -- all to the detriment of the American Indians.

Importance of Development

The gold rushes led to tens of thousands of miners' immigrating to California, where often the most important aspect of working on land was the actual development. While specific mineral rights were not mandated by state law, an often-enforced rule of thumb gave a miner one year to develop the land, or the plot returned to the state and would be awarded to the next individual in line.

Tags: land rights, proof land, American Indian, American Indians, became state, California 1850s, English Common