By the Acts of July 22, 1854, c. 103, § 8, and July 15, 1870, c.
292, a private claim to land in Arizona under a Mexican grant,
which has been reported to Congress by the surveyor general of the
territory, cannot, before Congress has acted on his report, be
contested in the courts of justice.
The case is stated in the opinion.
MR. JUSTICE GRAY delivered the opinion of the Court.
This was a complaint filed June 25, 1887, in a district court of
the Territory of Arizona and County of Pima, by Dolores G.
Astiazaran and others against the Santa Rita Land and Mining
Company and the New Mexico and Arizona Railroad Company to quiet
the plaintiffs' title in three tracts of land known as ranchos
"Tumacacori," "Calabasas," and "Huevavi," granted by the Mexican
government to Francisco Alejandro Aguilar in 1844.
The plaintiffs claimed title as or under the heirs of Aguilar.
The defendants claimed under alleged conveyances from
Page 148 U. S. 81
Aguilar to Manuel Maria Gandara in 1856 and 1869, from Gandara
to Charles P. Sykes in 1877, from Sykes of an undivided interest to
John Curry in 1878, and from Sykes and Curry, on December 18, 1879,
of the whole interest to the Calabasas Land and Mining Company,
whose title had since vested in the defendants.
On June 9, 1864, Gandara presented a petition to the Surveyor
General for the Territory of Arizona for a survey of the lands in
order that the title might be reported on and confirmed in
accordance with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848 and the
Gadsden Treaty of 1853 and the laws of the United States.
On December 15, 1879, Curry and Sykes presented a similar
petition to the surveyor general, who on January 7, 1880, made a
report to Congress recommending a confirmation of their title.
Congress never took final action upon this recommendation.
The district court gave judgment for the defendants, which was
affirmed by the supreme court of the territory on January 19, 1889.
20 Pac. 189. The plaintiffs appealed to this Court.
By article 8 of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and article 5 of
the Gadsden Treaty, the property of Mexicans within the territory
ceded by Mexico to the United States was to be "inviolably
respected," and they and their heirs and grantees were "to enjoy
with respect to it guaranties equally ample as if the same belonged
to citizens of the United States." 9 Stat. 929, 930; 10 Stat.
Undoubtedly private rights of property within the ceded
territory were not affected by the change of sovereignty and
jurisdiction, and were entitled to protection whether the party had
the full and absolute ownership of the land or merely an equitable
interest therein which required some further act of the government
to vest in him a perfect title. But the duty of providing the mode
of securing these rights and of fulfilling the obligations imposed
upon the United States by the treaties belonged to the political
department of the government, and Congress might either itself
discharge that duty or delegate it
Page 148 U. S. 82
to the judicial department. De la Croix v.
12 Wheat. 599, 25 U. S.
-602; Chouteau v.
2 How. 344, 43 U. S. 374
Tameling v. United States Freehold Co., 93 U. S.
, 93 U. S. 661
Botiller v. Dominguez, 130 U. S. 238
For the adjustment and confirmation of claims under grants from
the Mexican government of land in New Mexico, and in Arizona, which
was formerly a part of it, Congress had not, when this case was
decided below, established a judicial tribunal, as it had done in
California and as it has since done in New Mexico and Arizona by
the Act of March 3, 1891, c. 539, 26 Stat. 854.
But Congress reserved to itself the determination of such
claims, and enacted that the surveyor general for the territory,
under the instructions of the Secretary of the Interior, should
ascertain the origin, nature, character, and extent of all such
claims, and for this purpose might issue notices, summon witnesses,
administer oaths, and do all other necessary acts, and should make
a full report on such claims, with his decision as to the validity
or invalidity of each under the laws, usages, and customs of the
country before its cession to the United States, and that his
report should be laid before Congress for such action thereon as
might be deemed just and proper, with a view to confirm bona
grants, and to give full effect to the Treaty of 1848
between the United States and Mexico. Acts July 22, 1854, c. 103, §
8, 10 Stat. 309; July 15, 1870, c. 292, 16 Stat. 304.
In Tameling v. United States Freehold Co.,
it was therefore held that the action of Congress, confirming, as
recommended by the surveyor general for the territory, a private
land claim in New Mexico was conclusive evidence of the claimant's
title and not subject to judicial review, and Mr. Justice Davis, in
delivering the opinion of the Court, said:
"No jurisdiction over such claims in New Mexico was conferred
upon the courts, but the surveyor general, in the exercise of the
authority with which he was invested, decides them in the first
instance. The final action on each claim, reserved to Congress, is,
of course, conclusive, and therefore not subject to review in this
or any other forum. It is obviously
Page 148 U. S. 83
not the duty of this Court to sit in judgment upon either the
recital of matters of fact by the surveyor general or his decision
declaring the validity of the grant. They are embodied in his
report, which was laid before Congress for its consideration and
93 U.S. 93 U. S. 662
See also Maxwell Land Grant Case, 121 U.
, 121 U. S. 366
and 122 U. S. 122
365, 122 U. S.
The action of Congress, when taken, being conclusive upon the
merits of the claim, it necessarily follows that the judiciary
cannot act upon the matter while it is pending before Congress;
for, if Congress should decide the same way as the court, the
judgment of the court would be nugatory, and, if Congress should
decide the other way, its decision would control.
There is nothing in Pinkerton v. Ledoux, 129 U.
, cited by the appellant, inconsistent with this
conclusion. The point there decided was that the report of the
surveyor general, not acted on by Congress, was no evidence to
support ejectment upon a grant from the Mexican government, known
as the "Nolan Grant," and Mr. Justice Bradley, in delivering
"The surveyor general's report is no evidence of title or right
to possession. His duties were prescribed by the Act of July 22,
1854, before referred to, and consisted merely in making inquiries
and reporting to Congress for its action. If Congress confirmed a
title reported favorably by him, it became a valid title; if not,
And he guardedly added:
"This case seems to have been very perfunctorily tried and
discussed. There is a question which may be entitled to much
consideration -- whether the Nolan title has any validity at all
without confirmation by Congress. The Act of July 22, 1854, before
referred to, seems to imply that this was necessary."
129 U.S. 129 U. S.
-352, 129 U. S. 355
The case is one of those jurisdiction of which has been
committed to a particular tribunal, and which cannot therefore, at
least while proceedings are pending before that tribunal, be taken
up and decided by any other. Johnson v.
13 Wall. 72; Smelting Co. v.
Kemp, 104 U. S. 636
Steel v. Smelting Co., 106 U. S. 447
New Orleans v. Paine, 147 U. S. 261
In this case, Congress has constituted itself the tribunal
Page 148 U. S. 84
finally determine, upon the report and recommendation of the
surveyor general, whether the claim is valid or invalid.
The petition to the surveyor general is the commencement of
proceedings which necessarily involve the validity of the grant
from the Mexican government under which the petitioners claim
title; the proceedings are pending until Congress has acted, and
while they are pending, the question of the title of the
petitioners cannot be contested in the ordinary courts of
Upon this short ground, without considering any other question,
the judgment of the Supreme Court of the Territory of Arizona
MR. JUSTICE BREWER concurred in the result.