Hayes v. United States
170 U.S. 637 (1898)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Hayes v. United States, 170 U.S. 637 (1898)

Hayes v. United States

No. 29

Argued January 28, 1897

Decided May 23, 1898

170 U.S. 637

Syllabus

In the spring of the year 1825, when the grant of public land in controversy in this suit was made, the territorial deputation of New Mexico had no authority to make such grant.

This action was begun by appellant Hayes to obtain the confirmation of an alleged complete and perfect title to a tract of land of the area of 130,138.98 acres, situated in the County of Socorro, Territory of New Mexico.

In his petition, Hayes averred that his alleged title was derived by mesne conveyances through one Antonio Chavez, to whom, on March 3, 1825, while the land was a part "of the public domain of the Republic of Mexico," a grant was made of the tract in question by the Governor and Departmental Assembly "of the Territory of New Mexico." The exhibits attached to the petition, however, show, and counsel for the appellant admits in his brief, that the correct designations of the officials intended to be referred to were, respectively, the "political chief" and "territorial deputation."

Page 170 U. S. 638

The testimonio furnished Chavez, as translated from the original Spanish, is reproduced in the margin. [Footnote 1]

Page 170 U. S. 639

The juridical act evidencing the delivery of possession was read in evidence from a duly certified copy of the record thereof made on the records of the probate court

Page 170 U. S. 640

of the County of Socorro, and is also reproduced in the margin. [Footnote 2]

It was averred that after receiving possession as aforesaid,

Page 170 U. S. 641

Chavez resided upon and cultivated the lands, and held and claimed the same as his private property in "fee simple absolute," free from all conditions or charges, "occupying the same openly, continually, notoriously, peaceably, and exclusively" until his death, the date of which is not stated, when his widow succeeded to the title, and similarly possessed and occupied the tract until October 26, 1850, "when she duly conveyed all and singular the said tract of land upon a pecuniary consideration to Rafael Luna, Anastacio Garcia, and Ramon Luma." Similar allegations as to possession, claim of ownership, and cultivation were made concerning the subsequent conveyances in the claim of title.

It was averred that two reports upon the Chavez grant -- the earlier favorable, the other unfavorable -- were communicated to Congress by surveyors general for New Mexico, and it was further averred that, prior to the making of the second report, a committee of the House of Representatives reported

Page 170 U. S. 642

back to that body a bill to confirm the claim, with a recommendation that it pass as amended. What, if any, action was taken thereafter by Congress is left to conjecture.

It was also averred that the grant had been correctly surveyed by the United States under the direction of the surveyor general for New Mexico, and a map showing the extent and boundaries of the tract was filed with the petition. About 20,000 acres of the land lying in the eastern portion of the tract delineated on the map was formerly appurtenant to the Towns of Socorro and Sevilletta, referred to in the report of the political chief set out in the testimonio.

In substance, the answer of the United States averred that the grant to Chavez was void for want of authority in the granting body, and further that if the grant was valid, the survey did not correctly show the western boundary, and the area of the tract was much less than was claimed in the petition.

The government also denied that the land granted was possessed, cultivated, and occupied by Chavez and those claiming under him, as averred in the petition. An answer was also filed on behalf of the Atlantic and Pacific Railway Company, in which it set up title under its charter to odd-numbered sections of land within the limits of the premises described in the petition, and prayed that the petition of plaintiff be dismissed as to such sections.

Testimony was taken in the cause, and after hearing, the Court of Private Land Claims entered a decree rejecting the grant and dismissing the petition. An application for a rehearing having been refused, an appeal to this Court was allowed. The transcript of record contains a stipulation on behalf of the United States admitting that, on the trial, "the petitioner proved sufficient proprietary interest in the subject matter of this litigation to enable him to present and prosecute his petition herein."

Page 170 U. S. 643

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