The Oregon Donation Land Act, which created legal land claim procedures for new settlers in the vast territory, went into effect on September 27, 1850.
New claimants were entitled to 320 acres, with four years residing on and improving the property required to gain legal title. The act also legitimized the squatters’ rights of those who had claimed and settled land under earlier 1843 Provisional Government legislation. Those procedures allowed claims of up to 320 acres for single white males, and 640 acres for married couples.
American Indians, who were already residing on the land, could only make claims if they were half white. American’s ugly history of treatment of Native Americans played out in the Oregon Territory as it did elsewhere, with race wars and forced and coerced removal to reservations. African Americans and Hawaiians, also, were unjustly prohibited under the act from making claims.
The incentive provided by the act proved powerful; to the white people it attracted, and in shaping the makeup of Oregon. By 1855, when the law expired, 7000 claims for 2.5 million acres of land were processed, mostly in the Willamette, Umpqua, and Rogue river valleys. Over 20,000 other white immigrants also entered the Oregon Territory during that time. Between the years 1850 and 1860 Oregon’s population increased from 11,873 to around 60,000.
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