This is a continuing blog thread on my ancestor, David Edgar Chase and the on-going answers I find on the mystery of his death at age 47 in 1900 by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. To read my first entry on David, click here.
What we do know about David is that from 1887 to 1890 he is clearly listed in city directories far from his Haverhill, Massachusetts wife and child, and living in Denver Colorado. He then vanishes from records for a 3 year period between 1891-1894, popping up again in Denver directories in 1895. In 1896, the year after his father’s death, he is back home in Haverhill.
What was he doing in Colorado?
A huge clue came when I happened upon this index record which shows David applied for land through the Timber Culture Act.
I’m waiting for a copy of these documents to come from the National Archives, which will hopefully tell me more.
What was the Timber Culture Act?
Congress enacted this in 1873. It was designed to encourage the planting of trees on the western prairies. The act gave 160 acres of land in exchange for planting and cultivating a set number of trees and sustaining them for ten years. You could then claim the land. The planting of trees was thought, at the time, to bring about more rainfall, which would help the dry land and help making farming sustainable. New settlers also needed additional lumber for housing and fuel so planting trees was seen as good for the economy.
Was the Timber Culture Act a success?
Overall, it was massive failure. In most states, the desert like climate made it just impossible for trees to survive. There was also rampant fraud going on. A person making the claim didn’t even have to live there. Opportunists and savvy businessmen were holding on to it hoping to make a profit as the land became more valuable. And no taxes to pay on it! The act did help for those real settlers who lived there and nurtured trees on the land. But the majority of tree claims were held by those with no intention of living there. The act was repealed in March 1891.
This was all starting to make sense. The Chase family in Haverhill were successful lumber dealers. Starting business in Colorado would have been a smart business move. David’s father, David Sr., probably sent his son out there to set up shop for all the expected lumber business this act would bring it. And while he was there, David would, stake out a claim and grow his own trees.
What doesn’t seem clear is, when the Timber Act was revoked in 1891…why didn’t David go home to Haverhill? Or did he? He seems to not be in either place. Strangely, he shows back in Denver in 1895. Was he in Colorado these “lost” years?