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U.S. Supreme Court

Northern Pacific R. Co. v. Musser-Sauntry Co., 168 U.S. 604 (1897)

Northern Pacific Railroad Company v. Musser-

Sauntry Land, Logging and Manufacturing Company

No. 121

Argued November 30, December 1, 1897

Decided December 20, 1897

168 U.S. 604


The withdrawal from sale by the Land Department in March, 1866, of lands within the indemnity limits of the grants of June 3, 1856, and May 5, 1864, to the State of Wisconsin to aid in the construction of a railroad exempted such lands from the operation of the grant to the Northern Pacific Railroad Company by the Act of July 2, 1864, though it may be

Page 168 U. S. 605

that a different rule would obtain if the grant to the state had been of a later date than that to the Northern Pacific Company.

As to place lands, it is settled that in case of conflict, the title depends on the dates of the grants, and not on the times of the filing of the maps of definite location.

It is not intended hereby to question the rule that the title to indemnity lands dates from selection, and not from the grant, but all here decided is that when a withdrawal of lands within indemnity limits is made in aid of an earlier land grant, and made prior to the filing of the map of definite location by a company having a later grant -- the latter having such words of exception and limitation as are found in the grant to the plaintiff -- it operates to except the withdrawn lands from the scope of such later grant.

The facts in this case are as follows: on June 3, 1856, c. 43, 11 Stat. 20, Congress made a grant to the State of Wisconsin to aid in the construction of a railroad of every alternate section of land designated by odd numbers, for six sections in width, on each side of the line, with the right to select indemnity within fifteen-mile limits. The line of this road was definitely fixed September 20, 1858. This grant was enlarged by the Act of May 5, 1864, c. 80, 13 Stat. 66, to one of ten alternate sections on each side per mile, with indemnity limits extended to twenty miles from the line of the road. The Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railway Company, one of the defendants herein, became the beneficiary of this grant. The road was afterwards constructed, and the lands in controversy are more than fifteen but less than twenty miles from the line of definite location and construction. In March, 1866, the lands within the indemnity limits named in the act of 1864 were by the Secretary of the Interior withdrawn from sale, and notice thereof given to the local land officers. This withdrawal remained unrescinded and unaltered until 1889. In 1883, the defendant railway company selected the lands in controversy in lieu of lands lost in its place limits. These selections were approved by the local land officers, and transmitted to the Commissioner of the General Land Office for his approval. In the same year, the State of Wisconsin issued patents for the lands to that company, which thereafter sold and conveyed them to the grantor of its co-defendant, the land, logging, and manufacturing company. On a readjustment

Page 168 U. S. 606

of the land grant, the railway company's title failed, and thereafter the grantee of the railway company purchased them pursuant to the Act of March 3, 1887, c. 376, 24 Stat. 556.

On the other hand, the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, plaintiff and appellant, on July 2, 1864, c. 217, 13 Stat. 365, 367, received a grant from Congress. The third section of the act making this grant contains this description of the lands granted:

"Every alternate section of public land . . . to the amount of twenty alternate sections per mile, on each side of said railroad line, as said company may adopt, through the territories of the United States, and ten alternate sections of land per mile, on each side of said railroad whenever it passes through any state, and whenever, on the line thereof, the United States have full title, not reserved, sold, granted, or otherwise appropriated, and free from preemption, or other claims or rights at the time the line of said road is definitely fixed, and a plat thereof filed in the office of the Commissioner of the General Land Office, and whenever, prior to said time, any of said sections or parts of sections shall have been granted, sold, reserved, occupied by homestead settlers, or preempted, or otherwise disposed of, other lands shall be selected by said company in lieu thereof."

On July 30, 1870, plaintiff fixed the general route of its road, and filed plats thereof with the Secretary of the Interior. On August 13, 1870, a withdrawal of the lands within twenty miles of this route was ordered in aid of the grant. On July 6, 1882, plaintiff definitely fixed that portion of its line opposite these lands. They are within the limits of the above-mentioned withdrawal and also within the place limits of plaintiff's grant as those limits were adjusted and fixed according to the map of definite location. Relying upon the title acquired by this grant and the proceedings had thereunder, as above described, the plaintiff filed its bill on May 3, 1893, in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Western District of Wisconsin, to restrain the issue of patents to the manufacturing company, and to quiet its own title. A demurrer to this bill was, in May, 1894, sustained, and a decree

Page 168 U. S. 607

entered dismissing the bill. On appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, this decree was affirmed, 68 F.9d 3, and thereupon the plaintiff brought the case to this Court for review.

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