Washington Law Review


By 1880 Congress had passed nearly 3000 statutes granting or regulating parts of the public domain. Administrative and judicial case loads increased correspondingly, as many thousands of claims had to be verified and recorded and growing numbers of disputes adjudicated. This article recalls an early far-west chapter of the story, a remarkable series of decisions by Oregon federal district Judge Matthew P. Deady interpreting the cornerstone of Pacific Northwest public land law, the 1850 Oregon Donation Act. Although Deady decided other public land law questions as well, it is his Donation Act decisions helping to determine ownership of the Portland land claim which reveal most clearly both the institutional and the biographical significance of his work in this field. Part I to follow introduces the Donation Act, early Portland, and Deady; Parts II, III, and IV describe and analyze the principal decisions; and the Conclusion examines their significance in greater detail.

First Page