Sanford Dole was appointed as Hawai‘i’s first territorial governor, and his annual reports to the US Secretary of the Interior unfailingly emphasized his administration’s objective of settling Hawaii’s public land with family farmers.
According to a report by the Hawai‘i Legislative Reference Bureau, perhaps the most pressing and complicated task confronting Dole as Hawai‘i’s chief executive was a re-examination of public land policy, since the prosperity and continued development of the Islands’ agricultural economy depended decisively on the land laws.
Land policy in all its aspects was of long-standing interest to Dole. As early as 1872, he had argued that Hawaii’s future depended upon attracting immigrants able to resettle Hawaii’s land in the familiar, American pattern of family farming, rather than through development of enormous plantations worked by alien field gangs. Dole’s political-economic objective in Hawaii was the development of a resident yeomanry.
Settlement guided by these objectives, buttressed by other aspects of Jeffersonian agricultural fundamentalism, could, he contended, ultimately make Hawaii’s land productive and valuable.
“Homesteads will be incalculably more profitable to the country than a like area in grazing and wood-cutting lease-holds.”
Dole thereby pointed to the important relationship between public land policy and Hawaii’s critical problem of population, or, more specifically, underpopulation.
“With the present rapid decadence of the population we are in a fair way of learning the very important truth that land without people on it is really worthless; that the value of the land depends simply on there being somebody to collect its produce … upon the premises, …”
“… therefore, that if our islands are ever to be peopled to their full capacity, it must be brought about through the settlement of their lands; … homesteads, rather than field-gangs, are to be the basis of our future social and civil progress, and a careful study of our land policy becomes necessary to the formation of any practical plan for effecting this result.”
The US Congress also weighed in with changes in Hawaii’s public land laws that encouraged family farming much like the pattern established on the American mainland.
To further this objective, the Organic Act also made mandatory the opening up of land for family farm settlement whenever twenty-five or more persons eligible for homesteads presented a written application to the land commissioner.
This objective was apparently shared by Dole’s land commissioner, Edward S Boyd, who concluded the published report of his department’s work in 1903 with the promise that …
… “this office will use its best endeavors in every way possible to settle our public lands with desirable settlers, and will encourage by literature and otherwise the migration of American farmers”. (LRB)
Then, a headline and story ran in the Pacific Commercial Advertiser, “California Ranchers Get Kona Land – Half a Dozen Families Will Settle on Island of Hawaii Men Have Taken Up Five Thousand Acres of Grazing Land.”
“A colony, second only to the Wahiawa farmers, is one of the first results of the campaign for settler, which Land Commissioner Boyd started a few months ago, after the receipt of a flood of letters from mainland people, who had read of the public lands offered for settlement in Hawaii.”
“The new colony is to be started in South Kona near Franz Bucholtz’ famous farm and will mean an increase in the population of the Territory of at least twenty-five souls.”
“The new colonists are ranchers and the men at the head of them have sufficient money to stock the place with fine cattle.”
“Six men have been promised by the government, tracts of grazing land of from 900 to 1200 acres each in the South Kona district, and they have returned to the mainland with the intention of bringing their families from California immediately, and such other settlers as might wish to come.”
“The six men are AH Johnson and his two grown sons, Alfred Johnson and Andrew Johnson; Ulysses Waldrip, WH Hollill and Frank Bolander.”
“They come originally from Texas where they had engaged in ranching, but went a few years ago to Southern California to engage in farming. The men have their homes in the vicinity of San Diego and Los Angeles, where each of them has a family. Altogether the members of the colony will number twenty-five or thirty.”
“The upper lands of Opihihali and Olelomoana in South Kona [near Papa], have been set apart by Land Commissioner Boyd for the perspective settlers and they have each taken up a section of from 900 to 1200 acres.”
“The land is about one half mile from the Bucholtz place and the splendid appearance of the famous farm of Mr Bucholtz was one of the principal reasons why the California men chose the land they did. Previously they visited Pupukea lands on this island [Oahu], but were not satisfied with them and they were then sent to South Kona by Mr Boyd.”
“The appearance of the Bucholtz place and the possibilities of the land in that vicinity as demonstrated by him decided the California men in taking the tract. Altogether about 5000 acres have been allotted to them, with the usual restrictions as to forest reservation.”
“It is the intention of the six settlers to return to Honolulu immediately with their families. Their purpose is to start a ranch on a large scale and they will probably import blooded stock for this purpose. All the men are competent ranchmen and they are said to have sufficient funds to make their undertaking a success.”
“The land allotted to the settlers will be purchased by them under the right to purchase lease. This simply requires the payment of a small proportion upon the taking up of the land, and eight per cent of the value as an annual rental.”
“Land commissioner Boyd stated yesterday that the Kona tract was classed as grazing land and the average price would not exceed two dollars per acre.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, October 20, 1903)
What was disheartening to the proponents of family farming was the surprisingly limited use of the congressional provision for groups of twenty-five or more prospective farmers to form “settlement associations”.
It was anticipated that members of the settlement associations would be able to cooperate in the formidable tasks of clearing land, planting, road building, and marketing, and thus would be able to overcome the myriad problems that had generally forced isolated homesteaders to abandon the struggle.
It was anticipated, too, that the united membership of a prospective settlement association would be in a stronger position to make more effective demands on the land commissioner for good land than solitary homesteaders applying for land under other provisions of the law.
This expectation was partly fulfilled, and some rather good land was made available in Wahiawa as well as the Pupukea-Paumalu area on Oahu, and in the Kinaha-Pauwela-Kaupakulua section of Maui.
The Wahiawa settlement area proved to be well suited for the cultivation of pineapple and other cash crops, yet even this isolated instance of successful homesteading was of rather short duration, for the settlers’ land was subsequently incorporated into the operations of an enormous pineapple plantation. (LRB)