Land Tenure

California's colorful history helps provide some insight into the relationship between the land and its people.

Although Indian people occupied the land from "time immemorial," with the northern voyage of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo from Baja California in 1542 Spain claimed the region and began to exercise jurisdiction over it by building missions and presidios. After the apparent interest in the area by Russian traders, Spain moved its western headquarters to Monterey in 1776 and intensified its control. But unlike Britain, Spain did not colonize the New World. In most cases Spain's effort to Christianize Indian people kept them as an integral part of the land. About half the Indian people in California were connected to the series of missions from San Diego to Sonoma.

Land tenure took a new turn with the independence of Mexico from Spain in 1810 and changed considerably after the war between Mexcio and the U.S. in 1848. When California entered the Union in 1850, the land not in private hands "officially" became public domain. The state set up a Land Claims Commission in 1851 to adjudicate disputes. But since Indian people did not know of the Commission and the state did not enter a claim in their behalf, no one represented Indian claims.

Also in 1851 the national government negotiated 18 treaties with Indian leaders throughout California, but the U.S. Senate failed to ratify any of them. Congress authorized three commissioners in 1850 to draft treaties with California Indian leaders. During the next year, the commissioners prepared 18 draft treaties. In October 1851, one of the commissioners, Redick McKee, a Virginian, negotiated two agreements, one with the Hupa, Karuk, and Yurok on the Lower Klamath River and one with the Tolowa on the Upper Klamath.

Throughout the state Indian leaders agreed to cede their traditional lands for reservations comrprising 7,488,000 acres. But California officials objected. U.S. Representative McCorkle from San Francisco argued in Congress, March 26, 1852, that in some cases the land set aside for Indian people comprised "the most valuable agricultural and mineral lands in the state." California Governor Bigler concurred. He wrote to McKee on July 18, 1852, that not only are the lands included within the reservations valuable but that "I havethe assurance of the united oppositon of our delegation in Congress to ratifcation of the treaties, and that their rejection by the United States may be regarded as beyond doubt." He was right. The Senate refused to ratify the treaties.

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