United States v. Chaves
Annotate this Case
159 U.S. 452 (1895)
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U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Chaves, 159 U.S. 452 (1895)
United States v. Chaves
Argued October 28, 1895
Decided November 11, 1895
159 U.S. 452
It is the usage of the civilized nations of the world, when territory is ceded, to stipulate for the property of its inhabitants.
The courts of the United States are bound to take judicial notice of the laws and regulations of Mexico prior to the cessions under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Treaty of December 30, 1853.
It is the general rule of American law that a grant will be presumed upon proof of an adverse, exclusive, and uninterrupted possession for twenty years, and such rule will be applied as a presumptio juris et de jure whenever, by possibility, a right may be acquired in any manner known to the law, including occupations of claimants under alleged Mexican grants prior to the said treaties.
On the facts, the Court decides that the land in controversy in this case was the property of the claimants before the treaties with Mexico, and consequently that its protection is guaranteed as well by those treaties as by the law of nations.
This is an appeal on behalf of the United States from a decree of the Court of Private Land Claims, made on the 26th day of September, 1892, in the matter of the claim for certain lands in Valencia County, New Mexico, commonly called the "Cubero Land Grant."
The case as presented in the pleadings is as follows:
It is claimed by the petitioners that in the year 1833, the Republic of Mexico, by Francisco Sarricino, the Governor of the Territory of New Mexico, granted to Juan Chaves and about sixty others, "and to the Town of Cubero, whose establishment and incorporation were intended and declared by the terms of said grant," a tract of land now situated in the County of Valencia, New Mexico
The description of the land as claimed is set out in the petition, and is there said to contain about eleven square leagues.
They allege the loss and destruction of said grant and the testimonio as a reason for not being able to state accurately its date or the description of the land or the act of possession.
They allege that the chief alcalde of that jurisdiction did, during the same year, put them in possession, but they are unable to state who was the alcalde or what the date was of such delivery of possession.
That the petitioners are the heirs and legal representatives of the original grantees, except Juan Antonio Duran, who is the only survivor of such grantees.
That they are now in possession and occupation of said land, claiming under said grant.
That said grant was unconditional, except so far as the colonization law imposed conditions.
They charge that, preliminarily to the making of the said grant, the said governor required the parties petitioning first to purchase certain improvements which had been made upon the said land by one Francisco Baca, a Navajo Indian chief, who had been residing on the tract by permission of the government.
That they did purchase of said Indian chief the said improvements, which said Indian chief relinquished to them and vacated the land.
That, said preliminary conditions having been performed, the governor and chief alcalde delivered to the grantees a duplicate of the granting decree and of the act of juridical possession, and placed the originals of said decree and act in the Mexican archives at Santa Fe.
They allege that said originals, although once in the custody of the defendant (the United States) after the solemnization of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, were wrongfully and negligently destroyed or lost by the defendant.
That the duplicates were entrusted by the grantees to Juan Chaves, one of their number, and he kept them until his death in 1846. Since his death, they have not been found, and plaintiffs aver that they were stolen and carried away and destroyed or lost by one Vicente Margarito Hernandez.
They charge that, the original grant papers having been lost, a controversy arose between the petitioners and the pueblo of Laguna in the year 1841, and in that controversy the boundary line on the side next to Laguna was fixed and adjusted.
The allege that the grant was made to the inhabitants of Cubero at that time for the purpose of establishing a town thereon, and that since that time they have been in possession of the whole of the ground.
The answer of the United States puts in issue all of the allegations of the petition.
It denies that there was ever a grant made by the governor of New Mexico to the alleged grantees, as alleged in the petition.
It denies that the alleged testimonio of said grant was ever lost or destroyed, and that the possession of said plaintiffs or any of them was derived by the act of an official of the Mexican government authorized by the laws of Mexico to grant or deliver the same.
It denies that the duplicate of the alleged granting decree and act of possession was ever delivered by the governor or chief alcalde to the alleged grantees or was ever placed by the governor among the Mexican archives of Santa Fe.
It avers that if a grant was made to the alleged grantees
for the purpose of establishing a town, the conditions imposed by law have never been complied with, and therefore they are not entitled to confirmation under the act creating the Court of Private Land Claims.
That a large portion of said grant had been disposed of by the United States to the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad Company, and that it was a necessary party defendant, and a misjoinder of parties was pleaded.
On August 29, 1892, the court entered a decree confirming the grant, and denying the right of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad Company to intervene, except so far as its right of way was concerned, which right was admitted by the plaintiffs, from which decree an appeal was taken by the United States.