Jeffris v. East Omaha Land Co.
134 U.S. 178 (1890)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Jeffris v. East Omaha Land Co., 134 U.S. 178 (1890)

Jeffris v. East Omaha Land Company

No. 1539

Submitted January 13, 1890

Decided March 10, 1890

134 U.S. 178

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED

STATES FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEBRASKA

Syllabus

A fractional section of land on the left bank of the Missouri River in Iowa was surveyed by United States surveyors in 1851, and lot 4 therein was formed, and so designated on the plat filed, and as containing 37.24 acres, the north boundary of it being on the Missouri River. In 1853, the lot was entered and paid for, and was patented in June, 1855, as lot 4. Afterwards, by ten mesne conveyances, made down to 1888, the lot was conveyed as lot 4, and became vested in the plaintiff. About 1853 new land was formed against the north line, and continued to form until 1870, so that then more than 40 acres had been formed by accretion by natural causes and imperceptible degrees within the lines running north and south on the east and west of the lot, and the course of the river ran far north of the original meander line. The defendant claimed to own a part of the new land by deed from one who had entered upon it. The plaintiff filed a bill to establish his title to the new land, claiming it as a part of lot 4. On demurrer to the bill,

Held:

(1) The bill alleging that the land was formed by "imperceptible degrees,"

Page 134 U. S. 179

the time during which the large increase was made being nearly 20 years, the averment must stand notwithstanding the character of the river and the rapid changes constantly going on in its banks.

(2) Where a water line is the boundary of a given lot, that line, no matter how it shifts, remains the boundary, and a deed describing the lot by its number conveys the land up to such shifting water line, so that, in the view of accretion, the water line, if named as the boundary, continues to be the boundary, and a deed of the lot carries all the land up to the water line.

(3) Accretion is an addition to land coterminous with the water which is formed so slowly that its progress cannot be perceived, and does not admit of the view that in order to be accretion, the formation must be one not discernible by comparison at two distinct periods of time.

(4) The patent having conveyed the lot as lot 4, and the successive deeds thereafter having conveyed it by the same description, the patent and the deeds covered the successive accretions, and neither the United States nor any grantor retained any interest in any of the accretion.

(6) Where a plat is referred to in a deed as containing a description of land, the courses, distances and other particulars appearing upon the plat are to be as much regarded, in ascertaining the true description of the land and the intent of the parties, as if they had been expressly enumerated in the deed.

This is a suit in equity, brought in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Nebraska on the 9th of February, 1889, by The East Omaha Land Company, a Nebraska corporation, against Thomas Jefferis. The case was heard on a demurrer to the bill, which makes it necessary to state with particularity the allegations of the bill. The are as follows:

The lands which are the subject of the suit are of the value of $2,000 or more. In 1851, the deputy surveyors of the United States, then engaged in surveying the public lands in township 75 N., range 44 W., of the fifth principal meridian, in the State of Iowa, ran, marked, and made field notes and plats on the meander line of the left bank of the Missouri River, and returned the said field notes and plats to the Surveyor General of Iowa, who filed the same in the General Land Office, and they were thereupon duly approved, and since that time no resurvey has been made by the United

Page 134 U. S. 180

States of the lands lying along, upon, or near said river, or of the premises which are the subject of the bill.

Section 21 in that township was properly surveyed and subdivided by the deputy surveyors, and the plats and notes thereof were duly made, returned, and approved as aforesaid. By the surveys, the section was found, and by the plats and notes thereof returned, as fractional, and a part thereof, designated as lot 4, was formed, containing 37.24 acres, the north boundary thereof being on the Missouri River. The meander line of the river was described in the field notes as beginning at meander corner No. 6, the same being at a point on the line between sections 16 and 17 in said township and range, about 100 feet north of the intersection of the exterior lines of said sections 16 and 7 and sections 20 and 21; thence south, 71 degrees east, 2.68 chains, to meander post No. 7, on the north line of lot 4; thence south, 79 degrees 50 minutes east, 54 chains; thence north, 85 degrees east, 4.50 chains; thence east 15 chains; thence north, 78 degrees east, 5.25 chains to the corner of sections 21 and 22. A map is annexed, marked "Exhibit A," being a true copy of the plat so made, returned, and approved, showing the meander line of the river, and the lines of the subdivisions of sections 16, 17, 21, and 22.

On the 10th of October, 1853, one Edmund Jefferis entered lot 4 at the United States land office for the district of land subject to sale at Kanesville, Iowa, paid the proper officer of the office the legal price thereof, and received therefor the usual register's certificate, and on the 15th of June, 1855, the usual patent of the government was duly issued to him for the land. In the certificate and patent the land was described as lot 4, in fractional section 21, in township 75 north, range 44 west, of the fifth principal meridian, containing 37.24 acres, according to the official plat of the survey of the land returned to the General Land Office by the surveyor general. At the time of the entry, the meander line of the left bank of the river was the same, or nearly the same, as shown by such field notes and plat.

On the 14th of July, 1856, said Jefferis duly conveyed the

Page 134 U. S. 181

land to Joseph Still and Joseph I. Town, describing the same simply as lot 4, in section 21, in township 75 north, range 44 west, of the fifth principal meridian. On the 21st of September, 1857, Town conveyed the undivided half of the premises, with warranty, to one McCoid, who, on the 16th of October, 1857, quitclaimed the premises to one Coleman. On the 25th of May, 1858, Coleman conveyed them, with warranty, to Mrs. Ruth A. Town. On the 27th of April, 1859, Joseph I. Town and Ruth A. Town conveyed them, with warranty, to one Boin, who, on the 30th of May, 1861, quitclaimed them to one McBride, and McBride, on the 30th of September, 1861, quitclaimed them to one Schoville. Schoville having died, his widow and heirs quitclaimed them to the plaintiff, on the 22d of March, 1888. On the 9th of March, 1888, Still quitclaimed the other undivided half of the premises to Lyman H. Town, who, on the 28th of March, 1888, conveyed the same to the plaintiff. In each of the deeds made by those several parties, the premises were described as lot 4, in fractional section 21, township 75 north, range 44 west, of the fifth principal meridian, and the deeds were duly recorded in the registry of Pottawattamie County, Iowa, in which county the premises were situated.

About the time of the original entry of lot 4 by Edmund Jefferis, new land was formed along and against the whole length of the north line thereof, and from that time continued to form until 1870, so that in that year at a distance of 20 chains and more from the original meander line before described, and within the lines of the lot on the east and west running north and south, a tract of 40 acres and more had been formed by accretion to the lot, and ever since had been and now is a part thereof. The said land was so formed by natural causes and imperceptible degrees -- that is to say, by the operation of the current and waters of the river, washing and depositing earth, sand, and other material against and upon the north line of the lot, and the waters and current of the river receded therefrom, so that the new land so formed became high and dry, above the usual high water mark, and the river made for itself its main course far north of the original meander line.

Page 134 U. S. 182

Such process, begun in 1853 and continued until 1870, went on so slowly that it could not be observed in its progress, but at intervals of not less than three or four months, it could be discerned by the eye that additions greater or less had been made to the shore.

In 1877, the river, at a point more than a mile south of the north line of the lot, suddenly cut through its bank and made for itself a course through the same, leaving all of section 21 north of its bank. A plat, marked "Exhibit B," is annexed upon which is delineated the river both before and after such sudden change.

The river is and always has been navigable for steamers of large tonnage. The United States never claimed any interest in the lands so formed by accretion to lot 4. The plaintiff submits that by such several mesne conveyances, whereby the title to lot 4 has come to it, it has become seised in fee not only of the land included within the boundaries of the lot at the time of such survey, but also of the land so formed by accretion thereto, so that the east and west boundaries of the lot are formed by the protraction of the east and west lines north to the left bank of the river as the same was in 1877, when the river suddenly changed its course, and the north boundary of the lot is the said left bank at that time.

When the plaintiff became seised of the land, it entered into the same and made large and valuable improvements thereon, and it has projected the enterprise of redeeming the land and other land adjoining it, of improving the same so that the whole will be available for railroad and manufacturing purposes, of building railroad tracks, stationhouses, depots, warehouses, and manufacturing establishments, and selling parcels of the land to others for such purposes, and has expended more than $20,000, and has in hand $100,000 which it purposes to expend in grading, and in building roads, bridges, etc.

In 1888 one, Counzeman and others, without any authority of law, entered upon the land so formed by accretion and for a time occupied it, but afterwards abandoned it. Recently, Counzeman has made to the defendant a deed of quitclaim

Page 134 U. S. 183

purporting to convey a certain parcel of the land so formed by accretion to lot 4. The south line of the land so conveyed to the defendant is about two hundred feet north of the original meander line of lot 4, as that line was so run, marked, and platted by the United States surveyors, and the deed purports to convey about twenty acres, which are within the above-recited boundaries of the land formed by accretion to lot 4. When Counzeman entered upon the land and when he made the deed to the defendant, each of them well knew of the plaintiff's plan and purposes in respect thereof, and that they had no right so to enter, and the defendant threatens to, and, unless restrained by injunction, will, dispossess the plaintiff and seriously interfere with its plans and purposes. The defendant is insolvent, and unable to answer for the damage to which he will subject the plaintiff by entering into the premises and dispossessing the plaintiff.

The bill waives an answer on oath, and prays for an injunction restraining the defendant from entering into, taking possession of, or intermeddling with, any part of the premises conveyed to him by Counzeman, and for a decree declaring that the land so formed against lot 4, including that conveyed to the defendant, became and was a part of lot 4, and included within its description; that the title to it has become and is vested in the plaintiff; that the deed made to the defendant be delivered up to be cancelled, that he be perpetually enjoined from asserting the same or any title or interest thereunder against the plaintiff, and for general relief.

The defendant interposed a general demurrer to the bill for want of equity.

The case was heard before MR. JUSTICE BREWER, then circuit judge, who filed an opinion on the 1st of March, 1889, directing that the demurrer be sustained. 40 F. 386. On a petition for a rehearing, which was heard by the same judge, he filed an opinion, 40 F. 390, directing that the demurrer be overruled. Thereupon a decree was entered, on the 13th of November, 1889, overruling the demurrer, granting a perpetual injunction restraining the defendant from entering into, taking possession of, or in any manner

Page 134 U. S. 184

intermeddling with the premises, and from asserting any right or interest therein, and declaring that the land in question was formed by process of accretion and imperceptible degrees against the premises known and described as lot 4 of section 21, in township 75 north of range 44 west of the fifth principal meridian, in the State of Iowa, as the same was originally surveyed and platted by the surveyors of the United States, and became, by such accretion, a part of said lot, and was included within such description, and the title thereto passed by such description from the original patentee of the United States to the plaintiff, by divers mesne conveyances, and is now vested in the plaintiff. It was further decreed that the deed made to the defendant by Counzeman, purporting to convey the premises be delivered up to the plaintiff, to be cancelled, and that the plaintiff recover its costs to be taxed. The premises upon which the decree operated were described in it as follows: beginning at a point 1,520 feet north of the southwest corner of lot 4, in section 21, township 75 north, range 44 west, of the fifth principal meridian; running thence, north 660 feet; thence east 1,320 feet to the extension due north of the east boundary line of said lot 4, as originally surveyed and platted by the United States; thence south, on that line, 660 feet, and thence west to the place of beginning, containing 20 acres. The decree further states that the defendant prayed an appeal to this Court, and that it was allowed.

Page 134 U. S. 187

MR. JUSTICE BLATCHFORD delivered the opinion of the Court.

The grounds upon which the circuit court proceeded in overruling the demurrer to the bill are stated by it in its opinion to be these:

(1) It being alleged in the bill that the added land was formed by "imperceptible degrees," although the increase was great, resulting in the addition of many acres, yet the time during which it was made was nearly twenty

Page 134 U. S. 188

years, and an increase might have been going on, imperceptible from day to day and from week to week, which, during the lapse of so many years, might result in the addition of all the land, and hence the averment of the bill cannot be overthrown, notwithstanding what is known of the character of the Missouri River, and of the soil through which it flows, and of the rapid changes in its banks which are constantly going on. (2) Where a water line is the boundary of a given lot, that line, no matter how it shifts, remains the boundary, and a deed describing the lot by number or name conveys the land up to such shifting water line, exactly as it does up to the fixed side lines, so that as long as the doctrine of accretion applies, the water line, no matter how much it may shift, if named as the boundary, continues to be the boundary, and a deed of the lot carries all the land up to the water line.

The propositions contended for by the defendant are these:

(1) Taking the allegations of the bill, with those facts in relation to the Missouri River of which the court will take judicial notice, it appears that the formation in question was not accretion. (2) Taking the allegations of the bill most strongly against the plaintiff, it must be assumed that some area, however narrow, had formed between the time when the survey was made, in 1851, and the time when the land was entered by the patentee, in October, 1853. (3) The patentee, by the deed made by him to Still and Joseph L. Town, conveyed only "lot 4," and while the successive grantees held the title to that lot, accretions were formed of greater or less extent, which were never conveyed to the plaintiff, the deeds to it calling only for lot 4. The substance of this contention is that as the conveyance by the patentee to Still and Joseph I. Town described the land simply as "lot 4," it passed the title to that lot as it was at the date of the survey in 1851, and not at the date of the deed, in 1856 and thereby excluded the new land formed after the survey of 1851, and that, as accretions of greater or less extent were formed while the several successive grantees held the title, such accretions did not pass by their respective deeds, and the title thereto has not come to the plaintiff.

Page 134 U. S. 189

It is distinctly alleged in the bill that the new land is an accretion to that originally purchased by the patentee from the United States. The rule of law applicable to such a state of facts is thus stated by this Court in New Orleans v. United States, 10 Pet. 662, 35 U. S. 717:

"The question is well settled at common law that the person whose land is bounded by a stream of water which changes its course gradually by alluvial formations shall still hold by the same boundary, including the accumulated soil. No other rule can be applied on just principles. Every proprietor whose land is thus bounded is subject to loss by the same means which may add to his territory, and as he is without remedy for his loss in this way, he cannot be held accountable for his gain."

And in Banks v. Ogden, 2 Wall. 57, 69 U. S. 67, it is said:

"The rule governing additions made to land bounded by a river, lake, or sea, has been much discussed and variously settled by usage and by positive law. Almost all jurists and legislators, however, both ancient and modern, have agreed that the owner of the land thus bounded is entitled to these additions. By some, the rule has been vindicated on the principle of natural justice that he who sustains the burden of losses and of repairs imposed by the contiguity of waters ought to receive whatever benefits they may bring by accretion; by others it is derived from the principle of public policy that it is the interest of the community that all land should have an owner, and most convenient that insensible additions to the shore should follow the title to the shore itself."

It is contended by the defendant that this well settled rule is not applicable to land which borders on the Missouri River because of the peculiar character of that stream and of the soil through which it flows, the course of the river being tortuous, the current rapid, and the soil a soft, sandy loam, not protected from the action of water either by rocks or the roots of trees; the effect being that the river cuts away its banks, sometimes in a large body, and makes for itself a new course, while the earth thus removed is almost simultaneously deposited elsewhere, and new land is formed almost as rapidly as the former bank was carried away.

Page 134 U. S. 190

But it has been held by this Court that the general law of accretion in applicable to land on the Mississippi River, and, that being so, although the changes on the Missouri River are greater and more rapid than on the Mississippi, the difference does not constitute such a difference in principle as to render inapplicable to the Missouri River the general rule of law.

In Jones v. Soulard, 24 How. 41, it was held that a riparian proprietor on the Mississippi River at St. Louis was entitled, as such, to all accretions as far out as the middle thread of the stream, and that the rule well established as to fresh water rivers generally was not varied by the circumstance that the Mississippi at St. Louis is a great and public watercourse. The Court said that from the days of Sir Matthew Hale, all grants of land bounded by fresh water rivers where the expressions designating the water line were general conferred the proprietorship on the grantee to the middle thread of the stream, and entitled him to the accretions; that the land to which the accretion attached in that case was an irregular piece of 79 acres, and had nothing peculiar in it to form an exemption from the rule; that the rule applied to such a public watercourse as the Mississippi was at the City of St Louis, and that the doctrine that, on rivers where the tide ebbs and flows, grants of land are bounded by ordinary high water mark had no application to the case, nor did the size of the river alter the rule.

In Saulet v. Shepherd, 4 Wall. 502, the doctrine of accretion was applied in respect of a lot of alluvion or batture in the Mississippi River fronting the City of New Orleans, in favor of the riparian proprietor, and it was held that the right to the alluvion depended upon the fact of the contiguity of the estate to the river, and that where the accretion was made to a strip of land which bordered on the river, the accretion belonged to such strip, and not to the larger parcel behind it, from which the strip, when sold, was separated.

In County of St Clair v. Lovingston, 23 Wall. 46, the same doctrine was applied to a piece of land situated on the east bank of the Mississippi River opposite St. Louis. It was there held that where a survey began "on the bank of the river,"

Page 134 U. S. 191

and was carried thence "to a point in the river," the river bank being straight and running according to such line, the track surveyed was bounded by the river; that alluvion meant the addition to riparian land, gradually and imperceptibly made, through causes, either natural or artificial, by the water to which the land was contiguous; that the test of what was gradual and imperceptible was that although the witnesses might see from time to time that progress had been made, they could not perceive it while the process was going on, and that it was alluvion whether the addition was made on a stream which overflowed its banks or on one which did not. The authorities on the subject are collected in the opinion in that case.

The rule is as applicable to the Missouri River as it is to the Mississippi, whether the principle on which it rests be that the riparian owner is entitled to the addition to his land because he must bear without compensation the loss of land caused by the action of the water and any consequent expense of repair to the shore or whether that principle be one of public policy, in that it is to the interest of the community that all lands should have an owner, and most convenient that insensible additions to the shore should follow the title to the shore.

In the present case, the land in question is described in the bill as a tract of 40 acres and more. How much, if any of it, was formed between the date of the original survey in 1851 and the time of the entry in October, 1853, cannot be told, nor how much was formed between 1853 and 1856, while the patentee owned the lot, and so in regard to the time when it was owned by each successive owner. There can be, in the nature of things, no determinate record, as to time, of the steps of the changes. Human memory cannot be relied on to fix them. The very fact of the great changes in result, caused by imperceptible accretion, in the case of the Missouri River, makes even more imperative the application to that river of the law of accretion.

The bill must be held to state a fact in stating that the land in question was formed by "imperceptible degrees," and that the process, begun in 1853 and continued until 1870, resulting

Page 134 U. S. 192

in the production by accretion of the tract of 40 acres and more,

"went on so slowly that it could not be observed in its progress, but at intervals of not less than three or more months, it could be discerned by the eye that additions greater or less had been made to the shore."

The fact as thus stated is that the land was formed by imperceptible degrees within the meaning of the rule of law on the subject, and it is not capable of any construction which would result in the conclusion that the land was not formed by imperceptible degrees.

In the Roman law. it was said in the Institutes of Gaius, Book II, § 70:

"Alluvion is an addition of soil to land by a river so gradual that in short periods the change is imperceptible; or, to use a common expression, a latent addition."

Justinian says, Institutes, Book II, title 1, § 20: "That is added by alluvion which is added so gradually that no one can perceive how much is added at any one moment of time."

The same rule was introduced into English jurisprudence. Bracton says, Book II, c. 2:

"Alluvion is a latent increase, and that is said to be added by alluvion, whatever is so added by degrees, that it cannot be perceived at what moment of time it is added, for although you fix your eyesight upon it for a whole day, the infirmity of sight cannot appreciate such subtle increments, as may be seen in the case of a gourd and such like."

Blackstone says, 2 Com. 262:

"And as to lands gained from the sea, either by alluvion, by the washing up of sand and earth, so as in time so make terra firma, or by dereliction, as when the sea shrinks bank below the usual watermark, in these cases, the law is held to be that if this gain be by little and little, by small and imperceptible degrees, it shall go to the owner of the land adjoining. For de minimis non curat lex, and besides, these owners being often losers by the breaking in of the sea, or at charges to keep it out, this possible gain is therefore a reciprocal consideration for such possible charge or loss."

The whole subject was fully considered in England in the case of Rex v. Lord Yarborough, 3 B. & C. 91, in the King's Bench, same case, in the House of Lords, 2 Bligh N.S. 147, and 1 Dow & Cl. 178; same case, sub. nom. Gifford v. Lord Yarborough,

Page 134 U. S. 193

in the House of Lords, 5 Bing. 163, where it was decided in effect that in cases of alternate accretion and decretion the riparian proprietors had movable freeholds -- that is, moving into the river with the soil as it was imperceptibly formed, and then again receding, when by attrition it was worn away. Lord Yarborough owned lands immediately adjoining the sea, to prevent the encroachment of which upon his he built sea walls on two sides. The ooze, sand, and soil from the sea were gradually deposited outside of and against these walls until, by the accretion, some 450 acres of land were made in a short time, which the Crown claimed against him. But the Court of King's Bench held, and the decision was affirmed by the House of Lords, that, the land being formed by the gradual and imperceptible action of the sea, Lord Yarborough, and not the Crown, was entitled to it. See also In re Hull & Selby Railway, 5 M. & W. 327; Scratton v. Brown, 4 B. & C. 485.

The doctrine of the English cases is that accretion is an addition to land conterminous with the water which is formed so slowly that its progress cannot be perceived, and does not admit of the view that, in order to be accretion, the formation must be one not discernible by comparison at two distinct points of time.

In New Orleans v. United States, supra, the accretion was 140 feet in width, formed in 22 years. In County of St. Clair v. Lovingston, supra, the Court says:

"In the light of the authorities, alluvion may be defined as an addition to riparian land, gradually and imperceptibly made by the water to which the land is contiguous. . . . The test as to what is gradual and imperceptible, in the sense of the rule, is that though the witnesses may see from time to time that progress has been made, they could not perceive it while the process was going on."

To the same effect are Jones v. Johnston, 18 How. 150; Jones v. Soulard, 24 How. 41; Schools v. Risley, 10 Wall. 91; Halsey v. McCormick, 18 N.Y. 147; Mulry v. Norton, 100 N.Y. 424; Academy v. Dickinson, 9 Cush. 544; Camden & Atlantic Land Co. v. Lippincott, 45 N.J.Law 405.

Page 134 U. S. 194

The accretion set forth in the bill is alleged to have taken place between 1853 and 1870, and it is not alleged that the sudden change in the course of the river in 1877 caused any accretion. There is no suggestion in the bill that the land made by the accretion can be identified as having been previously the land of any particular person. There can be no identification unless there is a sudden change, and that is the very opposite of an imperceptible accretion.

We come now to consider the question of what passed by the description in the patent of the land as lot 4, containing 37.24 acres, according to the official plat of the survey of the land, returned to the General Land Office by the surveyor general.

The bill alleges that in 1851, when the township was surveyed, the meander line of the river, as marked on the plat, ran along the bank of the river, and that at the time of the entry, in 1853, the meander line of the left bank of the river was the same, or nearly the same, as that shown by the field notes, and on the plat made, returned, and approved in 1851. On these facts it is contended for the defendant that the title to any new land which may have been made between 1851 and 1853 by accretion did not pass to the patentee by the grant of lot 4 in the patent, but remained in the United States. The plaintiff, on the other hand, contends that the description in the patent of the land as lot 4 in effect made the river the boundary on the north, and passed the title of the United States to any new land that might have been formed before that time.

The bill states that the register's certificate and the patent described the land as lot 4, in fractional section 21, in township 75 north, range 44 west, of the fifth principal meridian, containing 37.24 acres, according to the official plat of the survey of said land returned to the General Land Office by the surveyor general. That plat, of which a copy is annexed to the bill and marked "Exhibit A," shows the Missouri River as the north boundary of lot 4, and that lot is marked on the plat as containing 37.24 acres.

It is a familiar rule of law that where a plat is referred to in a deed as containing a description of land, the courses, distances,

Page 134 U. S. 195

and other particulars appearing upon the plat are to be as much regarded, in ascertaining the true description of the land and the intent of the parties, as if they had been expressly enumerated in the deed. Fox v. Union Sugar Refinery, 109 Mass. 292. This rule is applicable to government lands bounded by the Missouri River as the same are surveyed and platted under the acts of Congress, and the patent passed the title of the United States to lot 4, not only as it was at the time of the survey in 1851, but as it was at the date of the patent in 1855, so that the United States did not retain any interest in any accretion formed between the survey in 1851 and the date of the patent.

No different rule is established by the acts of Congress which provide for the survey and sale of the public lands. The provisions found in section 2395 et seq. of the Revised Statutes, in regard to the survey of the public lands, are reenactments of statutes passed in 1796, 1800, 1805, 1820, and 1832. According to these provisions, section 21 being a fractional section, because the river cut through it on its north side, the east and west side lines of lot 4 were to be run north to the river. No provision was made for running the north boundary line of lot 4, but the river formed such north boundary without the running of any line there. The statute provided that where the course of a navigable river rendered it impracticable to form a full township of six miles square, and in those portions of fractional townships where no opposite corresponding corners could be fixed to which to run straight lines from established corners, the boundary lines should be ascertained by running from the established corners, due north and south or east and west lines, as the case might be, to the watercourse, Indian boundary line, or other external boundary of such fractional township.

In the present case, the plat was made in accordance with the statute, showing the river as the northern boundary of fractional section 21, and of lot 4 therein, and as the patent referred to the official plat of the survey, and thus made that a part of the description of lot 4, that description made the river the boundary of lot 4 on the north.

Page 134 U. S. 196

In Railroad Co. v. Schurmeir, 7 Wall. 272, this Court said:

"Meander lines are run in surveying fractional portions of the public lands bordering upon navigable rivers not as boundaries of the tract, but for the purpose of defining the sinuosities of the banks of the stream, and as the means of ascertaining the quantity of the land in the fraction subject to sale, and which is to be paid for by the purchaser. In preparing the official plat from the field notes the meander line is represented as the border line of the stream, and shows, to a demonstration, that the watercourse, and not the meander line, as actually run on the land, is the boundary."

We are therefore of opinion that the patent of June 15, 1855, which described the land conveyed as lot 4, according to the official plat of the survey, of which a copy is annexed to the bill, marked "Exhibit A," conveyed to the patentee the title to all accretion which had been formed up to that date.

The case of Jones v. Johnston, 18 How. 150, is cited by the defendant as holding that a grantee can acquire by his deed only the land described in it by metes and bounds, and cannot acquire, by way of appurtenance, land outside of such description. But that case holds that a water line, which is a shifting line, and may gradually and imperceptibly change, is just as fixed a boundary in the eye of the law as a permanent object such as a street or a wall, and it justifies the view announced by the circuit court in its opinion that where a water line is the boundary of a given lot, that line, no matter how it shifts, remains the boundary, and a deed describing the lot by number or name conveys the land up to such shifting line exactly as it does up to a fixed side line. See also Lamb v. Rickets, 11 Ohio, 311; Giraud's Lessee v. Hughes, 1 G. & J. 249; Kraut v. Crawford, 18 Ia. 549.

These views result in the conclusion that the side lines of lot 4 are to be extended to the river not as the river ran at the time of the survey in 1851, but as it ran at the date of the patent in 1855, and that all the land which existed at the latter date between the side lines so extended and between the line of the lot on the south and the river on the north was conveyed by the patent.

Page 134 U. S. 197

All the grantors in the deeds made subsequently to the patent, including the patentee, described the land in their successive deeds as lot 4. It is contended by the defendant that this description conveys the land as it was at the date of the entry, or at most at the date of the patent; that as, from the allegations in the bill, it must be intended that some accretion was formed between July 14, 1856, the date of the deed by the patentee, and September 21, 1857, the date of the deed by Joseph I. Town to McCoid, the description of the land as lot 4 in the latter deed was not adequate to pass to the grantee the new land, and therefore all the land which was formed afterwards belonged to Still and Joseph I. Town, and not to McCoid; also that if in point of fact there was no accretion between July, 1856, and September, 1857, there must have been accretion subsequently, while some of the successive grantees held the title, prior to 1870.

But we think that in all the deeds, the accretion passed by the description of the land as lot 4. In making every deed, the grantor described the land simply as lot 4, and did not by his deed, nor does it appear that he has since or otherwise, set up any claim to any accretion. It must be held, therefore, that each grantor, by his deed, conveyed all claim not only to what was originally lot 4, but to all accretion thereto. When McCoid, in 1854, conveyed his interest in the premises by the description of lot 4, as he had taken a deed of the undivided half of the premises by the same description from Joseph I. Town, in September, 1857, and had title thereby up to the river, his north line was the river, which was gradually adding land to his land. How much was added during the time he owned his undivided half he could not tell, and he conveyed his interest to Coleman without any reservation. The same is the case with each successive grantor, and each must be held to have passed by his deed his title to all the land up to the river as the river was at the date of his deed. When each successive owner took his title, lot 4 was a water lot, having the rights of wharfage, landing, and accretion, and although new land was formed during his ownership, yet when he conveyed the premises, he conveyed them by the same

Page 134 U. S. 198

description by which he had received the valuable rights referred to.

The decree of the circuit court is

Affirmed.

MR. JUSTICE MILLER did not take any part in the decision of this case.

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