UNITED STATES V. BENNITZ, 64 U. S. 255 (1859)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Bennitz, 64 U.S. 23 How. 255 255 (1859)

United States v. Bennitz

64 U.S. (23 How.) 255




The general title of Sutter to land in California again decided to convey no valid title.

This was a claim for five leagues of land on the Sacramento River, which was presented to the board of commissioners with the following evidence and result:

Page 64 U. S. 256

"In this case, the petitioner has placed on file an application made by him to Governor Micheltorena on the 18th day of June, 1844, and states in his petition that the same was referred to John Sutter for his opinion, and that on the 16th day of July, 1844, the said Sutter reported in favor of the issue of a grant, and the signatures of the said Micheltorena and the said Sutter being satisfactorily established by proof."

"Here the proceeding on the part of the petitioner ends."

"The board are of opinion that no sufficient proofs have been offered to entitle the said petitioner to a confirmation, and that the same should be rejected. Rejected."

Additional evidence was produced to the district court, viz.:

June 18, 1844. Petition of Bennitz for a tract of land called Breisgan, five leagues on the Sacramento River.

Same day. Referred to Jimeno, and by him to Sutter for report.

July 16, 1844. Report by Sutter that the land is unoccupied.

July 26, 1844. Jimeno's recommendation that it should wait until the Governor can visit the Sacramento, to which the Governor says: "Let him occupy it provisionally until I go up to conclude it."

These documents were proved by J. J. Warner, who swore that he believed the signatures of Micheltorena, Jimeno, and Sutter, to be genuine.

December 22, 1844. Micheltorena's general grant to J. A. Sutter.

John A. Sutter, being called as a witness, says that Bennitz was one of the persons to whom the general grant applies.

Ernest Rufus says that Bennitz served in 1844 under Micheltorena, as a member of the Sacramento riflemen &c.

Adolph Brenheim another German says that one Julien, a Frenchman, had possession of the land for a while as tenant of Bennitz.

The district court confirmed the claim, and the United States appealed to this Court.

Page 64 U. S. 261

MR. JUSTICE CAMPBELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The claimant applied to Micheltorena in 1844 for a concession of five square leagues of land, lying in the valley of the Sacramento River and bounded on the west by that stream. The petition was referred to Captain Sutter, who reported that the land was vacant.

The secretary reported, that the Governor having deferred any action upon petitions like the present until he could make a visit to the region of the Sacramento and San Joaquin, it would be proper to dispose of this in the same manner.

Page 64 U. S. 262

The governor so ordered, authorizing the applicant to take provisional possession, until he could make his visit. The suit of the claimant was submitted to the board of commissioners on this testimony, and it was rejected, as invalid.

Upon appeal to the district court, the claimant proved that he was a soldier in the war of Micheltorena, and an officer in one of the companies of Sutter. That the governor acknowledged his services in that war, and verbally recognized the validity of his claim for the land specified, and that it would be perfected by means of the "general title" of Sutter. The claimant also proved, that in March, 1845, two persons went upon the land, to make improvements under his claim. That one of them shortly after retreated from fear of the Indians; that the other Julien made some improvement and cultivation, and occupied the land twelve or fifteen months, when he was killed by them. In the case of the United States v. Reading, 18 How. 1, it was proved that Julien occupied the land of that claimant.

The merits of the claims arising under the general title of Sutter have been discussed in the cases of Nye and Bassett, reported in 21 How. 62 U. S. 408, 62 U. S. 412. This claim is in all respects similar, and for the reasons assigned in those cases is invalid.

Decree reversed. Cause remanded with directions to dismiss the petition.

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