OKLAHOMA V. TEXAS, 258 U. S. 574 (1922)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Oklahoma v. Texas, 258 U.S. 574 (1922)

Oklahoma v. Texas

No. 20, Original

Argued December 13, 14, 1921

Decided May 1, 1922

258 U.S. 574


1. When this Court, in an original suit involving title to land claimed by two states against each other and by the United States against both, has appointed a receiver who has possession of the land and of funds derived therefrom, its control over such subject matter is exclusive and it has ancillary jurisdiction to determine particular claims thereto irrespective of whether, considered apart, they would lie within its original jurisdiction. P. 258 U. S. 581.

2. The former decree ( 252 U. S. 252 U.S. 372) having determined the boundary between Oklahoma and Texas to be along the south bank of the Red River, Texas and its grantees and licensees have no proprietary interests in the riverbed or in the proceeds of oil and gas taken therefrom. P. 258 U. S. 582.

3. Upon the creation of a new state, ownership of the beds of navigable streams within the boundaries passes from the United States to the state in virtue of the constitutional rule of state equality, but not so of the beds of streams not navigable. P. 258 U. S. 583.

4. The Treaty of 1819, between the United States and Spain, by declaring that the navigation of the Sabine River to the sea and of the Red and Arkansas Rivers, throughout the extent of the boundary fixed by the treaty, should be common to the inhabitants of both nations did not impress upon the Red River the legal character of a navigable stream where not navigable in fact. P. 258 U. S. 583.

5. Officials of the United States Public Land Survey are not empowered to settle questions of navigability, and navigability in law cannot be implied from their action in meandering a stream

Page 258 U. S. 575

and their failure to extend township and lines across it. P. 258 U. S. 585.

6. The fact that Congress, in permitting construction of bridges over the Red River in Oklahoma, required, out of precaution, that there should be no interference with navigation, does not justify an inference that the river within that state is navigable. P. 258 U. S. 585.

7. Navigability in fact is the test of navigability in law, and whether a river is navigable in fact is determined by whether it is used or susceptible of use, in its natural and ordinary condition, as a highway of commerce for the conduct of trade and travel in the modes customary on water. P. 258 U. S. 586.

8. In determining navigability, the actual condition of a river as disclosed in recent years must prevail over statements in early publications made upon inadequate data and loosely repeated. P. 258 U. S. 586.

9. Any inference of navigability from the appropriation by Congress and use of money in an attempt to improve a river held overcome by the conditions disclosed in the work. P. 258 U. S. 590.

10. A river whose characteristics are such that its use for transportation has been and must be exceptional and confined to irregular and short periods of temporary high water is not navigable. P. 258 U. S. 591.

11. A decision of a state supreme court holding a river navigable in a suit between private parties merely does not bind the United States, and is not persuasive in the absence of a statement of the evidence. P. 258 U. S. 591.

12. Upon the evidence in this case, held that no part of the Red River in Oklahoma is navigable. P. 258 U. S. 591.

13. The Treaty of October 21, 1867, 15 Stat. 581, 589, reserved for the Kiowa and other Indians a tract described as the territory north of the "middle of the main channel" of Red River; the Act of June 6, 1900, c. 813, § 6, 31 Stat. 676, describing the south boundary in the same way, directed that part of the tract be allotted to the Indians in severalty, part reserved for their grazing uses, part reserved for the future Oklahoma, and the rest subjected to certain public land laws; a grazing reserve, so authorized, described in the executive order defining it as bounded south by the "mid-channel" of the river, was subjected by the Act of June 5, 1906, c. 2580, 34 Stat. 213, to further allotments, entries and sales.


(1) That, as the river opposite the tract had no permanent channel other than a broad sandy bed extending from one cut bank to the

Page 258 U. S. 576

other, traversed only by shifting ribbons of water in dry seasons, but over which the water was well distributed in times of substantial flow, the medial line of this bed was the boundary of the Reservation and of the pasture reserve. P. 258 U. S. 593.

(b) That disposal of parcels on the north bank, under the acts referred to, by allotment in severalty, entry and purchase under the land laws, or grant to Oklahoma for public purposes, carried with it the right to the riverbed in front of them out to the medial line but no farther, the bed south of that line remaining the property of the United States. P. 258 U. S. 594.

14. When the United States owns the bed of a nonnavigable stream and the upland on one or both sides, it is free to retain all or any part of the bed while disposing of the upland. P. 258 U. S. 594.

15. If, by a treaty or statute or the terms of its patent the United States has shown its intention to restrict its conveyance to the upland, or to that and a part only of the riverbed, that intention will be controlling, and, if its intention be not otherwise shown, it will be taken to have assented that its conveyance be construed and given effect in this particular according to the law of the state in which the land lies. P. 258 U. S. 594.

16. These same rules apply where the land disposed of is the tribal land of Indians under guardianship. P. 258 U. S. 594.

17. Tested by the common law rule, in force in Oklahoma, conveyances by the United States of lands on a nonnavigable stream, according to legal subdivisions established by the survey of the upland and shown on the official plat, carry title to the middle of the stream. P. 258 U. S. 595.

18. The common law rule in this respect is not displaced by state statutes modifying the common law rule respecting the rights of riparian proprietors in the natural flow of the stream. P. 258 U. S. 596.

19. A perfected allotment to an Indian of a tract of riparian land, to be held by the United States in trust for the sole use and benefit of the allottee or his heirs during a stated period and then to be conveyed to him or them, passes the equitable title and beneficial use of all that would have passed under a full patent. P. 258 U. S. 596.

20. Tracts surveyed and platted as upland along the north bank of Red River were disposed of according to the survey and plat under the Acts of 1900 and 1906, supra, after changes due to floods had converted some into parts of the riverbed and others from nonriparian to riparian land. Held that the allottees or vendees of such last-mentioned tracts took title to the middle line of the stream bed where there were no earlier disposals of intervening

Page 258 U. S. 577

tracts in the bed, but that senior disposition of tracts in the bed carried title to that line. P. 258 U. S. 597.

21. The claim of Oklahoma to portions of the bed of Red River based on ownership of riparian lands was not waived by its failure to assert it in its brief and argument wherein it relied upon the alleged navigability of the stream and claimed the entire bed upon that ground. P. 258 U. S. 598.

22. The declaration of Rev.Stats. § 2319 that all valuable mineral deposits in land belonging to the United States are open to exploration and purchase must be read in view of its collocation in the Revised Statutes an with the entire statute of which it is a part. P. 258 U. S. 599.

23. This section applies only where the United States has indicated that lands are held for disposal under the land laws, and never where the United States directs that the disposal be only under laws other than the mining laws. P. 258 U. S. 599.

24. The general policy in respect of public lands in Oklahoma has been that the mining laws should not apply to them, and the exceptions to it do not embrace the land in the south half of the bed of Red River within the receivership area in this case. P. 258 U. S. 600.

The Court having decided that the boundary between Oklahoma and Texas is along the south bank of Red River, 256 U. S. 256 U.S. 70, 256 U. S. 608, the cause was, on June 1, 1921, ordered set down for hearing on special issues touching the ownership of land in the bed of that stream, as between the United States, Oklahoma, and a number of private parties who were allowed to intervene and assert their claims as riparian owners or as claimants under the placer mining laws. See <256 U.S. L=|256 U.S. 605|>605. These matters were heard and are disposed of by the following opinion.

Page 258 U. S. 578

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