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U.S. Supreme Court

Ely's Administrator v. United States, 171 U.S. 220 (1898)

Ely's Administrator v. United States

No. 27

Argued March 15-16, 1898

Decided May 81, 1898

171 U.S. 220


The grant which is the subject of controversy in this case was one which at the time of the cession in 1853, was recognized by the government of Mexico as valid, and therefore is one which it is the duty of this government to respect and enforce to the extent of one and three-fourths sitios.

In Ainsa v. United States, 161 U. S. 208, it was decided, with reference to such grants, that while monuments control courses and distances, and courses and distances control quantity, where there is uncertainty in specific description, the quantity named may be of decisive weight, and necessarily is so if the intention to convey only so much and no more is plain, and this case comes within that rule.

On October 19, 1892, proceeding under section 8 of the act creating the Court of Private Land Claims, 26 Stat. 854, the United States filed in that court a petition against Santiago Ainsa, administrator of the estate of Frank Ely, deceased, and others, alleging that said administrator claimed to be the owner, through mesne conveyances, of a large tract of land in the Territory of Arizona known as the "Rancho de San Jose de Sonoita;" that he had not voluntarily come into the court to seek a consideration of his title; that the title was open to question, and was in fact invalid and void; that the other defendants claimed some interests in the land, and praying that they all might be brought into court, and be ruled to answer the petition, set up their titles, and have them settled and adjudicated.

In an amended answer, the administrator set forth the nature and extent of his title and prayed that it be inquired into and declared valid. Reply having been filed, the case came on for trial, which resulted in a decree on March 30, 1894, that the claim for confirmation of title be disallowed

Page 171 U. S. 221

and rejected. The opinion by Associate Justice Sluss contains this general statement of the facts:

"On the 29th day of May, 1821, Leon Herreros presented his petition to the intendente of the provinces Sonora and Sinaloa; asking to obtain title to two sitios of land at the place known as 'Sonoita.' The intendente referred the petition to the commander at Tubac, directing him to cause the tract to be surveyed, appraised, and the proposed sale thereof to be advertised for thirty days."

"In obedience to this order, the officer proceeded to make a survey of the tract, which was made on the 26th and 27th days of June, 1821, and on the completion of the survey, he caused it to be appraised, the appraised value being one hundred and five dollars. Thereupon the proposed sale was advertised for thirty consecutive days by proclamation made by a crier appointed for that purpose, beginning on June 29th, and ending on the 28th day of July, 1821. Thereupon, on the 31st day of July, 1821, the officer took the testimony of three witnesses to the effect that Herreros had property and means to occupy the tract. On October 20, 1821, the proceedings above mentioned, being reduced to writing, were by the officer returned to the intendente."

"On October 25, 1821, the intendente referred the proceedings to the promoter fiscal for his examination."

"On November 7, 1821, the promoter fiscal reported to the intendente the regularity of the proceedings, and recommending that the land be offered for sale at three public auctions, and thereupon the auctions were ordered to be held."

"The first auction was held on November 8, 1821, the second on November 9, and the third on November 10, 1821."

"At the conclusion of the third auction, the land was struck off to Herreros at the appraised value by the board of auction, of which board the intendente was a member and the President."

"All these proceedings being concluded, on the 12th day of November, 1821, Herreros paid to the officers of the treasury the amount of the appraisement, together with the fees and charges required to be paid, and with his concurrence the

Page 171 U. S. 222

intendente and the auction board ordered the expediente of the proceedings to be reported to the junta superior de hacienda for its approbation, so that, when approved, the title might issue."

"There is no evidence that the sale was approved by the junta superior de hacienda."

"On the 15th day of May, 1825, Juan Miguel Riesgo, Commissary General of the Treasury, Public Credit, and War of the Republic of Mexico for the State of the West, issued a title, in the usual form, purporting to convey the land to Herreros in pursuance of the proceedings above referred to, and professing to act under the authority of the ordinance of the intendentes of Spain of the year 1786."

The conclusion reached was that "the entire proceedings set forth in the expediente of this title, and the final title issued thereon, were without warrant of law, and invalid." Two of the justices dissented. Thereupon the administrator secured an order of severance, and took a separate appeal to this Court.

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