Land ownership in the Gold Rush communities in most cases was vested in the federal government until 1867, when a law was passed to resolve the question of private land ownership. The state also passed enabling legislation allowing for ownership to be finally established - but all of this in the years 1867-1873. Until that time all ownership of land in Mokelumne Hill was only squatter's rights. A person bought or sold a possessory interest in the property. Boundaries of parcels were whatever physical feature defined the possession, be it wall, fence, hedge, or any other identifiable feature. A deed description usually consisted of bounds, that is, "bound on the west by Jones, on the east by Smith, and on the north by Thompson, with a frontage on Center Street of 25 feet."
The federal legislation of 1867, called the Townsite Acts, provided that the federal government grant the townsite to the district judge as trustee. He ordered a survey of the town to show what each owner claimed, and these claims became the new lots. This resulted in the first actual survey of the town. The map that was then produced, listed the owner of each parcel - now a lot in a block - whether the lot was improved or unimproved, and the area of that lot. Legal descriptions of the lots were made and deeds prepared. The judge granted the lots to the owners. The odd result of this process is that the street areas are just what was not claimed, creating irregular streets. Until that time, no matter what structure a claimant erected, no matter how substantial, he was still a squatter on federal land. However, at that time, no one really cared. Possession was what mattered. A good location for a saloon or store meant thousands of dollars in profit.
By Lee Bibb, 2019
The Mokelumne Hill 1872 map is found here:MH Townsite Map 1872 All.pdf