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patent / title

patent – An official document conferring a right or privilege on some person or party. — Webster, 1882

title – That which constitutes a just cause of exclusive possession; that which is the foundation of ownership of property, real or personal; right, as, a good title to an estate, or an imperfect title. — Webster, 1882

John A. Owen advertises his residence in De Smet with good Barns, Granary, and 400 by 1,3200 feet of Land (4 blocks). 4 ½ acres trees (only $3,500 for this property). For sale free of encumbrance and perfect patent title, cheap, for cash or on time. – De Smet Leader, 1889

In the Little House books, reference to a “patent” means one of two things: either (1) reference to an item that was unique for some specified reason or had been invented by a person or company who registered their rights with the United States Patent Office for protection against others copying their product; or, (2) the official document issued to show that a claimant had done all that was required by law in order to earn right of ownership of a piece of land either under preemption, timber culture, or homestead laws. In the second case, “title” could mean the same thing, although it also applied to property deeds not involving homestead laws, such as a direct sale from an owner to a purchaser.

Land patent or title. A land patent was the final step in the process of homesteading. After selecting a parcel at the land office or through a land agent, a claimant paid an initial filing fee in order to secure the right to occupy the land in hopes of proving up on it. He or she then had to follow the specific laws as to plowing, planting, building a habitable dwelling, and living on the land for any required length of time. Tree claims, for example, did not have a residency requirement. Once all the requirements had been met, the claimant and a number of witnesses filled out paperwork before a land office representative that all terms had been met, and paid a final fee in order to process the paperwork, plus any land costs involved. A preemption was a cash purchase, so a per acre cost was paid at final proof. The claimant was given a receipt, and unless the filing was contested, was able to sell the property. All paperwork was sent to the General Land Office and after being reviewed and all found to be in order, a final official document of ownership – the patent – was sent, specifying the owner’s name, legal land description, official number, and date. It was signed by the President of the United States or his deputy as well as the recorder of the General Land Office. To see an original homestead patent, click HERE. To see Charles Ingalls’ Dakota Territory homestead file (note that it does not include the patent!), click HERE.

Patent. A patent is a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for detailed public disclosure of an invention. An invention is a solution to a specific technological problem and is a product or a process. Two items are mentioned in the Little House books in connection with patents: the stove purchased for the wonderful house in On the Banks of Plum Creek, (see chapters 17 and 20), and the school desks in the first schoolhouse in De Smet (see The Long Winter, Chapter 9). A school desk might have been patented because of the hinge which folded the seat or held the desk top open, or because of particular iron work used. The desk shown here is in the first schoolhouse in De Smet.

There were a number of Little House characters who held patents on various inventions or improvements to them. Banker John H. Carroll invented a railroad car coupling device and Samuel Masters invented a seeding machine. You can see Masters’ patent HERE. Other Kingsbury County residents held patents on a hay-burning stove, a package-tying machine, and a suitcase that became a portable bed!


     homestead (THGY 19)
     P A T (BPC 17, 20), see P.A.T.
     school desk (TLW 9)

title (TLW 28; LTP 6; PG)