United States v. Sutter
62 U.S. 170 (1858)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Sutter, 62 U.S. 21 How. 170 170 (1858)

United States v. Sutter

62 U.S. (21 How.) 170

APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED

STATES FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA

Syllabus

The evidence is satisfactory to this Court that Alvarado, the Governor of California, granted a tract of land, to the extent of eleven leagues, to John A. Sutter in 1841.

Although the original grant has not been produced, yet there is sufficient proof that it once existed, and was destroyed by fire. A draft of the grant, prepared by the governor, is found in the archives, and the grant was recorded in the county registry of deeds, and this, together with the other evidence in

Page 62 U. S. 171

the case, shows that it was genuine, and also the map which accompanied it. Although the map was incorrect in its lines of latitude, yet it can be located by its reference to natural objects.

This grant was authorized by the colonization laws of 1824 and 1828.

But another grant, purporting to be issued by Micheltorena in 1845, for the surplus of the former grant, being an additional quantity of twenty-two leagues, does not stand in the same position.

Supposing it to be genuine, yet the situation in which Micheltorena was placed at its date was such as to impair its validity. He had been driven from his capital, was not in the peaceful exercise of his official authority, and was shortly after compelled to abdicate. The grant was not recognized by the persons who succeeded him, nor was it produced by the claimant to be placed in the archives. It was not a valid claim at the date of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

Grantees under the claim may prosecute it for confirmation in the name of the original claimant.

It was a claim made by Sutter for land in California, under two different grants.

1. A claim for eleven leagues of land, alleged to be granted to him by Alvarado, on the 18th of June, 1841.

2. A claim for an additional quantity of twenty-two leagues, alleged to be granted to him and his son, John A. Sutter, by Micheltorena, on the 5th of February, 1845.

The board of commissioners confirmed both claims, and this decree was affirmed by the district court. The circumstances of the case are so fully related in the opinion of this Court, that it is unnecessary to repeat them.

MR. JUSTICE CAMPBELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This cause comes to this Court by appeal from a decree of the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of

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California, which affirms a sentence of the board of commissioners to settle private land claims in that state, in favor of the appellee, upon a claim to thirty-three square leagues of land in the valley of the Sacramento River. The record shows that the claimant, a native of Switzerland, immigrated to the department of California about the year 1839, was naturalized as a citizen of Mexico, and with the leave of the government formed a settlement near the junction of the Sacramento and American rivers, which he designated New Helvetia. The country at the time was uninhabited except by bands of warlike Indians, who made frequent depredatory incursions upon the undefended settlements to the south and east of this place. In two or three years after his arrival, the claimant was commissioned by the Governor of California to guard the northern frontier and to represent the government in affording security and protection to its inhabitants against the invasion of the Indians and marauding bands of hunters and trappers, who occasionally visited the valley for plunder. In the year 1841, he commenced the erection of a fort at New Helvetia, at his own expense. It was surrounded by a high wall, and was defended by cannon. Within this fort there were dwelling houses for his servants and workmen and workshops for the manufacture of various articles of necessity. There was a grist mill, tannery, and distillery attached to the establishment. A number of Indians were domesticated by him and contributed to cultivate his fields of grain and to defend the settlement from more savage tribes. He was possessed of several thousands of horses and neat cattle, which were under the care of his servants. There were collected at different times from twenty to fifty families, and there were in the course of years some hundreds of persons connected with this settlement. He is described as having been hospitable and generous to strangers, and the Governors of California bear testimony to the vigor with which he performed the duties of his civil and military commission.

In March, 1852, he placed before the board of commissioners a claim for eleven leagues of land, to include his place at New Helvetia, and extending thence north, which were granted

Page 62 U. S. 173

to him by Juan B. Alvarado, Governor of California, 18th of June, 1841.

In March, 1853, he amended his petition and claimed an additional quantity of twenty-two leagues, which were granted to him and his son, John A. Sutter, the 5th of February, 1845, by Micheltorena, the Governor of California, this being the surplus sobrante contained within the limits from which his first grant was to be fulfilled. The espediente submitted to the board, with the grant of Alvarado, and as a part of it, represents that he is in possession of New Helvetia, and that his enterprise there had the sanction of the government, and had been prosperous; that he had associated with him industrious families; and that, besides the advantage to himself, he had awakened industry in others, and had also, by the strength of his company, formed a strong barrier against the savage Indians. He asks to enlarge his establishment, by introducing twelve families, and for this purpose solicits a grant of eleven leagues at his establishment of New Helvetia, from the governor, together with his powerful influence before the supreme government of the nation, that its approbation might be given. The governor recognizes the truth of the statements in the espediente, and declares that he has been sufficiently informed that the land is vacant and suitable for the purpose of the grantee. He grants to the applicant, "for him and his settlers, the said land, called New Helvetia, subject to the approbation of the supreme government and of the department assembly," and subject to four conditions. The third and fourth relate to the boundaries of the land and the consummation of the title, and are as follows:

"3d. The land of which donation is made to him is of the extent of eleven sitios de ganado mayor, as exhibited in the sketch annexed to the proceedings, without including the lands overflown by the swelling and current of the rivers. It is bounded on the north by los Tres Picas three summits and the 39

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