HAYS V. UNITED STATES, 175 U. S. 248 (1899)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Hays v. United States, 175 U.S. 248 (1899)

Hays v. United States

No. 19

Argued October 10, 1899

Decided December 4, 1899

175 U.S. 248


Under the laws of Mexico prior to 1848, an alcalde had no power to make a grant of public lands.

Where petitioner produced oral testimony tending to show a grant of lands by the Governor of New Mexico, and an order upon the alcalde to put the grantee in possession, and also gave evidence tending to show that these documents were afterwards lost or destroyed, and at the same time produced a grant by the alcalde in which no reference whatever was made to a prior grant by the governor, it was held that the grant of the alcalde was inconsistent upon its face with the alleged grant by the governor and with the other circumstances in the case, and that the claim was properly rejected by the Court of Private Land Claims.

Possession to land since the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 will not of itself give a valid title to land, nor will it create the presumption of a valid grant where a void grant appears to have been made or in case the surrounding circumstances are incompatible with the existence of a valid grant.

This was a suit instituted by the appellant in the Court of Private Land Claims for the confirmation of a grant of land situate in the County of San Miguel, New Mexico, known as

Page 175 U. S. 249

the "Apache Springs," or "Ojo del Apache" grant, and alleged to contain eleven square leagues, or 47,743 square acres.

The amended petition alleged substantially that prior to June 2, 1842, Manuel Armijo, then Governor of New Mexico, granted the tract in question to Venturo Trujillo in accordance with his petition for the same, and by decree directed the constitutional alcalde of the demarcation of San Miguel del Bado to place the petitioner in possession; that said alcalde subsequently made return that he had placed the petitioner in juridical possession of the lands as directed, and that this return, with the original papers, was duly deposited in the archives of New Mexico.

Petitioner further alleged that he had neither the original of said petition, nor a copy thereof, nor the decree of the governor, nor the return of the alcalde, in his possession, and that neither of them is in the possession of the Surveyor General of New Mexico, but he alleged that the archives of New Mexico, previous to the occupation of the territory by the United States and for some time thereafter, were kept carelessly, and many of the papers and documents, including those therein mentioned, were lost and destroyed, and prayed that he might be permitted to give secondary evidence of the petition, decree, and order of the governor, and of the return of the alcalde.

He further alleged that on July 2, 1842, Damasio Salazar, a justice of the peace of the demarcation of San Miguel del Bado, now embraced within the limits of the County of San Miguel, acting in conformity with the laws and customs of Mexico, placed Venturo Trujillo in possession of the tract so granted; that he entered into such possession and occupied the same for about four years from July, 1842, and that, by sundry mesne conveyances from him to parties who continued such possession, the petitioner, by virtue of the original grant and these mesne conveyances, now claims the ownership of the whole of said tract, and that ever since the year 1842, and at the present time, the said grantee, Venturo Trujillo, and his legal representatives and those claiming under him and them, have held, claimed, used, and

Page 175 U. S. 250

occupied, owned and grazed upon, peaceably and notoriously, the whole of said lands.

That no survey of the tract has ever been made; that petitioner cannot state the amount, but that it does not exceed eleven leagues; that one Taylor, who was then the owner of the grant and one of the mesne grantees, made application to the Surveyor General of New Mexico for the approval of said grant under the Law of July 22, 1854, which was rejected December 19, 1872, upon the ground that the grant was made by a justice of the peace, who, under the laws of New Mexico, had no power to make a grant of lands; that subsequently, and upon September 22, 1873, application was made to the surveyor general to reopen the application for confirmation, and to receive new testimony which had been discovered. The application was granted so far as to permit the new testimony to be introduced, and the depositions of Guadalupe Miranda, Secretary of New Mexico during the administration of Governor Armijo, and of Rafael Aragon, secretary of Damasio Salazar, the constitutional alcalde who placed Trujillo in possession, were taken and made a part of the petition. The application was again rejected by the surveyor general upon the ground that the depositions, being based entirely upon memory, were insufficient to establish a grant by the governor; that Miranda and Aragon are now dead; that the grant has, since July, 1842, remained in the possession of the grantee and his assigns, and has been generally recognized.

No question was made with regard to the intermediate conveyances to the petitioner or of the other formal allegations bringing the case within the provisions of the act establishing the Court of Private Land Claims.

The case was tried by the court upon the pleadings and evidence, the claim rejected, and the petition dismissed by a majority of the court. Petitioner thereupon appealed to this Court.

Page 175 U. S. 251

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