United States v. Johnson
68 U.S. 326 (1863)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Johnson, 68 U.S. 1 Wall. 326 326 (1863)

United States v. Johnson

68 U.S. (1 Wall.) 326

Syllabus

1. Objections to Mexican grants ought not to be taken as if the case was pending on a writ of error, with a bill of exceptions to the admission of every item of testimony offered and received below.

2. When there is any just suspicion of fraud or forgery, the defense should be made below, and the evidence to support the charge should appeal on the record.

3. The want of approval of a grant by the departmental assembly does not affect its validity.

Johnson and others, the respondents, claimed title under the Mexican government, through one Chaves, to a tract of land called Pleyto, lying in the present County of Monterey, State of California, and containing about three leagues, which land he had petitioned for on the 2d of June, 1845. The deed to Chaves purported to be made on the 18th July, 1845, by Pio Pico, one of the Mexican governors of California, and it recited that "the necessary steps and investigations were previously taken and made in conformity with the requirements of laws and regulations." On the 8th May, 1846, the "expediente" * was laid before the departmental

Page 68 U. S. 327

assembly, and was ordered to be referred to the Committee on Vacant Lands. The land asked for by Chaves having been once occupied by a community of priests of the mission of St. Antonio, and being said to have a house upon it which they had built, the committee recommended that

"the expediente be remitted to the authorities of that jurisdiction to be reported on, and to the person in charge of San Antonio, in order that he may say in what condition that house was at the time the grant was made, so that it might be valued, and that community be indemnified, to avoid questions relative to the expediente, to the end that, after these proceedings are concluded, the respective approval may be given."

The departmental assembly, thus referring it, was soon afterwards dissolved, and nothing further done. The original grant made it a condition that Chaves should occupy the land, which there was evidence, though not wholly uncontradicted, that he did.

In some of the deeds through which the respondents claimed, the parties signing the deeds did not, apparently, sign them by the exact names with which, in the instruments, they were described. One deed, for example, purported to be made by Tomas Soberannes, and was signed Thomas G. Soberannes. Another purported, in the body of it, to be made by Tomas Guadaloup Soberannes, but said that the land was devised to the said Tomas Guadaloup Sanchez, under the name of Guadaloup Soberannes. It was signed T. Guadaloup Sanchez, and acknowledged T. Guadalupe Sobrannes, and so in other instances. Some of the witnesses to papers making part of the title were persons whose names had been before this Court in former cases, and had

Page 68 U. S. 328

been spoken of in judicial opinions reported as not worthy of confidence.

With these documents and this evidence, Johnson and the other claimants having presented their petition to the board of commissioners established by the act of March 3, 1851, "to ascertain and settle private land claims in the State of California," and that board having confirmed it, the United States took the case by appeal into the district court, which court having also confirmed it, the case came here, as already mentioned, the question being whether the petition for confirmation of the claim was rightly granted and affirmed.

The title of Chaves was found among the archives. The deed of Governor Pico was authenticated below by proof of his handwriting and that of his secretary, who witnessed it.

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