Monroe Cattle Co. v. Becker,
147 U.S. 47 (1893)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Monroe Cattle Co. v. Becker, 147 U.S. 47 (1893)

Monroe Cattle Co. v. Becker

No. 87

Submitted December 9, 1892

Decided January 3, 1893

147 U.S. 47


During the ninety days allowed by the statutes of Texas concerning the purchase of school lands to a purchaser to make his first payment, Laws of 1879, special session, p. 23, Laws of 1881, p, 119, it is not competent for the surveyor to permit a person who had filed an application for a designated tract to treat the application as withdrawn and abandoned and to make another application for the same tract in the name of a different person.

During that period of ninety days, the land is in the position of reserved lands under railroad grant acts, to which it is well settled that the grant does not attach if the land is in any way segregated from the public lands.

The issue of a patent of public land to a person who is not equitably entitled to it does not preclude the owner of the equitable title from enforcing it in a court of equity against claimants under the patent. Where the defendant in a suit in equity answers under oath denying charges of fraud, and no other evidence is offered, the charges are not sustained. Charges of fraud made upon information and belief and not sustained by proof must be treated as not sustained.

Under the laws of Texas regulating the sale of the school lands, a purchaser who makes the first payment called for, who executes the obligations

Page 147 U. S. 48

for subsequent payments as called for, and complies with those obligations as they mature, is protected against forfeiture.

The Act of the Legislature of Texas of April l4, 1583, concerning purchases of school lands, had no effect upon the vested rights of the plaintiff in this case.

It is bad pleading to describe a party by the initials only of his Christian name, but when no advantage is taken of the defect in the court below, it will not be considered here.

This was a bill in equity to enjoin an action at law for the recovery of the possession of eleven sections of school lands in Shackleford County, Texas, and for the cancellation and annulment of certain patents for the same issued to the defendant, Becker.

By an act of the legislature of Texas of July 8, 1879, as amended by a subsequent Act of April 6, 1881, provision was made for the sale of lands set apart for the benefit of the school fund, and for a method of bringing such lands into the market. This method is described in sections 6-8 of the amended act and sections 9, 10, and 15 of the original act, and is substantially as follows:

1. The purchaser applies to the surveyor of the county in which the land is situated, describing the land he proposes to purchase, which must not exceed seven sections, and pays the surveyor one dollar.

2. The surveyor records the application in a book kept for the purpose, and endorses such application, "Recorded," giving the date, page, and volume of the record, signs his name thereto, and delivers the application to the proposed purchaser.

3. The purchaser immediately forwards the application to the state treasurer, together with one twentieth of the appraised value of the land.

4. The treasurer enters a credit in his books for the amount received, giving a description of the land, and then issues his receipt for the money, and forwards it, with the application, to the Commissioner of the General Land Office.

5. The Commissioner of the General Land Office files the application and receipt in his office, and issues his own receipt

Page 147 U. S. 49

in lieu thereof setting forth the amount paid to the treasurer and the quantity and valuation of the land applied for.

6. This certificate or receipt authorizes the surveyor to survey the land embraced in the original application.

7. The surveyor is then required to enter the same on his books as sold, and is forbidden to entertain another application for such land until notified of the forfeiture.

8. The applicant is required to make his first payment of one twentieth, or the whole, as the case may be, of the value of the land, and present the receipt of the Commissioner of the General Land Office to the surveyor within ninety days from the date of the record of his application, and if he fail to do this, the land is again treated as for sale and the surveyor is authorized to receive applications for its purchase.

9. No person can renew his file, nor file on the same land more than once in twelve months, nor can he renew his file in the name of any other person. All applications for the purchase of lands are required to be made in the real name of the person intending to be the actual purchaser thereof.

10. Upon the receipt of the application by the surveyor, the purchaser is required to execute his promissory note payable to the governor, for the balance of the appraised value of the land, which note is forwarded to the Commissioner of the General Land Office, and registered in a book, and then delivered to the treasurer of the state to be filed in his office.

Under the provisions of these acts, no one person could purchase more than seven sections of land.

On November 25, 1882, one J. A. Rhomberg (whose Christian name does not appear), a resident of Iowa but engaged in the construction and operation of a railroad in Texas, made application for the purchase of seven sections of the land in question on behalf of Maggie L. Rhomberg, and also made application for the remaining four sections on behalf of one Frank Robinson, and filed the same with the surveyor of the county pursuant to these acts. The surveyor received and recorded the applications, endorsed them as recorded, and returned them, duly endorsed, to Rhomberg, who was acting as agent of both of these applicants.

Page 147 U. S. 50

Prior to this time, however, and as early as February 28th of the same year, Rhomberg had made application for the same land in the names of different persons; had allowed these applications to lapse by the nonpayment of the twentieth of their value within ninety days, and on the 29th and 30th of May had made other applications in the names of other persons, and had also allowed these to lapse by nonpayment, and again, on the 28th of August had made other applications in still other names, and in this way had kept the lands out of the market until November 25, when he made the final applications above stated.

Before any further action was taken upon the last applications, and on January 2, 1883, one F. B. Jacobs, and on January 8, one Malinda Fisher, filed their applications with the surveyor for the purchase of the same lands. The surveyor recorded these applications, endorsed upon them a memorandum of such record, and returned them duly endorsed to the applicants.

On January 9, these applications of Jacobs were delivered to the state treasurer, and first payments were made on each of the sections applied for in his name. The applications of Malinda Fisher were also delivered to the state treasurer, the date of which does not exactly appear, but the first payments were also made upon these applications before January 18. The treasurer received the applications and first payments of Jacobs and Fisher, made the proper entries in his books, issued his receipts for the money, and forwarded the receipts and applications to the Commissioner of the General Land Office. The commissioner received and filed the applications and receipts, made the proper entries upon his books, and delivered his certificates in lieu of said receipts, all within less than ninety days from the original applications of November 25.

On January 18, a few days after the applications of Jacobs and Fisher, but less than ninety days after his last application of November 25, Rhomberg presented his applications duly endorsed to the state treasurer and tendered to him the first payments required by the act to be made upon each of the

Page 147 U. S. 51

eleven sections. The treasurer refused to receive such applications or to accept the money, giving as his reason for such refusal that previous payments had been made upon these sections in the names of Jacobs and Fisher.

Rhomberg did not abandon these applications, but continued to press them, and made repeated tenders to the state treasurer, who, after several refusals, finally, on February 17, 1885, received the applications, accepted the first payments, made all the entries required by law regarding the same, issued his receipts for the payments, and forwarded the applications, with the receipts, to the Commissioner of the General Land Office. The Commissioner of the General Land Office ruled at first that first payments could not be received from two different applicants for the same sections, but finally withdrew this ruling, and accepted the tender made by Rhomberg on February 17, 1885.

The title of Maggie L. Rhomberg and Frank Robinson became subsequently vested by intermediate conveyances in the defendant. Becker, who, in May and June, 1886, made full and final payments to the state treasurer of the purchase money, and letters patent were subsequently, and in the years 1886 and 1887, issued to him by the proper officers of the State of Texas for the whole eleven sections.

On March 12, 1883, Jacobs and Fisher conveyed the sections for which they had applied to the Monroe Cattle Company, which enclosed the land in controversy in its pastures, used and occupied the same, and paid taxes thereon, but made no further effort to perfect its claim to the land, nor made any further payments of purchase money, either of principal or of interest, although, under the acts of 1879 and 1881, payments of interest were required to be made on or before the first day of March of each year upon all purchases of school lands, the appraised value of which had not been fully paid.

On February 14, 1887, the defendant, Becker, began an action of ejectment against the Monroe Cattle Company, and on February 1, 1888, the latter filed this bill to restrain Becker from further prosecuting his action at law, to remove the cloud upon its title to the land, and for the cancellation of

Page 147 U. S. 52

the patents granted to the defendant. Upon a hearing on the pleadings and proofs, the court entered a decree dismissing the bill and the plaintiff appealed to this Court.

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