In the case of an imperfect Spanish title to land in Louisiana,
a confirmation by Congress is inoperative unless the title or
survey under it will enable the court to ascertain the specific
boundaries of the land.
If, before a survey in such a case, an entry is made and a
patent taken out for land which conflicts with a subsequent survey
of the confirmed concession, the patentee has the better title.
Page 59 U. S. 474
The case is stated in the opinion of the Court.
MR. JUSTICE CATRON delivered the opinion of the Court.
The only question presented for our consideration is which party
has the better right to the land in dispute? The defendant, Black,
claims title under an entry made in 1808 and a patent founded on
the entry dated in 1810, in the name of General Lafayette, for a
thousand acres. The validity of this title as against the United
States is not denied, but the plaintiffs claim to have an elder
title by virtue of a concession to Ursino Bouligny of forty arpens
front by forty arpens in depth dated January 10, 1796, of which the
plaintiffs are assignees. They allege that under an Act of Congress
of February, 1813, Bouligny prosecuted his claim to the proper
register and receiver, who reported in its favor on the 20th of
November, 1816; that their report was confirmed by Act of Congress
the 11th of May, 1820, and that claim was regularly surveyed by
order of the Surveyor General of Louisiana in 1843 and the survey
approved in 1844.
To show the point made and decided on these facts by the Supreme
Court of Louisiana, we give an extract of their opinion, which is
found in the record:
"Conceding [says the court] for the sake of argument that the
claim of the plaintiffs was filed in the land office in the manner
required by law before the issuing of the patent to General
Lafayette; that it has been confirmed by the Act of Congress of the
11th of May, 1820, and that the confirmation should be made to
refer back to the date of the original title, unless that title or
a survey made under it by the Spanish surveyor in compliance with
the order of the governor will enable the court to ascertain the
specific boundaries of the land granted, the location of the
warrant under which the patent issued to General Lafayette cannot
be disturbed. We have uniformly adhered to the rule laid down by
our predecessors in the cases of Lefebvre v. Cameau,
La. 323; Slack v. Orillon,
11 La. 587; Lott v.
3 R.R. 293; Metoyer v. Larenaudiere,
"In the Case of Lott
the court said, referring to the
" We then held that when the boundaries of a confirmed claim
Page 59 U. S. 475
are vague and uncertain and are to be fixed by the operations of
the surveying department, or such confirmation is only the
recognition of a preexisting right or claim, and before the survey
and location the government sells a part of the land not
necessarily embraced within the tract confirmed, the title of the
purchaser will prevail."
"Let us test the title of the plaintiffs by that rule and
ascertain whether the land now claimed is necessarily embraced
within the tract confirmed to them, supposing that such a
confirmation had taken place."
"There was no survey under the Spanish government and no
possession by the grantee. The boundaries are to be ascertained
exclusively by the calls of the requete
and of the order
of the governor upon it. Both describe the land as a tract of forty
arpens front by forty deep in the District of Point Coupee en
called the Lagoon of the Raccourci. It is not
stated whether the land is to front upon the Lagoon or upon the
Mississippi River, and as one location would answer the calls as
well as the other, the description is perhaps on that ground alone
defective. Lafayette v. Blanc,
3 Ann. 59."
"But supposing that the front was intended to be upon the river,
where is it to begin, how is it to run and where is it to end?
Whether the words of description used mean at the place called the
Lagoon or in the vicinity of the Lagoon, the starting point of the
survey is alike uncertain, and the designation of it by the
surveyor who located the grant purely arbitrary, so far at least as
it affects the rights of the defendants."
Until the confirmation took place, supposing the act of 1820 did
confirm Bouligny's claim, no valid title as against the United
States was vested in the grantee to any specific tract of land. We
need only to refer to the case of De
Vilemont v. United States,
13 How. 266, for
authority to this effect. The cases are alike in all their
Nor did the mere act of confirmation tend to locate the claim
and sever the land from the public domain; this could only be done
by a public survey, and which was not done till 1844. Up to that
date, the government could sell and convey a legal title to General
Lafayette regardless of the fact that Bouligny's concession
existed, and might be surveyed on the land previously granted. This
question was settled by the decision in the case of
Menard's Heirs v.
8 How. 301, and is not now open to
We order that the judgment of the Supreme Court of Louisiana