Whitney v. United States - 181 U.S. 104 (1901)


U.S. Supreme Court

Whitney v. United States, 181 U.S. 104 (1901)

Whitney v. United States

No. 133

Argued March 1, 1901

Decided April 15, 1901

181 U.S. 104

Syllabus

In reviewing questions arising out of Mexican laws relating to land titles, it is difficult to determine with anything like certainty what laws were in force in Mexico at any particular time prior to the occupation of the country in 1846-1848.

Looking through the provisions to which its attention has been called, the Court finds nothing in them providing in terms, or by inference, for a general delegation of power by the supreme executive to the various governors to make a grant like the one set up in this case, and it holds that the appellants have not borne the burden of showing the validity of the grant which they set up, either directly or by facts from which its validity could be properly inferred within the cases already decided by this Court.

The appellants in this case come here on appeal from a judgment of the Court of Private Land Claims rejecting their claim, which arose under a grant of land in New Mexico called La Estancia grant, consisting of some 415,000 acres, made in 1845 by Governor Armijo to one Antonio Sandoval, under whom they claim. Upon the trial, it appeared that Sandoval, in 1845, was a Mexican citizen of high distinction residing in the Territory of New Mexico. By petition dated December 5, 1845, and presented on the 7th of that month, Sandoval petitioned the governor of New Mexico for a grant of land in the name of the supreme authority of the Mexican nation, the land being described in the petition, and the petitioner stating that it was

Page 181 U. S. 105

vacant land in a condition of mortmain, and might be granted without prejudice to any third party. He stated in his petition that he had for the last thirty years and more been rendering services to the country, both by personal service and property, and without ever having been paid anything in the way of compensation for such services, and in consideration of all of which he asked and prayed the governor for the sake of justice to accede to his prayer. On December 7, 1845, Governor Armijo granted the petition, and placed the following memorandum thereon:

"This government being convinced of the valuable services Don Antonio Sandoval has rendered and is now rendering the country, as well during the time to which he refers as also during the six years he served administering the prefecture of the second district, with the salary of $1,500, of which not even a half real has been paid to him, the sum due him amounting to $9,000, and the statements in this petition being true, I do, in the exercise of the power in me vested by the laws, and also in consideration of all the premises and as a just title acquired, make to him the grant for the land he solicits, with all the dimensions and pasture land he asks, that he may enjoy the same in the name of the supreme government of the Mexican nation and under my concession, free and exempt from all tax or tribute."

"Manuel Armijo"

Following the memorandum is a written certificate signed by the comptroller of the departmental treasury of New Mexico and acting treasurer of the same, certifying that Antonio Sandoval, during the period of forty years, as appears from the record of the books of the treasury, has been serving the nation as a military and civil officer, and has loaned during that time numerous sums of money to the nation without receiving one-half real interest, and that there are now due him large sums, as appears from the interest entries in the office and the evidences in possession of the parties interested on account of salaries and loans. Then follows the written certificate of Jose Bacay Ortiz, dated at La Estancia, December 15, 1845, in which

Page 181 U. S. 106

he certifies that, on that day he, accompanied by witnesses, placed Antonio Sandoval, through his agent, Juan Antonio Aragon, in juridical possession of the granted lands.

On July 8, 1848, Sandoval conveyed, by a deed of gift, the above-described land to his nephew, Gervacio Nolan. This conveyance was acknowledged before the Clerk of the County of Bernalillo, Territory of New Mexico, on July 8, 1848.

After the passage of the Act of Congress, July 22, 1854, establishing the office of surveyor general in New Mexico, and on July 12, 1855, Nolan, the grantee of Sandoval, filed in the office of the surveyor general the papers above described, upon which he asked for the approval of that officer, and that he would recommend the grant for confirmation by Congress. Nolan died in 1858, before anything was done in regard to his petition. After his death, his widow and children, by guardian, applied to the surveyor general, stating the fact of his death, and asked that the grant of the land should be confirmed to them as the present owners, and that a patent should be issued in their favor. Testimony was taken in 1861 relating to the petition before the then surveyor general, but no final action was had in the case until it was submitted to Surveyor General Proudfit, who, on January 4, 1873, reported that in his opinion the title was perfect in the legal representatives of Nolan, deceased, and recommended that it be confirmed by Congress. Congress did not, however, confirm the grant, and under instructions from the Commissioner of the General Land Office, the case was reexamined by Surveyor General Julian, who, in a report to the Commissioner, dated July 21, 1886, recommended the rejection of the claim by Congress for the reasons therein stated by him. This report was concurred in by the Commissioner, and by him transmitted on December 17, 1886, to Mr. Lamar, Secretary of the Interior. No further action seems to have been taken. The appellants herein take title from the widow and children of Nolan by conveyance dated September 23, 1880.

Page 181 U. S. 107



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