Missionary Society v. Dalles - 107 U.S. 336 (1883)
U.S. Supreme Court
Missionary Society v. Dalles, 107 U.S. 336 (1883)
Missionary Society v. Dalles
Decided April 16, 1883
107 U.S. 336
1. Under the Act of Aug. 14, 1848, c. 177, entitled "An Act to establish the territorial government of Oregon," a religious society acquired no title to public lands by reason of its occupation of them as a missionary station among the Indian tribes unless such occupation actually existed at that date.
2. Where, therefore, a religious society appropriated certain lands in the Territory of Oregon, erected improvements thereon, and occupied them for such a missionary station, but its occupation ceased before that date and a portion of them, after the townsite acts took effect, was, pursuant to their provisions, entered and paid for, and another portion was claimed by a party who had fully complied with the requirements of the Act of Sept. 27, 1850, c. 76, commonly called the Donation Act, held that the society to which, by reason of such occupation, a patent had been issued held the title to such portions in trust for the parties claiming respectively under the donation and the townsite acts.
3. Prior to the said Act of Sept. 27, 1850, no person could, by entry or preemption settlement, acquire as against the United States any right or title to public land in Oregon. Stark v. Starrs, 6 Wall. 402, cited upon this point and approved.
This was a bill in equity filed by Dalles City against the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
The following facts are disclosed by the pleadings and evidence:
The complainant was incorporated by an Act of the Legislature of Oregon passed January 26, 1857, which was afterwards amended by an Act passed January 20, 1859. By the last-named act, the boundaries of Dalles City were established. Long prior to the passage of said acts of incorporation, to-wit, in the year 1852, a large portion of the land within said boundaries was settled upon and occupied as a townsite for the purposes of business and trade, and not for agriculture, and has been so occupied ever since that time. During the year 1855, the lawfully constituted authorities of the County of Wasco, within which Dalles City was situate, caused the land so occupied to be surveyed and platted into lots, blocks, streets, and alleys, and the plat thereof to be recorded in the recorder's office of said county. A survey was made by the United States of the lands so occupied as a townsite, and such survey was approved on February 4, 1860, and on April 19, 1860, the corporate authorities of Dalles City entered at the land office of the United States in Oregon City the fractional northwest quarter of section three, in township one, of range thirteen east, containing one hundred and twelve
acres, in trust for the several use and benefit of the occupants thereof according to their respective interests. All this was done in pursuance of the Act of Congress approved May 23, 1844, and of the Act of July 17, 1854, 10 Stat. 305, by which the provisions of the act first named were extended to the Territory of Oregon. The said fractional quarter is the land occupied by Dalles City as a townsite. The corporate authorities paid to the receiver of the land office $1.25 per acre for said fractional quarter, and Dalles City claimed to have thereby acquired title thereto in trust as aforesaid.
The Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, a corporation organized under the laws of the State of New York, claimed to own in fee simple a tract of land containing six hundred and forty-three acres and thirty-seven hundredths of an acre, for which a patent bearing date July 9, 1875, was issued to it by the United States. The land described in the patent includes the fractional quarter in question.
The city, by the bill filed in this case, asserts the validity of its to the fractional quarter and avers that, in violation of its rights, the patent was improvidently issued to the Missionary Society. It prays for a decree declaring it to be the owner of the fractional quarter in trust for the use and benefit of the owners and occupants thereof and directing the defendant to convey the legal title in and to the land to the city, to be held by it in trust for the respective occupants thereof.
The remaining facts are set forth in the opinion of the Court.
Upon final hearing, the circuit court rendered a decree in favor of the city in accordance with the prayer of the bill. This appeal is prosecuted to reverse that decree.