United States v. Neleigh
66 U.S. 298 (1861)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Neleigh, 66 U.S. 1 Black 298 298 (1861)

United States v. Neleigh

66 U.S. (1 Black) 298

Syllabus

1. A paper purporting to be a grant of land in California first produced from the custody of a claimant after the war, and unsustained by any record evidence, will not be held valid by this Court.

2. Evidence of the destruction of archives during the war does not avail the holder of such a naked grant unless he can show where and how the specific papers necessary to complete his title were lost or destroyed.

3. The Court again affirms the doctrine that the testimony of Mexican officials cannot be received to supply or contradict the public records.

4. The theory of claimants has been that the want of archive evidence should be excused on the ground that many of the records were lost or destroyed, but the records of the Mexican government in California being found in tolerable preservation, and the most enormous frauds having been attempted on the assumption that this theory would account for their nonproduction, the Court has been compelled to reject it as altogether fabulous.

5. A grant not recorded, and for which no espediente is found, and which is not among the forty-five sent in to the departmental assembly and confirmed on the 8th of June, 1846, cannot be believed genuine on the testimony of a Mexican secretary who swears that he signed and delivered it.

The appellee in this case claimed under the title of Jose Castro, which was rejected by the Supreme Court at December

Page 66 U. S. 299

Term, 1860, 65 U. S. 24 How. 347. Neleigh and one McKenzie purchased from Castro in 1849 six of the eleven leagues covered by his title, "to be selected whenever the same shall be located by the proper authority." McKenzie died soon after the purchase, and Neleigh, by a conveyance from his widow, under a power in his will, became possessed of his interest in the land. He presented his petition to the land commission in September, 1852, asking a confirmation of title to his six leagues, and in March, 1853, Castro petitioned in his own name for a confirmation of the remaining five. The reasons for the rejection of Castro's title, which reached the Supreme Court first, are set forth very fully in the opinion of the Court delivered in that case by MR. CHIEF JUSTICE TANEY. Neleigh's claim, after an adverse judgment in the land commission, was confirmed by the district court in October, 1859. From this decree the United States appealed.

No new title papers were offered. The claim rested in this case, as in that of Castro, upon the naked grant produced from the custody of the claimant. But much additional parol testimony was taken, by which it was sought to distinguish the new case from the old. Four new witnesses, including Pico and Moreno, whose signatures were appended to the grant, were called to prove its genuineness. Some additional evidence of occupation was offered, and the testimony of Col. Fremont introduced to show that he had lost a portion of the archives in the mountains of San Juan -- among them papers relating to a title to Gen. Castro. A witness was called to show that there was but one Gen. Castro in California in 1846, thereby connecting the lost papers with the title of the present claimant. On the part of the United States, no evidence was added to that offered in the case of Jose Castro.

Page 66 U. S. 305

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