Lobenstein v. United States
91 U.S. 324 (1875)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Lobenstein v. United States, 91 U.S. 324 (1875)

Lobenstein v. United States

91 U.S. 324

Syllabus

1. Where a party under his contracts with the United States was entitled to "all hides of beef cattle slaughtered for Indians" which the Superintendent of Indian Affairs should decide were not required for their comfort, and where the Commissioner of Indian Affairs directed that the cattle be turned over to the agent who gave them out from time to time to the Indians, by whom they were killed, held that the order of the Commissioner was in effect a decision that the hides were required for the comfort of the Indians, and excused the United States from delivery to the contractor.

2. The estimate of the number of hides -- about two thousand, more or less, and about four thousand, more or less -- as made in the contracts does not create an obligation on the part of the United States to deliver that number, as the conditions of the agreement rendered it impossible for either party to determine how many would be reserved for the Indians. Therefore the number specified could not have been understood to be guaranteed.

Lobenstein filed his petition in the Court of Claims for the recovery of $16,860.42 as damages for a breach of his contract with the United States.

That court found the facts to be as follows:

In the year 1869, an arrangement was entered into between the Department of the Interior and the Department of War for the supply, through the Subsistence Department of the Army, of beef cattle to the Indians in pursuance of the fourth section of the Act of April 10, 1869,

"making appropriations for the current and contingent expenses of the Indian Department, and for fulfilling treaty stipulations with various Indian tribes for the year ending June 30, 1870."

16 Stat. 13, 40.

By that arrangement, the Department of War undertook to supply, through its Subsistence Department, such cattle as should be needed for Indians in the vicinity of Camp Supply and Fort Sill, and in reference thereto as well as to other matters, the Commissary General of Subsistence of the Army, on the 26th of May, 1869, gave written instructions to Brevet Major General H. F. Clarke, Assistant Commissary General of Subsistence in the Military Division of the Missouri, which instructions, in connection with the matter of furnishing said cattle, contained the following words:

"The cattle should be by contract, if possible -- delivered by

Page 91 U. S. 325

the contractors monthly or weekly, and, when received, actually weighed upon the scales, to be transferred to the agents on foot, the Indians to have the benefit of the fifth quarter extra. The hides to be preserved and saved for sale when practicable."

The agents here referred to were officers of the army, appointed to act as Indian agents at the several places where subsistence supplies were to be issued to the Indians.

General M. R. Morgan, Chief Commissary of Subsistence of the Military Department of the Missouri, stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., was charged with the supervision of the subsistence of the Indians on the Southern Reservation, which included those to be supplied from Camp Supply and Fort Sill, and the aforesaid instructions to General Clarke were transmitted to him for his guidance.

Supposing himself thereto authorized by the above-quoted words of said instructions, the said Morgan entered into the two written contracts with the claimant sued on, and which are in the words following, to-wit:

"Articles of agreement between Bt. Brig.-Gen. M. R. Morgan, C.S., United States Army, on the part of the United States, of the first part, and W. C. Lobenstein, of Leavenworth County, State of Kansas, of the other part, made on the twenty-sixth day of July, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-nine."

"This agreement witnesseth that the said party of the second part shall have all the hides of beef cattle slaughtered for Indians at Fort Sill, Indian territory, up to and including June 30, 1870, which the Superintendent of Indian Affairs at that place shall decide are not required for the comfort of the Indians, the number of hides to be about four thousand (4,000), more or less. The hides shall be of average size, and, when turned over, dry-cured, and in good order and condition. They shall be turned over on the spot to the said party of the second part or his authorized agent at the end of each month, at which time said agent of the party of the second part shall give a receipt for the number of hides turned over to him in good order and condition, and the responsibility of the party of the first part on account of said hides shall then cease."

"The agent of the said party of the second part shall superintend the skinning and curing of the hides."

"For and in consideration of the hides received, the party of the

Page 91 U. S. 326

second part shall pay, monthly, the party of the first part the sum of two dollars ($2.00) for each and every hide received, upon the party of the first part surrendering the receipt of the agent of the party of the second part for the number of hides received."

"It is understood that while the party of the first part, after the turning over of the hides to the party of the second part, is not responsible for their safety and care, he will furnish such protection and shelter for the hides as he can conveniently control."

"Subscribed to the year and day first above written."

"M. R. MORGAN"

"Bt. Brig.-Gen. & C.S."

"W. C. LOBENSTEIN"

"Articles of agreement between Bt. Brig.-Gen. M. R. Morgan, C. S., United States Army, on the part of the United States, of the first part, and W. C. Lobenstein, of Leavenworth County, State of Kansas, of the other part, made on the twenty-sixth day of July, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-nine."

"This agreement witnesseth that the said party of the second part shall have all the hides of the beef cattle slaughtered for Indians at Camp Supply, Indian territory, up to and including June 30, 1870, which the Superintendent of Indian Affairs at that place shall decide are not required for the comfort of the Indians, the number of hides to be about two thousand (2,000), more or less. The hides shall be of average size, and, when turned over, dry-cured, and in good order and condition. They shall be turned over on the spot to the said party of the second part or his authorized agent at the end of each month, at which time said agent of the party of the second part shall give a receipt for the number of hides turned over to him in good order and condition, and the responsibility of the party of the first part on account of said hides shall then cease."

"The agent of the said party of the second part shall superintend the skinning and curing of the hides."

"For and in consideration of the hides received, the party of the second part shall pay, monthly, the party of the first part the sum of two dollars ($2.00) for each and every hide received, upon the party of the first part surrendering the receipt of the agent of the party of the second part for the number of hides received."

"It is understood that while the party of the first part, after the turning over of the hides to the party of the second part, is not

Page 91 U. S. 327

responsible for their safety and care, he will furnish such protection and shelter for the hides as he can conveniently control."

"Subscribed to the day and year first above written."

"M. R. MORGAN"

"Bt. Brig.-Gen. & C.S."

"W. C. LOBENSTEIN"

It does not appear that any other authority than the above-quoted words from the Commissary General's instructions was given either to said Clarke or said Morgan in reference to the preservation, saving, or sale of hides.

In September, 1869, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs directed that the cattle should all be turned over to the Indian agent on the hoof, which was done, and they gave them out from time to time to the Indians, by whom they were killed and cut up, and no cattle were slaughtered for the Indians at Fort Sill or at Camp Supply by anyone acting under the authority of the United States, and the claimant obtained no hides of cattle furnished to the Indians at either of those posts during the period of time covered by the said contracts.

The number of cattle supplied to the Indians from the date of said contracts to June 30, 1870, was, at Fort Sill, 2,641; and at Camp Supply, 1,172.

The claimant fully prepared himself to carry out and perform said contracts on his part, and to that end he sent an agent to Fort Sill and one also to Camp Supply to receive hides for him, and for their services and necessary expenses he paid them $1,256.75. Said agents were not sent to those points by order of General Morgan, nor did they in any way represent him or any other officer of the United States.

Upon these facts, the conclusion of law was that the claimant was not entitled to any recovery, because there had been no breach of the contract by the defendants.

Page 91 U. S. 329

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