Crews v. Burcham
66 U.S. 352 (1861)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Crews v. Burcham, 66 U.S. 1 Black 352 352 (1861)

Crews v. Burcham

66 U.S. (1 Black) 352


1. Where a treaty with an Indian tribe reserves a certain quantity of land, to be afterwards selected by the President and patented to an individual of the tribe, such reservation creates an equitable estate in the reservee to the land reserved, which he may sell, and upon the selection and patenting of the land, the title will vest in his grantee.

2. This is held to be the rule in a case where the reservee conveyed his interest under the treaty, and died before the issuing of the patent.

3. In a contest between the grantee of the reservee himself under a conveyance before the patent, and the grantee of his heir under a deed made after the land was selected and patented, the title of the former party must prevail.

4. It is no objection to the right of the first grantee that the land finally patented did not lie within the district ceded by the treaty which made the reservation, because the recitals in the patent are conclusive and, at any rate, third parties have no right to impugn the patent for such a reason.

5. Where land has been laid out in town lots or otherwise divided among many occupants who are threatened with numerous suits, a bill in equity will lie to quiet the title, although the complainants have a legal title and therefore an adequate remedy in a court of law in each several case.

6. It cannot be said of a party that he is an innocent purchaser without notice if, before he purchased, the adverse title was duly recorded and persons claiming under that title were in actual possession.

By the treaty of 1832, the Pottawatomie Indians ceded to the United States all their lands in Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan south of the Grand River, and by the same treaty the United States agreed to grant certain quantities of land to certain members of the tribe -- among others, to Francis Besion a half section, to be selected for him by the President after survey. The half section was surveyed, selected, and a patent for it was duly issued in the name of Besion in 1845. Besion

Page 66 U. S. 353

died in 1843. Previous to his death and of course before the patent, he conveyed his interest in the half section of land to which he was entitled under the treaty to William Armstrong, with covenants of warranty and further assurance. After Besion's death and after the patent issued, his sister and sole heir conveyed the half section to Crews and Sherman. The plaintiffs below claim under the deed from Besion to Armstrong, and the defendants hold the title which was conveyed by Besion's heir after his death. The latter parties commenced actions at law against persons claiming through the former, and this bill was brought to quiet the title.

The main question was whether Besion, before the date of the patent, had, by virtue of the treaty, such a title as he could convey by deed, or whether the deed to Armstrong was void for want of an assignable interest in the grantor. The defendants insisted that the deed to Armstrong passed no title; that in fact no title to this particular land existed out of the United States until the patent; that the patent vested the title in Besion's heirs, and that the deed from Besion's sister gave the whole estate to her grantees.

The circuit court held that the grantee of Besion, in his lifetime, took under his deed all the estate which Besion had in the half section, that the patent, when it issued, inured to the use of Armstrong and the parties claiming under him, and that consequently the sister and heir of Besion had no estate which could pass to Crews and Sherman by her deed to them.

The incidental points which were taken on the hearing are sufficiently stated in the opinion of MR. JUSTICE NELSON.

The circuit court enjoined the defendants against prosecuting the action already commenced, against bringing any fresh actions, and against every other interference with the plaintiffs' rights. And thereupon the defendants appealed to this Court.

Page 66 U. S. 355

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