United States v. Moreno
68 U.S. 400 (1863)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Moreno, 68 U.S. 1 Wall. 400 400 (1863)

United States v. Moreno

68 U.S. (1 Wall.) 400

Syllabus

1. Where there are no subscribing witnesses to a Mexican grant in colonization, the signature of the governor who executed the grant and of the secretary who attested it may be proved by anyone acquainted with their handwriting. Such evidence is in no sense secondary. United States v. Auguisola, ante, p. <|68 U.S. 352|>352, approved.

2. The cession of California to the United States did not impair the rights of private property. These rights were consecrated by the law of nations and protected by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The Act of March 3, 1851, to ascertain and settle private land claims in the State of California, was passed to assure to the inhabitants of the ceded territory the benefit of the rights thus secured to them. It recognizes both legal and equitable rights, and should be administered in a liberal spirit.

On an appeal from the decree of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of California, the record disclosed the following facts:

On the 5th of April, 1845, Moreno submitted to Pio Pico, then Governor of the Department of California, a petition, wherein he set forth that he had "denounced, in due form, a square league of land situate between Temecula and the Lagoon called Santa Rosa, to which, after previous judicial investigation," he prayed "to be awarded the respective title, on the ground that it is absolutely vacant and without any availableness." The governor ordered the petition "to be sent for the report of" the proper

Page 68 U. S. 401

officer. The officer reported that the land was "in an entire vacant state." The governor thereupon ordered the petition to be returned to Moreno, that he might annex a plat of the land -- the application to come again before the government. Moreno was authorized to occupy the land "provisionally," and it was added, "meanwhile the mentioned title deed is being made out."

On the 31st of January, 1846, Moreno presented the governor a new petition with the required plat. In this petition he says:

"In accordance with the decree your Excellency thought fit to give in the month of April, in the year 1845, requiring me to present the plat of the land I occupy provisionally, called Santa Rosa, I hereby, with the deepest submission, accompany my petition and the plat, that your Excellency may have the goodness to make out the title deed of ownership to me of the land bordering on Temecula, the Lagoon, and Santa Margarita, not naming the number of leagues, as I might be mistaken, but I ask that the land which has no owner, and which I demand in due form, be set apart for my individual benefit and that of my family."

The governor ordered "the title deed to be issued and given to the interested party with obligation to amend the plat." On the day last mentioned, a deed was issued, subject to the approval of the departmental assembly. It purported to be subscribed by the governor and secretary, but there were no subscribing witnesses to it. It contained with others the following clauses:

"The land donated to him is the same as exhibited in the plat attached to this expediente, and borders on land of Temecula, on the Lagoon, and on Santa Margarita."

"The judge who shall possess him of it will cause it to be measured conformable to ordinance, and give notice to the government of the number of leagues (sitios de ganado mayor) it may contain."

"Consequently, I order that this title deed, being held firm and valid, it be entered in the respective book and delivered to the interested party for his security and other purposes. "

Page 68 U. S. 402

The subject was submitted to the departmental assembly, and on the 3d June, 1846, that body approved and confirmed the grant.

It appeared by the testimony of one Foster in early life a justice of the peace, but who had been for many years a "ranchero" in California, that "Santa Rosa" was the name given to a well known tract; that it adjoined another well known tract, called "Temecula," on the east, a second, known as "Santa Margarita," on the west, and that a third, called "La Laguna," stood off in a direction northeasterly. This was confirmed by two other witnesses.

Moreno resided upon and cultivated the land from the time he was authorized to occupy it until the acquisition of the country by the United States.

After the acquisition, he presented a petition to the board of commissioners established by the act of Congress of 3 March, 1851, to ascertain and settle private land claims in California, to have his title confirmed, pursuant to the provisions of that statute. The commissioners having confirmed it, an appeal was taken by the United States to the district court, and that court having affirmed the report of the commissioners, the United States brought the case here by appeal.

It was objected on behalf of the United States to the decree of the district court:

1. That the "grant is proved, by secondary evidence of handwriting, without the legal basis for its introduction having first been laid," this objection being made in the case, however, in this Court only.

2. That the location and quantity of the land are entirely uncertain both in the grant and in the diseno.

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