The federal act exchanging the Half Breed Tract for grants of scrip to eligible mixed-blood Sioux passed into law on July 17, 1854. Yet, many months would pass before actual scrip certificates were distributed to eligible recipients. A survey had to be undertaken of both the Half Breed Tract’s land area and the list of potential mixed-blood eligibles. “A year passed while the survey was in progress,” wrote Folwell (1922, p. 483), “and nearly another while the commissioners appointed for the purpose were making up a roll of the half-breeds entitled to participate in the distribution of the scrip.”
According to Folwell’s account, these surveys determined that the Tract covered 32,819.48 acres and 640 mixed-bloods made up the pool of eligibles. Based on these figures, it was decided to allot each eligible 480 acres, this sum divided into five separate scrip certificates, A through E. A was exchangeable for 40 acres; B, for 40 acres; C, for 80 acres; D, for 160 acres; and E, for 160 acres. Each scrip certificate entitled the bearer – and, it may be noted, only the bearer – to “locate” to an equivalent-area land grant on unclaimed federal land, whether surveyed or not surveyed. (As we will see in due course, this division of each eligible’s grant into five pieces of scrip would play a not insignificant part in the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion regarding the proper uses of such scrip down the road, in 1902.)
These grants did not, however, use up the entire Half Breed Tract’s land area. The 640 grants of 480 acres each summed to a total of 307,200 acres, which in turn left a balance of 13,619.48 acres in undistributed land or scrip. These extra acres, wrote Folwell, were intended
…for the relief of any Sioux half-breeds who might have been overlooked in the general distribution. On October 12, 1860, the secretary of the interior recognized the claims of the convenient number of thirty-eight additional applicants and apportioned to each 360 acres, which exhausted the reservation. The whole tract was thus promptly opened to settlement, and it was rapidly taken up by desirable immigrants.
According to Brohough’s account, these somewhat smaller grants were awarded in the form of two certificates for 160 acres and one certificate for 40 acres. The original scrip awards – comprising the 640 grants to 480 recipients – were physically delivered to their scripees “…in the spring of 1857 at Wabasha, Faribault, and other convenient places by General James Shields…” (Folwell, p. 483). Incidentally, because Col. Wallace employed Walter Bourke’s “C” scrip in his attempt to locate Wallace’s townsite, it follows that Bourke’s award derived from the first distribution in 1857 and not the supplemental one, to 38 mixed-blood recipients, in 1860. It follows that Bourke himself would have been roughly 29 years older than when he received his scrip when Col. Wallace made his initial effort to locate his townsite in North Idaho.
The U.S. Congress had taken care that the mixed-blood scrip recipients would not be cheated out of their valuable land award. Section 1 of the 1854 act’s text expressly prohibited sale of scrip to other parties. It held, to quote the provision, “That no transfer or conveyance of any of said certificates or scrip shall be valid.” The faces of scrip certificates bore the same proscription. In order to further protect the scrip’s recipients from unscrupulous and greedy land sharks, two powers of attorney documents needed to be authorized and signed by the mixed-blood scripee in order to effect a transaction involving land that had been secured by Sioux half-breed scrip. “With childlike confidence,” wrote Folwell (1922, p. 482), “Congress had enacted a statute which was to put it out of the power of anybody to defeat its benevolent purpose.” And yet the same two-powers-of-attorney requirement aimed at protecting the scripee would also in due course become the preferred mechanism for handling scrip as if it were cash – which is to say, easily transferrable and portable. Minnesota territorial delegate Henry M. Rice, who introduced the half-breed scrip bill in the Senate, was, it appears, fully cognizant of this dual utility. ‘Rice claimed publically,’ wrote William Millikan (2010, p. 8) (1),
that the law protected the recipients of the scrip “in every respect”—it specified that “no transfer or conveyance of any of said certificates or scrip shall be valid.” Privately, he told friends in Minnesota that the “Half Breed Bill” would create an opportunity for considerable profits.
It appears that evading or exploiting the two-powers-of-attorney provision of the scrip act had been used and developed previously, respecting another land scrip. “The provision of the statute declaring all conveyances of scrip invalid,” explained Folwell (1922, p. 483), “was evaded by the same device as that employed in the case of the Chippewa half-breed scrip. Two powers of attorney, one to locate, another to sell, worked a substantial alienation.”
Well, and as it turned out — surely to no one’s surprise — land gained via Sioux half-breed scrip in Minnesota and elsewhere in the nation did not end up in the hands of the original mixed-heritage scripees. The first paragraph of MNOPEDIA’s article on ‘”Half-Breed” Tract and Scrip’ shrewdly, and ruefully, observed and summarized:
The 1830 Treaty of Prairie du Chien set aside 320,000 acres of potentially valuable land west of Lake Pepin for so-called “half-breed” members of the Dakota [i.e., Sioux] nation. The move set off a series of events that would enrich a number of early Minnesotans, none of Indian heritage.
Still more problems and setbacks befell the 1854 act once mixed-blood scripees received their scrip allotments.
(1) William Millikan’s excellent and very useful article, “The Great Treasure of the Fort Snelling Prison Camp” (Minnesota History, Spring, 2010, pp. 4-17), may be downloaded here.