1. The opinion of the Court of Claims may not be referred to for
the purpose of altering or modifying the scope of unambiguous
findings. P. 304 U. S.
2. The right of the Shoshone Tribe in the lands set apart for it
under the treaty of July 3, 1868, with the United States included
the mineral and timber resources of the reservation, and the value
of these was properly included in fixing the amount of compensation
due for so much of the lands as was taken by the United States. P.
304 U. S.
3. The phrase "absolute and undisturbed use and occupation" in
the treaty is to be read, with other parts of the treaty, in the
light of the purpose of the arrangement made, the relation between
the parties, and the settled policy of the Government to deal
fairly with the Indian tribes. P. 304 U. S.
Page 304 U. S. 112
4. Treaties made by the United States with Indian tribes are not
to be construed narrowly, but rather in the sense in which
naturally the Indians would understand them. P. 304 U. S.
85 Ct.Cs. 331 affirmed.
Certiorari, 303 U.S. 629, to review a judgment against the
United States in a suit brought by the Indian Tribe under the
special jurisdictional Act of March 3, 1927. For an earlier phase
of the case, see 299 U. S. 299
MR. JUSTICE BUTLER delivered the opinion of the Court.
The Shoshone Tribe brought this suit to recover the value of
part of its reservation taken by the United States by putting upon
it, without the tribe's consent, a band of Arapahoe Indians. The
Court of Claims found the taking to have been in August, 1891,
ascertained value as of that date, on that basis fixed the amount
of compensation, and gave judgment accordingly. We held,
299 U. S. 299
476, that the court erred as to the date of the taking, declared it
to have been March 19, 1878, reversed the judgment, and remanded
the case for further proceedings. Then the lower court proceeded to
determine the value of the tribe's right at the time of the taking,
and the amount to be added to produce the present worth of the
money equivalent of the property, paid contemporaneously with the
taking. It heard evidence, made additional findings, and gave
plaintiff judgment for $4,408,444.23, with interest from its date
until paid. This Court granted writ of certiorari.
Page 304 U. S. 113
The sole question for decision is whether, as the United States
contends, the Court of Claims erred in holding that the right of
the tribe included the timber and mineral resources within the
The findings show: the United States, by the treaty of July 2,
1863, 18 Stat. 685, set apart for the Shoshone Tribe a reservation
of 44,672,000 acres located in Colorado, Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming.
By the treaty of July 3, 1868, 15 Stat. 673, the tribe ceded that
reservation to the United States. And by it, the United States
agreed that the "district of country" 3,054,182 acres definitely
"shall be and the same is set apart for the absolute and
undisturbed use and occupation of the Shoshone Indians . . . , and
the United States now solemnly agrees that no persons,"
with exceptions not important here, "shall ever be permitted to
pass over, settle upon, or reside in" that territory. The Indians
agreed that they would make the reservation their permanent home.
The treaty provided that any individual member of the tribe having
specified qualifications might select a tract within the
reservation which should then cease to be held in common, and be
occupied and held in the exclusive possession of the person
selecting it, and of his family, while he or they continued to
cultivate it. It declared:
"Congress shall provide for protecting the rights of the Indian
settlers . . . , and may fix the character of the title held by
each. The United States may pass such laws on the subject of
alienation and descent of property as between Indians, and on all
subjects connected with the government of the Indians on said
reservations, and the internal police thereof, as may be thought
The treaty emphasized the importance of education; the United
States agreed to provide a schoolhouse and teacher for every thirty
children, and the tribe promised to send the children to school.
The United States also agreed to provide instruction by a farmer
Page 304 U. S. 114
cultivating the soil, clothing for members of the tribe, and a
physician, carpenter, miller, engineer, and blacksmith. It
stipulated that no treaty for the cession of any portion of the
reservation held in common should be valid as against the Indians
unless signed by at least a majority of all interested male adults,
and that no cession by the tribe should be construed to deprive any
member of his right to any tract of land selected by him.
When the treaty of 1868 was made, the tribe consisted of
full-blood blanket Indians unable to read, write, or speak English.
Upon consummation of the treaty, the tribe went, and has since
remained, upon the reservation. It was known to contain valuable
mineral deposits -- gold, oil, coal, and gypsum. It included more
than 400,000 acres of timber, extensive well grassed bench lands,
and fertile river valleys conveniently irrigable. It was well
protected by mountain ranges and a divide, and was the choicest and
best-watered portion of Wyoming.
In 1904, the Shoshones and Arapahoes ceded to the United States
1,480,000 acres to be held by it in trust for the sale of such
timber lands, timber, and other products, and for the making of
leases for various purposes. The net proceeds were to be credited
to the Indians. From 1907 to 1919, there were allotted to members
of the tribes 245,058 acres.
The court's finding of the ultimate fact is:
"The fair and reasonable value of a one-half undivided interest
of the Shoshone or Wind River Reservation of a total of 2,343,540
acres, which was taken by the United States on March 19, 1878, from
the Shoshone Tribe of Indians for the Northern Arapahoe Tribe, was,
on March 19, 1878, $1,581,889.50."
That is $1.35 per acre for 1, 171,770 acres, one-half of the
reservation in 1878 at the time of taking. The United States does
not challenge the principle or
Page 304 U. S. 115
basis upon which the court determined the amount to be added to
constitute just compensation.
The substance of the government's point is that, in fixing the
value of the tribe's right, the lower court included as belonging
to the tribe substantial elements of value, ascribable to mineral
and timber resources, which in fact belonged to the United
It contends that the Shoshones' right to use and occupy the
lands of the reservation did not include the ownership of the
timber and minerals, and that the opinion of the court below
departs from the general principles of law regarding Indian land
tenure and the uniform policy of the government in dealing with
Indian tribes. It asks for reversal with
"directions to determine the value of the Indians' right of use
and occupancy, but to exclude therefrom 'the net value of the
lands' and 'the net value of any timber or minerals.'"
The findings are unambiguous; there is no room for construction.
The opinion of the Court of Claims may not be referred to for the
purpose of eking out, controlling, or modifying the scope of the
findings. Stone v. United States, 164 U.
, 164 U. S. 383
Luckenbach S.S. Co. v. United States, 272 U.
, 272 U. S.
-540. Cf. American Propeller & Mfg. Co. v.
United States, 300 U. S. 475
300 U. S.
In this case, we have held, 299 U. S. 299
476, 299 U. S. 484
that the tribe had the right of occupancy, with all its beneficial
incidents; that, the right of occupancy being the primary one and
as sacred as the fee, division by the United States of the
Shoshones' right with the Arapahoes was an appropriation of the
land pro tanto;
that, although the United States always
had legal title to the land and power to control and manage the
affairs of the Indians, it did not have power to give to others or
to appropriate to its own use any part of the land without
rendering, or assuming the obligation to pay, just compensation to
Page 304 U. S. 116
for that would be not the exercise of guardianship or
management, but confiscation.
It was not then necessary to consider, but we are now called
upon to decide, whether, by the treaty, the tribe acquired
beneficial ownership of the minerals and timber on the reservation.
The phrase "absolute and undisturbed use and occupation" is to be
read, with other parts of the document, having regard to the
purpose of the arrangement made, the relation between the parties,
and the settled policy of the United States fairly to deal with
Indian tribes. In treaties made with them, the United States seeks
no advantage for itself; friendly and dependent Indians are likely
to accept without discriminating scrutiny the terms proposed. They
are not to be interpreted narrowly, as sometimes may be writings
expressed in words of art employed by conveyancers, but are to be
construed in the sense in which naturally the Indians would
understand them. Worcester v.
6 Pet. 515, 31 U. S. 582
Jones v. Meehan, 175 U. S. 1
175 U. S. 11
Starr v. Long Jim, 227 U. S. 613
227 U. S.
The principal purpose of the treaty was that the Shoshones
should have, and permanently dwell in, the defined district of
country. To that end, the United States granted and assured to the
tribe peaceable and unqualified possession of the land in
perpetuity. Minerals and standing timber are constituent elements
of the land itself. United States v.
19 Wall. 591; British-American Oil
Producing Co. v. Board of Equalization, 299 U.
, 299 U. S.
-165. For all practical purposes, the tribe owned the
land. Grants of land subject to the Indian title by the United
States, which had only the naked fee, would transfer no beneficial
interest. Leavenworth, L. & G. R. Co. v. United
States, 92 U. S. 733
92 U. S.
-743; Beecher v. Wetherby, 95 U. S.
, 95 U. S. 525
The right of perpetual and exclusive occupancy of the land is not
less valuable than full title in fee. See
Page 304 U. S. 117
Holden v. Joy,
17 Wall. 211, 84 U. S. 244
Western Union Tel. Co. v. Pennsylvania R. Co.,
195 U. S. 540
195 U. S.
The treaty, though made with knowledge that there were mineral
deposits and standing timber in the reservation, contains nothing
to suggest that the United States intended to retain for itself any
beneficial interest in them. The words of the grant, coupled with
the government's agreement to exclude strangers, negative the idea
that the United States retained beneficial ownership. The grant of
right to members of the tribe severally to select and hold tracts
on which to establish homes for themselves and families, and the
restraint upon cession of land held in common or individually,
suggest beneficial ownership in the tribe. As transactions between
a guardian and his wards are to be construed favorably to the
latter, doubts, if there were any, as to ownership of lands,
minerals, or timber would be resolved in favor of the tribe. The
cession in 1904 by the tribe to the United States in trust reflects
a construction by the parties that supports the tribe's claim, for
if it did not own, creation of a trust to sell or lease for its
benefit would have been unnecessary and inconsistent with the
rights of the parties.
Although the United States retained the fee, and the tribe's
right of occupancy was incapable of alienation or of being held
otherwise than in common, that right is as sacred, and as securely
safeguarded as is fee simple absolute title. Cherokee
Nation v. Georgia,
5 Pet. 1, 30 U. S. 48
Worcester v. Georgia, supra, 31 U. S. 580
Subject to the conditions imposed by the treaty, the Shoshone Tribe
had the right that has always been understood to belong to Indians,
undisturbed possessors of the soil from time immemorial. Provisions
in aid of teaching children and of adult education in farming, and
to secure for the tribe medical and mechanical service, to
safeguard tribal and individual titles, when taken with other parts
Page 304 U. S. 118
treaty, plainly evidence purpose on the part of the United
States to help to create an independent permanent farming community
upon the reservation. Ownership of the land would further that
purpose. In the absence of definite expression of intention so to
do, the United States will not be held to have kept it from them.
The authority of the United States to prescribe title by which
individual Indians may hold tracts selected by them within the
reservation, to pass laws regulating alienation and descent and for
the government of the tribe and its people upon the reservation
detracts nothing from the tribe's ownership, but was reserved for
the more convenient discharge of the duties of the United States as
guardian and sovereign.
United States v. Cook, supra,
gives no support to the
contention that, in ascertaining just compensation for the Indian
right taken, the value of mineral and timber resources in the
reservation should be excluded. That case did not involve
adjudication of the scope of Indian title to land, minerals, or
standing timber, but only the right of the United States to
replevin logs cut and sold by a few unauthorized members of the
tribe. We held that, as against the purchaser from the wrongdoers,
the United States was entitled to possession. It was not there
decided that the tribe's right of occupancy in perpetuity did not
include ownership of the land or mineral deposits or standing
timber upon the reservation, or that the tribe's right was the mere
equivalent of, or like, the title of a life tenant.
The lower court did not err in holding that the right of the
Shoshone Tribe included the timber and minerals within the
MR. JUSTICE STONE and MR. JUSTICE CARDOZO took no part in the
consideration or decision of this case.
MR. JUSTICE REED dissents.