United States v. Fossat
61 U.S. 413

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Fossat, 61 U.S. 20 How. 413 413 (1857)

United States v. Fossat

61 U.S. (20 How.) 413

Syllabus

Where a petitioner files a claim to land in California before the board of commissioners created by Congress, the intervention of rival claimants is a practice not to be encouraged.

Where there is no natural boundary or descriptive call for the termination of lines of a tract of land, and the quantity of land called for in the grant is "one league of the larger size, a little more or less," the survey must only include a league. The words "a little more or less" must be rejected.

The grant is for one league of land, to be taken within the southern, western, and eastern boundaries designated therein, and to be located at the election of the grantee or his assigns, under the restrictions established for the location and survey of private land claims in California by the Executive department of this government.

[MR. CHIEF JUSTICE TANEY, BEING INDISPOSED, DID NOT SIT IN THIS CASE.]

Fossat claimed an interest of three-fourths in the tract of land granted to Justo Larios by Governor Alvarado on the 1st of August, 1842. The mesne conveyances need not be stated, as the only dispute in this Court related to the location of the land.

In June, 1842, Larios presented a petition to the governor stating that he had previously presented one in 1836, and another in 1840, both of which were lost. He stated that he had purchased a house upon the premises, and resided there since 1836. Whereupon the following grant was issued:

"Juan B. Alvarado, Constitutional Governor of the Californias:"

"Whereas the citizen Justo Larios has asked, for his own benefit and that of his family, the land known by the name of the Capitancillos, bounded by the sierra, by the Arroyo Seco, on the side of the establishment of Santa Clara, and by the rancho of citizen Jose R. Berreyesa, which has for boundary a line running from the junction of the Arroyo Seco and Arroyo de los Alamitos, southward to the sierra, passing by the eastern base of the small hill situated in the center of the canada, the necessary steps having been taken and inquiries made, according to the laws and regulations on this subject, by virtue of the powers conferred upon me, in the name of the Mexican nation I have granted him the said land, declaring it his property by these presents, subject to the approval of the departmental assembly and to the following conditions:"

"1st. He may enclose it without injury to the passes, roads, and servitudes; he may enjoy it freely and exclusively, using

Page 61 U. S. 414

or cultivating it as may best suit him, and within one year he shall build a house, and it shall be inhabited."

"2d. He shall solicit the proper judge to give him juridical possession, in virtue of this decree, by whom the boundaries shall be marked out, and he shall put on the boundaries, in addition to the landmarks, some fruit trees or useful forest trees."

"3d. The land herein referred to is one league of the larger size, a little more or less, as is explained by the map accompanying the espediente. The judge who shall give the possession shall have it measured, in conformity to law, leaving the surplus which remains to the nation, for the purposes which may best suit it."

"4th. If he should violate these conditions, he shall lose his right, and liable to be denounced by another."

"Wherefore I order that this title, being held firm and valid, shall be registered in the book of adjudications of vacant lands, and delivered to the person interested, for his protection and other purposes."

"Given in Monterey, the 1st of August, 1842."

The reporter will endeavor to give the reader an idea of the locality without a map, which it would be difficult to make.

Let him imagine himself standing upon a range of hills or sierra about three thousand feet above tide. Looking to the north, he sees another range of hills about half as high as the one upon which he stands and running nearly parallel therewith. The two ranges are connected together by a spur, running from one to the other, and from either side of this spur springs flow, which, running down ravines to his right and left, find their way around the lesser hills in front. Upon his left hand, the spectator may be supposed to trace the Arroyo Seco, which is Larios' boundary on that side, and upon his right he may see the marked line which had been mutually agreed upon by Larios and his neighbor Berreyesa as the separating line between them, and which constituted Larios' boundary upon that side. Thus standing at one end of a narrow parallelogram, the spectator may see the two lines upon his right and left, looking indefinitely into the distance for the closing line.

In this state of things, two questions arise:

1st. Which is the sierra where the tract of land begins? Is it the range of hills upon which we have supposed the spectator to stand, or the lesser range in front, called "Lomas Bajas."

2d. How far does the tract run in the direction where no boundary is given? Does it run as far as the dividing line is laid down between Larios and Berreyesa, or does it stop where

Page 61 U. S. 415

the quantity of land called for in the grant is obtained? The board of commissioners adopted the former rule, and therefore continued the tract up to the Arroyo Seco, which was the termination of the boundary line between Larios and Berreyesa. It may not be easy for the reader to apprehend precisely the different decisions hereafter referred to, because the points of the compass did not exactly correspond with those heretofore mentioned in the general view which a spectator is supposed to take from the top of the sierra.

The decree of the commissioners was as follows:

"Decree"

"CHARLES FOSSAT v. THE UNITED STATES"

"In this case, on hearing the proofs and allegations, it is adjudged by the commission that the claim of the said petitioner is valid, and it is therefore decreed that the same be confirmed."

"The land of which confirmation is hereby made is a portion of the place known by the name of Los Capitancillos, situated in Santa Clara County, and the same which was formerly occupied by Justo Larios, and the portion thereof hereby confirmed to the petitioner is bounded and described as follows, to-wit:"

"On the south, bounded by the sierra; on the north, by the Arroyo Seco; on the west, by the middle of the ridge of the low hills running north and south, which hills lie at the western end of said rancho los Capitancillos, and the said division line being the same line of division adopted in a partition of said rancho, made by William Wiggins, and John B. Weller, and James M. Jones, as will appear by their deeds of partition recorded in the office of the recorder of deeds for Santa Clara county, in liber 'C' of deeds, page 458; and on the east, by the place known as the rancho of the citizen Jose R. Berreyesa, which has for boundary a line running from the junction of the Arroyo Seco and Arroyo de los Alamitos, southward to the sierra, passing by the eastern base of the small hill situated in the canada."

"The said premises containing three-fourths of a square league of land, a little more or less, reference to be had to the grant of said rancho to said Justo Larios, and to the map which constitutes a part of the espediente, which are on the file in this case."

"ALPHEUS FELCH"

"THOMPSON CAMPBELL"

"R. AUG.THOMPSON"

"Commissioners"

"Filed in office, February 28, 1854."

"[Signed] GEO. FISHER, Secretary"

Page 61 U. S. 416

The United States appealed from this decision to the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of California.

In that court there were a number of depositions and plats filed.

In August, 1857, that court passed the following decree, by which it will be seen that the tract of land was ordered to begin at the higher range of hills and to run as far as the boundary line reached which had been adopted by Larios and Berreyesa:

"Transcript from Board of commissioners, No. 340"

"THE UNITED STATES, APPELLANTS, v. CHARLES FOSSAT, APPELLEE"

"STATED TERM, JUNE, 1857"

"On appeal from the final decision of the Board of Commissioners to Ascertain and Settle Private Land Claims in the State of California."

"Decree"

"This cause came on to be heard at a stated term of the court, on appeal from the final decision of the Board of Commissioners to Ascertain and Settle Private Land Claims in the State of California, under the Act of Congress approved on the 3d of March, A.D. 1851, upon the transcript of the proceedings and decision of the said board of commissioners the papers and evidence on which the said decision was founded, the petition of the appellants and answer of the appellee, and the further evidence given in this court, by leave of the court, and it appearing to the court that the said transcript has been duly filed according to law, and the appellee in open court confessing error in the said decision of the board of land commissioners in this, that it does not describe in a manner sufficiently definite the boundaries of the tract of land intended to be confirmed to the claimant, and consenting that the said decision be reversed, and such decree be entered in this court as may be lawful and proper upon the whole evidence; and counsel for the respective parties having been heard, it is by the court hereby ordered, adjudged, and decreed that the said decision of the board of land commissioners be, and the same is hereby, reversed."

"And the court now proceeding to render a new decree in the premises, it is further hereby ordered, adjudged, and decreed that the grant made to Justo Larios, from whom the appellee, Charles Fossat, derives his title, is a good and valid grant to said Larios of the place known by the name of Los Capitancillos, situated in the present County of Santa Clara, and formerly occupied by the said Justo Larios and bounded and described as follows, to-wit: on the south by the main sierra,

Page 61 U. S. 417

on a spur of which sierra is situated, as shown in evidence, a certain well known and conspicuous live oak tree, or encino, and a portion of which sierra is separated, as shown in evidence, by the stream called the Arroyo de los Capitancillos, from the range of hills called Cuchilla de la Mina, or Cuchilla de la Mina de Luis Chabolla, in which are situated the quicksilver mines known as the Guadalupe, San Antonio, and New Almaden mines; on the west by the Arroyo Seco, on the side of the establishment of Santa Clara, the said Arroyo Seco being the continuation of the same stream above designated as the Arroyo de los Capitancillos; on the east by a line running from the junction of a certain other rivulet called Arroyo Seco, and the Arroyo de los Alamitos, southward to the aforesaid main sierra, passing by the point or part of the small hill situated in the center of the canada which is designated, in the espedientes and grants of Justo Larios and Jose Reyes Berreyesa, as La Falda de la Loma, and crossing the range of hills designated above as the Cuchilla de la Mina, or Cuchilla de la Mina de Luis Chabolla, and in which are situated the said Guadalupe, San Antonio, and New Almaden mines, and which is the same range of hills designated Lomas Bajas on the diseno, or map, in the aforesaid espediente of Jose Reyes Berreyesa, the said eastern line herein described being intended to be the same line agreed upon as the line of division between the lands of Justo Larios and Jose Reyes Berreyesa, as expressed in the respective espedientes and grants of said Justo Larios and Jose Reyes Berreyesa, and delineated by the dotted line on the said diseno, or map, in the espediente of Jose Reyes Berreyesa; in the location of said line, reference to be made to the description thereof in the said espedientes and grants, and the delineation thereof on the said diseno, or map, in the espediente of Jose Reyes Berreyesa; which espedientes, grants, and diseno, or map, are on file and in evidence in this case; and the northern boundary of said tract of land granted to Justo Larios being the same which is shown in the diseno, or map, contained in the espediente of Justo Larios, which is on file and in evidence in this case, the said tract of land containing one square league, more or less."

"And it is likewise further ordered, adjudged, and decreed by the court that the claim of the appellee to a portion of the said described tract of land is a good and valid claim, and that the said claim be and the same is hereby confirmed."

"The land of which confirmation is hereby made to the appellee is the whole of the tract of land described above, and which was granted to Justo Larios, with the exception of the two adjacent parcels thereof lying at the westerly end of said

Page 61 U. S. 418

tract, and claimed by the Guadalupe Mining Company, and which were conveyed to the said Guadalupe Mining Company by the two instruments of writing which are on file and in evidence in this case, and marked, respectively, 'Exhibit M' and 'Exhibit P,' the line dividing the land intended to be confirmed hereby to the said Charles Fossat, from the land of the said Guadalupe Mining Company, being the same which is expressed in said exhibits to be the eastern line of the tracts thereby severally conveyed, and the same which is more particularly designated as the eastern line of the lands of the Guadalupe Mining Company by the survey made by John La Croze, whose deposition, with the field notes of said survey attached, is on file and in evidence in this case, and delineated on the map of said survey, certified by John C. Hayes, U.S. Surveyor General, which is also on file and in evidence, marked 'Exhibit I M,' attached to the deposition of John La Croze, to which exhibits, map, deposition of John La Croze, and field notes, reference is made for a more full description of the said line, which is the western line of the land hereby confirmed to the said appellee, Charles Fossat."

"OGDEN HOFFMAN, U.S. Dist. judge"

"August 17, 1857"

The United States appealed from this decree to this Court.

Page 61 U. S. 423

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