United States v. Texas
162 U.S. 1 (1896)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Texas, 162 U.S. 1 (1896)

United States v. Texas, 162 U.S. 1 (1896)

No. 8, Original

Argued October 23-25, 1896

Decided March 16, 1896

162 U.S. 1

ORIGINAL

Syllabus

The treaty between the United States and Spain, made in 1819, and ratified in 1821, provided

"the boundary line between the two countries west of the Mississippi shall begin on the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the River Sabine in the sea, continuing north, along the western bank of the river to the 32d degree of latitude; thence, by a line due north, to the degree of latitude where it strikes the Rio Roxo of Natchitoches, or Red River; then following the course of the Rio Roxo westward to the degree of longitude 100 west from London and 23 from Washington; then, crossing the said Red River and running thence, by a line due north to the River Arkansas; thence, following the course of the southern bank of the Arkansas, to its source, in latitude 42 north, and thence, by that parallel of latitude, to the South Sea. The whole being as laid down in Melish's map of the United States, published at Philadelphia, improved to the first of January, 1818."

Held:

(1) That the intention of the two governments, as gathered from the words of the treaty, must control, and that the map to which the contracting parties referred is to be given the same effect as if it had been expressly made a part of the treaty.

(2) But, looking at the entire instrument, it is clear that, while the parties took the Melish map, improved to 1818, as a basis for the final settlement of the question of boundary, they contemplated, as shown by the fourth article of the treaty, that the line was subsequently

Page 162 U. S. 2

to be fixed with more precision by commissioners and surveyors representing the respective countries.

(3) That the reference in the treaty to the 100th meridian was to that meridian astronomically located, and not necessarily to the 100th meridian as located on the Melish map.

(4) That the Melish map located the 100th meridian far east of where the true 100th meridian is when properly delineated.

(5) That the Compromise Act of September 9, 1850, and the acceptance of its provisions by Texas, together with the action of the two governments, require that, in the determination of the present question of boundary between the United States and Texas, the direction in the treaty, "following the course of the Rio Roxo westward to the degree of longitude 100 west from London," must be interpreted as referring to the true 100th meridian, and consequently the line "westward" must go to that meridian, and not stop at the Melish 100th meridian.

(6) That Prairie Dog Town Fork of Red River is the continuation, going from east to west, of the Red River of the treaty, and the line, going from east to west, extends up Red River and along the Prairie Dog Town Fork of Red River to the 100th meridian, and not up the North Fork of Red River.

(7) That the act of Congress of February 24, 1879, c. 97, creating the Northern Judicial District of Texas, is to be construed as placing Greer County in that district for judicial purposes only, and not as ceding to Texas the territory embraced by that county.

The territory east of the 100th meridian of longitude, west and south of the river now known as the North Fork of Red River, and north of a line following westward, as prescribed by the treaty of 1819 between the United States and Spain, the course, and along the south bank, both of Red River and the river now known as the Prairie Dog Town Fork or South Fork of Red River until such line meets the 100th meridian of longitude, which territory is sometimes called Greer County-constitutes no part of the territory properly included within or rightfully belonging to Texas at the time of the admission of that state into the Union, and is not within the limits nor under the jurisdiction of that state, but is subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States of America.

Each party will pay its own costs.

By the Act of May 2, 1890, c. 182, § 25, 26 Stat. 81, 92, the

Attorney General of the United States was

"directed to commence in the name and on behalf of the United States, and prosecute to a final determination, a proper suit in equity in the Supreme Court of the United States against the State of Texas, setting forth the title and claim of the United States

Page 162 U. S. 3

to the tract of land lying between the North and South Forks of the Red River where the Indian Territory and the State of Texas adjoin, east of the hundredth degree of longitude, and claimed by the State of Texas as within its boundary and a part of its land, and designated on its map as Greer County."

This suit was commenced in compliance with that direction. A demurrer to the bill was heard and overruled at October Term 1891 (143 U.S. 621), and the case was at this term heard upon its merits.

Page 162 U. S. 20

MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

By the Act of Congress of May 2, 1890, c. 182, establishing a temporary government for the Territory of Oklahoma and enlarging the jurisdiction of the United States Court in the Indian Territory, it was declared that that act should not apply to Greer County until the title to the same had been adjudicated and determined to be in the United States. And, that there might be a speedy judicial determination of that question, the Attorney General of the United States was directed to institute in this Court a suit in equity against the State of Texas setting forth the title and claim of the United States

"to the tract of land lying between the North and South Forks of the Red River where the Indian Territory and the State of Texas adjoin, east of the one hundredth degree of longitude, and claimed by the State of Texas as within its boundary and a part of its land, and designated on

Page 162 U. S. 21

its map as Greer County,"

the court, on the trial of the case, in its discretion and so far as the ends of justice would warrant, to consider any evidence taken and received by the joint boundary commission under the Act of Congress approved January 31, 1885. 26 Stat. 81, 92, § 25.

In order that the precise locality of this land may be indicated, and for convenience, we insert immediately after this paragraph an extract from a map of Texas and of the Indian Territory, published in 1892. The territory in dispute is marked on that map with the words "Unassigned Land." It contains about 1,511,576.17 acres, lies east of the 100th meridian of longitude and west and south of the river marked on that map as the "North Fork of Red River," and with the words "Boundary Claimed by the Texas." It is north of the line marked on that map with the words "Boundary Claimed by U.S." The river on the south side is now commonly known as "Prairie Dog Town Fork of Red River" (the Indian name of which is "Ke-che-ah-que-ho-no"), which has its source in the western part of Texas, and is the same river as the South Fork of Red River mentioned in the act of 1890.

Page 162 U. S. 22

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The present suit was instituted pursuant to that act. The state appeared and demurred to the bill upon the following grounds: (1) the question of boundary raised by the suit was political in its character, and not susceptible of judicial determination by this Court in the exercise of any jurisdiction conferred by the Constitution and laws of the United States; (2) under the Constitution, it was not competent for the United States to sue, in its own courts, one of the states composing the Union; (3) this Court, sitting as a court of equity, could not hear and determine the present controversy, the right asserted by the United States being in its nature legal, and not equitable.

Upon full consideration, these several grounds of demurrer were overruled. United States v. Texas,143 U. S. 621. The reasons given for that conclusion need not be here repeated.

The state answered the bill, controverting the claim of the United States and asserting that the lands within the boundary mentioned in the above act constitute a part of its territory.

Page 162 U. S. 23

The United States filed a replication, and, proofs having been taken, the case is now before the Court upon its merits.

Both parties assert title under certain articles of the treaty between the United States and Spain made February 22, 1819, and ratified February 19, 1821. 8 Stat. 252, 254, 256.

Before examining those articles, it will be useful to refer to the diplomatic correspondence that preceded the making of the treaty. That correspondence commenced during the administration of President Madison and was concluded under that of President Monroe. It appears that the negotiations upon the subject of the boundaries between the respective possessions of the two countries was more than once suspended because certain demands on the part of Spain were regarded by the United States as wholly inadmissible. 4 American State Papers, Foreign Relations, pp. 425, 430, 438, 439, 452, 464-466, 474. Finally, on the 24th day of October, 1818, the Spanish minister, "to avoid all cause of dispute in future," proposed to Mr. Adams, Secretary of State, that the limits of the possessions of the two governments west of the Mississippi should be designated by a line beginning

"on the Gulf of Mexico, between the Rivers Mermento and Calcasia, following the Arroyo Hondo, between the Adaes and Natchitoches, crossing the Rio or Red River at the thirty-second degree of latitude and ninety-third of longitude from London, according to Melish's map, and thence running directly north, crossing the Arkansas, the White, and the Osage rivers, till it strikes the Missouri, and then following the middle of that river to its source, so that the territory on the right bank of the said river will belong to Spain and that on the left bank to the United States. The navigation as well of the Missouri as of the Mississippi and Mermento shall remain free to the subjects of both parties."

He also proposed that, in order "to fix this line with more precision, and to place the landmarks which shall designate exactly the limits of both nations," each of the contracting parties should appoint a commissioner and surveyor, who should run and mark the line, and make out plans, and keep journals of

Page 162 U. S. 24

their proceedings, the result agreed upon by them to be considered part of the treaty and have the same effect as if inserted in it. Annals of Congress, 15th Cong., 2d Sess. 1819, 1890, 1900.

To this proposition Mr. Adams, under date of October 31, 1818, replied:

"Instead of it, I am authorized to propose to you the following, and to assure you that it is to be considered as the final offer on the part of the United States: beginning at the mouth of the River Sabine, on the Gulf of Mexico, following the course of said river to the thirty-second degree of latitude; the eastern bank and all the islands in the said rive to belong to the United States, and the western bank to Spain; thence due north to the northernmost part of the thirty-third degree of north latitude, and until it strikes the Rio Roxo, or Red River; thence, following the course of the said river, to its source, touching the chain of the Snow Mountains in latitude 37

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