LAST WILD WEST LAND AUCTION HELD 100 YEARS LATE
July 15, 1996
ALLEGHANY- The last land auction to take place in the Wild West was over a century ago, when landowners settled their disputes with gunfights.
The final chapter of this California epic came to an end Saturday, when the Federal Government sold 17 parcels of land to the public.
Thirty-one bidders ended up spending a total of $239,800- all in cash and four times the minimum bid amounts for the properties.
Bill Grimm grew up in this town nestled in the middle of the Tahoe National Forest. When the federal contract finally came up to do the town site survey in 1980, Grimm got the job and spent 2 ½ years working here.
Federal legislation passed in 1852 granted historical towns the right to apply for ownership of the federal land on which they stood.
Why 100-year delay in Alleghany?
“They just overlooked it,” Grimm said. “It wasn’t causing anybody any trouble. You know, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?”
Yet it wasn’t going to be that easy. In the gold rush town of Alleghany, population 121, the conflict that encouraged trigger fingers in the 1800s still remains: miners vs. locals.
When Grimm was in town working on the survey, the sheriff’s department told him there were two rules: “ no loaded weapons in your truck, and no loaded weapons in town. The rest of the time you’re on your own.”
But in the current era, people more often go into fights armed with attorneys instead if six-shooters. After the survey was completed, a local miner blocked the auction from taking place, saying he had already made mining claims on the land. A lawsuit filed in June 1986 held up the auction for 10 years.
“We’re a little mining company fighting for our lives,” said Mike Miller, who runs the Sixteen to One Mine, which has mining claims that turn 100 years old this year. “ Land is always an issue.”
There are plenty of hard feelings on both sides. The only bar in town features a sign reading, “We don’t serve Miller.”
All that didn’t stop the action yesterday. A crowd of more than 100 city and country folk from across Northern California, Nevada and even Utah came to the mountain town. In the Volunteer fire department’s garage, chairs were set up and a cowboy hat wearing sheriff served as auctioneer.
Miller bought pieces of land that ran over his mining claims, and timber interests also bought land that contained valuable forest that hasn’t been cut for a century.
The highest bid went for a 19-acre parcel with a flat clearing. Natalie Streeter came from Park City, Utah, and bid $66,000 for the land, which she said plans to use for building a cabin. Her fianc worked on the survey with Grimm.