Which has charge of all the public lands in the United States, occupies a suite of apartments in the Patent Office Building. It is a very important bureau, and that its work is extensive may be inferred from the number of its officials and clerks, some four hundred in all, whose salaries amount to nearly $500,000 per year. In fact, the pressure of business in this office is very great, and double the force could be advantageously employed, if Congress would provide for the increase and assign larger quarters for the work. New business comes in faster than the old can be disposed of, and the accumulation of affairs is very embarrassing. If the entire force of the office should be devoted to bringing up the work in arrears, in cases all prepared for final action, it would require at least two years to accomplish this result. Over two thousand con-tested homestead cases are pending, and there are fifty thousand 0thers awaiting settlement. Besides all these cases there are six thou-sand more in the railroad division, which have to be decided in connection with the adjustment of land grants to railroads. There is also a great accumulation of business in the divisions 0f the office which have charge of the preemption claims, the timber culture en-tries, and the claims for mineral lands, etc. The preemption claims number over 300,000, and of these about 20,000 are awaiting final action, and final proof is likely to be offered at any time upon a majority of the others. The work is disposed of as fast as possible, but as much of it requires very close examination of a variety of complicated matters, it cannot be done properly in a hurried manner.
Few people, except those interested in the public lands, have any definite knowledge as to the territory in the United States still in the possession and subject to the control of the government. There is a comfortable feeling that Uncle Sam has plenty of land to furnish a good farm to all who would like to till the soil, but where this land is, and how much there is, the generality of people cannot tell. The actual area of the public domain once amounted to nearly two thousand
millions of acres verily a goodly property, hardly to be realized by the simple statement of the number of acres. This land was acquired by cession from the original states, by the Mexican treaty, by what is known as the Gadsden purchase, and by purchases from Texas, Florida, and Alaska. Of this vast public estate, nearly six hundred million acres have been sold, given to states for internal improvement, given to railroads, given to colleges and schools, disposed 0f under the homestead and bounty laws, and in various other ways have passed from the holding of the government. Forty-six million acres have been awarded to railroads by Congress, to aid in the construction of the roads, and other corporations have had enormous blocks and stretches of the public domain awarded them by special acts.
It is estimated that the area of public lands now remaining is about 1,800,000,000 acres. Taking out of this estimate the lands held for Indian and military reservations, the unexplored lands in Alaska, and all lands unsurveyed, etc., there will yet remain, in round numbers, some 650,000,000 acres to be disposed of by the government, nearly all of which can be acquired by citizens of the United States by actual settlement and cultivation. The lands are located in the states of Ohio, California, Arkansas, Alabama, Colo-. rado, Florida, Louisiana, Kansas, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan, Oregon, Wisconsin, Nevada, Missouri, Nebraska, and Mississippi, and in all the territories. Any citizen of the United States is entitled under the homestead laws to enter one hundred and sixty acres of these lands wherever unappropriated. In six months from the date of entry he must pay $16 in fees and commissions to the land office, and must live on the land and cultivate it for five continuous years. Then, upon proof of residence and cultivation, a patent is issued, and he becomes the owner 0f the land. The soldiers and sailors of the Civil War who enter homestead lands have the period of their service in the army and navy deducted from the five years’ residence, provided they live on and cultivate the land for one year. Under the preemption laws it is necessary to live for one year on the land preempted, at the expiration of which time the land can be purchased for $1.25 per acre, if outside of railroad limits, and for $2.50 per acre if within railroad limits. There are other ways of acquiring lands under the timber culture laws and the desert land act. Up to the present time about seventy million acres have been secured by homestead settlers.
Connected with the land office are sixteen surveyors-general, assigned, to different states and territories, who have charge of the surveying of public lands. They have their offices in the districts to which they are assigned, and employ many clerks. About twenty million acres of land are disposed of by the government every year under the various land acts, and from eight to twelve million dollars are received from sales, fees, and commissions.