Government Land Office Special Agents


Note: most of this narrative has been summarized from my book, Seldom was Heard an Encouraging Word, A History of Bureau of Land Management Law Enforcement, see this book for more comprehensive information. Some material in this narrative was derived from sources that came to my attention after my book went to the publisher. I have taken every opportunity in this narrative to provide the names of the special agents in further proof of their existence.

   The first Federal agency involved in property disposition related work was the General Land Office (GLO) which began in 1812. The GLO was originally created within the Department of Treasury in 1812 in response to the need for disposing of the land that had come into the Federal ownership. The GLO was responsible for seeing that the land entry laws were complied with [ie: fraud and squatting was prohibited as was stealing government property (trees)], the revenues collected and the surveys were not interfered with or tampered with.

   So before there were guardians, forest rangers, park rangers, game keepers, Army scouts, refuge protectors, park superintendents, forest supervisors, wildland firefighters or others engaged in natural resource management, there were special agents of the General Land Office seeing to it that public land resources were being used properly. While many histories have well covered the activities of the registers, receivers, clerks, and surveyors of the General Land Office, it seems that the special agents have all but been forgotten to history. Yet these special agents would play a part in early timber protection, providing intervention in range wars, early national park protection, early national forest protection, rangeland conservation and even fighting forest fires. Their efforts would directly effect how much of the public lands would ultimately be available for conservation purposes in the 20th Century.

   To clarify somewhat that the theft of trees from public lands was prohibited, Congress enacted the Act of March 2, 1831which prohibited the removal, procuring to be removed, or aid and assist, or be employed in removing from any such lands which have been reserved or purchased, any live-oak or red-cedar trees, or other timber, unless duly authorized to do so by order. So shortly after this the first special agents would be employed to enforce these provisions. Their initial title was "timber agents." By 1832, the first "timber agents" were appointed to go forth and investigate timber depredations with authority to seize Government timber and seek prosecutions and collections. By 1838, the Treasury Solicitor was working with the district attorney in Wisconsin to suppress timber depredation. By 1851, timber agents were working in Northern Michigan and Wisconsin, and in Minnesota. In 1852, the Solicitor of the Treasury turned over his function as protector of the public timber to the Department of the Interior that was created in 1849. The Secretary of the Interior accepted this responsibility and sent out a notice to the timber agents and enlisted the counsel of the Commissioner of the GLO in administering the small force of agents that were working on the forest frontiers. By 1854, there were four agents in the field, two in Michigan, one in Wisconsin, and one in Iowa.

   The timber agents were not well received when they traveled into communities where timber had been free for the taking by farmers, loggers, and choppers. The timber agents had instructions to order the seizure of stolen timber and to act with the U.S. District Attorney in the prosecution of trespassers. Among the timber agents were Isaac W. Willard for Michigan, Herman M . Cady for Eastern Wisconsin, and James B. Estes for Western Wisconsin and Minnesota Territory. These agents became the first land management law enforcement officers described by name, almost 30 years before the first "game keeper" would be described at Yellowstone National Park. The agents were directed to secure indictments and seize logs under due process wherever they can be found. They were then to report to the district attorney or the Federal marshal detailed information about the location of the trespass, the name of the trespasser and the names of witnesses. These instructions clearly put them in the criminal investigation business.

   Isaac Willard would become the most famous of the timber agents because of his vigorous investigations and prosecutions of trespassers. Willard made seizures of large quantities of sawed lumber, logs, and other timber products and hired people to guard them. He obtained 37 indictments against persons accused of illegally cutting and also against the masters of several vessels who transporting the lumber to Detroit. The trespassers would build their case and complaints against Willard through media outlets like the Chicago Tribune which even advised trespassers to resist. Meetings were held to make "violent harangues" against Willard. Threats were made against anyone (including the timber agents) who should remove the timber except the trespasser. In 1853, Willard seized and offered for sale a large quantity of stolen timber at Manistee, Michigan, most of which was either burned or re-stolen. He then obtained warrants for the arrest of the leading offenders, who promptly escaped or were violently rescued by mobs of their friends. Not until he called for assistance from armed sailors from the U.S.S. Michigan did he succeed in keeping his prisoners under custody. Most of the offenders were brought to trial in the following year in Detroit and were convicted, but the fines and jail sentences were not commensurate with the offenses of theft, armed resistance and threats to Federal officers. Several other trespassers were arrested but soon were likewise released by mobs and some others were promptly set free by the judges. Willard himself was arrested and held to bail for false imprisonment. Then after his release he was arrested again in Chicago by one of the big lumber merchants and charged with damages to his business. However, most of the indicted persons were convicted and punished with jail terms and fines.

   The activities of Willard and other timber agents soon became known to the Secretary and GLO Commissioner through complaint letters as well. One such letter about Willard read: "the timber agent openly declares he will settle with no man on any other condition but to strip them of their all and says he will not leave a man there worth ten cents when he gets through with them." Another letter read, "when the agent came to seize my lumber, I told him that I had lived under three king's reigns and a part of a queen's reign and I never did see property seized and taken away from poor people as they did from us, and when I asked if there were a higher authority to which I could appeal, the agent answered that there was no one higher than he except God Almighty."

   In 1854, GLO Commissioner John Wilson issued a circular to the timber agents informing them that the main objective of their work was "prevention of waste or trespass on the public lands and the destruction or carrying away of the public timber" and instructing them not to harass actual settlers and not to enter into compounding with trespassers.

   In 1855, Secretary of the Interior Robert McClelland decided to abolish the timber agents in favor of a more "economical and less objectionable" system. The timber agents were dismissed and their duties fell to the receivers and clerks in local land offices. The trespass duties obviously took a back seat to the normal business and affairs of the land office. Never-the-less the local land officers did at best a haphazard job of law enforcement. One receiver in LaCrosse, Wisconsin would remark: "How is it possible for us to prevent . . . [trespass] I am unable to see, unless a sufficient number of special agents can be appointed and paid. This whole matter is a troublesome one. It is very unpleasant for any person to feel that a duty is imposed upon him that he cannot perform."

   In about 1871, complaints about malfeasance on the part of local land office officials (registers, receivers, clerks) were frequently finding their way to Commissioner Drummond's office. He sought authority to establish the permanent employment of two special agents to function as "inspectors" of the land offices. Authority was finally granted in the Appropriations Act of 1882. These agents were to be knowledgeable of all the land laws and regulations. They were assigned to visit the land offices and report on the conditions they found there. They were also assigned inspection duties over the surveyors-general.

   Before the change of administration in 1877, GLO Commissioner James Williamson had decided to relieve the registers and receivers from timber trespass duties because they could not do these duties while giving adequate attention to their land office responsibilities. He wished to return to the practice of using timber agents. Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz supported his position. He found that the registers and receivers had produced "no practical results in the way of suppression of depredations or collection of values," that the hiring of deputies was loosely done, that compromises had been made without authority and the funds received had not been accounted for.

   In the Act of June 20, 1878, $25,000 was appropriated "to meet expenses of suppressing depredations upon timber on the public lands." The Secretary of the Interior, through the Commissioner of the GLO appointed special agents to investigate the depredations. Commissioner Williamson appointed some men without any apparent legal or forestry experience as timber agents. He sent these agents to the Lake States, the Southern public land states, California, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Colorado and Montana. This was the first widespread use of timber agents. They were instructed to keep their appointments and objectives confidential and not reveal them to the local land offices. They were not to enter into any compromise with depredators. While they were able to easily find instances of depredations on the public lands, finding willing witnesses and obtaining court orders for seizures was most difficult. GLO Commissioner Williamson expected that through the investigations and legal actions of his timber agents he could recover at least $100,000 for the Government. In 1878, he reported: that eight indictments were obtained in California; 16 indictments were obtained in Florida; and in Minnesota nine persons had confessed judgement. The logs seized totaled almost $226,000.

   For the first time, the timber agent system was bringing substantial results. In his 1880 report to Congress, Secretary Schurz reported that during the nearly 22 years from December 24, 1855 to April 5, 1877, only $248,796 had been recovered from timber trespasses. But since Secretary Schurz implemented a more aggressive enforcement policy, from April 5, 1877 to June 30, 1880, $242,377 had been collected in just three years. Further there had been a marked reduction in trespass on the public timberlands.

   Commissioner Williamson continued with the timber agent program and in 1879 they still had 16 timber agents in the field and those agents kept the Attorney General's office busy prosecuting cases of trespass and collecting fines. By 1880 a Timber Depredations Division was established in the General Land Office. In July 1880, there were engaged in the work of suppressing depredations on the public timber lands fifteen special timber agents, distributed in the various public-land states and territories. By June 1881 there were seventeen special timber agents. In 1881, the special timber agents recovered $41,679. In 1882, the special timber agents recovered $77,365.

   An interesting case came up in 1879 that serves as an illustration of the procedures a GLO special agent needed to follow for investigation and prosecution of timber theft. The case would be definitively decided by the Supreme Court in United States v. Bryant. In the summer of 1879, Special Agent J.J. Gainey investigated a case of timber theft perpetrated by Henry Bryant and J.V. Weekley. Special Agent Gainey filed his compliant against them in the Southern District of Alabama on August 8, 1979. Gainey had made the bark-marks and stamped the 2,740 pine logs that he was accusing the defendants of taking from public lands. In his complaint he identified all the sizes and values of the logs, the times they were cut and the places on public lands where they were cut. The court then issued an order of seizure that required the U.S. Marshal to take the property identified in the compliant into his possession. A summons had also been issued and the U.S. Marshal made a return to the court on January 15, 1880 that he had served the summons and complaint on Bryant and had seized the described logs.


In 1882 Commissioner McFarland said,

To properly extend the protection necessary in guarding the valuable timber lands of the United States from future devastation and wanton destruction would require more than double the number of agents now in the field, That the present force has been very effective, a careful investigation of the work performed by them during the past year will, I believe, be most convincing. . . I may be permitted in this connection to express the opinion that much credit is due to the special agents, as a body, for the manner in which they have performed their duties, and that, while fully caring for the interests of the Government, they have avoided everything that could be construed as having the semblance of persecution.

In addition to the mill-owners, timber contractors, and speculators, there was another class of depredators whose operations were even more extensive and destructive; they were the turpentine distillers. To obtain the crude material to supply their works, it was not uncommon for these operators to have the trees boxed on one thousand to ten thousand acres. As the trees would not endure boxing for about five consecutive years before dying, this trespass was most destructive.

   The most extensive areas of timber trespass in the country was on the large tracts of public lands in Michigan and Wisconsin.

   Some timber depredators would use the land entry laws to make a claim, make their first payment, sink a well or two, and then cut and remove what timber or wood there is, and then abandon the entry.

   Another great source of loss and destruction of timber, is the extensive fires that break out in the mountain ranges, sweeping away vast quantities of growing timber. While perhaps these cannot be entirely prevented, they might be measurably reduced, if when the fire was wantonly set, the offender could be punished. Proof of the special timber agents involvement in fighting the fires on the public lands was found in an 1883 appropriations request that stated:

   Public notices calling for information of fires and pointing out methods for preventing their spread, have been furnished special agents for posting in timber districts, and these measures and the duties performed by agents in case of fires have been the means of saving much timber during the past year. Ten extensive fires have recently occurred, in seven of which the agents have performed valuable service in checking and extinguishing the same, although greatly retarded in such work on account of the necessary limit placed upon their expenditures. The appropriations for the timber service should permit the employment of persons under the direction of the special agents to watch against and give prompt notice of fires, and take efficient measures at the first outbreak of a fire to check its progress.

   The Congress had very good intentions with enactment of the Homestead Act of 1862. But, obstruction of settlement and acts of fraud became rampant. To counter this problem, Congress enacted legislation in 1881 to provide "special agents" for the General Land Office (GLO) to investigate and seek prosecution in land fraud cases. This was perhaps one of the earliest times that the title "special agent" was used. Another problem was inaccurate and fraudulent surveys. It seems that the awarding of surveying contracts was subject to a great deal of patronage. There were reported cases of altering survey marks and bribery.

   Cattlemen had gone before the homesteaders and when they first arrived they may have already used their individual homestead claim entitlement to gain ownership of their base property. Control and ownership of other parcels of public lands would require individuals who were friendly to their cause. So some would resort to having their ranch hands file claims under the homestead or preemption laws in areas along streams and water sources. The ranch hands would then commute their homesteads to preemptions, receive their patents an then transfer the 160 acres to their employer. Yet the ranch hand may have never occupied, improved or cultivated the lands as required by the Homestead Act. These simply acts of land entry fraud would soon place a few hundred acres in possession of a cattleman who would then indirectly control many thousand acres of grass land. By this time, use of barbed wire had become common and cattlemen began to fence in millions of acres to keep out both homesteaders and other cattlemen.

GLO Commissioner McFarland reported the widespread fencing of public lands in 1882:

Where no pretext of ownership or of legal claim to any part of the land exists. The usual routes of travel are also cut off by these inclosures, and the inhabitants of the country are in many instances compelled to go a great way around or to tear down the fences, thus incurring the risk of disturbance and perhaps bloodshed . . . in some cases State laws have provided for a nominal tax upon "possessory rights," the effect of which is represented to be to locally legalize this infringement upon the laws of the United States . . .

   Commissioner McFarland made his 1882 report to Congress and reminded them that the Act of March 3, 1807 authorizes the President to use the U.S. Marshal and the Military if necessary to remove unlawful boundaries and persons unlawfully in possession of public lands. He said that he has hesitated to recommend the use of this power. In his opinion, he said a statute was required that imposes penalties for unlawful inclosure of the public lands, and for preventing by force or intimidation the legal settlement and entry.

   The report to Congress justifying the proposed Unlawful Enclosures Act (H.R. 3560) stated: "In the State of California, and in others of the states and territories, many ranchers or herders have settled on the public lands without claim or pretense, or title or possessory right, and have inclosed large tracts of the same with fences." The Congress failed to pass this law.

   In 1883, Secretary of the Interior Henry Teller directed Commissioner McFarland to give notice that the Department would:

Interpose no objection to the destruction of these fences by persons who desire to make bona fide settlement on the inclosed tracts, but are prevented by the fences, or by threats of violence, from doing so.

   The GLO then issued a notice that was to be distributed by all registers, receivers, and special agents that stated: The public lands are open to settlement and occupation only under the public land laws of the United States, and any unauthorized appropriation of the same is trespass. . . Graziers will not be allowed, on any pretext whatever, to fence the public lands and practically withdraw them from the operation of the settlement laws. . . The Government will take proper proceedings against persons unlawfully inclosing tracts of public land." But little could be done without further authorization in the form of legislation and funds from the Congress. The problem of the illegal fences brought about such an uproar that by 1884 the Senate would call for an investigation.

   The frauds committed under the several settlement and disposition laws had become so numerous and glaring that it was found necessary in 1883 to create a special division in the GLO to have charge of such matters. It was known as the Special Services Division P. The work of investigating illegal and fraudulent entry and appropriation of the public lands was assigned to this division on April 1, 1883. The inspection and examination of frauds in the public survey was also assigned to the division. By June 30, 1883, thirty special agents were in the field investigating fraudulent land entries. In addition to fraudulent entries under the homestead laws, they also investigated fraudulent timber-land entries. Evidence was accumulating that the Act of June 3, 1878 (Timber and Stone Act) was: ". . . being used by corporations and wealthy individual operators, to secure fraudulently, for the purpose of manufacturing into lumber or to hold for speculation, the accessible forests yet remaining in the States and Territories of California, Oregon, Nevada, and Washington."

   A three page letter of instructions was published in 1883 outlined the instructions, responsibilities, and duties of the special agents. This letter became the first official "manual of instructions" for special agents. There was very clear intent in the instructions that the special agents would be performing duties equivalent to a "criminal investigator." Their title may have included the word "special" as they were specific authorized to make direct contact with prosecuting officials.

   The special agents were sent into the field to investigate the accounts of fraudulent entries coming to the attention of the GLO. From the reports of the special agents and complaints of many settlers, Secretary Teller put together a effort to describe how the cattle companies and stockmen were controlling the range to the detriment of legitimate settlers. These fraudulent entries were often located to make it seem that the cattlemen had enclosed only their own land. Hundreds and thousands of acres of public land were illegally fenced and threats of violence made against anyone who cut the fences. Settlers and small stockmen were threatened with expensive lawsuits and even with death if the fences were cut. It was becoming a "range war" situation.

   In March 1883, GLO Commissioner McFarland issued instructions that would serve to establish the "timber agents" in a more permanent manner. The instructions provided for the official designation of these special agents. The instructions stated: "Special agents of the General Land Office, Interior Department, appointed to prevent depredations upon the public timber, and to protect the same from waste and destruction, will hereafter be designated as "special timber agents."

   The timber agents and the special agents were consolidated into the Special Services Division P in the General Land Office by the end of 1883. This division was responsible for protecting the public lands from unlawful entry or appropriation and from timber and other trespasses. The division supervised the work force of special agents employed for those purposes who routinely prepared cases of violations for the Justice Department.

   By 1884, the investigations conducted by the special agents resulted in the cancellation of 680 entries, mostly homestead, preemption, timberland cash, and timber culture entries. In addition 782 entries were "held for cancellation," hearings were ordered on 781 entries, legal proceedings were recommended on 22, and 5,000 were suspended, waiting investigation by the special agents. Also by that time, the corps of special timber agents were watching for and preventing depredations from the southern extremity of Florida to the northernmost portion of Washington Territory and Alaska, a broad belt of country almost 4,000 miles in length.

   The General Land Office Special Services Division P was fully establish with the merger of the Special Timber Agents and the Special Agents by the end of 1883. Alfred G. McKenzie was the Chief of Special Services (Chief Special Agent). The roster for special agents and their residence state in the Special Services Division P in December 1883 was as follows:

Inspectors of Surveyors-General and District Land Offices
John G. Evans
A.R. Greene
F.D. Hobbs
New Hampshire

Special Agents for Timber Depredations
Thomas F. Shoemaker
John Truan
William F. Prosser
Thomas Harlan
Lemuel Shields
Milton Peden
William Roy
William M. Clark
Isaac N. Wilcoxen
John H. Welch
Edward W. Wynkoop
Luther S. Howlett
W. Scott Smith
Charles S. Martin
Don A Dodge
James Tullis
Prosper A. Smith
Charles T. Menzel
Darwin J. Chadwick
William H. Green
Hernando D. Wood
Eli A. Warren
James B. Thomas
Thomas Burnside
Edward Outhwaite
L.W. Allum
Frank Markle
Charles L. Kelsey
George W. Story
Henderson Ritchie
Henry C. Do Alma
Edward W. Oyster
Warren F. Travis
John W. Hall
A.M. Randall
Peru L.B. Ping
New York
New York
New York
New York

Special Agents for Swamp Lands
Jonathan W. Childs
Henry A. Myers
Louis Bergau
Joel C. Walker
Robert L. Ream

Special Agents for Fraudulent Land Entries
John M. Dunn
Algernon A. Mabson
James Bell
Corydon W. Sanborn
Henderson H. Eddy
Frederick T. Bickford
Thomas H. Cavanaugh
Wilson T. Smith
Jesse L. Pritcherd
Samuel Lee
George D. Orner
Thomas W. Jaycox
Thomas M. James
Henry C. Bulis
Travis Rhodes
Henry Grass
William W. McIlvain
George B. Coburn
James A. McCormick
Edward G. Fahnestock
A.F. Ely
William Y. Drew
Edwin S. Bruce
Lucien J. Barnes
Henry J. Harrison
Uriah Bruner
Henry W. Thorp
S.P.C. Stubbs
Webster Eaton
William H. Goucher
South Carolina
New York
New York
New York

Special Agents for Examination of Surveys
Isaac Teller
Henry E. Allen
John B. Treadwell
George W. Lechner
Benjamin C. Bonnell
Edson L. Luddington
Robert Berry
New York


   The unlawful fencing problem continued. An Acting Commissioner of the GLO said that "the practice of illegally enclosing the public lands is extensive throughout the grazing regions ... many millions of acres are thus inclosed and are now being so inclosed to the exclusion of the stock of all others than the fence owners, and to the prevention of settlements and the obstruction of public travel and intercourse."

   GLO Commissioner McFarland believed that the vague nature and complexity of the land entry laws directly contributed to the growth in fencing of the public lands as well as the numerous clashes, some possibly fatal, that had developed between cattlemen and settlers before action was finally taken. He pointed out that there was no law under which parties could be prosecuted criminally, and to maintain a civil suit necessitated long and painstaking investigations. The civil procedures could take months, if not years, and meantime warfare on the range was continuing and the right of settlers to proceed upon the enclosed lands was denied.

   The Congress finally took up the fencing question in 1884 and 1885. After much debate over whether the Federal government had the authority to control fencing on the public domain, the Congress enacted the Unlawful Enclosures Act in 1885 to settle the issue. This law would hopefully put an end to the "range war" and essentially establish the concept that all persons have free and equal access to the public lands.

   The Act would be far reaching in nature. At this point, the few criminal laws pertaining to the public lands included only interfering with surveys, timber theft, and land entry fraud. This Act would provide several specific provisions. First, the Act declared that all enclosures of public land were unlawful when they were erected or constructed by persons who had no claim or color of title acquired in good faith. It further declared that any exclusive use or occupancy without claim or color of title was unlawful and prohibited. This would essentially create the concept of "occupancy trespass."

   Second, the Act provided for civil procedures that defined the jurisdiction of the United States attorney and authorized the issuance of injunctions, restraining orders and decrees for destruction of the enclosure.

   Third, the Act prohibited any person from committing acts of force, threats, intimidation, or fencing or enclosing that would prevent or obstruct any person from peaceably entering or freely passing or transiting over the public lands. This prohibition would clearly give the special agents authority to intercede on the behalf of lawful settlers against the powerful cattle companies. A later court decision (Camfield v. United States) would refer to this as "police powers."

   Fourth, the Act provided that any person who violated the provisions of the Act would be subject to the criminal penalties of fine and imprisonment. Lastly, the Act authorized the President (and ultimately the special agents in his employ) to remove and destroy unlawful enclosures and to utilize any civil or military force necessary for that purpose. It is often asked whether the special agents carried guns. Perhaps the better question is, in 1885 on the Western public lands, who didn't? Then understanding that the cattle companies and their employees had often made threats of assault and or death to anyone that tried to take their fences down, the special agents would have been quite foolish to go forth and enforce this new "fencing law" without being armed. The Act also gave them authority to use the U.S. Marshals and the Military for "back-up" to take the fences down.

   The 1878 Timber and Stone Act was becoming problematic in land entry frauds. Commissioner McFarland had become aware of this as early as 1884. In one such case, a company in Olympia, Washington arranged for a number of "dummy" entrymen, including several of its employees, to make nine timberland entries and eight preemption entries on 2,700 acres of valuable timberland. These entrymen were given descriptions of their tracts by the company's agent, who paid the purchase money and filing fees and obtained the certificates of entry. These entrymen then conveyed the certificates to representatives of the company. In another case, a speculator from Vancouver, Washington had forty-five "dummy" entrymen to make timber entries on 7,000 acres of valuable timberland. The speculator's agent would take 20 of these entrymen at a time to the land office and arranged to pay for the lands. The entrymen immediately conveyed the lands to the speculator. In Oregon City, Oregon, another 4,200 acres of timberlands were acquired by persons who had never seen the tracts or knew anything about them. The reports of these sorts of schemes began to accumulate at the General Land Office. These cases of land entry fraud were only the beginning of a dark period of massive land frauds that would occur in the next 20 years.

   On April 3, 1885, Commissioner Sparks ordered the suspension of all original entries (with some exceptions) of public lands. Further, all final entries under the Timber and Stone Act and the Desert Land Act were suspended. He used the reports of special agents, local land officers, inspectors, district attorneys, and letters from public and private citizens as justification for this action and stated that these reports were "all detailing one common story of widespread, persistent, public land robbery . . . ."

   Commissioner Sparks would issue his instructions to special agents on June 23, 1885. For the most part, these instructions were identical to those issued by Commissioner McFarland in 1883. However it included amended sections to enhance the instructions on fraudulent entries and unlawful enclosures.

   Essentially, the timber agents were now the same as the other special agents that were appointed by the General Land Office. After 1886, the timber agents were then known as special agents. Special Agent D. Legore was assigned to Duluth, Minnesota in 1886, Special Agent F.W. Worden was assigned to Reed City, Michigan in 1888, and Special Agent Fred W. LeSueur was assigned to Duluth in 1894.

   Commissioner Sparks was not afraid to use the full authority granted under the Unlawful Enclosures Act. He aggressively compelled removals and opened millions of enclosed acres to settlers. District attorneys were instructed to secure indictments against those responsible, orders were issued that the fences must come down and in 1887 Sparks persuaded the War Department to sanction the use of a company of cavalry to aid in destroying the fences in Wyoming. Sparks and his special agents also went after those using force and intimidation. In one case, the New Brighton Cattle Company of Nebraska was said to have enclosed 84,000 acres of public land and had posted signs along its fence warning "that any person ... who dares to break down this fence had better look out for his scalp." Commissioner Sparks would report that 375 unlawful enclosures of public lands containing 6,410,000 acres had been referred to the U.S. Attorneys and that proceedings to compel removal of the fences had been recommended in 83 cases, involving 2,250,000 acres, and final decrees ordering removals had been obtained in 13 cases involving 1 million acres. In 47 cases involving 350,000 acres the fences were removed by the special agents without resort to the courts.

   The Forest Reservation Act of 1891 authorized the President "to set apart and reserve, in any State or Territory having public land bearing forests, in any part of the public lands wholly or in part covered with timber or undergrowth, whether of commercial value or not, as public reservations ..." The provisions of the act were drafted Edward A. Bowers, a special agent and inspector of the General Land Office, with the advice of John Muir and Robert V. Johnson.

   GLO Commissioner Silas Lamoraux became very busy directing the special agents towards work on examining forested locations for consideration under the Forest Reserve Act of 1891 in the early 1890s. The 1890 appropriations bill for the 51st Congress mentioned specific payments to be made to three named special agents. Special Agent H.B. Martin was to be paid $70.50, Special Agent S.B. Bevans was to be paid $60.25, and Special Agent L.S. Travis was to be paid $193.35.

   The special agents of the GLO were told that it was of "first importance to reserve all public lands in mountainous and other regions . . . covered with timber or undergrowth at the headwaters of rivers and along banks of streams." The special agents would play a very special part in the designation of the first forest reserves. They were instructed by a May 15, 1891 Circular of Instructions Relating to Timber Reservations as follows:


Special agents upon being detailed to secure the data in question, will proceed, without undue delay, to make in the districts assigned to them, a thorough and careful personal examination of the public lands bearing forests or covered with timber or undergrowth, and ascertain by personal observation and by interviews with government and state officials in the vicinity of such lands, and with citizens who have an interest in the public welfare, all facts pertaining to the value of said forests or timber lands for all uses, purposes and requirements. The result of such investigations should be duly made the subject of report to this office.

   The following were among the special agents involved in this important work: B. F. Allen, Edward A. Bowers, M. J. Haley, Edgar T. Ensign, C. G. Coleman, and Frank Powell.

   The special agents often sought out public support for those forest reserves that they believed were worthy of designation. Special Agent B.F. Allen specifically sought the support of John Muir in a letter dated at San Francisco, California on December 12, 1892. He had been directed by the GLO Commissioner to examine and locate the boundaries of the proposed Tulare forest reservation. He stated in his letter that there was likely to be opposition to the proposal from local sheepmen. He was seeking a letter of support from John Muir that he could append to his recommendation report to the Secretary fo the Interior.

   In 1893 the GLO had only 82 part-time special agents (which was 13 less than the previous year) to investigate frauds, illegal fencing, timber depredations and other problems on all the public lands, including the 13 million acres of forest reserves. The 1894 GLO budget allowed for only 40 special agents and would remain at that number through 1897.

   The GLO's most significant solution was to rely on their small force of somewhat overworked special agents and call for a very aggressive stance towards trespass and depredations within the forest reserves. The GLO Commissioner wrote to special agents Coleman and Powell, in August and November 1893, stating that "trespassing on the public lands within these forest reserves will not be tolerated under any pretext, and that those so offending will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, criminally and civilly."

   A GLO commissioner had said that the special agent force was, "infinitesimal, considering the magnitude of the work and the territory to be covered," and the Government had little success in apprehending violators. Each year, new reports of "continued trespassing and depredating within the reserves" by locals living nearby were made.

   In 1897, Division "P" was set up in the General Land Office to administer the reserves, as provided in the act of that year. A corps of special agents was created to prevent fire and depredations, to control grazing and limit the number of stock permitted in the forests and to exact a charge for the privilege. They also were to control, lease and charge for the use of power sites, to sell stumpage and regulate the cutting of trees, and provide free timber, fuel wood, and fence posts to settlers. However, in the summer of 1897 there were only six "special forest agents and supervisors" assigned in the forest reserves.

   Special timber agents were sent from the GLO to Sequoia National Park to check on grazing trespass and illegal timber cutting. Later the U.S. Army had been employed in providing for protection of Sequoia, Yosemite and General Grant National Parks. The Army had to leave these three areas for the Spanish-American war in April of 1898. During their absence, the protection of these three parks was assigned to the General Land Office. GLO special inspector J.W. Zevely was assigned as acting superintendent for these parks. On June 24, 1898, Inspector Zevely swore-in eleven men as "forest agents" to protect Yosemite while the Army was gone. He employed these assistant "forest agents" during the summer to eject sheep trespassers and fight forest fires. In Yosemite, these "forest agents" were assigned to two special agents. Special Agent A.W. Buick was responsible for the northen part of Yosemite and Special Agent Cullum was responsible for the southern part of Yosemite.


  According to Historian Douglas Brinkley, Secretary of the Interior Ethan Hitchcock did some very extraordinary work exposing land fraud from 1899 to 1907.  His special agents obtained 1,021 indictments against timber depredators and 126 of these were convicted.  Following President Roosevelt’s direct order, his special agents unearthed collusion, espionage, forgery, bribery, and records falsification in the General Land Office.  He set up dragnet operations in every state or territory that had public lands, to catch looters. 

   An interesting case would arise in 1900 involving a GLO "timber agent," now titled as a "special agent." This case would illustrate how hostile the local community environment was to the special agents when conducting their timber thief investigations and seizures. It would also be a "States right" vs. the Federal government case. It appears that on or about December 6, 1900, John A. Hinkle, Sheriff of Independence County, Arkansas arrested GLO Special Agent Charles A. M. Schleirholz. Special Agent Schlierholz apparently had detected a timber thief and seized the timber that was illegally taken. The perpetrator of this crime was most likely a well connected lumberman who could easily appeal to the anti-federal government resentment of local officials, judges, and juries. Two indictments were found by the grand jury of Independence County, Arkansas, against Schlierholz, for alleged violations of statutes of Arkansas. One indictment charged him with the taking possession, unlawfully, of certain timber. The other charged the unlawful marking of timber. Upon such indictments, Schlierholz was taken into custody by the Independence County Sheriff John A. Hinkle. Schlierholz filed a petition in habeas corpus to the judge of the district court of the United States for the Eastern District of Arkansas. This would ultimately remove the case somewhat from the venue of the local court. The petition stated that the acts complained of in the indictments referred to were done by Schlierholz in the performance of his duty as a special agent of the General Land Office under the Department of the Interior of the United States. A writ of habeas corpus was allowed. The writ was served on Sheriff Hinkle and on the prosecuting attorney of the State of Arkansas for the third judicial circuit. The case was transferred to the district court of the United States for the northern division of the Eastern District of Arkansas. The court found that Schlierholz, in the doing of the things complained of in the indictments, had acted in the performance of his duty as a special agent of the General Land Office, and in strict conformity with the rules and regulations of the Secretary of the Interior, and that his arrest and detention were illegal and void. It was adjudged that Schlierholz "be discharged from the custody of the sheriff under the writ in the petition and response set out and go hence without delay."

   The exploits of Special Agent Stephen J. Holsinger would be very illustrative of the varied duties of the special agents on the public domain. Stephen Holsinger was known to have been assigned to Arizona by the General Land Office as early as 1899. He soon bore the brunt of criticism and personal attacks perhaps because of his diligence in pursuing his duties. The Williams, Arizona News seem to often report on his activities. In one article it was reported that he should not ask for bread in the area because he would be given a stone instead because, ". . . His actions regarding the (forest) reservation's business and his treatment of homesteaders, have, to say the least, been small, egotistical, selfish, and by no means becoming to a man in such a position . . ."

   A few months later, the News reported that "Special Agent Holsinger visited the Prescott Forest Reserve yesterday and made the discovery that during the winter there had been a large part of it devastated of its timber." He apparently detected a rather large timber theft and this had occurred despite the fact that a forest reserve ranger was stationed there. About 25,000 mining timbers had been illegal cut on the reserve in the previous few years and most of them had already been shipped to Jerome, Arizona. Holsinger began his investigation on June 22, 1899 and he, Deputy Marshal Grindell and Forest Supervisor Thayer busied themselves placing "Uncle Sam's brand" on 12,000 illegally cut mining timbers that were still left in the reserve. Holsinger initiated four civil suits involving $11,500 in the U.S. Court and all the remaining mining timbers were confiscated by the U.S. Marshal.

The Nogales, Arizona Oasis newspaper had the following to say about Holsinger:

Call Out the Fence Cutters - The timber thieves in the southern part, have found that they could neither intimidate nor bluff from his duties, S.J. Holsinger, the inspector for the Interior Department, who had done more within the two years to bring before the eyes of the gentry a just fear of the law than all the men who preceded him in that position . . . 29

   In 1902, Special Agent Holsinger led 11 firefighters and a cook on a two day horse and burro trek into the mountains and had a 10,000 acre fire contained within seven days. This illustrates that the special agents worked with the forest reserve rangers to fight fires on the forest reserves. It also implies that they had responsibilities for fighting wild fires on the vacant public domain not included in the forest reserves.

   In the spring of 1900, a compliant arrived at the General Land Office that the excavations of antiquities that were being conducted by a Richard Wetherill at Chaco Canyon were being done irresponsibly. The GLO sent Special Agent Max Pracht from Santa Fe, New Mexico to investigate at Chaco Canyon. Pracht made only a minimal attempt to ascertain the circumstances. He reported that the excavation was a responsible and professional operation.

   The original complainant was not satisfied. This time he made his complaint to the Secretary of the Interior through correspondence from the Santa Fe Archaeological Society on November 17, 1900. Secretary Hitchcock was asked to put an end to the "depredations" at Chaco Canyon. GLO Commissioner Binger Hermann secured an order for the excavation at Chaco to cease. The order was sent and Special Agent Stephen Holsinger was sent to Chaco for another inspection and investigation.

   Reports about the activities at Chaco Canyon continued to arrive at the GLO. Special Agent S.S. Mathers had been informed that Richard Wetherill was continuing to excavate and that his men had found a valuable piece of turquoise that they sold for $1,200. Mathers informed GLO Commissioner Hermann of this. Special Agent Mathers offered to go to Chaco Canyon and had said, "This ought to be stopped, and what is taken from these ruins ought to be sent to the Smithsonian Institute." However, Special Agent Holsinger had already been given the assignment to go to Chaco Canyon.

   Stephen Holsinger was one of the most dependable special agents in the GLO. He had settled many land claim disputes, had a reputation for being fair, and had a formidable disposition. Holsinger's assignment was to determine as best as he could the situation at Chaco Canyon. His investigation would reveal the first close look at the activities of Richard Wetherill and the Hyde Exploring Expedition. He arrived at Chaco on April 23, 1901 and would stay nearly a month conducting his investigation. During his investigation, Holsinger took a sworn deposition from Richard Wetherill. Holsinger submitted his report to the GLO in December 1901.

   Special Agent Holsinger's report was direct and to the point that the ruins had been excavated and that homestead claims had been filed perhaps because Hyde and Wetherill thought that it would somehow legitimize their activities. But Holsinger was very quick to determine that the use of the land had little to do with a legitimate homestead. On January 13, 1902, Holsinger filed a report of fraudulent claim or entry against Richard Wetherill recommending that his homestead application be cancelled.

   Special Agent Holsinger's report presented a number of problems for the GLO. They were quite accustomed to the business of investigating land entries, timber thefts, and unlawful enclosures, but the taking of artifacts brought up the question of ownership. They had already set a precedent by issued a cessation order with little more authority than being the landowner. They reasoned that since timber and other rights on the public domain belonged to the Government, it followed that artifacts and any other things found on such lands were also Government property. They thought that the Hyde brothers had no right to collect artifacts or to donate them for that matter. Then while Wetherill had the rights of a homestead claimant, he certainly did not have the rights to sell the artifacts. So if it could be shown that Wetherill sold artifacts from the public domain to the Hydes, the Government might be able to prosecute.

   The whole case of Richard Wetherill and Chaco Canyon would focus the General Land Office's attention on other places that contained ruins and artifacts on the public domain. After 1902, a more affirmative system of requiring the permission of the GLO before anyone could excavate for artifacts was instituted. Further, from then on, the GLO declined to give permission to any persons without scientific credentials.

   Special Agent Holsinger was very active in the work of protecting the public domain from the illegal excavation and taking of artifacts. He had developed a reputation of being the GLO's expert on these issues. His reputation would not be sullied by the resolution in the Wetherill case. In fact he was recognized as "the man in the field for archeological inspections by the Department of the Interior." He had produced his seminal report on the Chaco Canyon situation, broke up a ring of "pot-hunters" in Arizona in 1902 and inspected the Montezuma Castle and other archeological sites. He also arranged to place a watchmen at the Petrified Forest in Arizona. The GLO used him for important inspections through the Southwest. In 1903, he made a report on the potential of a national park on the Pajarito Plateau. If a determination of whose report on the Wetherill case was most accurate, Special Agent Holsinger's reputation for being a knowledgeable, fair, and objective investigator speaks for itself. His many investigations and reports would serve as a body of evidence that would eventually support the enactment of the Antiquities Act of 1906.

   There was little interest in the late 1890s by GLO Commissioner Binger Hermann in pursuing fraudulent entries and illegal fencing. Yet, in the 1890s several land entry schemes would be perpetrated that would begin a decade of massive land entry fraud that would have major ramifications for the future and Commissioner Hermann would be caught up in the fallout. However, in 1897, Commissioner Hermann's principle recommendations were calling for: authority to subpoena witnesses in land contests, effective penalties against pilfering timber on public lands, ample laws and appropriations to protect the forest reserves, and repeal of the Timber and Stone Act.

   By 1902, Commissioner Hermann's reports were showing a growing volume of ineptitude, abuse, and outright fraud in local management of the public lands. The special agents were overwhelmed with reports of misuse of the public land laws. About 1,501 entries were held for cancellation, 921 were cancelled, and 5,468 cases were pending. Commissioner Hermann choose to focus more on the increase in collections from fines, judgments, settlements, and sales of confiscated logs. The total collected in 1902 was $284,078 or nearly $100,000 more than the cost of maintaining the special agent staff. The Commissioner reported that the 8,000 acres of public lands in Oregon and California had finally, as a result of a court order, been cleared of its illegal fencing. A special agent who had investigated fencing on public lands in Nebraska reported that to protect their illegal fences, cattlemen had hired "thousands upon thousands" of "loafers, tramps, railway graders, negroes" to file homestead entries along their lines. The special agent called the homestead law a dead letter in Nebraska where it was "openly boasted that a genuine, legal homestead entry" had not been made for some time.

   Many of the special agents would be involved in the investigation of the massive land frauds that occurred in California, Oregon and Washington in the 1890s and early 1900s. Several would be among those that might make up the "hall of shame" of special agents. This would be because their behavior involved collusion, corruption, conflicts of interest, or just plain stupidity. The members of this "hall of shame" were: R.G. Savery, Jr., S.S. Mathers, William D. Stratford, George F. Wilson and C.E. Loomis. From 1903 to 1909, several special agents would be dismissed due to malfeasance in the massive land frauds. Five were dismissed for inefficiency; six for dishonesty; eight for other causes; and ten were requested to resign.

   But other special agents would pursue their investigative work with great diligence and integrity in the massive land fraud cases. These special agents were: B.F. Bergin, E.P. Linnen, Edward W. Dixon, J.H. Alexander, Thomas B. Neuhausen, Edward N. Deady, Jay Cummings, M.A. Meyendorff, Horance T. Jones, J.D. Watts, Steven J. Holsinger and Agent Steece. Also lending their investigative expertise were Department of the Interior Special Inspectors Alfred R. Greene and S.G. Ruby. According to Historian Douglas Brinkley, one of the results of the massive land fraud cases was the resignation of GLO Commissioner Binger Hermann because of his disgrace for covering up one of Special Agent Holsinger’s reports regarding land fraud in Arizona.  Commissioner Binger Hermann, Congressman John Williamson and Senator John Mitchell would all be indicted for the massive land fraud cases.

   The number of special agents employed by the General Land Office would slightly increase between 1901 and 1904. In 1901 and 1902 there were about 58 special agents. The number of special agents increased to 77 in 1903 and 88 in 1904.

   The Special Agents of the General Land Office were reorganized in 1905 by instruction from the Congress through the appropriation act. The appropriation legislation was passed on the exact day of the act that provided arrest authority to the new Forest Service. The Act of March 3, 1905 addressed the problems of patronage, corruption and ineffective management.

   The Act was titled: Depredations on public timber, protecting public lands, and settlement of claims for swamp land and swamp land indemnity. On August 30, 1905, The General Land Office issued a Manual of Instructions to Special Agents to implement the Act of March 3, 1905.

   By executive orders approved March 3, 1905, the selection, appointment and management of the special agents would now be under the competitive classified service as provided by the civil service rules. The GLO Commissioner was authorized to designate a special agent to act as inspector of special agents. The duties of the inspector were commensurate with being the chief or director of the special agents. This inspector reported directly to the Commissioner.

   The special agents were authorized to freely consult with the U.S. Attorneys for the proper investigation and development of the facts upon which legal proceedings were to be taken. When criminal proceedings became necessary, the facts and circumstances were to be submitted by the chiefs of field divisions to the proper U.S. attorneys for consideration and appropriate action. When the facts developed required civil suits, a report was to be made to the Commissioner for appropriate recommendation, through the Department, to the Department of Justice before the suits are actually instituted. The special agents were empowered to administer oaths to parties testifying before them in the course of their investigations.

   The efforts of Special Agents Love and L.R. Glavis would be instrumentally in defeating an attempt of the Cunningham claimants to gain patents for 33 claims on 5,250 acres of coal lands in Alaska in 1906.

   An oversight hearing was held on March 3, 1909 by the House Select Committee on Appropriations for Employees Engaged in the Detection and Prevention of Fraud in and Depredations Upon the Public Service. Testimony was taken from Secretary of the Interior James Garfield, GLO Commissioner Fred Dennett, and Field Division Chief H. H. Schwartz (head of the Special Agents Division). It seems that the hearing was aimed at evaluating the activities of the special agents with emphasis on "corruption and collusion" in the massive land fraud cases.

   The testimony given at the hearing provided additional background information about the work and activities of the special agents. In the opening questioning of Secretary Garfield, information about the basic function of the special agents was given. Secretary Garfield said that among the various duties of the General Land Office was the duty to protect the public domain, to prevent its improper use or acquisition, to take the proper steps to investigate the question as to whether proceedings should be recommended to the Department of Justice, to free the titles in case there have been improper acquisitions by individuals or corporations, and to see that the entrymen titled to patents under the general laws receive their titles in due course.

   Congressman Olmstead asked if part of the duty of that office was to protect the public lands from invasion, from trespass, from timber stealing, and all that sort of thing? Secretary Garfield answered yes and then Congressman Olmstead asked that the Secretary state how many men are employed in preventing or detecting fraud or trespasses upon the government lands and the stealing of timber or any other kind of trespass or fraud? Garfield answered that the work was funded under the $500,000 appropriation known as the appropriation to protect the public domain. He stated that number of special agents employed at the present time was 128.

   Despite the obvious increases in investigative workload, the appropriations for the special agent force would peak in 1910. By 1912, the force of special agents was sufficient enough to enable them to make field inspections of claims submitted for patent and to make reports on the conditions found there in order to prevent any attempted fraud before final proofs were offered.

   Among the accomplishments of the special agents during the fiscal years 1913-1920 inclusive, as reported by the Commissioner, were as follows: (1) Investigated in the field and reported by the field service, 164,622 cases; (2) Collected and turned into the United States Treasury through the field service, $1,160,435.11; (3) Recovered through investigations by the field service, 2,618,343 acres; (4) Secured through investigations in the field, 520 indictments for violations of the public land laws; (5) Recommended 840 civil suits as the result of field investigation; (6) Conducted 2,423 hearings in Government contests; (7) Conducted investigations on which were instituted 114 oil land suits; (8) Decided on the merits of 17,411 litigated cases, exclusive of mineral contests and disposed of on default 30,410 cases; and (9) Obtained judicial decree quieting title in the United States to approximately 104,000 acres of Arkansas "sunk" and "lake" lands, conservatively valued at $5,200,000, and recovered the aggregate sum of $50,000 for timber cut in trespass from these lands.

   In 1918, the General Land Office Field Division had nine field offices. Those offices and the Chief of the Field Division (special agent-in-charge) are listed as follows:

Portland, Oregon...........................Harry E. Laughlin
San Francisco, California..............Joseph H. Favorite
Alaska (Juneau)............................C.R. Arundell
Helena, Montana...........................Nathan Gammon
Denver, Colorado..........................M.D. McEntry
Cheyenne, Wyoming.....................Adelbert Baker
Southern (Jackson, Mississippi)...Charles W. Atkinson
Salt Lake City, Utah......................Ralph S. Kelley
Santa Fee, New Mexico................B. Gibbs

   Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes issued an order on April 27, 1933 that reassigned the Field Service (special agents) to the Office of the Secretary and gave their organization the title of the Division of Investigations. It had the purpose of conducting all the investigations for all the agencies in the Department of the Interior. A great deal of their investigative work was now related to oil and gas issues.

   The special agents, in the form of the Division of Investigation would soon have a close working relationship with the new Division of Grazing (later the Grazing Service) that was established to implement the Taylor Grazing Act. The Division of Grazing's first director decided that issuing the grazing licenses or permits and collecting the fees would remain the responsibility of the General Land Office. Therefore, the special agents would at least have some investigative duties related to investigating applications for licenses and permits, investigating those persons who grazed their livestock without obtaining a license or permit and going after anyone who failed to pay their fees. Ickes also decided to assign several of the special agents to work in the same offices as the Graziers of the Division of Grazing.

   Several of the special agents would ultimately influence early rangeland conservation efforts by their transfer into "grazier" positions in the new Division of Grazing. These agents were: Archie D. Ryan, Joe Leech, Charles F. Moore, Milo Deming, Perry T. Williams, Warren R. Sholes, Ed Keefe, E. H. Frenzell, and Gaylor Frazier.

   The Division of Investigations organization was abolished by a Departmental Order of January 17, 1942 and the investigative workforce was transferred back to the GLO where it would be titled the Branch of Field Examination. After over 100 years of existence, this reorganization was the "death knell" of the Special Agents of the General Land Office. When the Bureau of Land Management was created on July 16, 1946 from the merger of the General Land Office and the Grazing Service, the GLO Branch of Field Examination was abolished and the field functions of this branch were divided up among the new regional offices the BLM created. The work, efforts, and memory of the existence of the Special Agents of the General Land Office would for the most part be forgotten by the new BLM.