Wallace and Wallace — part 3


Secretary of the Interior, John Willock Noble

Col. William R. Wallace pushed forward with appeals to the General Land Office in Washington, D.C. in the aftermath of the land-jumping outbreak of February 19th, 1889.  His first GLO appeal was dated March 13th, 1889 — or three weeks after the upheaval.  He’d offered a preview of his appeal’s basis in his March 1st letter to the Murray Sun.  “I can prove by the American Consul at Winnipeg, B. N. A.,” Wallace wrote, “that the scrip was located by the original owner, Walter Bourke and wife; that he made oath, and still lives to verify the same; that he had never parted with the original and never gave any one power to use his name in any other location…” Wallace’s assertion “that the scrip was located by the original owner, Walter Bourke and his wife” meant, in effect, that his (Wallace’s) claim to his North Idaho townsite had been genuinely lodged on behalf of the original scripee or scripees, Walter Bourke and his wife.  Wallace’s chief contention was that Bourke’s putative requests, through attorney Henry T. Welles, for replacement scrip and use of that replacement to locate land in Dakota had been fraudulent.  Therefore, his (Wallace’s) scrip and his land claim were the rightful ones, in North Idaho.

Col. Wallace, in the same Murray Sun letter, buttressed his case with a lengthy quotation of consultant Luther Harrison’s commentary on the case.  One notable aspect of Harrison’s commentary was its date — November 28th, 1888.  This date implies, of course, that Col. Wallace was seeking to overturn the GLO’s decision and regularize his ownership of the Wallace townsite even before the land rush of February 19th of the following year.  Perhaps he’d come to the conclusion that his awkward and shady arrangement with Robert McFarland, at the GLO facility in Coeur d’Alene City, probably wasn’t going to last forever.  Or perhaps his simmering frustration over what he regarded as the injustice of the GLO’s rejection motivated him to enlist Harrison.  Or maybe Wallace was just exploring his options.  Whatever the reasons, Harrison’s commentary on the case surely helped frame Col. Wallace’s post-land-rush appeal to the GLO.    

In fact, there would be a succession of appeals lodged by Col. Wallace.  On January 31st, 1891, Interior Secretary John Willock Noble, who served in that capacity from March 7th, 1889 to March 6th, 1893, sent his decision on the Wallace case to the Commissioner of the General Land Office.  Noble’s communique would become the Interior Department’s final judgment on the case — although a related case in the U.S. courts would linger on for years afterward.  Noble’s narrative chronicled Wallace’s series of appeal efforts.  The first appeal was dated March 13th, 1889, as already noted.  That appeal however was withdrawn on June 6th, 1889, reason not given in Noble’s text.  A subsequent request for review was filed on July 17th, 1889, which the GLO’s commissioner denied on September 6th, 1889.  Wallace’s counsel filed once again for review on February 17th, 1890, which request was once again refused, on August 16th, 1890.  Still another filing by Wallace came on September 18th, 1890, which the GLO, wrote Noble, “declined to transmit.”  That GLO action, in turn, was appealed and subsequently denied, again, by the GLO on November 10th, 1890.  Having suffered this long string of rebuffs by the GLO, Wallace turned to the GLO’s parent organization, the Department of Interior, for relief — by filing an application for a “certiorari” review — that is, a review by a higher administrative authority.  Secretary Noble’s communication of January 31st, 1891 offered the DOI’s response to Col. Wallace’s final appeal.

[This document, in might be noted, is readily available for examination on the web.  It appears at pages 105-109 in Decisions of the Department of the Interior and General Land Office in Cases Relating to the Public Lands, from January 1, 1891, to June 30, 1891, Volume XII (edited by S.V. Proudfit, Reporter of Land Decisions, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891) — the link, here.]


Henry T. Welles

The GLO had rejected Col. Wallace’s appeals, according to Noble’s account, on two grounds — one, a technicality, and the other, a substantive matter.  The technicality was that Wallace’s first appeal — of March 13th, 1889 — had missed the time deadline for such actions.  Wallace had argued that he had not received timely notice of the GLO’s January 24th, 1887 rejection (perhaps, it might be speculated, hoping that McFarland had indeed buried or destroyed the February 3rd, 1887 letter that was supposed to serve that purpose).  But neither the GLO nor, now, Noble was buying that excuse or justification.  The second grounds for rejection, the substantive one, concerned Bourke’s on-the-record, existing ownership of the Dakota land claimed on his behalf.  This problem with Wallace’s appeal was neatly summarized in one of the three sub-headlines of Noble’s communique:  “Where title to a tract of land has been acquired by the beneficiary through a location of duplicate scrip, he cannot claim the right to locate the origianl scrip upon another tract, while the patent to the former is outstanding.”  Bourke’s legal ownership of the Dakota land, in other words, nullified Wallace’s attempt to employ Bourke’s original scrip for the North Idaho land claim.

Despite the apparent finality of these two aspects of Wallace’s case, Secretary Noble also took the occasion to offer comments on Wallace’s argument that the filing for replacement scrip and that replacement scrip’s subsequent use were both fraudulent. Here, below, and at length, are Noble’s comments on Wallace’s charge of fraud.  Noble began by noting Wallace’s assertion that Walter Bourke himself had objected to Wells’ application for replacement scrip:  “But it is also charged,” wrote Noble,

that the duplicate scrip was issued against the protest of Bourke, which was filed with the Commissioner of the General Land Office, while the application for the issuance of the duplicate scrip was pending before the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. The ground of this protest was that Wells had no authority whatever to act for Bourke in the matter of said scrip. It is now also charged that said original scrip was in existence when the duplicate was issued.  Conceding that said protest was before the Commissioner of Indian Affairs when he issued the duplicate scrip, yet I do not see from the record before me that it was improvidently issued. While it is now alleged that the original scrip was then in existence, it does not appear that that fact was communicated to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, or that profert of it was made or offered to be made. Again, the protest filed with the Commissioner of the General Land Office was signed by George L. Otis, as attorney for Bourke. He was not the attorney of record in any case then pending, nor did he file a power of attorney or show any written authority to act for his alleged principal. Bourke was then living, and no reason is shown why the protest was not supported by an affidavit of facts made by him.

In the end, Noble affirmed the GLO’s denials of Wallace’s appeals for review and affirmed Bourke’s Dakota land claim.  The GLO’s procedures in the matter, suggested Noble, had been faultless.  The sheer number of his appeals, and his persistence in filing and filing again after repeated rejections — from March 13th, 1889 to November or December in 1890 — arguably evidenced Col. Wallace’s strong commitment to his belief that he was in the right.  And — in my view, at least — there was a reasonably good chance that he was.  Still, the murky waters created by a long history of the sharp handling practices associated with Sioux half-breed scrip worked against him.

Noble closed his communication to the General Land Office’s commissioner by noting, inter alia, that the courts were still open to Wallace for his relief, if “the facts are true, as alleged by the applicant…”

Receipt of this news of the Interior Department’s final judgment on the matter, in early 1891, was surely a bitter pill for Col. Wallace.


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2 Responses to Wallace and Wallace — part 3

  1. margo139 says:

    I am sure there is a follow up as to how this affected land ownership for those who had purchased land from Wallace.

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