MINING LAWS OF THE UNITED STATES.* Government Ownership of Min erals — Discovery of Gold.— The United States mining statutes apply mainly to the ownership and acquisition of minerals in the public lands. They do not regulate or control underground mining operations. The govern ment on its formation made no claim to min erals in lands within the, original States. The Ordinance of 20 May 1785, providing for the disposal of public lands, reserved one-third of all gold, silver, lead and copper mines. An early enactment of Congress required sur veyors to note in their fieldbooks the situation of all mines. By resolution, 16 April 1800. Congress authorized the collection of informa tion relative to copper mines near Lake Superior.
A system of leasing the lead mines and of re serving all salines was in force for many years. But President Polk in his first message, 2 Dec. 1845, suggested that the leasing system was defective and unprofitable, and recommended that mineral lands be sold ((reserving to the government an equitable percentage of the gross amount of mineral product.'' The policy of the government always has been to reserve all minerals and to dispose of them by methods distinct from that of the disposal of other public lands. No discovery of the precious metals had been made in the public lands before the cession of the territory by Mexico, in 1848. For 300 years the Spaniards had found no gold in the sands of that vast domain. Amen cans, seeking the development of the country, discovered the precious metal before the treaty of peace was signed. At this time there was no statute authorizing the private appropriation of minerals discovered upon the public domain. The laws of the United States were never ex tended to the territory acquired from Mexico, hut automatically this domain came under mil) * This article treats only of the United States mining statutes. The mining codes of the various states regulate mining operations under ground and include features separate and distinct from those of the Federal mining statutes.
tary rule, and on 12 Feb. 1848, 10 days after the peace treaty had been signed and 25 days after the discovery of gold, the military gov ernor, Col. R. B. Mason, issued a proclamation abolishing the Mexican laws and customs pre vailing in the California region relative to the denouncement of mines. But Mexican rule and law over the ceded territory ended without this manifesto. No law authorized and none prevented miners from prospecting for gold. Pioneers were occupying the land without Con gressional license, and the miners began pros pecting under the passive leave of the govern ment. The silence of the ruling body was construed to be consent. From the time of the discovery of gold until 1853 there was neither authority nor law permitting, prohibiting or condemning the wholesale trespassing upon the public lands, and the mining and appropriating the minerals that belonged to the government.
In 1853 the Supreme Court of California de cided that the deposits of gold and silver within its boundaries belonged to the State. The Congress, and the executive branch of the government, acquiesced in this holding, and mining operations on the public domain grew to vast proportions. Not until 1861 was this doctrine of State ownership repudiated, and the title to the minerals conceded to be in the United States.
In the meantime, miners from the southern Appalachian regions, from the tin and lead mines of Great Britain, from the mines of Mexico, South America, Continental Europe and from the islands of the sea, and adventurers from the Eastern States and from all quarters of the civilized world poured into California as a new El Dorado.
Miners' Rules and Regulations4—At the beginning of this wild rush there was locally no law to restrain and no court to punish an of fender for trespass, misdemeanor, larceny or murder. The miner whose rights were invaded, or whose property was taken, had neither court nor authority to which he could resort for the protection of his rights, or redress of his wrongs. This tide of immigration carried on its crest men of learning, integrity and honor; but it also swept before it the derelicts of society, the depraved, the vicious, the thug and the thief — criminals fleeing from punishment past or prospective. For self-protection, the thoughtful and law-abiding prospectors organ ized themselves into local communities acting with the direction and authority of constituted bodies exercising power to preserve order and punish offenders. These communities were known as (mining districts.° These districts usually included one or more Miggins" o min ing camps, and were bounded by natural objects —mountains, gulches and rivers. The districts varied in size from a small mining area to vast stretches of valleys and gorges. In each district meetings were held at stated times, or as neces sity might demand, on call. The meetings were in a sense deliberative assemblies, conducted in an orderly manner the business tact of American instinct for public assemblies.” The meetings were the people's forum, an instance of pure democracy, legislative in their nature and executive in purpose; they were more than mere occasions for mental effervescence or than safety valves for community complaints. Their sessions were governed by properly selected officers, and records were kept of their proceedings.