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100 years ago in Spokane: ‘Uncle Sam’s Santa Claus’ draws names for land allotments on Colville Reservation

 (The Spokesman-Review)
(The Spokesman-Review)

From our archives, 100 years ago

The biggest show in Spokane was taking place at the American Theater – the land drawing for the Colville Reservation.

More than 90,000 applications were dumped onto the stage of the theater and then mixed together with shovels for a full 10 minutes, to ensure fairness. Then four small girls, selected for the honor, proceeded to snatch envelopes out of the pile and read out each lucky winner’s name. By the end of the day, they had read out 1,650 names. Another 4,000 names would be selected over the next two days.

John McPhaul, the federal superintendent of the land sale, was introduced jokingly to the crowd as “Uncle Sam’s Santa Claus.” However, several people acknowledged that being picked as a winner was not an unmixed blessing.

“I can’t overlook the difficulties that must be faced by those who choose homesteads on the reservation,” said N.W. Durham, a Spokane historian and editor. “If I had my choice, I would rather buy a farm in some more thoroughly developed part of the country.”

“Some people think I am lucky,” said E.D. Furman, the fourth name picked from the pile. “… I am not so sure of it, for I have worked on a farm 15 months when a kid and abandoned the vocation to become a printer. But I intend to file.”

It cost only a quarter to apply for the drawing. However, those applicants who were chosen would have to adhere to rules regarding homesteading, including a small cash payment and a commitment to improving the land over a certain number of years. Also, many of the most promising parcels of land had already been allotted to tribal members.


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