Maese v. Herman,
183 U.S. 572 (1902)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Maese v. Herman, 183 U.S. 572 (1902)

Maese v. Herman

No. 226

Argued November 6-7, 1901

Decided January 6, 1902

183 U.S. 572


The sole authority to the General Land Office to issue the patent for the land in dispute in this case was the Act of March 3, 1869, 15 Stat. 342; the patent was issued under that authority, and it does not admit of controversy that it must issue to the confirmee of Congress, viz.: the Town of Las Vegas.

This Court cannot assume that Congress approved the report of the Surveyor General unadvisedly, used the name of the Town of Las Vegas unadvisedly, or intended primarily some other confirmee.

The town and its inhabitants having been recognized by Congress as having rights, and such rights having been ordered to be authenticated by a patent of the United States, it is the duty of the Land Office to issue that patent, to give the town and its inhabitants the benefit of that authentication, and to remit all controversies about it to other tribunals.

Page 183 U. S. 573

This is a bill in equity brought in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia praying for an injunction against respondents from issuing a patent to the Town of Las Vegas, New Mexico, of the lands in the Las Vegas private land grant, or, if a patent has issued, to declare it to be void, or, if a patent has not issued, to direct one to issue

"to all of said lands, to the heirs, legal representatives, and assigns of the said Juan de Dios Maese, Manuel Duran, Miguel Arculeta, Jose Antonio Cassaos, and those who were associated with them as the original grantees and as representatives of said original grantees, and that their title in and to said lands may be quieted, and said plaintiffs pray for such other and further and general relief as they may show themselves entitled to under the law and the facts."

There was a demurrer to the bill, which was sustained, and, the complainants declining to amend their bill, it was dismissed.

An appeal was taken to the court of appeals, and the action of the supreme court of the District was affirmed. 17 App.D.C. 52.

The suit was brought by the complainants as heirs of the original grantees, for themselves and others, who, it is alleged, are too numerous to be made parties. The defendants are sued in their official character. The facts as they appear from the bill are that, on the 20th of March, 1835, Juan de Dios Maese, Miguel Archuleta, Manuel Duran, and Jose Antonio Cassaos, for themselves and on behalf of twenty-five men, presented a petition to the corporation of El Bado, in the Territory of New Mexico, Mexico, for the grant and possession of the tract of land "commonly known as Las Vegas, on the Galenas River, which was desired for the cultivation of moderate crops and for pasture and watering places." The land was under the jurisdiction of El Bado, and was bounded as follows:

"On the north by the Sappello River, on the south by the boundary of the grant of Don Antonio Ortiz, on the east by the Aguage de la Zegua, and on the west the boundary of the grant to San Miguel del Bado."

The tract contains 496,446.96 acres of land, and was afterwards surveyed in 1860, which survey was approved by the surveyor general of New Mexico.

Page 183 U. S. 574

The petition was presented to the territorial deputation, approved by that body on the 23d of March, 1835, and the grant made as asked for, with the provision

"that persons who owned no land were to be allowed the same privilege of settling upon the grant as those who petitioned for it, and that 'the pasture and watering places are free to all.'"

On the 24th of March, 1835, the acting governor and political chief of the territory approved the action of the territorial deputation, and directed the constitutional justice of El Bado to place the parties in possession of the lands prayed for. This was done on the 6th of April, 1835.

The heirship or legal succession of the parties to the original grantees is alleged, and that the complainants "are now the true and real owners of undivided interests in said land, the separate interest therein of each being of the full value of not less than $10,000." The total value of the land is $2,000,000.

The treaty and protocol of Guadalupe Hidalgo are invoked, and it is alleged that the surveyor general of New Mexico, under the provisions of the Act of Congress of July 22, 1854, 10 Stat. 309, c. 103, and acting under the instructions of the Secretary of the Interior and Commissioner of the General Land Office, gave notice to parties claiming grants from Mexico to present their claims, and thereupon Francisco Lopez, Henry Connelly, and Hilario Gonzalez, on behalf of themselves and a large number of citizens of the United States, residents of San Miguel County, presented their petition claiming the Las Vegas grant. The surveyor general investigated the claim, found, and reported its validity. His report was approved by Congress and the grant confirmed,

"thereby confirming in and to the original grantees named and designated in said Las Vegas grant, their heirs and assigns, their absolute right and title to all of the lands embraced within the aforesaid boundaries and limits, free of all right, title, claim, or control upon the part of the United States."

It is the duty of the Commissioner of the General Land Office to issue patents in

"all such confirmed private land grants, to the grantees named in the original grant, their heirs or assigns,

Page 183 U. S. 575

and in the discharge and performance of his duty therein he has no judicial or discretionary powers, but acts ministerially alone in the issuing of such patents."

It is further alleged in the bill that --

"December 17, 1898, upon a petition filed in the Interior Department of the United States, praying that a patent be ordered to be issued to the Town of Las Vegas to all the land included in said Las Vegas grant, the Honorable Thomas Ryan, the then acting Secretary of the Interior Department, addressed a letter to the Commissioner of the General Land Office wherein and whereby the said Interior Department ordered and directed the honorable Commissioner of the General Land Office to issue a patent to said lands to the Town of Las Vegas, which order of the Interior Department now remains and continues in full force and effect, not having been set aside, vacated, or omitted."

"Said plaintiffs are informed and believe, and upon their information and belief they charge the fact to be, that at the date of the making of said Las Vegas grant, as aforesaid, there was no place of collection of people having any legal existence under the laws, customs, or usages of the Republic of Mexico or the Territory of New Mexico known or designated as the Town of Las Vegas, nor was there any town by name of Las Vegas on said grant or elsewhere at that time which under the laws in force at that time in the Territory of New Mexico had any legal or corporate existence, or which under or by virtue of any law, custom, or usage in force in New Mexico could take or acquire title to lands."

"And said plaintiffs allege and charge further that said land grant was not made to any town by name of Las Vegas or by any other name; that the Town of Las Vegas nor any other town ever petitioned the surveyor general of New Mexico to investigate the nature, character, extent, or validity of said grant, and that the only petition ever preferred to any surveyor general for such an investigation touching said grant was preferred by individuals representing the original grantees Juan Dios Maese et al., their heirs and assigns, the same hereinbefore referred to. They aver further that said surveyor general reported that said grant was made in due form to Juan Dios Maese and

Page 183 U. S. 576

his associates, and was to them a valid grant, and plaintiffs aver that said grant was duly and legally confirmed by Congress to the original grantees, the said Juan Dios Maese and his associates, and that it was not confirmed to a town by the name of Las Vegas or to any other town. Said plaintiffs further show that they are informed and believe, and upon their information and belief they charge the fact to be, that there was not on December 17, 1898, any town by name of Las Vegas anywhere in the United States, having any legal or corporate existence or any defined boundaries, or that could take or acquire title, either equitable or legal, to any lands whatsoever; and, further, that there was not at the time of the cession of the country included in the Territory of New Mexico to the United States, by the Republic of Mexico, or at the time of the confirmation by Congress of the United States of said Las Vegas grant, any such town having any legal or corporate existence or having any defined boundaries, or any place by that name capable in the law of acquiring, having, or holding title, either legal or equitable, to the lands included within the Las Vegas grant or any other real estate."

It is further alleged that such patent, if issued, will be a cloud upon the title of plaintiffs, and that they have presented their claim to said grant, and have requested a patent to be issued to the heirs and assigns of the original grantees, and that their request has been ignored,

"and said Commissioner of the General Land Office is now about to issue the patent to said grant to a nonentity called the Town of Las Vegas, in violation of law and in violation of the rights of plaintiffs and to their great and irreparable injury, and will do so unless restrained from so doing by this Court."

The demurrer to the bill was general, charging want of equity, no jurisdiction of the court over the subject matter, and a defect of parties.

The other facts stated in the opinion are taken from H. Ex.Doc. 14, 30th Cong., p. 36, quoted in the brief of counsel for appellants.

Page 183 U. S. 577

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