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U.S. Supreme Court

Brewer-Elliott Oil & Gas Co. v. United States, 260 U.S. 77 (1922)

Brewer-Elliott Oil & Gas Company v. United States

No. 52

Argued October 12, 13, 1922

Decided November 13, 1922

260 U.S. 77


1. Where an act of Congress setting apart and confirming a reservation to the Osage Indians out of lands formerly occupied but ceded by the Cherokees described the west boundary as "the main channel of the Arkansas River," and a deed to the United States for the Osages, made by the Cherokees in pursuance of this and

Page 260 U. S. 78

other acts and of a treaty, described the land only by whole townships, and by fractional townships "on the left bank of the Arkansas River," held that the deed was to be interpreted in conformity with the act, and that the act carried title to land in the riverbed out to the main channel. Pp. 260 U. S. 82, 260 U. S. 87.

2. Congress has power to make grants of lands below high water mark of navigable waters in a Territory, to carry out public purposes appropriate to the objects for which the United States holds the Territory. P. 260 U. S. 83. Shively v. Bowlby, 152 U. S. 1, 152 U. S. 47.

3. This principle was not affected as to lands within the Louisiana Purchase by the purpose, declared in the treaty with France, that statehood should ultimately be conferred on the inhabitants of the territory purchased. P. 260 U. S. 86.

4. A navigable river is one which is used or is susceptible of being used in its ordinary condition as a highway for commerce over which trade and travel are or may be conducted in the modes customary on water. P. 260 U. S. 86.

5. The evidence in this case affords no ground for rejecting the finding of the two courts below that the Arkansas River, along the Osage Reservation in Oklahoma, is not and never has been a navigable stream. P. 260 U. S. 86.

6. A grant of land in the bed of a nonnavigable river made by the United States while holding complete sovereignty over the locality including it cannot be divested by a retroactive rule or declaration of the state subsequently created out of that territory classifying the river as navigable. P. 260 U. S. 87.

7. Such a grant being attacked upon the ground that the river was navigable and its bed not subject to be granted by the United States, the question of navigability is not a local, but a federal, question. P. 260 U. S. 87. Wear v. Kansas, 245 U. S. 154, distinguished.

270 F.1d 0 affirmed.

Appeal from a decree of the circuit court of appeals affirming a decree of the district court in favor of the United States in a suit brought on its own behalf and as trustee for the Osage Tribe of Indians to cancel oil and gas leases granted the appellants by the State of Oklahoma covering land constituting part of the bed of the Arkansas River within the Osage Reservation, and to enjoin operations under the leases and quiet title in the United States as trustee.

Page 260 U. S. 79

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