Writ of error to review decision of the state court, dismissing
bill to remove cloud on title to lands under water, dismissed for
want of jurisdiction on the findings of the court below and the
authority of the cases cited.
The rejection as evidence, by the state court, of a letter
written by the Secretary of the Interior to the Commissioner of the
Land Office, on the ground that it was res inter alios,
held, in this case proper and not to present any federal
Writ of error to review 92 S.W. 534, dismissed.
The facts are stated in the opinion of the court.
Page 206 U. S. 42
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE FULLER delivered the opinion of the Court.
This was a bill to remove a cloud from plaintiff in error's
alleged title to certain lands described in the complaint, and to
that end to have the conveyances under which defendants in error
claimed declared void, filed by plaintiff in error in the chancery
court of Poinsett County, Arkansas, January 29, 1903. The chancery
court rendered a decree dismissing the bill, and the case was
carried to the supreme court of the state, where the decree was
affirmed. 77 Ark. 338. Thereupon this writ of error was
The supreme court of the state stated the case in brief
"Plaintiff claims title under an act of Congress entitled 'An
Act to Enable the Arkansas and Other states to Reclaim the Swamp
Lands within Their Limits,' approved September 28, 1850. It alleges
that, in pursuance of the provisions of this act, surveyed sections
and parts of fractional sections in Fractional Township 12 North of
the base line, in Range 6 East of the Fifth Principal Meridian, and
in Township 12 North of the base line, in Range 7 East of the Fifth
Principal Meridian, and in Poinsett County, in this state, were
duly selected, approved, and patented to the State of Arkansas, as
a part of the swamp land grant; that certain of these lands were
conveyed by the State of Arkansas, on the 12th day of June, 1871,
to Moses S. Beach; that plaintiff acquired and is the owner of
these lands so conveyed to Beach as well as certain other of the
lands which were deeded to the State of Arkansas by the United
States; that many of the legal subdivisions of sections so acquired
by plaintiff were bounded by a large body of nonnavigable water
called in the official surveys of the United
Page 206 U. S. 43
States and field notes thereof as the 'sunk lands,' 'St. Francis
River Sunk Lands,' the 'Hatchie Coon Sunk Lands,' and the 'Cut-Off
lake;' that the legal subdivisions so bounding were fractional, and
in the survey were meandered along such body of water. The
plaintiff thereupon claims the lands lying under this body of
water, and these are the lands in controversy in this suit to which
it (plaintiff) seeks a decree to quiet its title as against the
"Plaintiff alleges that these lands are wild, unimproved, and
unoccupied, and that the defendants are claiming them under certain
deeds, and asks that these be declared void, invalid, and of no
"The defendants answered and denied that the so-called 'sunk
land' was a body of water, or that it is shown to be by the surveys
of the United States or the field notes; but that it was sometimes
temporarily flooded with water, and was land bearing 'trees and
vegetables, willow and cypress;' and that the meandered lines run
as alleged by plaintiff were run as boundaries, and not for the
purpose of finding the number of acres in the sections or legal
subdivisions 'for which purchasers would have to pay when the
government might dispose of the land.'"
Defendants' answer and cross-bill asserted that, in the year
1893, the State of Arkansas, by an act of its legislature,
"created the board of directors of the St. Francis Levee
District, the purpose being to erect a levee against the waters of
the Mississippi River and protect what is known as the St. Francis
Basin from overflow by the Mississippi River; that the lands
concerning which plaintiffs bring this suit and cross-complainants
file this cross-bill are a portion of the said St. Francis Basin,
and are originally and naturally subject to overflow from the
Mississippi River. That, after creating the board of directors of
the St. Francis Levee District, the State of Arkansas, by its
legislature, to aid in the erection of said levee, granted to the
board of directors of the St. Francis Levee District lands within
said district, the title to which was in
Page 206 U. S. 44
the State of Arkansas; that this act of donation by the
Legislature of the State of Arkansas went into effect on the
twenty-ninth day of March, 1893, and thereby the legal title to the
unsurveyed lands in Township 12 North, Range 6 East, and Township
12 North, Range 7 East, became vested in the board of directors of
the St. Francis Levee District,"
and that thereafter the said board of directors conveyed to
defendants' predecessors in title.
The supreme court, among other things, said that appellant
"the land in controversy by virtue of the contiguity of certain
lands, acquired by it from the United States, through the State of
Arkansas and other grantors, to what is called 'sunk lands' and
'Cut-Off lake.' This 'sunk land,' from appellant's land on one side
to the St. Francis River, a navigable stream, on the other, is
there four and six miles wide. In this area there are over ten
That "the official maps show that Cut-Off lake was the water
boundary of fractional sections 35 and 36," which, with sundry
other fractional sections, formed "the western boundary of what is
called Sunk lands,' in controversy."
The patents to the State of Arkansas conveyed "the whole of
Fractional Township" 12 North, Range 6 East, and "the whole of the
township except section sixteen," T. 12 N., R. 7 East.
The supreme court referred to and quoted from Horne v.
Smith, 159 U. S. 40
French-Glenn Live Stock Co. v. Springer, 185 U. S.
, and Niles v. Cedar Point Club, 175 U.
, and ruled that, in an action to quiet title to
wild and unoccupied lands, which the court found these were,
plaintiff must succeed, if at all, on the strength of his own
title, and not on the weakness of his adversary's, that swampy
lands, checked by bayous, subject to inundation, but reclaimable to
some extent for agricultural purposes, lying between the government
meander line and the main channel of a river, were not lands the
title to which would pass to the grantee by virtue of riparian
rights, that such was the character of the lands in controversy,
and that plaintiff had failed to show such
Page 206 U. S. 45
a condition in respect of them as would support its claim to
riparian rights; that the evidence showed that the elevation of the
swampy land between the meander line of plaintiff's land and the
main course of the St. Francis River had not changed since the
running of the meander line, and that the meander lines were
In view of the decisions of this Court in Horne v.
Smith, 159 U. S. 40
Niles v. Cedar Point Club, 175 U.
; Calumet Canal and Improvement Company v.
Kean, 190 U. S. 452
Iowa v. Rood, 187 U. S. 87
other cases, and of the findings of the court below, we are of
opinion that the jurisdiction of this Court to revise the
conclusions of that court cannot be maintained. Moreland
20 How. 522; Lanfear v.
4 Wall. 204; Dower v. Richards,
151 U. S. 658
Eagan v. Hart, 165 U. S. 188
Israel v. Arthur, 152 U. S. 355
Hardin v. Shedd, 190 U. S. 508
Romie v. Casanova, 91 U. S. 379
The result is unaffected by the exclusion from the evidence of a
letter written by the Secretary of the Interior to the Commissioner
of the General Land Office, November 17, 1902. It was clearly
res inter alios,
and properly rejected, and the ruling
presented no federal question.
Writ of error dismissed.