STONEROAD V. STONEROAD, 158 U. S. 240 (1895)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Stoneroad v. Stoneroad, 158 U.S. 240 (1895)

Stoneroad v. Stoneroad

No. 11

Submitted November 9, 1893

Decided May 20, 1895

158 U.S. 240


The Act of Congress of June 21, 1860, c. 167, confirming the claim,of Preston Beck, Jr., to a grant of land from Mexico made before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, by necessary implication contemplated that the grant should be thereafter surveyed, and that such survey was essential for the purpose of definitely segregating the land confirmed from the public domain.

Such survey could only be made by the proper officer of the political department of the government, but notice thereof was not necessary.

Such survey having been made by such officer, and on the trial of this case evidence having been introduced tending to show that land of the defendant in controversy lay outside of the lines of that survey, but within the limits of the designated boundaries of the grant under which the plaintiff claimed, the defendant was entitled to have the jury instructed that if they found from the evidence that the grant had been properly surveyed by the United States, and that that survey had been approved, as the correct location of the grant, and that the land in dispute in the defendant's occupation and possession was outside the limits of the survey, they must find for the defendant, although they might believe that the land so in dispute was within the boundaries of the grant as set forth in the original title papers thereof.

The right of the defendant in error to avail himself of the legal privilege of appeal from the survey to the Secretary of the Interior is not concluded by any expression of opinion by the Court in this case.

In 1854, Congress passed "An act to establish the offices of surveyor general of New Mexico, Kansas, and Nebraska, to grant donations to actual settlers therein, and for other purposes." Act of July 22, 1854, c. 103, 10 Stat. 308. Sections 8 and 9 of this law read as follows:

"SEC. 8. And be it further enacted that it shall be the duty of the surveyor general, under such instructions as may be given by the Secretary of the Interior, to ascertain the origin, nature, character, and extent of all claims to lands under the laws, usages, and customs of Spain and Mexico,

Page 158 U. S. 241

and for this purpose may issue notices, summons witnesses, administer oaths, and do and perform all other necessary acts in the premises. He shall make a full report on all such claims as originated before the cession of the territory to the United States by the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, of eighteen hundred and forty-eight, denoting the various grades of title, with his decision as to the validity or invalidity of each of the same under the laws, usages, and customs of the country before its cession to the United States, and shall also make a report in regard to all pueblos existing in the territory, showing the extent and locality of each, stating the number of inhabitants in the said pueblos respectively, and the nature of their titles to the land. Such report to be made according to the form which may be prescribed by the Secretary of the Interior, which report shall be laid before Congress for such action thereon as may be deemed just and proper, with a view to confirm bona fide grants and give full effect to the treaty of eighteen hundred and forty-eight between the United States and Mexico, and, until the final action of Congress on such claims, all lands covered thereby shall be reserved from sale or other disposal by the government, and shall not be subject to the donations granted by the previous provisions of this act."

"SEC. 9. And be it further enacted that full power and authority are hereby given the Secretary of the Interior to issue all needful rules and regulations for fully carrying into effect the several provisions of this act."

Under these provisions, Preston Beck, Jr., a citizen of the United States and a resident of the Territory of New Mexico, presented his petition to the surveyor general on May 10, 1855, to be recognized as the legal owner in fee of a certain tract of land lying in the County of San Miguel in that territory, "known as the Hacienda de San Juan Bautista del Ojito del Rio de las Gallinas," and bounded

"on the north by the landmarks of the sitio of Don Antonio Oritz and the mesa of the arguage de la Yegua, on the south by the River Pecos, on the east by the mesa of Pajarito, on the west by the point of the mesa of the Chupaines. . . . And the

Page 158 U. S. 242

said Preston Beck, the 'present claimant,' claims a perfect title to said land by virtue of a grant made on the twenty-third day of December, in the year one thousand eight hundred and twenty-three, by Bartolme Baca, governor and superior political chief of the Province of New Mexico, by and with the advice and approbation of the provincial deputation of the said Province of New Mexico, to Juan Estevan Pino, a citizen of New Mexico, which said grant was made as aforesaid by authority of the laws, usages, and customs of the Republic of Mexico in force at the time, and of the laws and regulations of Spain which were declared and recognized to be in force and effect at that time in the Republic of Mexico. . . ."

"The said Preston Beck claims and further states that he cannot show the quantity of land claimed by him, except as set forth in said grant, as within the above-described well known metes and boundaries, nor can he furnish a plat of survey, as no survey has ever been executed."

"Claimant further states that one Alexander Hatch and about one hundred other persons have settled upon said grant without a title from any person or from any government, and with a full knowledge of the existence of the claim now presented."

"Claimant further states that by virtue of said grant, Juan Estevan Pino was lawfully put in possession of said tract of land by the competent authorities, and settled upon said claim with a large amount of property, and there held possession of the same for the space of twenty-one years, and until expelled by the hostilities of the savage Indian tribes; that upon the death of Juan Estevan Pino, the said tract of land was inherited by his two sons, Justo Pino and Manuel D. Pino, who were his only heirs, and the present claimant claims his title by virtue of deeds from Justo Pino and Gertrudes Roscom, his wife, and from Manuel D. Pino and Josefa Oritz, his wife, all of original grants and deeds of transfer and documentary titles, marked A, B, C, D, E, are herewith filed and made part of this claim."

"Claimant files this, his said claim, before you under the 8th

Page 158 U. S. 243

section of the Act of Congress approved 22 July, 1854, entitled 'An act to establish the offices of surveyor general of New Mexico, Kansas, and Nebraska, to grant donations to actual settlers therein, and for other purposes,' and respectfully asks confirmation by you of his said claim."

The controversy initiated before the surveyor general by the filing of this petition was decided by him in 1856. His opinion recites the claim, the grant made, the fact that the grantee was put in possession by the alcalde, the acquisition by Preston Beck Jr., from the grantee or heirs of all their rights, states that a hearing was had between Beck as owner of the grant and a large number of settlers, and continues:

"This case was argued very elaborately by the counsel on both sides, and many points concerning boundaries of the grant were introduced in the testimony and the arguments, which this office deems unnecessary at present to notice, as they have no direct reference to the validity of the grant."

"This case has been considered by this office with much attention, and as it is understood that the validity of nearly all the private land claims in this territory depends upon the same principles, all the authorities that could be procured having any bearing on the case have been carefully examined and maturely deliberated. The documents presented in this case are original, and the signatures of the granting officers and conveyors are proven by testimony to be genuine, and the chain of title from the original grantee to the present claimant is complete. . . ."

"The boundaries set forth in the granting decree and natural points, well known to all the community, and in the absence of any survey, which was not required in the grant, are amply sufficient to designate such portions of land as was intended to be severed from the public domain. The evidence presented by the claimant shows that the grantee did have possession of the land granted to him; that he occupied it with his stock, and cultivated certain portions of it, and he continued to do so until he was driven off by the hostile Indians. Not having voluntarily abandoned the land, he did therefore voluntarily forfeit his right to the grant.

Page 158 U. S. 244

[It is evident from the context that the word 'not' has been omitted before the word 'therefore' in the last sentence.]"

"The intention of the provincial deputation and the recommendation of the governor, and no conditions being attached to it, makes the grant a positive and absolute one, and vests in the grantee a title in fee to all the land embraced within the boundaries set forth in the granting decree."

"The objections made by counsel against the validity of the grant are therefore overruled."

"Believing this to be one of the cases coming under the provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848, and having strong claims to validity under the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States in similar cases, the grant made to Juan Estevan Pino to a certain tract of land in the County of San Miguel, and known as the 'Hacienda de San Juan Bautista del Ojito del Rio de las Gallinas,' and of which Preston Beck, Jr., is the present claimant, is hereby approved, and the Congress of the United States is respectfully recommended to cause a patent to be issued to the said Preston Beck, Jr., by the proper department, and cause the same to be surveyed."

On June 21, 1860, Congress passed an act, of which the first section reads as follows:

"That the private land claims in the Territory of New Mexico, as recommended for confirmation by the surveyor general of that territory, and in his letter to the Commissioner of the General Land Office of the twelfth of January, eighteen hundred and fifty-eight, designated as numbers one, three, four, six, eight, nine, ten, twelve, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen, and the claim of E. W. Eaton, not entered on the corrected list of numbers, but standing on the original docket and abstract returns of the surveyor general as number sixteen, be, and they are hereby, confirmed: provided that the claim number nine, in the name of John Scolley and others, shall not be confirmed for more than five square leagues, and that the claim number seventeen, in the name of Cornelio Vigil and Ceran St. Vrain, shall not be confirmed for more than eleven square leagues to each of said claimants."

12 Stat. 71.

Page 158 U. S. 245

Preston Beck's claim was designated as "number one" in the report of the surveyor general, and was therefore embraced in this confirmatory act. After the passage of the above act, a survey of the grant in question was made by the officers of the government and approved by the Secretary of the Interior. A statement of facts, signed by both parties, admits that this survey was made "without notice to the owners of said grant, or either of them." It is also admitted that Preston Beck, Jr., in whose name the grant was confirmed, died in 1860, a short time before the passage of the confirmatory act, leaving his estate, in which the above grant was included, to his brother, cousin, nephews, and nieces, all of whom were nonresidents of the Territory of New Mexico. It is conceded by the same statement that at the time of the making and approval of the survey, three of the beneficiaries under the will of Preston Beck, Jr., were minor children, and three others were married women, and that the plaintiff, George W. Stoneroad, was not one of the legatees under said will, but subsequently acquired a third undivided interest in the grant. And it is further admitted that none of the owners of the land have acquiesced in the survey since the same was made and approved.

In 1885, George W. Stoneroad, the person thus conceded to be the owner of one-third of the original grant, brought an action of ejectment against James P. Stoneroad, alleging that he was entitled to the possession of the Preston Beck grant, and that the defendant had illegally possessed himself of a portion thereof. The defendant pleaded not guilty. At the trial of the case, the parties entered into the stipulation, in which the facts, as above stated, were admitted, and one clause of this stipulation, in addition, says in reference to the act of Congress,

"said confirmation being absolute, and without any condition whatever, and to the extent of the boundaries given in the original muniments of the title, as the same are correctly copied in said Exhibit A,"

the "Exhibit A" referred to being the original grant, describing the property as above mentioned. Besides the admissions which were thus made, oral evidence was introduced tending to show that the defendant,

Page 158 U. S. 246

James P. Stoneroad, possessed two tracts of land outside of the lines of the survey made by the government, but, as asserted, within the limits of the designated boundaries of the grant. At the trial, the defendant asked the court to give the following instruction:

"The jury are instructed that if they find from the evidence in this case that the grant in evidence in this case has been surveyed by the proper authorities of the United States, and that such survey has been approved by the proper authorities of the United States as the correct location of said grant, and that the land in dispute in this case and in the occupation and possession of said defendant is outside the limits of survey, they must find for the defendant, though they may also believe that the said land so in dispute is within the boundaries of said grant, as such boundaries are set forth in the original title papers of said grant, and the recommendation of the surveyor general relative thereto is evidence in this cause."

This instruction was refused, and a verdict was rendered in favor of the plaintiff. The defendant, after an ineffectual attempt to obtain a new trial, took the case by writ of error to the supreme court of the territory. There, the judgment below was affirmed, and the defendant then brought the case here by error.

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