Michigan v. Wisconsin
Annotate this Case
270 U.S. 295 (1926)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Michigan v. Wisconsin, 270 U.S. 295 (1926)
Michigan v. Wisconsin
Argued January 5, 1926
Decided March 1, 1926
270 U.S. 295
1. Long acquiescence by one state in the possession of territory, and in the exercise of sovereignty and dominion over it, by another
2. Where part of the boundary between two states was described in the enabling act of the one senior in time of admission as the center of the main channel of a river, but, in the enabling act and act of admission of the junior state, as the river, with specific provision that the line be so run as to include within the jurisdiction of that state all the islands in a designated stretch of the river, held that the two acts last mentioned gave the junior state color of title, so that her original and long continued possession of, and assertion and exercise of dominion and jurisdiction over, most of the islands on the other side of the channel extended her adverse possession to all of them in the absence of actual possession of, or exercise of dominion over, any part of the included territory by the other state, the area within the described boundary, both land and water, being considered as together constituting a single tract of territory. P. 270 U. S. 313.
3. The controversy in this suit involved portions of the boundary between Michigan and Wisconsin extending from Lake Superior via the Montreal River, Lake of the Desert, and Menominee River to Green Bay, and thence through the center of the most usual ship channel to the center of Lake Michigan. From the evidence summarized in the opinion, the Court concludes:
(1) That the description, in the enabling act under which Michigan was admitted as a state in 1837, of a line from the mouth of the Montreal River to the Lake of the Desert was inserted under the mistaken belief that the river connected with the lake; that this mistake was discovered as early as 1841, of which discovery Michigan, long prior to the admission of Wisconsin, had knowledge; that the line, as claimed by Wisconsin, which pursues the easterly branch of the river (instead of the westerly, now claimed by Michigan as the one originally intended) and which runs from a monument at the head of that branch in a direct course to the Lake of the Desert, was surveyed and marked by government surveyors in 1841 and 1847; that Michigan not only assented to the result of these surveys, but actively participated in securing the insertion of the description of that line in the Wisconsin Enabling Act, and herself substantially adopted it by her Constitution of 1850; that, for a period of more than 60 years, she stood by without objection with full knowledge of the possession, acts of dominion, and claim and exercise of jurisdiction on the part of Wisconsin over the area in question; that, in addition, the line as claimed by Wisconsin has been, from the time of the survey of 1847, accepted as the true
one by the United States and, in its surveys, plats and maps, sales, and other acts in respect of the public lands, continuously and consistently recognized, with the knowledge of Michigan and without protest on her part; that there is no merit in the contention of Michigan that she labored under an excusable mistake, and that the territory between the two opposing lines belongs to Wisconsin in view of her long continued possession, etc., acquiesced in by Michigan. P. 270 U. S. 301.
(2) That, upon like considerations, where the line was described in the Michigan Enabling Act as running through the fork of the Menominee River whose headwaters were nearest in direct line to the Lake of the Desert and down the center of the main channel of the Menominee to Green Bay, and in the Wisconsin Enabling Act as running from Lake Brule, along its southern shore to Brule River, thence down that river to the Menominee, and down the main channel of the Menominee to its mouth, with specific directions that the line be so run as to include within Michigan all the islands in the Brule and the Menominee down to and inclusive of Quinnesec Falls, and within Wisconsin all the islands in that river between those falls and its junction with Green Bay, the boundary, as fixed and established by long acquiescence, follows the channels of the Brule and Menominee Rivers wherever they are free from islands, but wherever islands are encountered above the Quinnesec Falls, it follows the channel nearest the Wisconsin mainland, so as to throw all such islands into Michigan, and wherever islands are encountered below those falls, it follows the channel nearest the Michigan mainland, so as to throw all such islands into Wisconsin. P. 270 U. S. 308.
(3) That, upon like considerations, the boundary through Green Bay to Lake Michigan, (described in both enabling acts as "the most usual ship channel") is not the channel claimed by Michigan, which runs easterly across the bay to near the westerly shore of Door County peninsular, and thence northerly and through Death's Door Channel to the lake, but the channel claimed by Wisconsin, which goes north from the Menominee to a point opposite Rock Island Passage, and through that passage to he lake, the title of Wisconsin to the disputed area being established by long possession of and dominion over the included islands, acquiesced in by Michigan. P. 270 U. S. 314.
4. In a boundary suit between states, the costs are generally to be divided. P. 270 U. S. 319.
Suit brought in this Court by Michigan against Wisconsin to determine boundary questions.