United States v. Vallejo
Annotate this Case
66 U.S. 541 (1861)
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U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Vallejo, 66 U.S. 1 Black 541 541 (1861)
United States v. Vallejo
66 U.S. (1 Black) 541
1. The decree of the Spanish Cortes relative to crown lands passed in 1813, being inapplicable to the state of things which existed in Mexico after the revolution of 1820, could not have continued in force there unless expressly recognized by the Mexican Congress, and not then without being essentially modified.
2. The Spanish system of disposing of public lands was very different from that provided for by the Mexican law of 1824 and the regulations of 1828. The two laws being repugnant and inconsistent, the former was repealed by the latter.
3. The law of 1824 and the regulations of 1828 are the only laws of Mexico on the subject of granting the public lands in the territories, excepting those regulating towns and missions, and the authority of the governors and other officers is defined by them.
4. A paper purporting to be a grant of public land but not registered, recorded, or noted in the proper book is inconsistent with the known practice of every well regulated government, which requires that all such acts shall be enrolled.
5. A false note of the attesting secretary at the bottom of the grant to the effect that it has been registered is a serious objection to the claim under it.
Don Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo petitioned the land commission at San Francisco for confirmation of his claim to the tract known by the name of Suscol, bounded on the north by Tulucay, and Suisun on the east, and south by the Straits of Carquines, Mare Island, and Napa Bay. It includes the City of Benicia, the Town of Vallejo, the navy yard of the United States, and the depot of the Pacific Steamship company, and contains altogether about eighteen square leagues.
The documents introduced to show title in the claimants were:
1. A colonization grant to Vallejo dated 15 March, 1843, in the usual form, and with the usual conditions, signed by Micheltorena as governor, and countersigned by Francisco Arce as secretary ad interim.
2. Another grant bearing the date of June 19, 1844, reciting that Vallejo had requested the
purchase of the tract for the sum of five thousand dollars, that the governor had sold it to him for that sum, and received payment, and declaring him to be owner of the land without restriction. This paper also purported to be signed and countersigned by Micheltorena and Arce.
3. A certificate dated 26th of December, 1845, signed by Pio Pico as governor and attested by Jose Maria Covarrubias, setting forth that both the grants above mentioned had been approved by the departmental assembly on the 26th of September, 1845.
These papers were all produced from the private custody of the claimant himself. Neither of the grants is referred to in Jimeno's catalogue or recorded in the Toma de Razon, nor is any espediente found for either of them among the archives. The journals of the departmental assembly show that these grants were not before that body either on the 26th of September, 1845, as certified by Pico, or on any other day. The following official letter, dated at Angeles, March 16, 1843, addressed to "Colonel D. Guadalupe Vallejo, military commandant of the line from Santa Juez to Sonoma," signed Micheltorena, and sealed with the seal of the departmental government, was also produced by the claimant, and proved to be authentic by reference to the recorded correspondence of the governor for the period to which it belonged:
"I transmit to you the title of the place named Suscol, this government regretting that it cannot accept the first of the offers which you made because the supreme government of the nation has ordered that all back pay be suspended, which became due before the 1st of October, 1841, which will serve you as a rule with respect to your subordinates, which suspension was made to continue until the public treasury should be released from its embarrassments, and by which even I had to suffer a loss of a considerable amount, of some thousands of dollars; but I do accept the offer of the five thousand dollars in articles of the produce of the country for the troops, on account of the imperious necessity which I have for them, in order to maintain them, for which purpose I send the schooner California that you may have the goodness to load her with
five hundred fanegas of maize, two hundred and fifty of fijoles, two hundred arrobas of dried meat, and five hundred pairs of shoes or the material for making them, which I am told it will not be difficult for you to send, and surmising also that it will not be very inconvenient for you, I earnestly request that you will send me two thousand dollars in silver, in consideration of the fact that the treasury of the department is short of funds, as it has not received anything since my arrival, there having been no arrivals of vessels; and besides this, the troops of my expedition are daily furnished with cash in hand, as they are subject to a mode of payment, administration, and customs different from the presidial troops, as you know, in the same manner as the rest of the national army, and for which sum it will be exceedingly grateful. All of which I communicate to you for your information, assuring you at the same time of my consideration and esteem. God and Liberty!"
J. B. R. Cooper testified that he was captain of the California, a goleta or schooner of eighty-five tons burden belonging to the department and used to carry mails, troops, and supplies up and down the coast; that about the year 1842, or 1843, he took a full cargo of supplies, consisting of wheat, corn, barley, beans, peas, blankets, tanned leather, shoes, and deer skins, from Petaluma to San Diego; that these supplies were for Governor Micheltorena, and furnished by Vallejo; that the governor told him Vallejo had offered $20,000 for Suscol, and the witness understood these supplies were to go in payment.
Four witnesses (but the character of one was impeached) testified that the ranch was occupied by Vallejo for a long time before, as well as after, 1843; they speak of no occupancy by any other person, and say that he had buildings on it, many thousands of horses, cattle, and hogs, with extensive cultivation. It appeared, however, that the ranch was originally used by the mission of San Francisco Solano, and the first improvements on it were made by the padres. In 1839 it was taken by the government for military purposes, and it was under the supervision of Colonel Vallejo, because he was the commandant of the northern frontier, with his headquarters at Sonoma
and his private residence nearby, at Petaluma. Three witnesses on the part of the United States testified that they knew the land; that it was called the "Rancho Nacional;" that it was occupied and cultivated by soldiers of the Mexican army down to the time of the American conquest, when they were driven away; that all the stock upon it was public property, and used as such to supply the soldiers with beef &c.; and that Vallejo had possession of it for the government as a military officer; but they never heard of any private claim to it until long after the conquest.
Watson, a witness produced by the United States, swore that in 1848 he proposed to purchase a part of the land from Vallejo, and Vallejo then told him that he had bought it from the Suscol Indians, but he expected the United States government would swindle him out of it, and refused for that reason to sell with a warranty of title.
The evidence given by the claimant to establish the authenticity of the grants was contained in the deposition of Pablo de la Guerra, who declared on his oath that he knew the handwriting of Micheltorena and Arce and that their signatures to the two grants were genuine, to the best of his knowledge and belief. Arce, the attesting and official witness, was not called. After the evidence was closed and the cause submitted, a motion was made on the part of the United States to open it for the purpose of calling Arce on their part. This motion was founded on two affidavits expressing the belief of the affiants that Arce would prove the grants to be false. It was resisted, and the court refused to take off the submission.
The claimant took the deposition of I. D. Marks, who testified to conversations with Micheltorena in Mexico after he was Governor of California in which Micheltorena told him that he had extraordinary powers as governor, and that his acts had been approved. The same witness was also told by Jose Fernando Ramirez, Secretary of State of Mexico, that full powers to grant lands in California had been delegated to Micheltorena by Santa Anna, under the Bases of Tacubaya.
The district court affirmed the decree of the land commission,
approving the title and confirming the claim for the whole tract described in the petition, whereupon the United States took this appeal to the Supreme Court.