1. An Act of Congress, 14 Stat. 239, granted to a railroad
company, to aid in the construction of its road, every section of
public land designated by odd numbers, to the amount of "twenty
alternate sections per mile (ten on each side) of said railroad
line," and provided that where any of said sections or parts of
sections should be found to have been granted, sold, reserved,
occupied by homestead settlers, preempted, or otherwise disposed
of, the company should, in lieu thereof, select, under the
direction of the Secretary of the Interior, other lands nearest to
the limits of said sections, and not more than ten miles beyond
them. There being a deficiency of said sections to satisfy the
grant, the company, with the approval of said Secretary, selected
as part indemnity a quarter of an odd-numbered section of public
land within ten miles beyond those limits, and obtained a patent
therefor from the United States. When so selected, it was within a
tract formerly covered by a Mexican claim, which, although sub
at the date of the act, had been finally rejected as
that the patent conveyed a perfect title to
2. Newhall v. Sanger, 92 U. S. 761
and distinguished from this case.
This is a suit in equity brought by Ryan to enjoin and restrain
the Central Pacific Railroad Company from relying upon or using as
evidence a patent issued to it by the United States for a certain
tract of land in California.
The company is successor to the California and Oregon Railroad
Company, to which, in aid of the construction of a railroad,
Congress granted land by an Act approved July 25, 1866, 14 Stat.
239, entitled "An Act granting lands to aid in the construction of
a railroad and telegraph line from the Central Pacific Railroad, in
California, to Portland, in Oregon," the second section whereof is
set out in the opinion of the Court.
Page 99 U. S. 383
The land in controversy is situated within the indemnity or
ten-mile limits beyond the alternate sections first named in the
act, and at its date was within the exterior boundaries of a
certain Mexican claim known as the Manuel Diaz grant, which was
finally rejected as invalid, March 3, 1873.
Oct. 30, 1874, the company finding that there were not
sufficient odd-numbered sections within the limits of its grant,
not otherwise granted, &c., to make the quantity to which it
was entitled, made selection of the land in controversy, the same
being then public land, and applied for a patent therefor, in all
respects in the manner provided by said act. This selection was
examined by the register and receiver of the proper land office,
and it appearing to them that there were not sufficient alternate
sections within the twenty-mile limits of the railroad grant, not
otherwise granted, &c., to satisfy the grant, they, Dec. 26,
1874, approved the selection as indemnity for a portion of the
lands so lost, and thereafter forwarded the same to the
Commissioner of the General Land Office. The selection was
thereupon approved by the Secretary of the Interior, and a patent
was issued to the company, March 17, 1875.
Ryan being in all respects qualified to avail himself of the
provisions of an act of Congress, entitled "An Act to secure
homesteads to actual settlers on the public domain," approved May
20, 1862, 12 Stat. 392, filed an application, July 14, 1876,
accompanied by his affidavit, as required by said act, in the
proper land office, to be allowed to enter as a homestead the
quarter-section so selected by, and patented to, the company; and
he thereupon paid the lawful fees, and received a duplicate receipt
from the register and receiver therefor. He subsequently built a
house thereon, and, Nov. 4, 1876, moved with his family into said
house, where he continued to reside until the commencement of this
suit. He alleges that the said patent is held and asser*ted by the
company in hostility to his title.
The court dismissed the bill, and Ryan appealed here.
Page 99 U. S. 385
MR. JUSTICE SWAYNE delivered the opinion of the Court.
After this case was submitted to the court upon printed
Page 99 U. S. 386
arguments by the counsel of the parties, the Attorney General
expressed a wish to be heard in behalf of the United States, and an
oral argument was thereupon ordered. The case was argued in that
way, fully and ably, by that officer and by the counsel for the
appellee, and I am directed now to deliver the opinion of the
There is no controversy about the facts.
By the Act of Congress of July 25, 1866, Congress granted
certain lands to the California and Oregon Railroad Company. The
appellee claims under that grantee, and has succeeded to its
rights. At the date of the act, there was pending a claim for the
confirmation of a Mexican grant, which embraced within its
boundaries the premises in controversy between these parties. The
appellant insists that he has a paramount title not under but by
reason of this claim, as will hereafter appear.
The second section of the act referred to is as follows:
"SEC. 2. And be it further enacted that there be, and hereby is,
granted to the said companies, their successors and assigns, for
the purpose of aiding in the construction of said railroad and
telegraph line and to secure the safe and speedy transportation of
the mails, troops, munitions of war, and public stores over the
line of said railroad every alternate section of public land not
mineral, designated by odd numbers, to the amount of twenty
alternate sections per mile (ten on each side) of said railroad
line, and when any of said alternate sections or parts of sections
shall be found to have been granted, sold, reserved, occupied by
homestead settlers, preempted or otherwise disposed of, other
lands, designated as aforesaid, shall be selected by said companies
in lieu thereof, under the direction of the Secretary of the
Interior, in alternate sections designated by odd numbers as
aforesaid, nearest to and not more than ten miles beyond the limits
of the said first-named alternate sections,"
&c. 14 Stat. 239.
Under this statute, when the road was located and the maps were
made, the right of the company to the odd sections first named
became ipso facto
fixed and absolute. With respect to the
"lieu lands," as they are called, the right was only a float, and
attached to no specific tracts until the selection was actually
made in the manner prescribed.
On the 3d of March, 1873, the alleged Mexican grant was
Page 99 U. S. 387
declared invalid by this court and finally rejected. On the 30th
of October, 1874, it was found there was not enough of the
alternate odd sections within the primary limits to satisfy the
grant to the railroad company. On that day, the appellee selected
the land in question. Though not within them, it was within the
indemnity limits prescribed in the act and was intended in so far
to supply the deficiency within the former. The selection was
approved by the local land officers on the 26th of December, 1874.
This approval was confirmed by the Secretary of the Interior, and a
patent in due form was issued to the appellee on the 17th of March,
1875. At the time of the selection, the premises were public land.
The Mexican claim had been rejected by this Court more than a year
and a half before, and the land was not within any exception
expressed or implied in the act. Afterwards, on the 14th of July,
1876, the appellant being in all respects qualified, filed an
application in due form to be allowed to enter the land in question
under the homestead act of 1862. He paid the proper fees and
received a duplicate receipt from the register and receiver of the
land office of the district. He filed this bill to restrain the
appellee from availing itself of the patent upon the ground that
the land was not subject to selection in lieu of the deficit of odd
sections within the twenty-mile limits specifically granted by the
After this plain statement of the case, it is difficult to
imagine any defect that can exist in the title of the appellee or
any right, legal or equitable, that the appellant can have.
But it is said the case is within the principle established in
Newhall v. Sanger, 92 U. S. 761
must be controlled by that adjudication. This is the sole objection
to the appellee's title, and it is founded in a mistake. The two
cases are distinguishable by a broad line of demarcation.
In the former case, the lands covered by the false Mexican claim
were situated within the limits of the territory where the right of
the company attached to the designated odd sections granted when
the road was located and the requisite maps were made. At that
time, the claim was in litigation, and sub judice.
court held that under these circumstances the premises were not
"public land" within the meaning of the
Page 99 U. S. 388
law, and could not become such until the title of the government
was vindicated by the defeat of the claim, and that the patent
issued to the railroad company was therefore void.
After the Mexican claim had been disposed of and before a new
appropriation was made or attempted to be made by the company, the
junior patent was issued to another party, and it was held that he
had a valid title. The Mexican claim was finally rejected by this
Court on the 13th of February, 1865. It was insisted by the company
that the judgment should be held to relate back to the first day of
the term, so as to disembarrass the title of the claim as of that
date. This was refused. The Court said,
"to antedate the rejection of a claim so as to render operative
a grant which would be otherwise without effect does not promote
the ends of justice, and cannot be sanctioned."
It was admitted by clear implication that if the lands had been
thus disembarrassed at the date of the grant or their withdrawal
from sale, the elder patent would have been valid.
Again, speaking of lands embraced in such a claim, the Court
"they were regarded as forming a part of our public domain only
after the claim covering them had been finally rejected. . . . They
then became public in the just meaning of that term, and were
subject to the disposing power of Congress."
Here, the land was not a part of the alternate odd sections
specifically granted. It was not within the limits of that
territory. There, there was a deficiency.
It was within the secondary or indemnity territory where that
deficiency was to be supplied. The railroad company had not and
could not have any claim to it until specially selected, as it was,
for that purpose. It was taken to help satisfy the grant to the
extent that the odd sections originally given failed to meet its
requirements. When so selected, there was no Mexican or other claim
impending over it. It had ceased to be sub judice,
no longer in litigation. It was as much "public land" as any other
part of the national domain. The patent gave the same title to the
appellee that a like patent for any other public land would have
given to any other party. The Mexican claim, when condemned, lost
its vitality. From
Page 99 U. S. 389
that time, as regards the future, it ceased to be a factor to be
considered, and was in all respects as if it had never existed. In
this state of things, the appellee acquired its title, and that
title is indefeasible.
Newhall v. Sanger
applies only where the adverse claim
is undisposed of when the grant would otherwise take effect. It has
no application as to the future after the claim has ceased to
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN concurred in the judgment because Ryan, upon
the face of his bill, was not entitled to any relief from a court
of equity. The bill should have been dismissed without any
consideration of the merits of the case, about which he expressed