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Determination of What Constitutes “Common Varieties”

Frank J. Barry, Jr., Proceedings of 12th Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (1967)

In 1872, Congress enacted a general law promote the Development of the Mining Resources of the United States.1 This law provided that all valuable minerals in the public domain should be free and open to exploration and purchase and the lands in which they occur to occupation and purchase. It authorized a prospector to go out upon the public lands, to occupy mining claims, to attempt to discover valuable minerals and, if he made a discovery, to purchase the land from the Government. He would pay $5 per acre if the mineral occurred in a vein or lode, and $2.50 per acre if the mineral occurred as a placer deposit.

One of the purposes of the 1872 Act was to raise revenue for the Government. The 1862 Homestead Act2 had provided free land to qualified applicants, but it was felt that mining lands were intrinsically more valuable than agricultural lands and that the Government should receive compensation for them.

Mineral lands were for some time prior to and after 1872, unavailable to agricultural entrymen. This was because the products of such lands were regarded as more important to the Nation than were agricultural products. For the most part, it is easy to agree with [226] this theory. Gold, silver, iron, copper, lead, and the like, are vastly more valuable to a country which has adequate supplies of farm products to meet its day-to-day needs. What surpl