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U.S. Supreme Court

Hartman v. Butterfield Lumber Co., 199 U.S. 335 (1905)

Hartman v. Butterfield Lumber Company

No. 44

Argued November 7, 1905

Decided November 27, 1905

199 U.S. 335


A homesteader, after obtaining his patent, conveyed to a lumber company all the standing timber on the land and other rights therein pursuant to a contract made prior to the issuing of the patent; subsequently he conveyed all his interest in the land to one who thereupon claimed the timber on the ground that the prior conveyance was void as violative of the land laws and land policy of the United States. Held that:

When the patent issues to a homesteader, the full legal title passes to the patentee and he may do with the land that which he sees fit.

An executed contract, voluntarily executed, without fraud or duress, is binding, and cannot be repudiated by the party who executed it, and one whose interest in land is acquired subsequently to a conveyance thereof by the owner has no higher right to question the conveyance than the grantor had.

Although the grantee of the timber might not have been able to enforce the contract because void as made in violation of the land laws of the United States, the conveyance, having been voluntarily made after the issuing of the patent, could not be attacked on that ground by the grantor or his subsequent grantee. Whether the government itself could challenge the conveyance not decided.

In December, 1892, Esau Harness received a patent from the United States for 160 acres of land in Lincoln County, Mississippi. On January 28, 1893, he conveyed to the Norwood & Butterfield Company all the pine timber on the land "and a right of way through and across the land for roads, trams, or railroads, 100 feet wide." This instrument was filed

Page 199 U. S. 336

for record February 10, and the complainant below (defendant in error here) subsequently obtained a deed from the Norwood & Butterfield Company. On January 30, 1893, the patentee conveyed his entire interest in the land as security for supplies and merchandise to be furnished by Hartman, the plaintiff in error (defendant below), during the year 1893. This deed was filed for record January 31, 1893. On December 14, 1894 the trustee therein named sold and conveyed the land to Hartman.

This suit was brought in the Chancery Court of Lincoln County, Mississippi, to establish the prior right of the complainant to the timber and right of way. The bill charged that the defendant had actual notice of the conveyance from the patentee to the Norwood & Butterfield Company when he accepted the trust deed from the patentee, and therefore that he was subordinated in right to those claiming under the first conveyance, although it was not placed on record until after the execution and record of the deed of trust. It appeared in the testimony that, prior to the patent, the patentee had contracted with the Norwood & Butterfield Company to convey to it the timber and right of way. He himself testified that he had made such a contract, both before and after he had received the patent. The supreme court of the state, deciding in favor of the complainant, 82 Miss. 494, considered the effect of the contract made before the patent upon the validity of the subsequent conveyance to the Norwood & Butterfield Company, saying:

"We are driven to the conclusion that the decree of the court below must have been the result of an opinion that the agreement between Esau Harness and the grantor of appellant that, in consideration of the advance money to perfect his homestead entry and get his patent, Esau would sell the timber on the land in controversy, was against public policy and void, and made void also the subsequent sale of the timber to reimburse for that advance. We are not in accord with that view. Rev.Stat. §§ 2290, 2291,

Page 199 U. S. 337

with Gould & Tucker's notes, vol. 1, p. 537. On the testimony, we cannot escape the conviction that the appellee had such notice as should put any reasonable man on inquiry, which would have disclosed the existence of the conveyance of the timber and right of way by Esau to the grantor of appellants."

"Reversed, and decree here in accordance with the prayer of the bill."

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