Silver v. Ladd
74 U.S. 219 (1868)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Silver v. Ladd, 74 U.S. 74 U.S. 219 219 (1868)

Silver v. Ladd

74 U.S. (74 U.S.) 219

Syllabus

1. In construing a benevolent statute of the government, made for the benefit of its own citizens and inviting and encouraging them to settle on its distant public lands, the words "single man" and "married man" may, especially if aided by the context and other parts of the statute, be taken in a generic sense. Held accordingly that the fourth section of the Act of Congress of 27 September, 1850, granting, by way of donation, lands in Oregon territory to "every white settler or occupant, . . . American half-breed Indians included," embraced within the term single man an unmarried woman.

2. The fact that the labor of cultivating the land required by the act was not done by the manual labor of the settler is unimportant if it was done by her servant or friends for her benefit and under her claim.

3. Residence in a house divided by a quarter-section line enables the occupant to claim either quarter in which he may have made the necessary cultivation.

4. In cases where relief is sought on the ground that the patent was issued to one person while the right was in another, the decree should not annul or set aside the patent, but should provide for transferring the title to the person equitably entitled to it.

An act of Congress of 27 September, 1850, providing for the survey and for making donations to settlers of public lands in Oregon -- commonly called the Donation Act -- provides by a part (here quoted verbatim) of its fourth section as follows:

"There shall be, and hereby is, granted to every white settler or occupant of the public lands, American half-breed Indians included, above the age of eighteen years, being a citizen of the United States or having made a declaration according to law of his intention to become a citizen or who shall make such declaration on or before the first day of December, 1851, now residing in said territory or who shall become a resident on or before the first day of December, 1850, and who shall have resided upon and cultivated the same for four consecutive years and shall otherwise conform to the provisions of this act the quantity of one-half section, or 320 acres of land, if a single man, and if a married man the quantity of one section, or 640 acres, one-half to himself and the other half to his

Page 74 U. S. 220

wife, to be held in her own right, and the surveyor general shall designate the part enuring to the husband and that to the wife, and enter the same on the records of his office."

The fifth section of the same act is thus:

"That to all white MALE citizens of the United States, or persons who shall have made a declaration of intention to become such, above the age of 21 years, emigrating to and settling in said territory, between 1 December, 1850, and 1 December, 1853, and to all white MALE American citizens not hereinbefore provided for, becoming 21 years of age in said territory, and settling there between the times last aforesaid, who shall in other respects comply with the foregoing section and the provisions of this law, there shall be, and hereby is granted, the quantity of one-quarter section, or 160 acres of land, if a single man, or if married, or if he shall become married within one year from the time of arriving in said territory, or within one year after becoming 21 years of age as aforesaid, then the quantity of one-half section, or 320 acres, one-half to the husband and the other half to the wife, in her own right, to be designated by the surveyor general as aforesaid,"

&c.

With these provisions in force, Elizabeth Thomas, an aged widow, went with her son, an unmarried man, to Oregon Territory, and settled there. They lived in the same house. It stood upon the line dividing two parcels of land, the line running through the center of the building. Cultivation was made on both tracts, one being claimed by the mother, the other by the son. On the 17th of May, 1861, the register and receiver of the proper land office issued a donation certificate, declaring Mrs. Thomas to have made the proof which entitled her to a patent for the tract which she claimed. The son received also a certificate for the adjoining tract, which he claimed. There was no dispute about that tract.

Mr. Thomas had been a widow for more than twenty years when the settlement was made under which she received the certificate. The certificate granted to Mrs. Thomas was subsequently, June 25, 1862, set aside by the Commissioner

Page 74 U. S. 221

of the Land Office on the ground that she was not the head of a family. On appeal to the Secretary of the Interior, the action of the commissioner was affirmed on the ground that she was not a settler on the land. In January, 1865 (Mrs. Thomas being now dead, and the land in possession of one Silver, legal representative of her son, and only heir, Fenice Caruthers, who died soon after her), the United States sold the land and granted a patent for part of it to one Ladd, and for the residue to a certain Knott. These brought ejectment against Silver in the circuit court of the United States upon the patent. Silver thereupon filed a bill in one of the courts of Oregon against them, setting forth the title of Mrs. Thomas, of her son, and of himself, representing that the patents were clouds on the true title, and praying an injunction against the suit at law. The prayer asked further:

"That the said patents may each be declared to be fraudulent, and as being procured by misrepresentation and fraud, and in favor of the rights of plaintiff, and that they be, and each of them, declared cancelled and set aside, and declared fraudulent and void, and that the claims of said defendants, and each of them, be adjudged fraudulent and void, and without authority of law, and that the title of the said premises be adjudged to be in the estate of Fenice Caruthers, deceased, and that the same be quieted, and that the possession thereof be decreed to the plaintiff."

The court in which the bill was filed dismissed it, and on appeal to the Supreme Court of Oregon the decree was affirmed, that court holding that the donation certificate was void because Mrs. Thomas, having been an unmarried female, was not such a person as could take lands under the Donation Act. The question here now was the correctness of the affirmance.

Page 74 U. S. 224

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