Sioux City and St. Paul R. Co. v. United States
159 U.S. 349 (1895)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Sioux City and St. Paul R. Co. v. United States, 159 U.S. 349 (1895)

Sioux City and St. Paul Railroad Company v. United States

No. 20

Argued April 16-17, 1895

Decided October 21, 1895

159 U.S. 349

Syllabus

The Sioux City and St. Paul Railroad Company having failed to complete the entire road from Sioux City to the Minnesota line, as contemplated by the Act of Congress of May 12, 1864, c. 84, 13 Stat. 72, making a grant of public land in aid of its construction, and as required by the statutes of Iowa, has not only received as many acres of public land as it could rightfully claim under that act, but has also received 2004.89 acres in excess of what it could rightfully claim.

Grants of odd-numbered sections of public lands to aid in the construction of railways imply no guaranty that each section shall consist of 640 acres, nor any obligation on the part of the United States to give other public lands to supply deficiencies in reaching that amount.

Under the said act of 1864, the grant was made to the state as trustee, and not to the railroad company, and the title under the patent, when issued, vested in the state as trustee.

When lands are granted by acts of Congress of the same date, or by the same act, to aid in the construction of two railroads that must necessarily intersect, or which are required to intersect, each grantee, when the maps of definite location are filed and accepted, takes, as of the date of the grant, an equal undivided moiety of the lands within the conflicting place limits, without regard to the time of the location of the respective lines.

This suit was brought by the United States against the Sioux City and St. Paul Railroad Company, pursuant to the Act of Congress of March 3, 1887, providing for the adjustment of land grants in aid of the construction of railroads and for the forfeiture of unearned lands theretofore granted. 24 Stat. 556, c. 376.

Upon its appearing that from any cause lands had been erroneously certified or patented to or for the use and benefit of any company to aid in the construction of a railroad, it became the duty of the Secretary of the Interior to demand the relinquishment or reconveyance of such lands, whether within granted or indemnity limits. If the company failed

Page 159 U. S. 350

for ninety days to comply with the demand, it was made the duty of the Attorney General to institute proceedings for the cancellation of the patents, certifications, or other evidence of title issued for such lands, and for the restoration of the title to the United States. § 2.

The decree from which the present appeal was taken quiets the title of the United States, as against the Sioux City and St. Paul Railroad Company, and Elias F. Drake and Amherst H. Wilder, trustees in mortgages given by that company, to certain tracts of lands in Dickinson County, Iowa, alleged to contain 800 acres, and to other tracts in O'Brien County, in the same state, alleged to contain 21,179.85 acres -- in all, 21,979.85 acres. United States v. Sioux City and St. Paul Railroad, 43 F. 617.

The railroad company claims title under an act of Congress approved May 12, 1864, c. 84, granting lands to Iowa in aid of the construction of railroads in that state, and also under statutes of Iowa passed in execution of the objects of that act.

The United States claims that the company has received a larger quantity of lands than it was entitled to receive under the act of 1864, and therefore can have no claim to the particular lands here in controversy.

The relation of the parties to these lands, and the facts upon which the question of title depends, are shown by the following summary of the evidence:

By the above Act of May 12, 1864, Congress granted lands to the State of Iowa to aid in the construction of two railroads in that state -- one from Sioux City to the south line of Minnesota at such point as the State of Iowa might select between the Big Sioux River and the west fork of the Des Moines River, the other, for the use and benefit of the McGregor Western Railroad Company, an Iowa corporation, to aid in the construction of a railroad extending from South McGregor, Iowa, in a westerly direction, by the most practicable route on or near the forty-third parallel of north latitude, until it intersected, in the County of O'Brien, the proposed road from Sioux City to the Minnesota state line.

Page 159 U. S. 351

The grant was of every alternate section, designated by odd numbers, but if it appeared at the date of definite location that the United States had sold any granted section or part thereof, or that any preemption or homestead right had attached thereto, or that the same had been reserved by the United States for any purpose whatever, the Secretary of the Interior was to select, or cause to be selected, for the purposes stated in the act, from the public lands nearest to the tiers of sections specified, so much, in alternate sections or parts of sections, designated by odd numbers, as was equal to the lands lost to the state in either of the modes just stated. The lands thus selected were to be held by the state for the above uses and purposes, and were not in any case to be located more than twenty miles from the lines of the road to be constructed. All lands previously reserved to the United States by any act of Congress, or in any other manner by competent authority for the purpose of aiding in any work of internal improvement or other purpose, were expressly reserved and excepted from the operation of the acts except so far as it was found necessary to locate the routes of the roads through such reserved lands. § 1.

The lands granted were "subject to the disposal of the Legislature of Iowa for the purposes aforesaid, and no other," and the railroad was to be and remain a public highway for the use of the government of the United States, free of toll or other charge upon the transportation of the property or troops of the United States, as well as for the transportation of the mail at such price as Congress should fix. §§ 3, 6.

The fourth section of the act was the subject of much discussion by counsel. It provided:

"That the lands hereby granted shall be disposed of by said state, for the purposes aforesaid only, and in manner following, namely, when the governor of said state shall certify to the Secretary of the Interior that any section of ten consecutive miles of either of said roads is completed in a good, substantial, and workmanlike manner as a first-class railroad, then the Secretary of the Interior shall issue to the state patents for one hundred sections of land for the benefit of the road having completed the

Page 159 U. S. 3552

ten consecutive miles as aforesaid. When the governor of said state shall certify that another section of ten consecutive miles shall have been completed as aforesaid, then the Secretary of the Interior shall issue patents to said state in like manner, for a like number, and when certificates of the completion of additional sections of ten consecutive miles of either of said roads are, from time to time, made as aforesaid, additional sections of lands shall be patented as aforesaid until said roads or either of them are completed, when the whole of the lands hereby granted shall be patented to the state for the uses aforesaid and none other: . . . provided further, that if the said roads are not completed within ten years from their several acceptance of this grant, the said lands hereby granted and not patented shall revert to the State of Iowa for the purpose of securing the completion of the said roads within such time, not to exceed five years, and upon such terms as the state shall determine, and provided further that said lands shall not in any manner be disposed of or encumbered except as the same are patented under the provisions of this act, and should the state fail to complete said roads within five years after the ten years aforesaid, then the said lands undisposed of as aforesaid shall revert to the United States."

The lands embraced by the act were to be withdrawn from market as soon as the governor of the state filed or caused to be filed with the Secretary of the Interior maps designating the routes of the respective roads. § 5.

The last section of the act granted to the State of Minnesota four additional alternate sections of land per mile -- to be selected under the conditions, restrictions, and limitations contained in a former act of Congress, approved March 3, 1857, 11 Stat. 195, c. 99 -- for the purpose of aiding the construction of a railroad in that state extending from St. Paul and St. Anthony, by way of Minneapolis, to a convenient point of junction west of the Mississippi, in the southern boundary of the state, and in the direction of the mouth of the Big Sioux River. § 1.

By an Act approved April 3, 1866, Iowa accepted the lands, powers, and privileges conferred upon it by the Act of May 12,

Page 159 U. S. 353

1864, and so much of the lands, interests, rights, powers, and privileges as were or could be granted and conferred in pursuance of the act of Congress, for the purpose of aiding the construction of the railroad from Sioux City to the Minnesota line, were disposed of, granted, and conferred upon the Sioux City and St. Paul Railroad Company, an Iowa corporation, to be hereafter called, for the sake of brevity, the "Sioux City Company." That act authorized the company to select and designate the point upon the south line of Minnesota to which its road should be built. Laws of Iowa, 1866, p. 143, c. 134, §§ 1, 2, 7.

By a subsequent statute of Iowa, approved April 20, 1866, it was provided that the lands, powers, duties, and trusts conferred by the Act of Congress of "July 12, 1864," were accepted by the state upon the terms, conditions, and restrictions therein contained, and that

"whenever any lands shall be patented to the State of Iowa in accordance with the provisions of said act of Congress, said land shall be held by the state in trust for the benefit of the railroad company entitled to the same by virtue of said act of Congress, and to be deeded to said railroad company as shall be ordered by the legislature of the State of Iowa."

Laws of Iowa, 1866, p. 189, c. 144. The word "July" in that act, inserted by mistake, was stricken out by an Act passed March 24, 1868, and "May" substituted, and the acceptance intended to be made by the Act of April 20, 1866, was ratified and confirmed. Laws of Iowa, 1868, p. 49, c. 42.

On the 17th of July, 1867, the Sioux City Company filed in the General Land Office a map showing the location of its route from Sioux City, Iowa, northwardly to the south line of Minnesota, a distance of 83.52 miles. This map was accepted by the Interior Department, and August 26, 1867, the odd-numbered sections within the ten- and twenty-mile limits of the located line were withdrawn from the market.

The company, commencing not at Sioux City, as was apparently contemplated by Congress and indicated by the map of definite location, but at the Minnesota line, began the construction of its road in 1872, and completed it southwardly

Page 159 U. S. 354

in the direction of Sioux City, but only as far as Le Mars, in Plymouth County, a distance of 56.13 miles. No road was ever constructed by that company between Le Mars and Sioux City, a distance of about twenty-five miles, although it did construct, in 1872, within the corporate limits of Sioux City, about two miles of track, and erected there machine shops, depots, and roundhouses of the value of $125,000, of which $30,000 were the proceeds of a special tax levied and collected by that city under a statute of the state.

In conformity with the act of 1864, the Governor of Iowa certified, July 26, 1872, to the completion, in a good, substantial, and workmanlike manner, as a first-class railroad, of two sections of ten consecutive miles each, or twenty miles; August 10, 1872, of one section, or ten miles; February 4, 1873, two other sections, or twenty miles -- in all, fifty miles or five sections of ten consecutive miles each.

The Secretary of the Interior, as we have seen, was authorized by the fourth section of the act of 1864 to issue patents for one hundred sections of land as each section of ten consecutive miles was certified by the governor of the state to have been properly completed. Nevertheless, he issued to the state in the name of the United States, for the use and benefit of the Sioux City Company, patents for 191,464.04 acres, October 16, 1872; 205,374.76 acres, June 17, 1873; 10,911.41 acres, January 25, 1875, and 160 acres, June 4, 1877 -- in all, 407,910.21 acres. As one tract of forty acres was patented twice, the real amount patented to the state was 407,870.21 acres.

If each odd-numbered section for ten sections in width on each side of the road, within the terminal limits of the fifty miles of road certified as completed, had contained the full complement of 640 acres, the utmost quantity which the Secretary of the Interior was authorized to patent to the state on account of that fifty miles of road would have been 320,000 acres.

Of the 407,870.21 acres of land patented to the state, 322,412.81 acres were conveyed by the state to this company, the state retaining within its control the title to the balance; namely, 85,457.40 acres.

Page 159 U. S. 355

The Legislature of Iowa, by an Act of March 13, 1874, directed the governor to certify to the Sioux City Company, in accordance with the provisions of the Act of April 20, 1866, any and all lands then held in trust for its benefit. That act, however, only required the conveyance of such of the trust lands held by the state as the company was entitled to by virtue of the act of Congress. For this reason, it is suggested, the governor did not convey the 85,457.40 acres that remained after conveying to the company the 322,412.81 acres of the 407,870.21 acres.

It was stipulated by the parties that the state has never conveyed to the Sioux City Company the lands in Dickinson and O'Brien Counties which are here in dispute and claimed by the United States.

In 1878, the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway Company (to be hereafter referred to as the "Milwaukee Company"), having succeeded to the rights of the McGregor Western Railroad Company, the other corporation named in the act of 1864, completed the construction of the McGregor Railroad to a point of intersection with the line of the Sioux City road at Sheldon, a town in Iowa, between Le Mars and the Minnesota line. And in 1879, the Milwaukee Company instituted a suit in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Iowa against the Sioux City Company and others for a decree determining the respective rights of itself and the Sioux City Company in the lands at and near the point of intersection, where the grants for the road from Sioux City to the Minnesota line and the grant to the McGregor Company necessarily came in conflict. That case came to this Court upon the appeal of the Sioux City Company, and it was here adjudged: 1. that the odd sections within the ten-mile limits of the Sioux City road, and not within the ten-mile limits although within the twenty-mile limits of the Milwaukee road, belonged exclusively to the Sioux City Company; 2. that like sections within the ten-mile limits of the Milwaukee road, and not within the ten-mile limits although within the twenty-mile limits of the Sioux City road, belonged exclusively to the Milwaukee Company; 3. that the lands

Page 159 U. S. 356

within the ten-mile limits of both roads belonged to the companies in equal undivided moieties; 4. that the lands within the twenty-mile or indemnity limits of both roads, and not within the ten-mile or absolute grant limits of either road, the title to none of which could accrue until selection was made for one road or the other, should, in view of the situation in which the title had been placed by the action of federal and state officers, be equally divided between the companies. Sioux City and St. Paul Railroad v. Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway,117 U. S. 406.

The principles of this decision were carried into a decree of partition in the circuit court. From that decree it appears that, of the 322,418.81 acres conveyed by the state under the Act of May 12, 1864, to the Sioux City Company, there remained to that corporation 280,725.29 acres after deducting the lands set apart to the Milwaukee Company.

It is necessary now to refer to certain facts in relation to the line of road which the Sioux City Company located, but never constructed, between Sioux City and Le Mars.

By an Act of Congress approved May 15, 1856 (more than eight years before the grant in aid of the construction of the road from Sioux City to the Minnesota line), a grant of lands was made to the State of Iowa to aid in the construction of a railroad from Dubuque to a point on the Missouri River at or near Sioux City. 11 Stat. 9, c. 28. This grant was accepted by an act of the Iowa Legislature approved July 14, 1856, and the lands were granted and conferred upon the Dubuque and Pacific Railroad Company, which located its line or route and filed its map of definite location with the Secretary of the Interior. Laws of Iowa, 1866, Special Session, 1, c. 1. And in 1870, that road was completed from Le Mars southwardly to Sioux City by the Iowa Falls and Sioux City Railroad Company, the successor of the Dubuque and Pacific Railroad Company.

In the year 1879, the Sioux City Company conveyed to the St. Paul and Sioux City Railroad Company (a Minnesota corporation) its roadbed, rolling stock, depots, depot grounds, and other property and franchises in connection with its railroad,

Page 159 U. S. 357

and the latter company, in 1881, sold and conveyed the same property and franchises to the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railroad Company, which still owns and operates the road constructed by the Sioux City Company north of Le Mars. The last-named company has remaining no other property or assets, except such land as may inure to it under the grant of Congress of May 12, 1864, out of the lands patented to the state but not conveyed to that corporation, all of which are pledged, so far as that could be legally done, to secure the debts specified in the mortgages in which Drake and Wilder were trustees. One of those mortgages was executed August 26, 1871, the other February 5, 1884. The original debts secured by the mortgages aggregated $2,800,000, all of which has been paid off by sales of lands except $660,000.

The preamble of an Act of the Legislature of Iowa, approved March 16, 1882, referred to the Act of May 12, 1864, providing that if the road from Sioux City to the Minnesota line was not completed within ten years from the acceptance of the grant, the lands granted and not patented should revert to the state for the purpose of securing the completion of the road, and also to the statute of Iowa of April 3, 1866, and after reciting the failure of the Sioux City Company to complete, or cause to be completed, any road on the line adopted therefor from Sioux City to Le Mars, or any road in lieu thereof, it was declared

"that all lands, and all rights to lands, granted or intended to be granted to the Sioux City and St. Paul Railroad Company by said acts of Congress and of the General Assembly of the State of Iowa, which have not been earned by said railroad company by a compliance with the conditions of said grant, be and the same are hereby absolutely and entirely resumed by the State of Iowa, and that the same be and are absolutely vested in said state as if the same had never been granted to said railroad company."

Laws of Iowa, 1882, 102, c. 107.

On the 27th day of March, 1884, the state passed another act, by the first section of which it relinquished and conveyed to the United States all lands and rights to land resumed and intended to be resumed by the above Act of March 16, 1882, § 1.

Page 159 U. S. 358

By the second section of that act, the governor was directed to certify to the Secretary of the Interior all lands not theretofore patented to the state to aid in the construction of the Sioux City road, the lands so certified to be deemed those above relinquished and conveyed to the United States by the first section, "provided, that nothing in this section contained shall be construed to apply to lands situated in the Counties of Dickinson and O'Brien." Laws of Iowa, 1884, 78, c. 71.

Pursuant to the latter act, the governor, on the 12th day of January, 1887, relinquished and conveyed to the United States 26,017.33 acres of the 85,457.40 acres of land which, as already stated, had been patented to the state for the benefit of the Sioux City Company, but which were never certified to that company. Those lands are in Plymouth and Woodbury Counties, and do not embrace the lands in dispute.

The Sioux City road was so constructed as to form a continuous line with the railroad of the St. Paul and Sioux City Railroad Company, a Minnesota corporation, to aid in the construction of which, from St. Paul and St. Anthony to the southern boundary of that state, Congress made the grant of March 3, 1857. The latter is the road referred to in the seventh section of the Act of May 12, 1864. Upon the construction by the Sioux City Company of the road from the Minnesota line to Le Mars, that corporation obtained by lease the right to run and operate its cars over the road of the Iowa Falls and Sioux City Railroad extending from Le Mars to Sioux City (and now operated by the Illinois Central Railroad Company) from which time the Iowa and Minnesota corporations and their grantees have continued to run and operate their roads as one continuous line from St. Paul to Sioux City.

Part of the lands in controversy here were entered upon by different persons between 1882 and 1885, claiming under the homestead and preemption laws of the United States, and making formal applications to enter such lands. Their applications were rejected, but they appealed from those decisions, continuing to improve and cultivate the lands under their claims, and, in some instances, making valuable improvements,

Page 159 U. S. 359

and before the bringing of this suit, the Sioux City Company had commenced actions in ejectment in one of the state courts against the parties in possession.

In 1887, application was made to the Secretary of the Interior on behalf of certain persons in O'Brien County, who had settled on the lands in controversy, as well as on lands referred to in the above partition decree, requesting suit to be brought by the United States to assert its title to said lands. After argument before the secretary by counsel severally representing the settlers as well as the Sioux City and Milwaukee Companies, that officer -- Secretary Lamar -- rendered an elaborate opinion in which the whole subject was reviewed. 6 L.D. 50, 62.

Official Supreme Court case law is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia case law is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.