Union Naval Stores Co. v. United States,
240 U.S. 284 (1916)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Union Naval Stores Co. v. United States, 240 U.S. 284 (1916)

Union Naval Stores Company v. United States

No. 80

Submitted December 20, 1915

Decided February 21, 1916

240 U.S. 284


A claim of the United States for spirits of turpentine and rosin taken from government lands is not fatally defective because the crude and not the manufactured property was taken from the land, or because the land was described by the general description by which it was known, there being no other lands so known.

There being evidence from which the jury could form a reasonably certain estimate of amount of crude product taken by a trespasser from government land and the probable amount of manufactured product it would produce, held that defendant was not entitled to a peremptory instruction in his favor, or one to limit recovery to nominal damages, because the precise quantity was not shown.

Land entered by a homesteader remains public land of the United States for five years and until patent is issued, subject to the right of the homesteader to treat the land as his own so far, and only so far, as is necessary to carry out the purposes of the act, and such purposes do not include boxing and chipping trees for the purpose of extracting turpentine or rosin for sale and profit.

Such boxing and chipping is not cultivation, and, as government publications have pointed out, seriously affects the value of the trees.

The Act of June 4, 1906, c. 2571, 34 Stat. 208 (Crim.Code, § 51), prohibiting the boxing of trees on government land for turpentine, rendered criminal that which prior to the passage of the act was actionable, and one conducting, with full knowledge of the facts, in 1904 and 1905, turpentine operations on government land under an unperfected homestead entry was a willful trespasser, and ignorance of the law does not excuse him.

Where, as in this case, the trespass was willful, the United States is not divested of its property, but is entitled to the product manufactured by a third person who knowingly purchased the same from the trespasser.

One knowingly taking property of another cannot, by changing its form or increasing its value, or commingling it with other property of his own, acquire title by accession.

Page 240 U. S. 285

The fact that the purchaser had a mortgage on the product, both crude and manufactured, of the trespasser, which contained an after-acquired property clause and covered a large amount of other property held not to affect the right of the United States to recover that part of the manufactured product which the jury found was derived from the crude article taken from government land.

One knowingly purchasing a manufactured article from a trespasser who converted the crude article must account for the value as manufactured, and can take no credit for the work and labor of the wrongdoer in manufacturing it.

202 F. 491 affirmed.

The facts, which involve the liability of one who improperly converted turpentine and rosin from government lands, are stated in the opinion.

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