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Governor bids for squatter vote

Governor John Bigler
Governor John Bigler
William F. Cogswell

Due to the large amount of interest associated with squatters, politicians such as Governor John Bigler began to bid for their vote. In a message to the legislature on January 4, 1854, Bigler referred to squatters as bona fide settlers, an enterprising and useful portion of the population and called legislation in their favor as just, necessary and proper. Where settlement had been made in good faith with no indication that any title other than that of the government existed—which might include nearly all cases—compensation should be rewarded for squatter improvements in case of eviction. He added that the government should not require payment of one dollar and a quarter per acre while Oregon donated land free of charge. He recommended California follow Oregon and provide land for free.

It wasn’t until March 26, 1856 that legislation passed calling all lands in California as public unless title could be shown to have passed to a private party. The act, described as for the protection of settlers and to quiet land titles in the state, was decidedly in favor of squatters but in January 1857 the California Supreme Court pronounced it unconstitutional. One justice, David Terry, openly held it constitutional in a dissenting opinion. The very passage of the law indicated the great power of squatter interest. That power could be felt in all departments of the administration. The squatter problem in California was far from solved.

John Rose Putnam is the author of hard driving historical fiction from the California gold rush. See his website at