Higueras v. United States,
72 U.S. 827 (1866)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Higueras v. United States, 72 U.S. 5 Wall. 827 827 (1866)

Higueras v. United States

72 U.S. (5 Wall.) 827


1. Land claims arising by virtue of a right or title derived from the Spanish or Mexican government are required to be presented to the land commissioners for adjudication.

2. Final decrees in such cases, whether made by the commissioners or by the district court, unless an appeal is taken, are conclusive between the United States and the claimants.

3. Confirmation alone, however, did not, under the original act, confer upon the claimant a right to a patent, but it was made the duty of the surveyor general, as a condition to the granting of the same, to cause such claim, if finally confirmed, to be accurately surveyed, and to furnish plats of the same to the Land Office.

4. But the second section of the subsequent act conferred jurisdiction upon the district court to order such surveys to be returned into that court for examination.

5. Authority is also conferred upon the court to set the survey aside and annul the same or to correct and modify it.

6. Parties may except to any such order or decree and appeal from the same, but the questions for decision here are those only which are presented in the exceptions.

Page 72 U. S. 828

7. Such an appeal does not open the decree of confirmation for revision, because that decree is the foundation of the survey.

8. Unless the decree of confirmation is a valid decree, there cannot be a valid survey, as the latter is founded upon the former.

9. Mexican governors made three kinds of grants or concessions of vacant public lands. 1. Grants by specific boundaries, where the donee is en titled to the entire tract described. 2. Grants by quantity, as of one or more leagues of land situated in a larger tract, and usually described by outboundaries, where the donee is entitled to the quantity specified, and no more. 3. Grants of a certain place or rancho by some particular name, either with or without specific boundaries, where the donee is entitled to the tract according to the boundaries, if given, and if not according to the limits of the possession and settlement.

10. Boundaries of the claim in this case are given in the decree of confirmation, and as neither party appealed from that decree, they are not now at liberty to question its correctness or to ask for any modification of its terms.

11. Construction of the decree must be governed by the ordinary rules of the common law, as it is a decree of a federal court sitting in a state where the common law prevails.

12. Terms of the decree, taken as a whole, are sufficiently definite and complete to secure to the claimants all their legal rights.

13. Errors exist undoubtedly in the courses specified in the decree, but the general rule in such cases is that courses and distances must give place to monuments and physical boundaries described in the grant, and when that rule is applied in the case, there is no such uncertainty as is supposed.

14. First course is from the back of the principal house to the lone tree, which is not the subject of dispute. Second course is from the lone tree along the sierra to the adjoining rancho. Third course runs westwardly along the northern line of that rancho to the arroyo, which is well known. Fourth course runs up the arroyo to the estuary, and from that point to the place of beginning.

15. Correct, as above, the courses of the described lines by the monuments given, as should be done, and the boundaries of the tract are specific and complete, and the survey and decree describe the same land.

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