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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 13, No. 4
December, 1935
HISTORY OF OKLAHOMA'S SCHOOL ENDOWMENT

D. W. P.

Page 381

Judge R. E. Wood, who was for several years connected with the administration of the School Land department wrote an article relating to the public lands of Oklahoma. The article was entitled: "HISTORY OF THE ACQUISITION OF THE DIFFERENT CLASSES OF STATE AND SCHOOL LANDS OF OKLAHOMA."

This thesis was submitted to the Oklahoma Historical Society and was printed by W. P. Campbell, Custodian in charge, in Historia, October 1, 1919, and is now in the files of the Society.

Judge Wood was an able man and a close conscientious student, and was fully conversant with the subject. His statements and historical data can be verified by the records.

The article follows:

"In 1875 during the period our government was under the articles of confederation, the rectangular system of lands surveys was adopted for the Northwest Territory and, at the suggestion of Thomas Jefferson, one section in each township was set apart for public schools. This system of surveys is still maintained, but, in 1850, the government adopted the plan of giving two sections of the public domain, 16 and 36, in each township, to the public schools of the state as admitted.

"Accordingly, as the Indian reservations composing that portion of the state of Oklahoma, which was formerly known as Oklahoma Territory, were ceded and relinquished by the tribes to the government and by it opened to homestead settlement, reservations of Sections 16 and 36 in each township, where said sections were not otherwise appropriated, were made for the benefit of the public schools, both by act of Congress providing for the opening thereof and by the President's proclamation opening the same to settlement.

"From time to time it was found that prior to the opening of these lands, sections 16 and 36 or parts thereof, were otherwise appropriated, as in cases wherein Indian allotments had been se-

Page 382

lected or a number of such sections were included in unceded or unrelinquished Indian reservations. To prevent this loss to the public schools, Congress, in Section 18 of the Organic Act of Oklahoma Territory, approved May 2, 1890, providing for the selection of other lands in equal amounts in lieu thereof in cases where sections 16 and 36 had been otherwise appropriated.

"The lands so acquired are known as 'common school indemnity lands,' sections 16 and 36, and said indemnity lands constitute the public school lands of the state of Oklahoma and the funds derived from their sale, together with $5,000,000 donated by the government at statehood, in lieu of sections 16 and 36 in the Indian Territory side of the state, constitute mainly the permanent common school fund of Oklahoma.

"In the early part of 1893, and after three great openings of land to homestead settlement, with reservations for public schools only, had been made, it was found by a few public spirited citizens, notably Hon. Henry E. Asp and Dr. David R. Boyd, the latter then president of the University of Oklahoma, that soon the public domain would be exhausted and that we would have no lands reserved for donation to the future state for higher education and public buildings. A bill providing for the opening of the Cherokee Outlet was then pending before Congress. Messrs. Asp and Boyd appeared in Washington and endeavored to secure an amendment to the bill reserving section 13 in each township for higher educational purposes and section 33 in each township for public building purposes; but owing to stern opposition, failed to secure its adoption by the committee on territories.

"The late Sen. Orville H. Platt of Connecticut, then chairman of the committee, was in sympathy with the purposes of these men and, sharing their disappointments, suggested and conceived another plan whereby the result might be wrought and, with his own hands, drafted an amendment to the bill which authorized the President of the United States, after making in his proclamation reservations of sections 16 and 36 for public schools, to make such other reservations of lands for public purposes as he might deem wise and advisable. This act was approved by President Harrison on the last day of his term, March 3, 1893. (27 U. S. Statutes at L. 642.)

Page 383

"Upon the inauguration of President Cleveland, Mr. Asp and Dr. Boyd interceded with him along the lines of securing additional reservations of land for higher educational and public building purposes. The result was that when, on August 19, 1893, President Cleveland issued his proclamation opening the 6,000,000-acre Strip to homestead settlement, reserving section 13 in each township, where not otherwise reserved and disposed of, for university, agricultural college and normal school purposes; also, section 33 in each township where not otherwise reserved, for public buildings. These two reservations were made subject to the approval of Congress and were approved by that body, May 4, 1894. (28 U. S. Stat. at L. 71.)

"The right of the state of Oklahoma to select from the unappropriated public domain sections 13 and 33 indemnity lands did not exist at the opening of the Cherokee Outlet, but by act of Congress approved March 2, 1895, (U. S. Stat., at L. 899) such right was granted so that such selections Were subsequently made in the Kiowa, Comanche and Wichita reservations before these were opened to settlement in 1901. So we have lands known as section 13, "state educational institutions indemnity," and section 33, "public building indemnity," in addition to the "common school indemnity," the latter having been selected from portions of all Oklahoma reservations opened since 1893.

"Following the decision of the United States Supreme Court confirming Greer County as a part of Oklahoma, on January 18, 1897, Congress enacted a law opening said county and reserving, in addition to sections 16 and 36 for public schools, sections 13 and 33 in each township "for the such purposes as the legislature of the future state of Oklahoma may prescribe" and provided that "whenever any of the lands reserved for school or other purposes under this act, or under the laws of Congress, relating to Oklahoma, shall be found to have been occupied by actual settlers or for townsite purposes, or homesteaded prior to March 16, 1896, an equal quantity of indemnity lands may be selected as provided by law." These selections were made before the lands of that country were opened to settlement, thus giving the state what are known as the "Greer County 13 Indemnity" and "Greer County 33 Indemnity Lands."

Page 384

"By act of the legislature of Oklahoma, approved March 10, 1908, the Greer County section 13 indemnity lands were made a part of the state educational institutions fund, along with the old Cherokee Outlet section 13 and its indemnity. Under chapter 112, Session Laws of Oklahoma, 1911, Greer County 13 and its indemnity were created a "union graded or consolidate school district fund," under the management and control of the state board of education.

"September 4, 1841, Congress enacted a law donating to the states then admitted and to those thereafter admitted, each 500,000, acres within their respective limits, for internal improvements. On September 28, 1850, (Rev. Stat. U. S., 2479) another law passed Congress, granting to certain states thereafter to be admitted all the swamp and overflowed lands within their respective boundaries, to be sold by the states receiving them and thus create a fund for leveeing, ditching and draining such lands.

"On the 16th June, 1906, the President of the United States approved the act of Congress admitting Oklahoma into the sisterhood of states. In section 12 thereof, the application of said internal improvement and swamp land grants was repealed as to Oklahoma and the new state was granted, in lieu thereof, 1,050,000 acres of the unsettled public lands of the state for the use and benefit of the educational institutions thereof as follows:

     University .................. 250,000 acres
     University Preparatory School .................. 150,000 "
     A. & M. College .................. 250,000 "
     Colored Agricultural and Normal University .................. 100,000 "
     Normal Schools .................. 300,000 "

"Under section 3, article 2, chapter 28, Session Laws of Oklahoma, 1909, these lands were designated as "New College Lands," and are so carried on the records of the state land office."

To make clear and more complete the records of the lands that were reserved for public schools, higher educational institutions and for state buildings, as well as lands reserved for eleemosynary and penal purposes, we will copy an excerpt from a statement made by Judge Thomas H. Doyle before the Committee on Terri-

Page 385

tories in Washington, D. C., January 26 and 27, 1904. In the matter of admitting the Territory of Oklahoma in to the Union, Judge Doyle was the leading advocate of single statehood and delivered a lengthy address favoring uniting the Indian territory country with the Territory of Oklahoma and making a single state, rather than the admission of Oklahoma Territory without the territory of the Five Tribes. This statement before the Committee is published in the March, June, and September numbers of the Chronicles, Vol. 5, 1927. In this exhaustive statement he gives consideration to the public lands that had been reserved from homestead entry for the endowment of the public schools and public institutions. He explains the so called "Indemnity Lands" that had been added to the school and public building land of the state. It will be found on pages 139 and 140, Chronicles of Oklahoma, June 1927.

It follows: "Judge DOYLE: 'I will read from page 24 of the report of the Governor of Oklahoma for the year 1900:'

'By authority of an act of the third legislative assembly the school land board of the preceding administration made a contract with the Hon. D. A. Harvey, as Territorial agent, for the selection of indemnity lands for losses from fractional sections, reservations, and other causes. Under this contract 101,188.68 acres were selected in the Kickapoo Reservation and 21,840 acres were selected in a body in Woodward County, northeast of Camp Supply, for which services the agent received the sum of ten cents per acre, the cost to the Territory being $12,302 fees to the agent, in addition to $1,568 fees to the registrars and receivers of the land offices, which the Territory has been compelled to pay upon these lands during the past year under departmental decision of April 19, 1898 (26 L. D. 536).

'The indemnity lands in the Kickapoo country were selected in lieu of lands in the Osage Reservation, and those in Woodward County were taken in exchange for lands in the Ponca and Otoe Reservation, to which the Territory waived its right.

'During the present administration indemnity lands have been selected as follows:

Page 386

      Acres
Greer County, Sections 13 and 33 .................. 21,416.56
Greer County, common schools .................. 20,713.00
Common school, Custer and Dewey Counties .................. 9,297.28
   


Total
.................. 41,426.84

'The total expense in making these selections, preparing records, etc., in addition to the regular fees of the United States land office, has been $223.85.

'There are still due the Territory about 12,000 acres of indemnity lands, which will be selected in the near future.'

Mr. Doyle continues: "Mr. Harvey, the gentleman referred to above, was the delegate from Oklahoma who preceded Mr. Flynn. He has been here frequently.

" 'Now, in Mr. McGuire's bill the re-granting clause reads as follows:

'Sec. 7. That upon the admission of said State into the Union sections numbered sixteen and thirty-six in every township of said proposed State, and where such sections, or any part thereof, have been sold or otherwise disposed of by or under virtue of any act of Congress, then lands equivalent thereto are hereby granted to said State for the support of common schools, and such indemnity land shall be selected in such manner as the Legislature of the State may provide, with the approval of the Secretary of the Interior.***'

"Every other enabling act that has been proposed and submitted to this Congress provides that sections sixteen and thirty-six heretofore granted, and indemnity lands heretofore taken in lieu thereof, shall be re-granted. There will never be any public domain in the Ponca and Otoe country. All the treaties provided for the appointment of these when they are allotted in their entirety—not merely 160 acres each and the remainder to be thrown into the public domain—and for that very reason these indemnity lands have been selected.

"These people have been tenants of Oklahoma Territory since 1895; but Mr. McGuire's bill absolutely fails in every respect to

Page 387

re-grant those lands to the State proposed to be created, and under the decisions of our courts construing the question as to the necessity of a re-grant to the new State created, they all hold that the enabling act must re-grant the land."

The Enabling Act, under the provisions of which Oklahoma formed a constitution and was admitted in to the Union, re-granted to the State of Oklahoma all lands that had been before granted to the Territory of Oklahoma, including indemnity land.

The schools of the Territory of Oklahoma derived considerable revenue from the proceeds of the leasing of the public lands. The school lands that had been reserved when the various reservations were opened to homestead entry, were leased for farming and grazing purposes, 11 or 12 years prior to statehood. By an act of Congress the Governor of the Territory was authorized to lease this land under rules prescribed by the Secretary of the Interior.

In the month of December, 1893, Gov. William C. Renfrow sent out the following circular letter:

"Dear Sir:— By act of Congress the school lands of Oklahoma territory are to be leased by the governor under rules prescribed by the secretary of the interior. As soon as instructions are received from him publications will be made for bids on said lands. Sealed bids must be sent in upon forms of applications prepared by this office before the day set for opening said bid. When the bids are opened awards will be made to the highest bidder. One person is entitled to lease only one quarter section. The minimum price will be $25 per quarter per year. Payment may be made in cash or by notes with approved security. No provision has as yet been made for releasing school lands but no doubt some just and equitable rule will be made, protecting both the settler and the school fund. No priority will be gained on account of settling on school land in the Cherokee strip. Sale of school land will not be made until Oklahoma becomes a state. All business connected with leasing the school lands will be transacted by the governor at Guthrie.

Very Respectfully,
WILLIAM C. RENFROW
Governor."

Page 388

In order to bring this history of the state school lands and school funds (as well as the lands set apart for other state institutions) down to the present the Chronicles has secured an authentic statement as to the status of the school endowment fund administered by the State School Land department. It follows:

"The present records of the State School Land Department disclose that its original permanent fund at Statehood, consisted of a total grant of 3,177,480 acres of land from all sources, which land was valued by the United States Government, at $11,216,504.00, and an additional grant of cash was appropriated by the Congress of the United States in Section 7 of the Enabling Act, in the sum of $5,000,000.00, for the use and benefit of the common schools of the State in lieu of any lands in the Indian Territory; this made the total permanent fund of the State School Land Department at Statehood, $16,216,504.

"At Statehood, November 16, 1907, the Commissioners of the Land Office, took over from the Territorial Board for the leasing of school land, the supervision of all granted lands, and, $320,373.31 in cash, representing undistributed rental collections, and $218,286.29 in notes, representing Agricultural rentals accruing prior to Statehood. None of the higher educational institutions funds had any cash available for investment during the first two years following Statehood, as practically all their receipts consisted of income from the granted lands, fees, etc., which were available only for the support, and maintenance of the institutions.

"During the period from Statehood, to the latter part of 1915, a portion of the receipts from Agricultural rentals and fees were used to pay certain expenses of the department.

"The sale of granted lands began in December, 1909, and was continued until the early part of 1917. Only a few tracts have been sold since 1917; none in the last four years. The proceeds from the sale of school lands, being permanent funds, are available for investment.

"First-mortgage farm loans from the higher educational institutions funds, were authorized by the Oklahoma Legislature in 1915.

Page 389

"Under rules and regulations of the Legislature, the permanent funds are loaned on first mortgages and up to the present time, the records disclose that 43,324 loans have been made since the first loaning of this money was authorized.

"All Agricultural-lease rentals, and all interest from whatsoever source, is distributed monthly to the schools on a ratio of the earning capacity of the permanent fund allocated to such schools. All monies received from Oil and Gas Royalties, Rentals, and Bonuses, go to the permanent funds and are not distributed as revenue to the schools.

"From the original grant of 3,177,480 acres, there remains, as of this time, unsold, 882,661 acres. In addition thereto, the state has acquired through foreclosure procedure, 108,637 acres. Taken on the basis of an appraisal made in 1931, and 1932, the unsold granted lands are valued at $8,686,992 and the foreclosed lands are valued at $1,892,506 making a total of $10,579,499 in value of land yet retained by the State and unsold.

"The earnings from these permanent school funds from November 16, 1907, up to June 30, 1935, disclose that $43,617,700.06 have been distributed to the schools of this State. Of this portion, $32,902,735.92 was distributed to the common schools, $7,160,707.1.8 to the State Educational institutions, $914,215.30 to the State University from the New College Lands, $499,395.58 to the University Preparatory schools from the New College Lands, $819,282.40 to the Agricultural and Mechanical College, from New College Lands, $1,004,197.87 to the Normal Schools from New College Lands, and $317,165.81 to the Colored Agricultural and Normal University from the New College Lands.

"From Statehood up to June 30, 1935, there was distributed from the proceeds of Section 33, for Public Building purposes of this State, $8,398,911.27 and for the construction of Union Graded and Consolidated Schools, $524,822.75; this fund was derived from the proceeds of Section 33 in old Greer County. (It would be well to state here that remaining assets in the Public Building fund, including lands, bonds and money on hand, are $2,120,123.) During this same period there has been paid into the general fund of the state, for operating expenses, the sum of $891,419.52 which fund constitutes the fees collected by the School

Page 390

Land department and paid into the general funds of the state as provided by statute and not from the permanent school fund.

"As of November 23, 1935, the Assets of the State School Land Department amounted to $55,736,166.55. Inasmuch as the combined assets at Statehood were $16,755,163.60, it may be readily seen that there has been a growth in the assets of this department in the amount of $38,981,002.95. Up to June 30, 1935, this department distributed in earnings for all purposes, $53,432,853.60. This, added to the present assets of $55,736,166.55, shows an accountability from the capital assets at Statehood to $109,169,020.15.

December 10, 1935.

Gilbert Fraser, Department Auditor.
Commissioners of the Land Office."

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