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U.S. Supreme Court

Catholic Bishop of Nesqually v. Gibbon, 158 U.S. 155 (1895)

Catholic Bishop of Nesqually v. Gibbon

No 277

Argued April 9-10, 1895

Decided May 6, 1895

158 U.S. 155


No question as to jurisdiction in this case having been taken in the court below or here, this court waives the inquiry whether an objection to the jurisdiction might not, if seasonably taken, have compelled a dismissal.

In the administration of the public lands, the decisions of the land department upon questions of fact are conclusive, and only questions of law can be reviewed in the courts.

In the absence of some specific provision to the contrary in respect of any particular grant of public land, its administration falls wholly and absolutely within the jurisdiction of the Commissioner of the General Land Office, under the supervision' and direction of the Secretary of the Interior.

The decision of the Secretary of the Interior of March 11, 1872, sustaining the claim of the plaintiff in error to a small tract -- less than half an acre -- of the 640 acres claimed under the Act of August 14, 1848, c. 177, 9 Stat. 323, if not conclusive upon the plaintiff in law, was right in fact.

In section 1 of the Act of Congress of August 14, 1848, establishing the territorial government of Oregon, is the following proviso:

"Provided also that the title to the land, not exceeding six hundred and forty acres, now occupied as missionary stations among the Indian tribes in said territory, together with the improvements thereon, be confirmed and established in the several religious societies to which said missionary stations respectively belong."

9 Stat. 323. Oregon, as then organized, included all that region west of the Rocky Mountains and north of the forty-second degree of north latitude, part of which became afterwards the Territory, and later the State, of Washington.

In February, 1887, the appellant, as plaintiff, commenced a suit in the District Court of the Second Judicial District of Washington Territory against the defendants, John Gibbon, T. M. Anderson, and R. T. Yeatman. In the bill then filed, the plaintiff alleged that under and by virtue of the foregoing

Page 158 U. S. 156

proviso, it was entitled to a tract of 640 acres at and adjacent to the present Town of Vancouver, 430 acres of which were in the occupancy of the defendants, as officers and soldiers of the United States, who held the same as a military reservation, and the prayer was for an injunction, a decree of title, and a surrender of possession. Under the direction of the Attorney General, the United States Attorney for the Territory of Washington entered the appearance of the United States and filed an answer in behalf of all of the defendants. While the case was pending in the territorial courts, Washington was admitted as a state, and the case was thereupon transferred to the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Washington. In that court, upon pleadings and proof, a decree was entered in favor of the defendants, dismissing the bill. 44 F.3d 1. From such decree the plaintiff appealed to this Court.

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