This story is about a confidence scheme that nearly succeeded. Hide-binders are not unique to Lake County. They were here before, and they will come again. What makes this tale so intriguing was that this con-man, had he succeeded in his nefarious plans, Clear Lake and the land around the lake would have been in the hands of one person, Mr. I.N. Chapman.
If I.N. Chapman had succeeded, he would probably become so important he would have been elected to be one of the Lake County Supervisors. Supervisors have an important job and make big decisions… sometimes not as wise and well thought out as they should be. One such decision that comes to mind is recent. The present board voted three to two to support a scheme to chop California in two parts like a wishbone (without the citizens’ approval or wish; 30:1 against the idea by one tally). California is a big state, but we are not quite ready for that.
In 1868, The U.S. Authorities sent Chapman to survey the land around the lake. Nobody had surveyed that property, and settlers were coming fast. Chapman did his job well but took great pains to tell the settlers that had already come, ‘Do not make entry in the books of your land. This you may do as soon as I have finished my survey.’ All the while, Chapman knew that as long as the settlers did not make such report on where their property was, he could carry out his plan, which was to keep the land for himself.
This how he accomplished the deed. First, when fall came, he ran for the office of County Surveyor. He was liked well enough and, as most con-artists do, he worked on being popular. After he was elected, Chapman took all his survey notes and data, telling his bosses, ‘I am going to the city to do my platting; a way of formalizing the survey notes into a more detailed description of each of the properties around Clear Lake.’
Fortunately, the Judge smelled a rat. Judge A.P. McCarty persuaded one of Chapman’s confidants to cooperate. Judge McCarty made that man his Deputy.
Chapman, all unaware of the Judges slick counter-plot, wrote to the Deputy. ‘I have a new set of books. Make no entries in the County records of the settler’s land requests until you hear from me again.’ That letter made Judge McCarty sit up and take notice. At once, he called every settler around the Lake. He instructed them, ‘Come to the county building immediately and file your papers on your land.’
They did, of course. The signed papers were forwarded to the State Land Office in Sacramento by speedy messenger. In a few days the applications from land speculators came flooding in to take the settler’s property. These were the fake plat map books made by Chapman. The whole scheme came out into daylight and the thieves were made known. Chapman and the speculators had clearly worked in collusion to defraud the owners of the land.
The best defense is usually a strong offense. Chapman tried to bluster and out-talk his way out of his pickle. He sent an angry letter to the Judge. Judge McCarty returned his letter with his own letter; ‘Mr. Chapman, always keep a safe distance away from Lake County in the future.’ Chapman was never seen in Lake County again and the settler’s homes were saved.
Next Week: A Painless Tooth Pulling
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