Texas & Pacific Ry. Co. v. Smith,
159 U.S. 66 (1895)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Texas & Pacific Ry. Co. v. Smith, 159 U.S. 66 (1895)

Texas and Pacific Railway Company v. Smith

Argued and submitted December 19, 1894

Decided June 3, 1895

159 U.S. 66


When the receipt given by a local land office to a preemptionist acknowledging the payment of the preemption money is sufficient on its face to transfer the full equitable title to him and does not disclose when his rights to the land were initiated, his vendees are not chargeable as matter of law with knowledge of the fact that the land at the time was not subject to preemption or homestead.

The facts in this case are as follows: on May 14, 1853, William W. Smith purchased from the State of Louisiana a tract known as "Cross Lake" in section 25, township 18, range 14, containing 21.18 acres. The title of the state rested on the claim that the land was swamp and overflowed, and passed to it under the acts of Congress granting such lands to the states. On December 3, 1857, the state filed a petition in the district court of the Parish of Caddo to set aside such purchase and cancel the certificate of entry. While this action was pending and before any trial, William W. Smith died, and the action was revived in the name of John W. Smith, administrator of his succession. Such administrator appeared and answered. The heirs of William W. Smith were not made parties, but upon the petition of the state and the answer of the administrator, the action was tried before a jury and a verdict returned in favor of the state annulling the sale and canceling the certificate. A judgment was on November 20, 1860, entered upon this verdict, from which the administrator took an appeal to the supreme court of the state, but such appeal was afterwards and on August 11, 1869, dismissed by the consent of counsel.

On February 24, 1872 at the local land office of the United States, W. D. Wylie entered as a homestead the same tract,

Page 159 U. S. 67

under the description of lot 15, in section 25, etc. On October 19th of that year, he changed his homestead to a preemption entry, paid the government price for the land, and received a final receipt therefor. This receipt was recorded in the recorder's office of the Parish of Caddo on November 20, 1872, and on the same day he conveyed a two-thirds interest in the land to Hotchkiss & Tomkies. On December 1, 1874, a United States patent was issued to Wylie for the land. Prior to his homestead entry and on April 27, 1871, an act was passed by the State of Louisiana incorporating the City of Shreveport, and the tract in controversy was within the boundaries of that city as defined in the act of incorporation. In the spring of 1872, Wylie went into actual possession of the premises, and such possession has continued in him and his grantees up to the present time. By sundry mesne conveyances, the title of Wylie passed to plaintiff in error.

This action was commenced in the circuit court on May 1, 1886, by the defendants in error, as heirs of William W. Smith, to recover possession of the land. Among the defenses set up by the railway company was that of the statute of limitations, or "prescription," as it is called in the legislation of Louisiana. The case came on for trial on February 28, 1891, and resulted in a verdict and judgment for plaintiffs. Thereupon the defendant sued out this writ of error.

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