The published Tennessee Wildcat discussed two Sands brothers, James and Joseph, and one VanWinkle brother, Henry. However, Henry also had a brother in the area: William. But unlike Henry and the Sands brothers, William’s connection was with Edmund Mason and adds another interesting twist to the story of Mason’s land in section 30 of Independence Twp.

William VanWinkle and Edmund Mason

You will recall that Edmund Mason purchased a quarter-quarter section in Section 30 of Independence Twp, almost exactly two miles from the Ingallses’ cabin, on the other side of Onion Creek. In the BLM Tract Book in which this purchase is recorded, there is a small annotation beneath Edmund Mason’s entry that reads:

D.S. 4448 [or 4445] William Vanwinkle – NW1/4 NW1/4 – Sep ??-Dec 71., Relqd for Cash Absl? Sept 72

William VanWinkle annotation

And below the entry for Ichabod Kellog, but related to this same quarter-quarter section is the following small annotation:

D.S. 5528 – Edmund Mason – NW1/4 NW1/4 – Mch 10-May 6 ,72

Edmund Mason annotation

Because we cannot locate William anywhere in the 1870 census, we cannot be sure when he came to Montgomery County, but this annotation implies he may have been occupying this tract of land before Edmund Mason. If so, it’s possible he was there at the same time his brother, Henry, was farming directly north of this section:

The annotation implies that William VanWinkle may have relinquished his claim and sold it for cash to Edmund Mason . Generally, claims were relinquished when the entryman (the person settling the land) failed to complete the legal requirements to receive title to the land. In such cases, the land reverted to the U.S. government and could be opened up for new settlers. It was also illegal to file claims on land with the intent of relinquishing the land for cash to another person. However, the actual practice was often quite different:

Despite this prohibition, the relinquishment proviso offered many opportunities for abuse and fraud. Numerous individuals claimed land without any intention to “prove up” and held it in order to “sell a relinquishment” to a second claimant. Often, the local real estate agent would act as the middleman in such transactions by placing prospective settlers in contact with the speculator. The land agent himself probably was involved in the speculative scheme.

In order to avoid an overt violation of the law against claiming public lands for speculative purposes, the speculator would offer to sell the improvements on the tract (if any), such as a well, or a house, to the new settler. Once the money had changed hands, the claim would be relinquished at the land office and filed on immediately by the other party. (U.S. Government Land Laws in Nebraska, 1854-1904)

If two people also had a claim to the land, one of them could relinquish the claim for cash. Such relinquishments were not unusual. For example, December 20, 1871, L. D. Andus relinquished his claim with improvements in Chatauqua County (immediately west of Montgomery County), to Sutton McWhorter for $200 in a letter written in Havanna, KS, just six-seven miles away from the Ingallses’ property.

The evidence indicates this could well be what happened with Edmund Mason, whom we already know was claiming to be an actual settler on the school land at the same time he was claiming to be settling this land in section 30. Only, Edmund Mason may well have been even more duplicitous.

William VanWinkle relinquished the land in September 1872, the same month that Edmund made payment on it, and the affidavit was received from John Craig and attested to by Edmund’s brother, John, as required by law: (Homestead proof, consisting of testimonies of two witnesses and the testimony of the claimant.)

. . . Edmund Mason . . . is . . . a bona fide settler upon the foregoing described land, which he seeks to purchase, having settled thereon about the 10th day of March, 1872. On or about the 10th day of March, 1872 he built a house upon said land 12 by 14 feet, one story high, board roof, one door, no window and He moved into said house with his effects on or about the 10th day of March, 1872 and has resided in said house and upon said land to the present time, and that he has made the following improvements on said land: has plowed 11 in cultivation about 8 acres of said, has a fence built on the east side of the forty.

/s/ John Craig, dated September 21, 1872.

Interestingly, it was also in September that Edmund’s own affidavit was signed, in which he swore he hadn’t settled on and improved the land in order to sell it “on speculation” but to use it for his own exclusive use or benefit. Yet, he sold it for $175 to John Craig (the same person that affirmed Edmund’s settlement on and improvements to the land) just 12 days later, on October 3, 1872. This was just one day after Edmund’s payment for the land was officially recorded.

So, the same person who attested to Edmund’s satisfaction of the legal requirements was the same person that Edmund sold the land to. And Edmund himself swore he wasn’t speculating on the land!

These facts make a strong case that Edmund had already agreed to sell the land to John Craig once he had legal title to it (though the official patent wasn’t issued until October 1873). Furthermore, Edmund had already purchased 160 acres of the school land in section 36 of Rutland Twp. Feb 24, 1872, just two weeks before he allegedly settled on the Section 30 land, built a house on it, and moved his effects into it.

But there is another interesting fact here. It was also on March 10th, 1872, that Edmund filed his Declaratory Statement (#5528) for this land yet William VanWinkle didn’t relinquish his claim until September 1872. Thus, it’s possible they were both claiming the land at the same time. Perhaps they both settled on the land and were in dispute over it. We don’t know when William left Montgomery County, but he was definitely back in Iowa by 1874, So, perhaps he had already decided to return to Iowa, as Henry did about the same time, and was therefore happy to relinquish his claim so that Edmund could have the land. Whatever the case, William’s declaratory statement was filed six months before Edmund filed his, but it’s impossible to determine exactly who was actually living where during this period.

One thing we know for certain is that Edmund was claiming two different tracts of land at the same time, which was illegal , and he immediately sold one of those tracts to another settler, which was also illegal.

William VanWinkle was born May 6, 1849, probably in Henry County, Iowa, and died March 19, 1935 in Decatur County, Iowa. He is buried in Mount Zion Cemetery, Riley Township, Ringgold County, Iowa along with his wife, Sara Elizabeth Cornell, who predeceased him by seven months. William and Sarah were married November 10, 1896, in Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa.