Most of the settlers who attended the great meeting at Ladore on July 4. 1870, remained over until the 5th, when another meeting was held, to more practically discuss the rights and prospects of the settlers. Major H. C. Whitney and John Speer, who had been the principal orators of the day previous, made speeches. Major Whitney more particularly discussed the legal aspect of the matter, and advised united action on the part of the settlers. At the conclusion of the address the following was unanimously adopted by the settlers:
"Whereas, By a treaty with the Osages, proclaimed in January, 1867, it was provided that the lands since known as the Osage Ceded Lands should be sold for cash, which treaty the Commissioner of the General Land Office authoritatively decided did not vest any title to lands therein in land monopolies; and whereas, a joint resolution of April 10, 1869, provided for the sale of all said lands to actual settlers at $1.25 per acre; and whereas, said treaty and decision of the Commissioner of the General Land Office and joint resolutions have been set at naught by a mere arbitrary ruling of a late secretary, made upon an ex parte application of the land monopolies, and based upon a mistaken precedent; and, whereas, our right to our homes and our all is menaced by said monopolies; now, therefore, be it
"Resolved, That we will contest for our titles under the joint resolution aforesaid to the extreme limit of the law; and to secure this end we will organize thoroughly and with discipline so as to bring the entire material and moral force of the whole array of settler's to bear throughout the whole contest.
"Resolved, That the settlers are hereby solemnly warned not to squander their means in the attempted purchase of an illegal and void monopoly title to their homes, which title must sooner or later be overthrown; but they each and all are earnestly entreated to join the settlers' organization and obtain a title direct from the General Government, which shall be cheap, staunch, and unmistakable.
"Resolved, That we hereby appoint the following temporary executive committee, viz. Col. W. H. Carpenter, George T. Walton, Wm. S. Irwin, Lewis A. Reese, Van Henderletter, Peter Collins, M. H. Sheldon, A. S. Spaulding, and J. M. Richardson; and they are hereby requested to form and promulgate to the settlers for their consideration, a plan of permanent executive committee; to adopt such measures as may be essential to promote the interests of the settlers; and that said executive committee is requested to prepare an address to the settlers, and to publish the same immediately.
"Resolved, That the settlers are hereby requested immediately to assemble in neighborhood meetings, each neighborhood to select a good and true man competent to serve as a member of the permanent executive committee. The executive committee are requested to select from said list nine members, in such manner as that all localities on the Ceded Lands shall be represented, and said selections shall be the permanent executive committee for one year from the date of organization.
"Resolved, That from this time henceforth we mean business, and upon our efforts to save our homes we invoke the just consideration of all true men and the gracious favor of Almighty God."
The committee appointed by the foregoing resolutions at once took steps to perfect the organization, and W. S. Irwin was elected its president. On October 15, 1870, a charter for the purpose of incorporating the "Settlers' Protective Association of the Osage Ceded Lands" was prepared, and signed by William Irwin, David C. Hutchinson, George W. McMillen, J. M. Richardson, and others, which was filed in the office of the Secretary of State October 1, 1870. The charter states the object of the corporation as follows: "The purpose for which this corporation is formed is the promotion of immigration to said lands, and the legal investigation and proper adjustment of the title thereto." In the fall of 1870 subordinate councils were organized in nearly every part of the two counties.
The first regular meeting of the Grand Council after its formal organization was held at the town of Labette, on December 17, 1870. At this meeting the following officers were elected for the ensuing year: President, J. J. Woods; secretary, Samuel R. Luke; executive committee, D. C. Hutchinson, G. W. McMillen, J. J. Woods, A. J. Campbell, J. B. Swart, J. C. Bundy, J. M. Gaston, M. H. Sheldon, James Martin. D. C. Hutchinson and G. W. McMillen were appointed financial agents, and directed to canvass both counties for funds. Early in January, 1871, the executive committee published a long and carefully prepared address to the settlers, setting forth the necessity for their standing together and contributing of their means to a common fund in order to reach an end by all alike desired; it set forth that Major Whitney had been employed as attorney to conduct a contested case through the court, and that the case of J. M. Richardson against the railroad company had been instituted for the purpose of contesting the question of title.
The association proceeded to spread itself over the two counties, and, to do much good work in the shape of enlisting the settlers in the united action for their homes. As the work progressed it became evident that a knowledge of their action on the part of the public interfered with the accomplishment of their plans, and so it was decided to form a secret organization retaining the main features of the old association, but adding to it a secret obligation and some ritualistic work. Of the introduction of this feature into the association, I will let those speak who were connected with it. Hon. T. P. Leech, of Thayer, writes me as follows:
"My individual experience and knowledge of the facts connected with the Osage Ceded Lands contest involved in the history and transactions of the Settlers' Protective Association began in 1871, when William Dick (well known and recognized all over the Ceded Lands as 'Father Dick') organized a subordinate council of the S. P. A. of 0. C. L., in the school-house near my place. He informed us that there had been a number of old settlers' meetings held at different places on the Ceded Lands in the past, for the purpose of organizing a legal contest with the railroad companies to test the validity of their claim to these lands, but that the work had been openly and voluntarily done, and only a portion of the old settlers had taken interest in the matter; and that at a meeting held at Ladore - earlier known as Fort Roach - it had been decided to regularly organize (as a secret organization) the Osage Ceded Land Settlers' Protective Association, and enlist, if possible, all those whose homes were involved in the controversy, and all others who were in sympathy with them. Many subordinate councils had been formed before our neighborhood had been reached, and the work of organization was going on rapidly. And so Father Dick read to us the printed declaration of purposes, the constitution and by-laws that were to govern the association; and as it was clearly set forth that the purpose was to secure concerted action in making the strongest possible legal contest for our rights, I cast my lot with my neighbors (although my individual home was not in controversy, and neither was Father Dick's), and I shall probably never forget the concluding paragraph of the obligation given its by Father Dick in his most impressive manner, and which was repeated by all the candidates, as follows:
"All of this I most solemnly and sincerely promise and swear that I will keep and perform, without any equivocation or mental reservation whatever; binding myself under no less a penalty than that of having a rope looped round my neck and I be swung in the air till life become extinct. So help me God, and keep me steadfast.'"
The following letter will give further information on this same subject:
"Hon. Nelson Case, Oswego, Kas.-DEAR SIR: In response to your request for the facts relative to the secret organization of the Settlers' Protective Association, I submit the following, which is of course but a brief statement of what might be indefinitely enlarged:
"The open organization, which had been in existence some time, proved very unsatisfactory in its working, and a few of its became satisfied that our purposes could only be accomplished through a secret organization. It was feared that some parties, such as the Catholics, Dunkards, Quakers, and United Brethren, would not go into a secret organization; but others argued that for the purposes contemplated all these parties could be expected to unite. The first actual steps taken toward forming the secret organization were at my house, about the first of October, 1871. My father, William Dick, and I had been to a meeting at the Catalpa school-house, in Neosho county, the proceedings of which convinced us that something must be done to bring matters more completely under the control of those really in earnest in the settlers' interest. We counseled with T. B. Smith and D. D. Lindsey, and all met at my house. We were all members of the Masonic order, and agreed to organize a Secret Settlers' Protective Association. I was to draw the constitution and bylaws, and father was to prepare the oath, and we were to meet at my house the next evening to initiate the work. We four met there as agreed; the constitution, by-laws and oath were laid on a small table, the four surrounding it with our left hands on the instruments and our right hands raised; father recited the oath, the others repeating it over after him. And then Mr. Lindsey recited the oath to father, and he repeated it after him. During the whole history of the organization the oath remained the same as it was then written and used, and was never by authority put in print. Before parting it was agreed that each person present should select one person whom he could trust, and bring with him the following evening to father's house. The four selected were W. A. Starr, Wm. Findley, J. B. Swart and James McMains. At the time appointed the eight met, and the four new members were initiated in the same manner as the first had been. It was again agreed that each one present should select one and bring with him the following night at the same place; these eight were initiated. This meeting lasted until nearly morning; the general work was mapped out, its difficulties and dangers discussed, and what was hoped to be accomplished was talked over. Before starting away it was arranged to hold the next meeting at Carpenter's school-house in District No. 30, and that each party present should select two persons to bring with him at that meeting. The next meeting was to be held a week later, each one present to bring an additional person with him. When we came together, in addition to the forty-eight new members who were to be selected by those who had already been initiated, there were four who came along, having learned that something was to be done, and who were received along with the others, making just one hundred present at this meeting. It was now determined to form a permanent organization, and elect officers. The following were elected: Chief counselor, William Dick; vice-counselor, J. B. Swart; secretary, J. H. McGheehen; treasurer, Jas. McMains. By the first of November the organization had grown so unwieldy that it was determined to form auxiliary councils. The first one was organized in the southeast corner of Wilson county; another soon after, at what was then called the McCormick school-house, in District No. 19, in Labette county; another one at the Shiloh school-house, in Neosho county; and others later at other points. Parties came for a distance of 20 miles to be initiated and learn the particulars of the organization. Dr. G. W. McMillen, of Neosho county, having been initiated, was with Father Dick, appointed to organize new councils. About the first of January, 1872, delegates from all the secret councils met at Hughes' hall, in Parsons, and organized a grand council. The following officers were elected: Grand chief counselor, Dr. G. W. McMillen; grand vice-counselor, J. B. Swart; grand chief secretary, M. H. Sheldon; grand chief treasurer, William Dick. An executive committee of five was also elected. The work thus organized went on until the cause for which it was formed had completely triumphed.
At the close of 1872 Hon. M. J. Salter, of Thayer, was elected Grand Chief Counselor, which position he held most if not all the time until the final decision of the Supreme Court, and until the close of the work of the association. Mr. Sheldon likewise remained Grand Secretary and William Dick Grand Treasurer during the entire time. Among those who were on the executive committee and did good work were T. P. Leech, J. B. Swart and G. W. McMillen. To mention all who were prominently connected with it would be to extend this account to a greater length than could be given in this work. The executive committee held monthly meetings, and sometimes met more frequently, and the Grand Council met as often as once a year, and it was sometimes called together on special occasions. Unfaltering interest was maintained until the accomplishment of the purpose for which the association was organized.
The constitution of the association and the rules by which it was governed were somewhat of a growth. The following were the main provisions as finally adopted and as they were in use for several years:
"PREAMBLE OF THE S. P. A. - In consequence of an adverse claim to the settlers upon the Osage Ceded Lands, held by the Leavenworth, Lawrence & Galveston Railroad Company, the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway Company; and as it is generally believed that this claim cannot be established by law, as it is based upon fraud and misinterpretation of the treaty and the act of Congress, and in conflict with the policy of the Government. This claim being wrong, and injurious to the settlers upon these lands, who came here by the invitation of the Government and by the solicitation of the press of the State, setting forth the fact that the lands were opened for settlement by the Government, for the industrious citizens of the United States, and upon this representation and in good faith the people have settled upon these lands, and by toil and privation have made valuable improvements and homes for the support of their wives and little ones. When these lands became valuable by the improvements placed upon them by the industry and intelligence of the settlers, these companies did set up their claim, and have attempted to dispose of by sale, these lands together with the improvements, compelling in some cases the settler to purchase his own labor to prevent so great and sad a calamity as that of having his family driven beggars from the home they had by toil and privation made:
"Now in view of all these wrongs, and many others not herein mentioned, we, the settlers upon the Osage Ceded Lands in Kansas, do organize ourselves into a select organization to be known as the S. B. of the S. P. A., for the purpose of protecting ourselves and to test these claims of these railway companies in the highest courts of our country.
"We therefore enter into the foregoing agreement, and pledge our honor to stand to and abide by the following constitution, rules and by-laws of the association:
"ARTICLE I. - Title. - This organization shall be known by the name, style and title of the Secret Brotherhood of the Settlers' Protective Association of the Osage Ceded Lands in Kansas, and the initials S. B. S. P. A. 0. C. L. shall represent the name of the organization.
"ARTICLE II. - Objects. - The objects to be accomplished by this organization are as follows:
"1st. To strengthen, harmonize and preserve the feelings of the settlers upon the Osage Ceded Lands.
"2d. To make these feelings efficient in litigating and contesting our rights as actual settlers in legal tribunals of our country.
"3d. For the protection and assistance of all such settlers whose rights are invaded by monopolies and corporations.
"4th. To establish and secure the rights of the settlers on the Osage Ceded Lands by all legal, moral, social means in control.
"5th. To extend the hand of charity and brotherly love to all the honest and industrious laboring classes, and to assist them by our counsel and honest means in securing honesty in our Government, integrity in our people, and placing the honest labor of our country on a more equal footing, mentally, morally and socially.
"6th. To resist all encroachments of monopoly and pampered aristocracy, when and wherever found, to demand that honest labor shall be respected and protected all over the United States.
"ARTICLE III. - Organization. - The several constituted bodies of this association shall consist of
"1st. District organizations, to be known as the S. P. A. Council No. __, of __ County, of the State of Kansas.
"2nd. The general organization be known as the Grand Council of the S. B. S. P. A. of the 0. C. L.. in K. N. A., page 5."
[Provision was made by Article IV for settlers and those sympathizing with them to become members of the association. Article V provided for the election of members, and Article VI for the impeachment of members.]
"ARTICLE VII. - Officers. 1st. The officers of each Council shall be a Chief Counselor, a Senior Vice-Counselor, a Junior Vice-Counselor, a Secretary, a Treasurer, a Chief Marshal, a Junior Marshal, who shall be elected by the members semi-annually.
"2d. The officers of the Grand Council shall be a Grand Chief Counsellor, Grand Senior and Grand Junior Counselor, Grand Chief, Grand Senior and Grand Junior Marshal, Secretary and Treasurer, who shall be elected by the members of the Grand Council semi-annually.
"3d. The members of the Grand Council shall consist of the representatives, from each sub-council elected by the members of the subordinate Council to represent them in the Grand Council."
[Article VIII provided for the duties of the respective officers, and Article IX for the times of meeting.]
"ARTICLE X. - Secrecy. - 1st. The proceedings of the Council shall be kept a secret.
"2d. Any member who shall divulge any of the secrets shall suffer the penalty of his obligation, or such punishment as the court in his wisdom shall direct."
[Article XI provided for the fees; Article XII for the collection of arrearages; Article XIII for reports; Article XIV for charters to subordinate Councils; Article XV for the election of officers; Article XVI for representation in the Grand Council; Article XVII for by-laws; and Article XVIII for amendments.]
As soon as the settlers decided on contesting their rights in court they employed Major H. C. Whitney, of Humboldt, as their attorney. Under his advice a suit was brought in the District Court for Labette county, in the name of James M. Richardson against the M. K. & T. Ry. Co., in October, 1870, to obtain an adjudication of the rights of the settlers who had been refused entry at the land office to their lands. Some were not satisfied with Mr. Whitney's management of the settlers' matters, and in February, 1871, he withdrew as their attorney. Messrs. McComas & McKeighan, of Fort Scott, were then employed by the settlers. The suit first begun was dismissed because of some informality in its commencement, or for some other reason, and a new suit by Richardson was instituted. A suit was also commenced in the name of James Wood. These suits were instituted for the purpose of quieting the title of the plaintiffs to their lands, and to determine that the claim of the railroads thereto was without foundation. In the case in which Wood was plaintiff, the district court held that, upon the facts as stated in his petition, he had no standing in court. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, where the judgment of the district court was affirmed. It was soon apparent to all that the real question at issue between the settlers and the railroads could not be finally determined by these individual suits to quiet title, and plans were laid to secure action on the part of the United States in the federal courts. It was first believed that an act of Congress would be required to secure this result, and the Kansas Legislature memorialized Congress to pass a bill authorizing such action; but the matter having been brought to the attention of the executive department of the Government, the Attorney General expressed a willingness, on the application of the Senators from Kansas, to direct suit to be brought in the name of the United States without any action on the part of Congress. In addition to Messrs. McComas & McKeighan, the settlers had in their employ Gov. Shannon, Judge Wm. Lawrence, and Hon. J. S. Black. George R. Peck had recently been appointed U. S. District Attorney for Kansas, and through him, representing the Government, and the above-named attorneys representing the settlers' association, as his assistants, two suits were commenced on February 25, 1874, in the United States Circuit Court on the part of the United States, one against the M. K. & T. and one against the L. L. & G., for the purpose of obtaining a decree canceling the patents theretofore issued to them by the General Government. In October following, the judgment of that court was announced, fully sustaining the settlers' claim, and directing the patents that had been issued to the railroads to be canceled. The companies at once took the case in error to the Supreme Court of the United States, where it was ably and fully argued on October 20, 21 and 22, 1875. On April 10, 1876, the judgment of that court was rendered, sustaining the decision of the Circuit Court, and finally and conclusively affirming the right of the settlers to these lands. Both of these decisions were hailed with great delight by the settlers, and immense ratification meetings were held all over the said lands in honor of the event. Not only to their paid attorneys, who so ably represented the settlers, but also to Hon. George R. Peck. who, throughout the contest in both the Circuit and Supreme Courts, brought to their aid his best talents, were the settlers largely indebted for the victory thus won.
As soon as the decision was announced, steps were at once taken to procure Congressional legislation whereby the settlers could obtain title, the time in which this could be done under the joint resolution of April 10, 1869, having long theretofore expired. A bill was prepared by Gov. Shannon, approved by the Grand Council, and rapidly pushed through Congress by Hon. John R. Goodin, who then represented this district in the House, and our Senators in the Senate; and it was on August 11, 1876, approved by the president.
The expenses attending the contest in the courts were of course very great. Fees of the attorneys who were employed, two or three of whom had national reputation, were large, and many other expenses had to be borne. Nearly every settler on the Ceded Lands, whether he had or had not acquired title to his home, or whether the title was or was not involved and depended upon litigation then in progress, came to the aid of the cause by giving his note. Those whose title was not in contest gave a shorter form of note, but those whose land was in litigation gave notes which were generally in the following form:
"Know all Men by these Presents: That whereas, the undersigned, __, has settled upon and improved the __ quarter of section __, town __, range __, situated in the county of __ and State of Kansas, and claims the same under the preemption laws of the United States; and whereas, the __ Railroad Company claim the same land, under and by virtue of the laws of the United States; and whereas, the said contending parties are about to make up test cases to submit to the judicial tribunals of the country, so as to procure a judicial determination of the question whether said land is or is not subject to preemption, or whether the said railroad company has any right thereto or not; and whereas, the undersigned, with others holding similar preemption rights, is desirous to secure the professional services of Hon. J. S. Black, of Pennsylvania, Hon. Wm. Lawrence, of Ohio, and Hon. Wilson Shannon, Sr., of Kansas, in the argument and management of said case and the legal questions involved therein: Now, therefore, I, __, in consideration of said legal services, do obligate and bind myself to pay to the said J. S. Black, Wm. Lawrence, and Wilson Shannon Sr., the sum of __ dollars, so soon as the court of final resort shall determine that said railroad company is not entitled to said lands, and that the same are subject to preemption under the laws of the United States. The determination of any one case is to be considered as determining the legal questions as to all other lands similarly situated as to the legal questions involved in the case.
"Given under my hand, this __ day of __, A. D. 1873.
"Attest: __ __ [Seal.]"
In this way the main part of the money required to meet the expenses of the suit was raised; but in January, 1874, the Legislature passed an act appropriating $2,500 on the part of the State to assist in this enterprise. The incidental expenses of the association were met by quarterly dues of 25 cents per member.
It is not improbable that many settlers spent as much in time and money in carrying on the contest as their homes would have cost them had they purchased them from the railroad companies; but taking the whole body of settlers the cost was comparatively small compared with what they would have had to pay for their title had they obtained it through the railroad companies. One thing that had a strong tendency to unite the settlers in making the contest was the exorbitant price put upon the lands by the companies when they were placed upon the market and offered for sale. Had the lands, as soon as the companies obtained their patents, been offered for sale at a fair price, it is not unlikely that so large a proportion of the settlers would have purchased, that the others would have been without sufficient strength to successfully inaugurate and carry on the contest.
The settlers had a right to congratulate themselves over the result, not only because it secured them individually great personal advantages, but not less because it was a vindication of a right principle, and showed that a body of men, though poor, when banded together and determined may secure their rights, even against great odds.
Transcribed from History of Labette County, Kansas and its Representative Citizens, ed. & comp. by Hon. Nelson Case. Pub. by Biographical Publishing Co., Chicago, Ill. 1901
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