Many squatters across California

The Squatters - George Caleb Bingham

The Squatters – George Caleb Bingham

Because of the many squatters across various parts of California, including cattle thieves and other freebooters who took property from the old ranchos and the comparatively small number of land and cattle owners, there grew almost from the beginning a large squatter interest which organized itself in various places into leagues and associations and influenced to a considerable extent the political, judicial and legislative history of California. With the absence of settled land titles actual possession, which was deemed to constitute a presumption of ownership, was regarded as better than a mere title, or as the doctrine has become commonly expressed, possession is nine tenths of the law.

In the cities and towns across the state this was especially true. Here a vacant lot could be seized, a ribbon fence strung around it and a shanty thrown up while the whole town slept overnight. By morning, before anything could be done to prevent the intrusion, the squatter would be found in absolute occupation and ready to defy any attempt at expulsion. With more squatters on almost all juries, and judges dependent on squatter votes, it was almost, if not entirely useless, to seek redress in the courts. All that could be done, until the number and influence of the landowners predominated over that of the squatters, was to use force to resist force and so originated the squatter riots of California’s early days.

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