United States v. Green
185 U.S. 256 (1902)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Green, 185 U.S. 256 (1902)

United States v. Green

Nos. 109, 129

Argued January 27-28, 1902

Decided April 28, 1902

185 U.S. 256

Syllabus

The terms of the Act of March 3, 1891, 26 Stat. 854 (establishing the Court of Private Land Claims), with reference to a proceeding like this, leave no room for doubt that it was the intent of Congress to require that, before

Page 185 U. S. 257

a decision of the court in the premises, all those asserting claims in the land adverse to the United States, should be made parties, and should be heard in support of their validity.

By the law in force at the time of the sale under consideration, a grant initiated in the manner in which the one in question is claimed to have been could not exceed in the aggregate four sitios.

In its essential features this case is like Ely's Administrator v. United States,171 U. S. 220.

It may be presumed that the Mexican officials duly performed the duty imposed upon them of registering the fact of the making of a grant of public lands.

In Cameron v. United States,148 U. S. 301, the matter passed upon was not the same as that which is present in the case at bar.

These appeals concern the title to a tract of land situated in the County of Pima, Territory of Arizona. The litigation was begun by the filing in the Court of Private Land Claims, on February 27, 1893, on behalf of Alfred A. Green, of a petition by which the court was asked to declare the validity of the title of Green to the tract. It was alleged that Green had become invested with the title by mesne conveyances from one Ramon Romero and others, to whom the land had been granted on May 15, 1825, by the State of the West in the Republic of Mexico.

While the original documents constituting the grant were averred to be in the official custody of the surveyor general of the United States for the Territory of Arizona, it was alleged that the claim had not theretofore been considered or acted upon by Congress or any other authority of the United States. A map was annexed to the petition which it was asserted showed the boundaries of the land and established that the quantity thereof was sixteen square leagues. Not only the United States, but also Colin Cameron, and others whom it was averred claimed some interest in the land, were made parties defendant to the cause.

The United States filed a general denial. Thereafter, on March 20, 1895, upon the application of the United States, Harvey L. Christie was made a party defendant on the ground that he asserted title to the land under the grant to Romero.

On March 25, 1895, Colin Cameron filed an answer in which he denied that petitioner had any interest in whole or in part

Page 185 U. S. 258

in the land, and it was also averred that he (Cameron) was the owner in fee simple, and that he was in possession of the tract under the grant of may 15, 1825, referred to in the petition. The land claimed by Cameron was delineated on a map annexed to the answer, and the land was averred to be embraced within the original survey of the grant. The proceedings which it was claimed culminated in the grant were detailed at length. It was also alleged that, as the result of proceedings instituted on February 28, 1880, by the successors in interest to the original grantees the surveyor general of the United States for the Territory of Arizona, on April 28, 1880, recommended the confirmation by Congress of said grant to the legal representatives of the original grantees to the extent of four square leagues, but that no action had been taken thereon by Congress.

Defendant also pleaded that, on September 6, 1886, the United States, under the Act of Congress approved February 25, 1885, entitled "An Act to Prevent Unlawful Occupancy of the Public Lands," brought suit against him for an alleged unlawful enclosure of public lands, a part of the tract in question, and that the trial court had adjudicated that the map attached to Cameron's answer in this case correctly represented the land included within the boundaries described in the original title papers of said grant, and that such map correctly represented the location of each monument called for and described in said title papers. Such findings of fact as to the monuments and location of the said grant were thereupon averred to be res judicata herein. The answer concluded as follows:

"Defendant further avers, in order to save every right belonging to him, that he in no wise invokes the jurisdiction of this Court or submits himself to it voluntarily, and that he answers herein only because he has been made a party defendant. Defendant avers that he claims the lands of the said San Rafael de la Zanja grant under a title derived from the Mexican government that was complete and perfect when the United States acquired sovereignty over such lands; that all the steps and proceedings in the matter of the petition, survey, appraisement offers, auctions, and sale of said grant and payment therefor were regular, complete, and lawful, and vested a perfect and

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valid title in fee thereto in the said grantees of said grant, and that said grantees at the time went into the actual possession, use, and occupation of said grant and erected the proper monuments, and that said grantees and their descendants and legal representatives have continued ever since and until the present time in the actual possession, use, and occupation of the same, and are now seised and possessed in fee thereof; that said grant document is a complete, definite grant in fee by way of sale, coupled with the condition subsequent not to abandon the same for a longer period than three years without good reason, which abandonment would subject the tract to adjudication to third parties who might apply for or denounce the same; but that no forfeiture of said grant was ever claimed."

"Defendant avers that, by reason of the premises, he is in nowise bound by the act of Congress establishing this Court to apply to this Court for a confirmation of said title, and that he is unwilling to submit himself to the conditions, or any of them, imposed by the act establishing this court upon petitioners applying to said court for confirmation of their title, and that he does not by this answer, or in any other way, so apply."

On February 4, 1899, Cameron filed what was termed a "separate answer," in which were repeated the averments in the prior answer as to the petitioner's not possessing any interest in the tract, the ownership thereof in the defendant, the proceedings which culminated in the grant to Romero, and the proceedings had before the surveyor general of Arizona. An averment was made that the map filed with the answer, as a part thereof, was a correct map of the grant in question, and showed the area of the grant to be 152,889.62 acres. It was next alleged that the grant to Romero was not a grant by quantity, but was a sale by metes and bounds and natural landmarks established by the Spanish survey, and that the grant vested in the grantees a true and valid title in fee to the whole of the surveyed land, and it was further alleged that each and every person in the occupancy of any portion of the tract were unlawfully occupying, and that any patents issued by the United

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States for land within the grant were null and void. The answer next contained the following averments:

"Defendant further avers that, prior to said treaty, known as the Gadsden Treaty, no resurvey of said grant had ever been applied for or ordered by anyone, and that none of the grantees or their successors in interest had, prior to said treaty, any knowledge or notice that within the said monuments there was any excess of land over the area stated in said title papers, and defendant avers that the grantees under said grant were, under the laws of Mexico and the State of Sonora existing at the date of said treaty, and for a long time prior thereto had been, holders in good faith of any such excess or surplus, if any such there is, and entitled to occupy and retain the same as owners even after such overplus is shown, without other obligations than to pay for the excess according to the quality of the land and the price that governed when it was surveyed and appraised, and defendant further avers that, if this honorable court should decide that said sale as recited in said title papers did not, as defendant avers it did, convey to the grantees therein all of the said tract of land to the monuments described in said title papers without further payment therefor, he is ready and willing and now offers to pay to the United States of America any amount that may be found to be due from him for such overplus, and also the costs for ascertaining the same, as soon as the amount of the same and the sum due therefor is ascertained."

The answer concluded with a tender of $1,359 as payment for any overplus, and the further sum of $200 for the costs of ascertaining and determining the existence or nonexistence of such overplus, and concluded with the prayer

"that upon said payment this honorable court decree that defendant is entitled to and is the owner of all of said tract of land as originally surveyed, including said overplus or surplus, and that, by said decree he be secured in the ownership and possession of the whole of said tract, and defendant, answering herein by reason of the fact that he has been made a party defendant, prays that the validity of his said title may be inquired into and decided, and that his title to all of said lands be declared valid, and that the said grant be adjudged to be and always to have been a complete

Page 185 U. S. 261

and perfect and unconditional title in fee, and the defendant be adjudged to be the owner in fee thereof, and for such other and further relief as to the court may seem meet and proper in the premises."

On February 4, 1899, an answer of defendant Christie was filed, in which it was averred that Christie was the owner of the land granted to Romero. In other respects the answer reiterated the allegations contained in the separate answer of Cameron just stated.

In a supplemental answer filed by leave on May 19, 1899, Cameron reiterated the plea of res judicata contained in his original answer.

From time to time, various other defendants filed answers, setting up title by adverse possession and otherwise to sundry portions of the land in controversy. The cause was heard on the theory that the pleadings of Cameron and Christie just referred to were cross-complaints, demanding affirmative relief against the United States. On behalf of the two defendants named, there was introduced in evidence a certified copy of the expediente of the grant, as also the original titulo. This titulo shows the following as the original proceedings upon which the title was based:

On July 19, 1821, Don Manuel Bustillo, a resident of the presidio of Santa Cruz, applied to the intendant of the Province of Sonora and Sinaloa, Antonio Codero at Arispe, for four sitios of land at a place to which was afterwards given the name of San Rafael de la Zanja. Three of these sitios were to be north of and adjoining the lands of said presidio, and the other at the place called Cajoncito, to the east. The application was granted on the same day without prejudice to third parties, and the commandant of Santa Cruz was ordered to make the survey, appraisement, and publication of the land for thirty consecutive days in solicitation of bidders. Gonzales, the commandant of Santa Cruz, accepted the commission October 4, 1821, and ordered the survey to be commenced on the next day, after summoning the party in interest and the owners of conterminous lands. An assistant was appointed, and the survey made on October 5 and 6, 1821. After a waxed and twisted hempen

Page 185 U. S. 262

cord of fifty varas had been measured, the applicant (Bustillo) requested that, inasmuch as the place called Cajoncito was inside of the presidio lands, the one sitio he had asked for there be given to him in one tract with the other three, which request was granted. In substance, it appeared that the survey was made by running or estimating the lines from the central point two hundred cords east, west, north, and south, the ends of the lines being extended to form a square. The recitals of the survey concluded as follows:

"with which measurements was formed the square of the four sitios registered by Don Manuel Bustillo for raising cattle, and as such he accepted them, being informed that in due time he was to establish his boundaries with monuments of lime and rough stone, as required by law."

Appraisers were appointed, and four sitios were appraised as follows: three sitios at $60 each, because they had permanent water, and one sitio at $30, because it was dry. Publication was then made for thirty consecutive days, soliciting bidders. None appeared. Affidavits were taken to show that Bustillo was able to stock four sitios. The expedients was then forwarded to the intendant, who, in December, 1821, referred it to the attorney general for his opinion. The latter official submitted a written opinion December 20, 1821, approving the proceedings and recommending that the three usual public offers be made and the land sold to the highest bidder upon payment of the price and the usual fees. The intendant approved the recommendation, and ordered the three public offers made. The first offer was made January, 1822. The proclamation made by the crier, as recited in the account of the proceedings of the first auction, was as follows:

"There are going to be sold for this commission of auctions four sitios of public lands for cattle raising, comprised in the place named San Rafael de la Zanja, situated within the jurisdiction of the presidio of San Cruz, surveyed in favor of the one who denounced them, Don Manuel Bustillo, and appraised in the sum of two hundred and ten dollars, being at the rate of sixty dollars each for three of said sitios, and the remaining one at thirty dollars. "

Page 185 U. S. 263

The bidders at the sale were Bustillo and one Romero. The latter, on behalf of himself and the residents of the presidio of Santa Cruz, became the purchasers for the sum of $1,200. Romero was notified of the result, with which he expressed satisfaction, and asked the grant to be made. On January 11, 1822, the intendant and interim, Ignacio de Bustamante, approved all the proceedings, and ordered Romero to be notified and to pay into the treasury the price of the land and the usual fees, and, as soon as that was done and a voucher for the payment was attached to the expediente, it be sent to the Superior Board of the Treasury in Mexico for such action as it might see fit to take. Romero made the payment, and a certificate was given him for the amount thereof. At this point, the proceedings were suspended, and so remained until May 15, 1825, when the recently created Commissary General of the State of Sonora, Juan Miguel Riesgo, issued a title to "Don Ramon Romero and the other residents in interest," for "the four sitios of land for breeding cattle, comprising the place called San Rafael de la Zanja," under article 81, ordinance of intendants, and the royal instructions of October 15, 1754 at Fuerte, the then capital of the United States of Sonora and Sinaloa.

The following appears at the end of the titulo, viz.: "Entry of this title is made at folio 3 of book No. 2 that exists in this commissariat general."

The expediente, which was on file in the archives of the State of Sonora, Mexico at the City of Hermosillo, the capital, contained, following the certificate of the payments made by Romero, the following recital:

"The title on this expediente was issued on May 15, 1825, in favor of the interested parties, Don Ramon Romero and other residents of Santa Cruz. Rubricas E. R. Pa. 7a. Notification. Vale."

The court found (two members dissenting) that a valid grant had been made, that the evidence established the central point of the original survey, and confirmation was made and decreed "of the said title of the said Ramon Romero, and of his co owners and of their heirs, successors in interest, and assigns" to four sitios of the tract, measured in a square from the center

Page 185 U. S. 264

established by the Mexican surveyor, as shown on the map of a certain survey made in 1895, and in evidence in the cause. The claim of plaintiff and of defendants Cameron and Christie to all other land not so confirmed was rejected.

Appeals were prosecuted by the United States and by Cameron and Christie.

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