A squatter open to reason

Sacramento Squatters camp 1940

Sacramento Squatters camp 1940

Occasionally a squatter could be found who was open to reason as to who the land he had taken over really belonged. Much of the ground squatted on had been cultivated by John Sutter until his workmen left him in 1848 to mine for gold. A few days after the excitement engendered by the recent destruction of squatters’ shanties in Sacramento one man, working ground that had once been farmed by Sutter, was asked by what authority he expected to hold the land he was on.

“By preoccupation and preemption, of course,” the squatter answered.

“But look,” replied the questioner, “if you are the first to work this land why is it so uneven?

“Well,” the squatter went on, “it looks as it might have been plowed.”

“Exactly,” said the other man, “and if that is true then don’t you think the man who ploughed it has the better right to it? Is he not the oldest settler?”

And when he learned that Sutter had cultivated this land for many years, he concluded the preoccupation and preemption laws would not help his case. He pulled up stakes and left at once. But the great majority of squatters knew little and cared nothing about any theory or authority that would justify them retaining their land and so continued to hold onto the expectation that by persistent and sometimes violent opposition to the title holders they could frighten them away or worry them enough that they would abandon their claim to the disputed land.


  1. So goes human nature. This to me is a fascinating post. The man who left, quite interesting. Wonder what his back story was?

    • Most of the squatters had come overland from states just east of the Missouri and Mississippi. Most were from pioneer families who had been moving west for generations and taking the free land as they went. They were tough, hardy people who came for the gold but they got to the gold country almost broke and prices were incredibly high. In many ways they were not so unlike those who lived in the shanty in the photo.

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