Rogers Locomotive Mach. Works v. Emigrant Co.
164 U.S. 559 (1896)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Rogers Locomotive Mach. Works v. Emigrant Co., 164 U.S. 559 (1896)

Rogers Locomotive Machine Works v. American Emigrant Company

No. 23

Argued March 24, 1896

Decided December 7, 1896

164 U.S. 559

Syllabus

In a suit by the American Emigrant Company to obtain a decree quieting its title to certain lands in Calhoun County, Iowa, of which the defendants have possession, the plaintiff asserted title under the Act of Congress known as the Swamp Land Act of 1850, 9 Stat. 519, c. 84, the defendants under the Act of Congress of May 15, 1856, 11 Stat. 9, c. 28, granting land to Iowa to aid in the construction of railroads in that state, including one from Dubuque to Sioux City. The principal contention of the plaintiff was that the lands passed to the state under the act of 1850, and were not embraced by the Railroad Act of 1856. By an act passed January 13, 1853, the State of Iowa granted to the counties respectively in which the same were situated the swamp and overflowed lands granted to the state by the Swamp Land Act of 1850. Congress, by an act approved May 15, 1856, granted lands to Iowa to aid in the construction of certain railroads in that state, among others a railroad from Dubuque to Sioux City. That act excepted from its operation all lands previously reserved to the United States by any act of Congress or in any other manner for any purpose whatsoever. The lands, interests, rights, powers and privileges granted by the last-named act, so far as they related to the proposed road from Dubuque to Sioux City, were transferred by the state in 1856 to the Dubuque and Pacific Railroad Company. In the same year, the County Court of Calhoun County, Iowa, appointed an agent to select and certify the swamp lands in that county in accordance with the above act of 1853. The lands in controversy are within the limits of the railroad grant of May 15, 1856, and were earned by the building of the road from Dubuque to Sioux City, if they were subject at all to that grant. The several defendants hold by sufficient conveyance all the title and interest which passed under the railroad grant, if any title or interest thereby passed. Under date of December 25, 1858, these with other lands were certified to the state by the General Land Office of the United States as lands within the place limits defined by the Railroad Act of 1856 of the Dubuque and Pacific Railroad. A list of the tracts so certified to the state was approved by the Secretary of the Interior, subject to the conditions of the act of 1856 and to any valid interfering rights existing in any of the tracts embraced in the list. The selection of these lands as swamplands by the agent of Calhoun County was reported to the county court of that county September 30, 1858. March 27, 1860, the Surveyor General for the state certified these lands as swamp and overflowed lands, and this certificate was received in the General Land Office

Page 164 U. S. 560

March 27, 1860, and at the local land office at Des Moines, Iowa, February 18, 1874. It did not appear that the Secretary of the Interior ever took any action in respect to the lists made by the agent of Calhoun County of lands selected by him as swamp lands, nor that the state or the county, or anyone claiming under the county, ever directly sought any action by the General Land Office or by the Secretary of the Interior in respect to such selection. December 12, 1861, a written contract was made between the County of Calhoun, Iowa, and the American Emigrant Company in relation to the swamp and overflowed lands in that county. Subsequently, in 1863, the county, although no patent had ever been issued to the state, conveyed to that company the lands in controversy.

Held:

(1) That the Secretary of the Interior had no authority to certify lands under the Railroad Act of 1856 which had been previously granted to the state by the Swamp Land Act of 1850.

(2) That whether the lands in controversy were swamp and overflowed lands within the meaning of the act of 1850 was to be determined in the first instance by the Secretary of the Interior, and that when he identified lands as embraced. by that act, and not before, the state was entitled to a patent, and on such patent the fee simple title vested in the state, and what was before an inchoate title then became perfect as of the date of the act.

(3) That when the Secretary of the Interior certified in 1858 that the lands in controversy inured to the state under the Railroad Act of 1856, he in effect decided that they were not embraced by the Swamp Land Act of 1850; that it was open to the state, before accepting the lands under the Railroad Act, to insist that they passed under the act of 1850 as swamp and overflowed lands; that if the state considered the lands to be covered by the Swamp Land Act, its duty was to surrender the certificate issued to it under the Railroad Act, and that it could not take them under one act and, while holding them under that act, pass to one of its counties the right to assert an interest in them under another and different act.

(4) That the County of Calhoun, being a mere political division of the state, could have no will contrary to the will of the state; that its relation to the state is such that the action of the latter in 1858 in accepting the lands under the Railroad Act was binding upon it as one of the governmental agencies of the state; that the county could not, after such acceptance, claim these lands as swamp and overflowed lands or, by assuming to dispose of them as lands of that character, pass to the purchaser the right to raise a question which it was itself estopped from raising; that the Emigrant Company could not, by any agreement made with the county in 1861 or afterwards, acquire any greater rights or better position in respect to these lands than the county itself had after the certification of them to the state in 1858 as lands inuring under the railroad

Page 164 U. S. 561

act of 1856, and that the plaintiff claiming under the county and state was concluded by the act of the state in accepting and retaining the lands under that statute.

The present suit was brought by the American Emigrant Company for the purpose of obtaining a decree quieting its title to certain lands in Calhoun County, Iowa. The plaintiff asserts title under the act of Congress known as the Swamp Land Act of September 28, 1850, 9 Stat. 519, c. 84, the defendants, under the Act of Congress of May 15, 1856, 11 Stat. 9, c. 28, granting land to Iowa in aid of the construction of various railroads in that state, among others a railroad from Dubuque to Sioux City, with a branch from the mouth of Tete des Morts to the nearest point on that road.

The principal contention of the plaintiff is that the lands passed to the state under the act of 1850, and were not embraced by the Railroad Act of 1856.

A decree was passed adjudging the plaintiff to be the owner of some of the tracts described in its petition. As to other tracts, the suit was dismissed. Upon appeal by the defendants to the Supreme Court of Iowa, the decree was affirmed. 83 Ia. 612. The present writ of error brings that decree before us for examination.

By the above Act of September 28, 1850, all swamp and overflowed lands made unfit thereby for cultivation were granted to the respective states in which they were situated, that they might be reclaimed by the construction of the necessary levees and drains. By the second section of that act, it was made the duty of the Secretary of the Interior, as soon as practicable after the passage of the act, to make out an accurate list and plats of such lands and transmit the same to the governor of the state, and at the request of the latter, "cause a patent to be issued to the state therefor, and on that patent the fee simple to said lands shall vest in the said state," the proceeds of the lands, whether from sale or by direct appropriation in kind, to be applied exclusively, as far as necessary, to the purpose of reclaiming the lands by means of the levees and drains. By the third section, it was provided that

"in making out a list and plats of the land aforesaid, all

Page 164 U. S. 562

legal subdivisions, the greater part of which is �wet and unfit for cultivation,' shall be included in said list and plats, but when the greater part of a subdivision is not of that character, the whole of it should be excluded therefrom."

9 Stat. 519.

The Legislature of Iowa, by an Act passed February 5, 1851, authorized the commissioner of the state land office to take steps necessary to secure to the state the lands granted by the above act. To that end, the commissioner, having reason to believe there were any tracts of swamp land within the state not reported as such by the United States surveyor sufficient to justify a more particular examination, was to direct the county surveyor of any county in which the lands were located

"to make the examination and provide the proofs necessary to secure such lands to the state, a list of which shall be returned to the land commissioner or the authority acting in that capacity, verified by affidavit,"

etc. Laws of Iowa, 1850-51, p. 169, c. 69.

By a subsequent statute of Iowa, passed January 13, 1853, the swamp and overflowed lands granted to the state by the act of 1850 were granted

"to the counties respectively in which the same may lie or be situated for the purpose of constructing the necessary levees and drains to reclaim the same, and the balance of said lands, if any there be after the same are reclaimed as aforesaid, shall be applied to the building of roads and bridges, when necessary, through or across said lands, and if not needed for this purpose, to be expended in building roads and bridges within the county."

The same act provided that whenever

"it shall appear that any of the lands granted to the state by the aforesaid act of Congress shall have been sold by the United States since the passage of that act, it shall be lawful for the said counties to convey said lands to the purchasers thereof."

It also provided that in all the counties where the county surveyor had made no examination and report of the swamp lands within his county in compliance with the instructions from the governor, the county court should appoint some competent person who should proceed

"to examine said lands and make due report and plats upon which the topography of the

Page 164 U. S. 563

country shall be carefully noted, and the places where drains or levees ought to be made, marked on the said plats, to the county courts respectively, which courts shall transmit to the proper officers, lists of all said swamp lands in each of the counties in order to procure the proper recognition of the same on the part of the United States, which lists, after an acknowledgment of the same by the general government, shall be recorded in a well bound book provided for that purpose and filed among the records of the county court."

Laws of Iowa, 1852, p. 29, c. 12.

By an act passed January 25, 1855, the Governor of Iowa was authorized and empowered to draw from the Treasury of the United States all moneys arising from the disposition of the swamp lands of Iowa by the government of the United States. The same act provided:

"(3) That the governor is hereby authorized to adopt such measures as to him may seem expedient, to provide for the selection of the swamp lands of this state, and to secure to the state the title to the same, and also for the selection in the name of the state, [of] other lands, in lieu of such swamp lands as may have been or may hereafter be entered with warrants: provided that the provisions of this act shall not be construed to apply to any swamp lands which have already been selected by any organized county of this state under the provisions of any previous law, and provided further that this act shall not be construed to impair the rights of the counties of this state to any swamp lands within said counties under the provisions of any law in force in relation to the same, and that the selections made by the organized counties shall be reported by the governor to the authority at Washington."

Laws of Iowa, 1854-56, p. 261, c. 138; Iowa Revision, 1860, p. 154, c. 47, art. 4.

By another act, also passed January 25, 1855, amendatory of the Act of January 13, 1853, it was provided:

"§ 1. That no swamp or overflowed lands granted to the state, and situate in the present unorganized counties, shall be sold or disposed of till the title to said lands shall be perfected in the state, whereupon the title to said lands shall be transferred to the said counties where they are situated, provided that

Page 164 U. S. 564

said counties shall refund to the state the expenses incurred in selecting said lands, under the provisions of an act of the General Assembly authorizing the governor to cause said lands to be surveyed and selected, with ten percent interest thereon. Each county to refund its proportional amount of said expenses."

Laws of Iowa, 1854-56, p. 173, c. 110; Iowa Revision 1860, p. 154, c. 47, art. 5.

It appears that, in 1856, the County Court of Calhoun County appointed Charles Amy to select and survey the swamp lands in that county in accordance with the provisions of the above Act of January 13, 1853.

This was after the passage by Congress of the Railroad Act of May 15, 1856, granting lands to the State of Iowa to aid in the construction of certain railroads in that state. 11 Stat. 9, c. 28. By that act, there was granted to Iowa, to aid in the construction of railroads, among them a railroad from Dubuque to Sioux City, with a branch, every alternate section of land, designated by odd numbers, for six sections in width on each side of the respective roads named by Congress. If it appeared at the time the route of a road was definitely fixed that the United States had sold any of the sections or parts of sections granted, or that the right of preemption had attached to the same, then the state, "subject to the approval of the Secretary of the Interior," was entitled to select other lands nearest to the sections granted to supply the deficiency. But, it was declared:

"That any and all lands heretofore reserved to the United States by any act of Congress or in any other manner by competent authority for the purpose of aiding in any object of internal improvement or for any other purpose whatsoever be, and the same are hereby, reserved to the United States from the operation of this act except so far as it may be found necessary to locate the routes of said railroads through such reserved lands, in which case the right of way only shall be granted, subject to the approval of the President of the United States."

The above Act of May 15, 1856, with its provisions and restrictions, was accepted by the state by an act approved July 14, 1856, and the lands, interests, rights, powers, and privileges

Page 164 U. S. 565

granted by Congress, so far as they related to the proposed road from Dubuque to Sioux City, were granted and transferred to the Dubuque & Pacific Railroad Company, to aid in the construction of its railroad and branch, subject to the conditions and incumbrances prescribed by Congress. These lands were transferred to the railroad company upon the express condition that if it did not complete and equip a given number of miles of its road within a named time, and its entire line on or before such certain date, then the state might resume all rights to the lands so granted and remaining undisposed of by the company. Iowa Revision 1860, p. 215, c. 55, art. 2.

By a supplementary act passed January 28, 1857, the companies obtaining the benefits of the act of Congress of 1856, and of the act of the Iowa Legislature of July 14, 1856, were authorized to make such disposition, by mortgage or deed of trust, of the lands granted by the act of 1855 as might be deemed proper to secure construction bonds necessary for the completion of their roads, such mortgage or deed of trust to be a binding and valid lien upon all the property mentioned therein, including rolling stock, and the purchasers under a trustee's sale or foreclosure of mortgage to have and enjoy all the rights of a purchaser on execution sale. Iowa Revision 1860, p. 222, c. 55, art. 5.

It was stipulated by the parties that the lands in controversy

"are within the limits of the railroad grant of May 15, 1856, to aid in building a railroad from Dubuque to Sioux City, and were earned by the building of said road if they were subject to said grant, and that the various defendants hold by apt and sufficient conveyance all the title and interest in said lands which passed under and by said grant, if any title or interest did pass thereunder or thereby."

This, of course, implies that the railroad company performed all the conditions prescribed in reference to these lands either by the Act of Congress of May 15, 1856, or by the acts of the Iowa Legislature.

It appears in evidence that the lands in controversy and other lands were certified to the state by the General Land Office of the United States under date of December 25, 1858,

Page 164 U. S. 566

as lands within the six-mile or place limits defined by the Act of Congress of May 15, 1856,

"being the vacant and unappropriated lands in the alternate sections designated by odd numbers for six sections in width on each side of the Dubuque and Pacific Railroad and branch within the State of Iowa."

The lists of those tracts were first submitted by the Commissioner of the General Land Office

"for the approval of the Secretary of the Interior, in accordance with the requirements of the said Act of May 15, 1856, subject to all its conditions and to any valid interfering rights which may exist to any of the tracts embraced in the foregoing list."

The certificate of December 25, 1858, was endorsed by the Secretary of the Interior, "Approved, subject to the conditions and rights above mentioned."

It was further stipulated in this case that

"all of the lands in controversy were selected by duly authorized and appointed agents of Calhoun County as swamp lands under the Act of Congress of September 28, 1850, and reported the same to the County Court of Calhoun County September 30, 1858."

On the 27th of March, 1860, the Surveyor General for the State of Iowa certified that the lists of lands that had been selected by the county surveyors or state locating agents as swamp lands had been carefully compared with field notes, plats, and other evidence on file in his office, and

"by the affidavits of said county surveyors or state locating agents it appears that the greater part of each smallest legal subdivision of the lands embraced in said list is swampy, or subject to such overflow as to render the same unfit for cultivation, and is therefore of the character contemplated by the act of 28th of September, 1850."

The list was endorsed in the General Land Office "Received with the Surveyor General's letter of March 27, 1860."

The list of the lands selected in the manner above stated by the agent of Calhoun County, together with a letter from the Commissioner of the General Land Office dated February 12, 1874 (this date is erroneously stated in the record to be 1884), was received at the local land office at Des Moines, Iowa, on the 18th day of February, 1874.

Page 164 U. S. 567

It does not appear that the Secretary of the Interior ever took any action in respect to the lists made by the agent of Calhoun County of lands selected by him as swamp lands, nor that the state or the county, nor anyone claiming under the county, ever directly sought any action by the General Land Office or by the Secretary of the Interior in respect of such selections.

It should be here stated that on the 12th day of December, 1861, a written contract was made between the County of Calhoun, Iowa, and the American Emigrant Company in relation to the swamp and overflowed lands in that county. Subsequently, in 1863, the county conveyed to the company, subject to the provisions of the Swamp Land Act of 1850, the lands in controversy and other lands upon certain conditions, which it is unnecessary to set forth.

Page 164 U. S. 570

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