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District Organic Act

(An act providing for a civil government for Alaska)

23 Stat. 24 - May 17, 1884

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the territory ceded to the United States by Russia by the treaty of March thirtieth, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven and known as Alaska, shall constitute a civil and judicial district, the government of which shall be organized and administered as hereinafter provided. The temporary seat of government of said district is hereby established at Sitka.

Authority and duties of governor
      SEC. 2. That there shall be appointed for the said district a governor, who shall reside therein during his term of office and be charged with the interests of the United States Government that may arise within said district. To the end aforesaid he shall have authority to see that the laws enacted for said district are enforced, and to require the faithful discharge of their duties by the officials appointed to administer the same. He may also grant reprieves for offences committed against the laws of the district or of the United States until the decision of the President thereon shall be made known. He shall be ex-officio commander-in-chief of the militia of said district, and shall have the power to call out the same when necessary to the due execution of the laws and to preserve the peace and to cause all able-bodied citizens of the United States in said district to enroll and serve as such when the public exigency demands; and he shall perform generally in and over said district such acts as pertain to the office of governor of a territory, so far as the same may be made or become applicable thereto. He shall make an annual report, on the first day of October in each year, to the President of the United States, of his official acts and doings, and of the condition of said district, with reference to its resources, industries, population, and the administration of the civil government thereof. And the President of the United States shall have the power to review and to confirm or annul any reprieves granted or other acts done by him.

Establishment of district court
      SEC. 3. That there shall be, and here is, established a district court for said district, with the civil and criminal jurisdiction of district courts of the United States, and the civil and criminal jurisdiction of district courts of the United States exercising the jurisdiction of circuit courts, and such other jurisdiction, not inconsistent with this act, as may be established by law; and a district judge shall be appointed for said district, who shall during his term of office reside therein and hold at least two terms of said court therein in each year, one at Sitka, beginning on the first Monday in May, and the other at Wrangell, beginning on the first Monday in November. He is also authorized and directed to hold such special sessions as may be necessary for the dispatch of the business of said court, at such times and places in said district as he may deem expedient, and may adjourn such special session to any other time previous to a regular session. He shall have the authority to employ interpreters, and to make allowances for the necessary expenses of his court.

Clerk of court
      SEC. 4. That a clerk shall be appointed for said court, who shall be ex-officio secretary and treasurer of said district, a district attorney, and a marshal, all of whom shall during their terms of office reside therein. The clerk shall record and preserve copies of all the laws, proceedings, and official acts applicable to said district. He shall also receive all moneys collected from fines, forfeitures, or in any other manner except from violations of the customs laws, and shall apply the same to the incidental expenses of the said district court and the allowances thereof, as directed by the judge of said court, and shall account for the same in detail, and for any balances on account thereof, quarterly, to and under the direction of the Secretary of the Treasury. He shall be ex-officio recorder of deeds and mortgages and certificates of location of mining claims and other contracts relating to real estate and register of wills for said district, and shall establish secure offices in the towns of Sitka and Wrangell, in said district, for the safekeeping of all his official records, and of records concerning the reformation and establishment of the present status of titles to lands, as hereinafter directed: Provided, That the district court hereby created may direct, if it shall deem it expedient, the establishment of separate offices at the settlements of Wrangell, Oonalashka, and Juneau City, respectively, for the recording of such instruments as may pertain to the several natural divisions of said district most convenient to said settlements, the limits of which shall, in the event of such direction, be defined by said court; and said offices shall be in charge of the commissioners respectively as hereinafter provided.

Authority and duties of commissioners
SEC. 5. There shall be appointed by the President four commissioners in and for the said district who shall have the jurisdiction and powers of commissioners of the United States circuit courts in any part of said district, but who shall reside, one at Sitka, one at Wrangell, one at Oonalashka, and one at Juneau City. Such commissioners shall exercise all the duties and powers, civil and criminal, now conferred on justices of the peace under the general laws of the State of Oregon, so far as the same may be applicable in said district, and may not be in conflict with this act or the laws of the United States. They shall also have jurisdiction, subject to the supervision of the district judge, in all testamentary and probate matters, and for this purpose their courts shall be opened at stated terms and be courts of record, and be provided with a seal for the authentication of their official acts. They shall also have power to grant writs of habeas corpus for the purpose of inquiring into the cause of restraint of liberty, which writs shall be made returnable before the said district judge for said district; and like proceedings shall be had thereon as if the same had been granted by said judge under the general laws of the United States in such cases. Said commissioners shall also have the powers of notaries public, and shall keep a record of all deeds and other instruments of writing acknowledged before them and relating to the title to or transfer of property within said district, which record shall be subject to public inspection. Said commissioners shall also keep a record of all fines and forfeitures received by them, and shall pay over the same quarterly to the clerk of said district court. The governor appointed under the provisions of this act shall, from time to time, inquire into the operations of the Alaska Seal and Fur Company, and shall annually report to Congress the result of such inquiries and any and all violations by said company of the agreement existing between the United States and said company.

Authority of marshal
      SEC. 6. That the marshal for said district shall have the general authority and powers of the United States marshals of the States and Territories. He shall be the executive officer of said court, and charged with the execution of all process of said court and with the transportation and custody of prisoners, and he shall be ex-officio keeper of the jail or penitentiary of said district. He shall appoint four deputies, who shall reside severally at the towns of Sitka, Wrangell, Oonalashka, and Juneau City, and they shall respectively be ex-officio constables and executive officers of the commissioners' courts herein provided, and shall have the powers and discharge the duties of United States deputy marshals, and those of constables under the laws of the State of Oregon now in force.

General laws of Oregon made applicable
      SEC. 7. That the general laws of the State of Oregon now in force are hereby declared to be the law in said district, so far as the same may be applicable and not in conflict with the provisions of this act or the laws of the United States; and the sentence of imprisonment in any criminal case shall be carried out by confinement in the jail or penitentiary hereinafter provided for. But the said district district court shall have exclusive jurisdiction in all cases in equity or those involving a question of title to land, or mining rights, or the constitutionality of a law, and in all criminal offenses which are capital. In all civil cases, at common law, any issue of fact shall be determined by a jury, at the instance of either party; and an appeal shall lie in any case, civil or criminal, from the judgment of said commissioners to the said district court where the amount involved in any civil case is two hundred dollars or more, and in any criminal case where a fine of more than one hundred dollars or imprisonment is imposed, upon the filing of a sufficient appeal bond by the party appealing, to be approved by the court or commissioner. Writs of error in criminal cases shall issue to the said district court from the United States circuit court for the district of Oregon in the cases provided in chapter one hundred and seventy-six of the laws of eighteen hundred and seventy-nine; and the jurisdiction thereby conferred upon circuit courts is hereby given to the circuit court of Oregon. And the final judgments or decrees of said district court may be reviewed by the Supreme Court of the United States as in other cases.

Creation of land district
      SEC. 8. That the said district of Alaska is hereby created a land district, and a United States land-office for said district is hereby located at Sitka. The commissioner provided for by this act to reside at Sitka shall be ex-officio register of said land-office, and the clerk provided for by this act shall be ex-officio receiver of public moneys and the marshal provided for by this act shall be ex-officio surveyor-general of said district and the laws of the United States relating to mining claims, and the rights incident thereto, shall, from and after the passage of this act, be in full force and effect in said district, under the administration thereof herein provided for, subject to such regulations as may be made by the Secretary of the Interior, approved by the President: Provided, That the Indians or other persons in said district shall not be disturbed in the possession of any lands actually in their use or occupation or now claimed by them but the terms under which such persons may acquire title to such lands is reserved for future legislation by Congress: And provided further, That parties who have located mines or mineral privileges therein under the laws of the United States applicable to the public domain, or who have occupied or exercised acts of ownership over such claims, shall not be disturbed therein, but shall be allowed to perfect their title to such claims by payment as aforesaid: And provided also, That the land not exceeding six hundred and forty acres at any station now occupied as missionary stations among the Indian tribes in said section, with the improvements thereon erected by or for such societies, shall be continued in the occupancy of the several religious societies to which said missionary stations respectively belong until action by Congress. But nothing contained in this act shall be construed to put in force in said district the general land laws of the United States.

Appointment of governor, etc.
      SEC. 9. That the governor, attorney, judge, marshal, clerk, and commissioners provided for in this act shall be appointed by the President of the United States, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, and shall hold their respective offices for the term of four years, and until their successors are appointed and qualified. They shall severally receive the fees of office established by law for the several offices the duties of which have been hereby conferred upon them, as the same are determined and allowed in respect of similar offices under the laws of the United States, which fees shall be reported to the Attorney-General and paid into the Treasury of the United States. They shall receive respectively the following annual salaries. The governor, the sum of three thousand dollars; the attorney, the sum of two thousand five hundred dollars; the marshal, the sum of two thousand five hundred dollars; the judge, the sum of three thousand dollars; and the clerk, the sum of two thousand five hundred dollars, payable to them quarterly from the Treasury of the United States. The District Judge, Marshal, and District Attorney shall be paid their actual, necessary expenses when traveling in the discharge of their official duties. A detailed account shall be rendered of such expenses under oath and as to the marshal and district attorney such account shall be approved by the judge, and as to his expenses by the Attorney General. The commissioners shall receive the usual fees of United States commissioners and of justices of the peace for Oregon, and such fees for recording instruments as are allowed by the laws of Oregon for similar services, and in addition a salary of one thousand dollars each. The deputy marshals, in addition to the usual fees of constables in Oregon, shall receive each a salary of seven hundred and fifty dollars, which salaries shall also be payable quarterly out of the Treasury of the United States. Each of said officials shall, before entering on the duties of his office, take and subscribe an oath that he will faithfully execute the same, which said oath may be taken before the judge of said district or any United States district or circuit judge. That all officers appointed for said district, before entering upon the duties of their offices, shall take the oaths required by law and the laws of the United States, not locally inapplicable to said district and not inconsistent with the provisions of this act are hereby extended thereto; but there shall be no legislative assembly in said district, nor shall any Delegate be sent to Congress therefrom. And the said clerk shall execute a bond, with sufficient sureties, in the penalty of ten thousand dollars, for the faithful performance of his duties, and file the same with the Secretary of the Treasury before entering on the duties of his office; and the commissioners shall each execute a bond, with sufficient sureties, in the penalty of three thousand dollars, for the faithful performance of their duties, and file the same with the clerk before entering on the duties of their office.

Public buildings
      SEC. 10. That any of the public buildings in said district not required for the customs service or military purposes shall be used for court-rooms and offices of the civil government; and the Secretary of the Treasury is hereby directed to instruct and authorize the custodian of said buildings forthwith to make such repairs to the jail in the town of Sitka, in said district, as will render it suitable for a jail and penitentiary for the purposes of civil government hereby provided, and to surrender to the marshal the custody of said jail and the other public buildings, or such parts of said buildings as may be selected for court-rooms, offices, and officials.

Printing of general laws
      SEC. 11. The the Attorney-General is directed forthwith to compile and cause to be printed, in the English language, in pamphlet form, so much of the general laws of the United states as is applicable to the duties of the governor, attorney, judge, clerk, marshals, and commissioners appointed for said district, and shall furnish for the use of the officers of said Territory so many copies as may be needed of the laws of Oregon applicable to said district.

Commission to examine and report on condition of Indians
      SEC. 12. That the Secretary of the Interior shall select two of the officers to be appointed under this act, who, together with the governor, shall constitute a commission to examine into and report upon the condition of the Indians residing in said Territory, what lands, if any, should be reserved for their use, what provision shall be made for their education, what rights by occupation of settlers should be recognized, and all other facts that may be necessary to enable Congress to determine what limitations or conditions should be imposed when the land laws of the United States shall be extended to said district; and to defray the expenses of said commission the sum of two thousand dollars is hereby appropriated out of any moneys in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated.

Education of children
      SEC. 13. That the Secretary of the Interior shall make needful and proper provision for the education of the children of school age in the Territory of Alaska, without reference to race, until such time as permanent provision shall be made for the same, and the sum of twenty-five thousand dollars, or so much thereof as may be necessary is hereby appropriated for this purpose.

Intoxicating liquors
      SEC. 14. That the provisions of chapter three, title twenty-three, of the Revised Statutes of the United States, relating to the unorganized Territory of Alaska, shall remain in full force, except as herein specially otherwise provided; and the importation, manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors in said district except for medicinal, mechanical and scientific purposes is hereby prohibited under the penalties which are provided in section nineteen hundred and fifty-five of the Revised Statutes for the wrongful importation of distilled spirits. And the President of the United States shall make such regulations as are necessary to carry out the provisions of this section.

Approved, May 17, 1884