Cameron v. United States,
148 U.S. 301 (1893)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Cameron v. United States, 148 U.S. 301 (1893)

Cameron v. United States

No. 42

Argued November 14-15, 1892

Dismissed December 19, 1892

Reinstated February 6, 1893

Submitted March 6, 1893

Decided March 27, 1893

148 U.S. 301


A suit under the Act of February 25, 1885, 23 Stat. 321, c. 149, to prevent the unlawful occupancy of public lands, is a summary proceeding in the nature of a suit in equity, which may be tried by the court without the intervention of a jury, and is not governed by Rev.Stat. § 649.

The provisions of the said act of 1885 do not operate upon persons who have taken possession of land under a bona fide claim or color of title. Color of title exists wherever there is a reasonable doubt regarding the validity of an apparent title, whether such doubt arises from the circumstances under which the land is held, the identity of the land conveyed, or the construction of the instrument under which the party in possession claims title.

On the facts in this case, as detailed in the opinion of the Court, infra, pp. 148 U. S. 305-307, held:

(1) That the lands in question were not public lands of the United States within the meaning of that term as used in the acts of Congress respecting the disposition of public lands.

(2) That the defendant held them under claim or color of title, under an expediente of the Mexican government.

(3) That in thus holding, the Court intimates no opinion as to the validity of the defendant's title.

This case was originally instituted by the filing of a complaint by the United States in the District Court of the First Judicial District of the Territory of Arizona to compel the removal by the defendant, Cameron, of a wire fence, by which it was alleged he had enclosed about 800 acres of public lands

"without any title or claim or color of title acquired in good faith thereto, and without having first made application to acquire title thereto, or any part thereof, according to law."

The proceeding was taken under an Act of Congress of February 25, 1885, 23 Stat. 321, c. 149, to prevent the unlawful occupancy of public lands. The first section of the act reads as follows:

"All enclosures of any public lands in any state or Territory of the United States heretofore or to be hereafter

Page 148 U. S. 302

made, erected, or constructed by any person, . . . to any of which land included within the enclosure the person . . . making or controlling the enclosure had no claim or color of title made or acquired in good faith, or an asserted right thereto by or under claim, made in good faith, with a view to entry thereof at the proper land office under the general laws of the United States at the time any such enclosure as or shall be made, are hereby declared to be unlawful, and the maintenance, erection, construction, or control of any such enclosure is hereby forbidden and prohibited, and the assertion of a right to the exclusive use or occupancy of any part of the public lands of the United States in any state or any of the territories of the United States without claim, color of title, or asserted right, as above specified, as to enclosure is likewise declared unlawful, and hereby prohibited."

In his answer, the defendant denied in general terms the allegations of the complaint, and in an amendment thereto set up a Mexican grant of May 15, 1825, to one Romero and other citizens of Santa Cruz; the death of Romero in 1873; the purchase by Alfred A. Green of the interest of his heirs in the grant; the sale by Green to one Rollin R. Richardson of an undivided nine-tenths of Green's interest upon certain terms and conditions expressed in the contract; the entry by Richardson upon the land, claiming the right to the possession thereof; the sale by Richardson to the defendant, Cameron, of all his interest in the land, and the assignment of his contract with Green, whereby the defendant became the equitable owner of the said undivided nine-tenths interest, and "is in the possession thereof, and entitled to be in possession thereof." The answer further averred that an application was then pending before Congress for the confirmation of this grant; that the same had been examined by the Surveyor General of Arizona, who had reported it to be a valid grant and recommended that it be confirmed to the representatives of Romero and his associates to the extent of four square leagues, but defendant claimed that it should be confirmed to the exterior boundaries thereof as set forth and described in the original

Page 148 U. S. 303

expediente. Upon the trial, the court found the issues in favor of the United States, decreed the enclosure to be of public lands, and therefore unlawful, and rendered a special judgment in the terms of the act that the fence be removed by the defendant within five days, and, in default of his so doing, that the same be destroyed by the United States marshal.

Defendant thereupon appealed to the supreme court of the territory, by which the judgment was affirmed. Defendant was then allowed an appeal to this Court.

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