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Ely, C.
Autograph Letter Signed, Keokuk, Iowa, May 12, 1850 to his brother, H. B. Ely, Buckingham Post Office, Bucks County, Pennsylvania

folio, three pages, plus stamp-less address leaf, some chipping along edge of second leaf, due to rough opening, affecting several letters of text, otherwise in good, clean and legible condition.

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“… for the last few years have enjoyed … good health for an old man considering I have been harassed up and down as respects the rights and property of this country… it being half breed and sac and fox land. Arises the difficulty… according to the Constitution of the United States; that the possessor has the best write to it (viz) what he has possession of. In that case I have in this town 130 town lots that is and will be very valuable in a short time and not only that, a farm of 160 acres 12 miles from here all under the same title. There is a decree existing in order … to settle this half breed land, and will put aside all difacultys relative to it which has been got up by a few interested persons in order … to settle to us a good title, which we – as half breeds as I call us consider a base and fraudulent thing, and will… terminate in resort to arms, and then will come under the notice of higher authority to settle it. H. Clay and D. Webster opinion is, the decree has nothing to do with the half breed sac and fox lands, that it is swindling the settlers out of their wrights consequently cannot stand good before the supreme cort of U.S. If that should be the case in favor of the settler I am well off … but I expect nothing else than I will have to turn out and fight off those decree robbers; which will terminate in the loss of some lives, but we are bound to beat them if the settlers stand firm to this post which I for one am and will … stand in defence for my and fellow mortals property. I have had some notion to come over and dispose of some of my property cheap to some in the East which is all splendidly situated and can sell a great bargain to any one who wishes to buy … Do not forget to write before I may go to Californi…”


A heated letter, the writer’s prediction of violence being ironic in view of his use of the Quaker pronoun “thee”, but understandable in light of a half-century  of “bewildering confusion” over 1000,000 acres of “Half-Breed Tracts” set aside in the Midwest by the United States Government for descendants of mixed-race marriages between whites and Sac and Fox tribe Indians. One Sac Chief, Black Hawk, refused to accede to the astonishing original treaty by which other chiefs gave up tribal claims to millions of acres of land in return for a pittance of payment and a reservation in northern Missouri, later “relocated” to Kansas and Nebraska, and led his followers into hopeless war with the United States. Another chief, Keokuk, agreed to cooperate with white settlers in present-day Iowa, but “half-breed” lands in that area became mired in decades of litigation, as it proved impossible to determine who was legally entitled to these tracts. While many genuine “half-breeds” – apparently including Ely – lived indistinguishably among Caucasians and could be considered “Indian” only by blood, hundreds if not thousands of bogus claims were sold and resold to greedy speculators by often drunken natives who were neither Sac nor Fox. Twenty years of legal battles ensued, finally reaching the United States Supreme Court in the 1850s. Meanwhile, as one historian of the city of Keokuk (named for the amenable Chief) recorded, the town came into existence “amid confusion and discord”, with “passions aroused” among settlers like Ely, who lacked faith in legal entanglements, leading to “fierce excitements, violent mobocratic outbreaks and even miniature battles”. A significant letter documenting an Indian land-grad overlooked by history because of its legal complexity.