United States v. Yorba
68 U.S. 412 (1863)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Yorba, 68 U.S. 1 Wall. 412 412 (1863)

United States v. Yorba

68 U.S. (1 Wall.) 412

APPEAL FROM THE DECREE OF THE DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA

Syllabus

1. Where the usual preliminary proceedings to the issue of a Mexican grant in colonization are preserved in the archives of the former government, the proof of the signatures of the grantor and attesting secretary will be deemed by the Supreme Court sufficient to establish the genuineness and due execution of the grant unless objection is taken to its sufficiency before one of the inferior tribunals. United States v. Auguisola, ante, p. <|68 U.S. 352|>352, approved.

2. The fact that Mexico declared, through her commissioners who negotiated the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, that no grants of land were issued by the Mexican governors of California after the 13th of May, 1846, does not affect the right of parties who, subsequent to that date, obtained grants from the governors whilst their authority and jurisdiction continued. The authority and jurisdiction of Mexican officers in California are regarded as terminating on the 7th of July, 1846. The political department of the government has designated that day as the period when the conquest of California was completed and the Mexican officers were displaced, and in this respect the judiciary follows the action of the political department.

3. The absence from a Mexican grant in colonization of conditions requiring cultivation and inhabitancy and the construction of a house within a year does not affect the validity of the grant.

The respondent claimed a tract of land called La Sierra, situated in the present County of Los Angeles, State of California, and in October, 1852, presented a petition to the board of commissioners created by the Act of March 3, 1851, to ascertain and settle private land claims in California, asking for the confirmation of their title. In November, 1854, the board rejected his claim, but on appeal to the district court the claim was, in December, 1856, adjudged valid and confirmed to the extent of four square leagues. From this decree the appeal was taken.

In support of his claim, the respondent produced from the archives of the former government in the custody of the Surveyor General of California his petition to the governor for the land, the reference by him to the local authorities for information, and their reports on the subject; also various proceedings had with reference to an adverse interest in the land asserted by the widow of his deceased brother and a

Page 68 U. S. 413

draft or copy of the grant issued. He also produced the grant delivered to him, which was issued by Governor Pio Pico on the 15th of June, 1846. It is signed by the governor and tested by his secretary of state, but neither the governor nor secretary was called to prove the execution of the grant. The genuineness of their signatures was proved by a third party, no objection being taken to its sufficiency at the time by the law agent of the United States, who was present at the examination of the witness.

The grant was apparently much in the form common to these grants, except that it had not the usual requirements or conditions requiring cultivation, inhabitancy and the construction of a house within a year. [Footnote 1]

The respondent also proved that he had been for several years previous to receiving the grant in the occupation and use of the land in connection with his deceased brother.

Page 68 U. S. 421

MR. JUSTICE FIELD delivered the opinion of the Court:

Three objections are urged by the appellants to the decree of confirmation.

1st. That the grant to the claimant was proved by secondary evidence.

2d. That the grant was issued by the Mexican governor of California, after the 13th of May, 1846; and

3d. That the grant does not contain conditions requiring cultivation and inhabitancy and the construction of a house within a year.

1. The first objection rests upon the fact that the governor who signed and the secretary who attested the grant were not called to prove its execution, and that the instrument was admitted upon proof of their signatures. This proof

Page 68 U. S. 422

of their signatures by a third party is characterized by counsel as secondary evidence of the execution. Whether with strict accuracy it can be thus characterized is immaterial. Their testimony, or at least testimony establishing something more than the genuineness of their signatures, might have been required, if the usual preliminary proceedings to the issue of a Mexican grant in colonization had not been produced in the case from the archives of the former government in the custody of the Surveyor General of California. In the absence of the preliminary proceedings, suspicion naturally arises as to the genuineness of any grant produced, and in such cases the strict proof mentioned in United States v. Teschmaker, [Footnote 2] and in Fuentes v. United States, [Footnote 3] may be demanded. But where the preliminary proceedings are preserved in the archives and no doubts in consequence are created as to the genuineness and due execution of the grant, the proof of the signatures of the grantor and attesting secretary will, on appeal, be deemed sufficient by this Court unless objection is taken to its sufficiency in the first instance before one of the inferior tribunals. Such is the purport of the recent decision in the case of United States v. Auguisola. [Footnote 4]

2. The invalidity of grants issued by the Mexican governors of California after the 13th of May, 1846, is asserted upon the declaration of Mexico, through her commissioners, who negotiated the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, that no such grants were issued subsequent to that date. It is true that such declaration was made and embodied in the projet of the treaty originally submitted to our government. But as the clause containing it was stricken out by the Senate, it cannot be affirmed that the treaty was assented to by the United States on the faith of the declaration. Even if the case were different and the treaty had been concluded in reliance upon the truth of the declaration, that fact could not affect the rights of parties who, subsequent to the 13th of May, 1846, obtained grants from the governors of California

Page 68 U. S. 423

whilst their authority and jurisdiction in the country continued. The rights asserted by the inhabitants of the territory to their property depend upon the concessions made by the officers of the former government having at the time the requisite authority to alienate the public domain, and not upon any subsequent declaration of Mexican commissioners on the subject.

The authority and jurisdiction of Mexican officials are regarded as terminating on the 7th of July, 1846; on that day, the forces of the United States took possession of Monterey, an important town in California, and within a few weeks afterwards occupied the principal portions of the country, and the military occupation continued until the treaty of peace. The political department of the government at least appears to have designated that day as the period when the conquest of California was completed and the Mexican officials were displaced, and in this respect the judiciary follows the action of the political department. [Footnote 5]

3. The absence from the grant of conditions requiring cultivation and inhabitancy and the construction of a house within a year does not affect the validity of the grant. The omission to insert them probably arose from the fact that the grantee, together with his deceased brother, had been for years previous in the occupation and use of the premises. The object of the general colonization law of 1824, and the regulations of 1828, which were adopted to carry that law into effect, was the settlement of the vacant lands of the Republic, and to secure that object concessions like the one in this case were generally made subject to the conditions of cultivation and inhabitancy, although the conditions were not always inserted in the title papers. It would be unnecessary to insert them when such cultivation and inhabitancy by the grantee already existed. In the grant to Sutter, the validity of which was affirmed by this Court, [Footnote 6] there was a similar omission, and no doubt for like reasons.

Decree affirmed.

[Footnote 1]

Its exact form, translated, was as follows:

"PIO PICO, CONSTITUTIONAL GOVERNOR OF THE DEPARTMENT OF THE CALIFORNIAS:"

"Whereas, the citizen Bernardo Yorba has asked, for his personal benefit and that of his family, a piece of land which for many years he has legally possessed, called the Sierra, on the banks of the River Santa Ana, bounded by the said river and the rancho of Temiscal, the proper proceedings having been taken and inquiries made, in the exercise of the powers which are conferred upon me, in the name of the Mexican nation, I have, by a decree of this day, granted him the said land, declaring it his property by these presents, in conformity to the law of the 18th of August, 1824, and the regulation of the 21st of November, 1828, subject to the approval of the Departmental Assembly, and under the following conditions:"

"1st. He shall have power to enclose it, without injury to the crossings, roads, and servitudes; he shall enjoy it freely and exclusively, applying it to the use and cultivation which may best suit him."

"2d. He shall solicit the proper judge to give him the judicial possession in virtue of this decree, by whom the boundaries shall be marked with the necessary monuments."

"3d. The land of which donation is made is four leagues 'de ganado mayor.'"

"The judge who shall give the possession shall have it measured in conformity to the ordinance, leaving the surplus, if any remains, to the nation, for the purposes for which it may be required."

"Wherefore I order that this title, being held firm and valid, be recorded in the proper book and be delivered to the party interested for his security, and other purposes."

"Given in the city of Los Angeles, on this common paper, for want of sealed, the 15th of June, 1846."

"PIO PICO"

"JOSE MATIAS MORENO, Sec'y ad int."

"This superior decree is recorded in the proper book, dated as above."

"MORENO"

[Footnote 2]

63 U. S. 22 How. 392.

[Footnote 3]

63 U. S. 22 How. 443.

[Footnote 4]

Ante, p. <|68 U.S. 352|>352.

[Footnote 5]

See United States v. Pico, 23 How. 326.

[Footnote 6]

62 U. S. 21 How. 170.

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