United States v. Pico,
72 U.S. 536 (1866)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Pico, 72 U.S. 536 (1866)

United States v. Pico

72 U.S. 536


l. When, in Mexican grants, boundaries are given and a limitation upon the quantity embraced within the boundaries is intended, words expressing such intention are generally used. In their absence, the extent of the grant is only subject to the limitation upon the power of the governor imposed by the colonization law of 1824.

2. Where a doubt arises upon the meaning of the grant as to the quantity ceded, reference may be had to the juridical possession delivered to the grantee. This proceeding involved an ascertainment and settlement of the boundaries of the land granted, by the appropriate officers of the government,

Page 72 U. S. 537

specially designated for that purpose, and had all the force and efficacy of a judicial determination. It bound the former government, and is equally binding upon the officers of our government.

3. A pueblo or town of Mexico, once formed and officially recognized, became entitled, under the laws of that country, to the use of certain lands, for its benefit and the benefit of its inhabitants, and the lands were upon petition set apart and assigned to it by the government. No other evidence of title than such assignment was required, nor was any other given. The disposition of the lands assigned was subject at all times to the control of the government of the country.

This was a proceeding for the confirmation of a claim to lands in California acquired under the Mexican government. The claim was for two tracts, one of which was designated as the Rancho of San Margarita and San Onofre, and the other as the Rancho of Las Flores.

The Rancho of San Margarita and San Onofre was acquired under a grant made in May, 1841. It describes the land as

"bordering to the north on the point called El Ballicito and La Tenega, to the west on the point of San Mateo, to the south on the boundaries of the Pueblo de las Flores and El Moro, and to the east on the land of the Cajon, according to what is shown is the sketch annexed to the expediente,"

and the testimony in the case showed that these boundaries were well known in the country and easily traced. In 1842, juridical possession was given to the grantees when the land was measured and its boundaries established, and ever since it has been occupied, cultivated, and improved by the grantees or parties claiming under them. In 1845, the concession was approved by the departmental assembly. The resolution of approval, after reciting the concession, and that it was made in conformity with the requirements of the laws, is as follows:

"It approves of the concession made by the superior government of the department in favor of the native-born Mexican citizens, Pio Pico and Anders Pico, of the locations known by the names of San Onofre and Santa Margarita, in extent twelve square leagues (sitios ganada mayor), in entire conformity with the law of the 18th of August, 1824, and article fifth of the regulations of 21st of November, 1828. "

Page 72 U. S. 538

The tract known as the Rancho of Las Flores was acquired by purchase from an Indian pueblo or town of that name. The record showed the existence of the pueblo and the assignment to it of the land in question by the officers of the Mexican government, and that subsequently the was transferred to the Picos, under the supervision and with the sanction of the local authorities.

The district court confirmed the claim to both ranches, stating in the decree that the tract confirmed contained twenty square leagues, and giving its boundaries specifically. From this decree the United States appealed.

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