93 U.S. 644 (____)


Supreme Court of United States.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Argued by Mr. John A. Wills for the plaintiff in error, and by Mr. Matt. H. Carpenter and Mr. W.W. MacFarland for the defendant in error.

MR. JUSTICE DAVIS delivered the opinion of the court.

The determination of this case depends upon the effect of the act of Congress "to confirm certain private land claims in the Territory of New Mexico," approved June 21, 1860. 12 Stat. 71. Did the act confirm the Sangre de Cristo grant to the extent of the exterior boundaries of the claim? If it did, the judgment below must be affirmed. If it did not, inasmuch as no specific portion of the land within those boundaries was severed from the remainder and confirmed to the claimant, the plaintiff below, who derives title under him, has not shown a right to the demanded premises, and the judgment must be reversed.

We have repeatedly held that individual rights of property, in the territory acquired by the United States from Mexico, were not affected by the change of sovereignty and jurisdiction. They were entitled to protection, whether the party had the full and absolute ownership of the land, or merely an equitable interest therein, which required some further act of the government to vest in him a perfect title. The duty of providing the mode of securing them and fulfilling the obligations which the treaty of cession imposed, was within the appropriate province of the political department of the government. In discharging it, Congress required that all titles to real property in California, whether inchoate or consummate, should undergo judicial examination. If a party failed to avail himself within a prescribed time of the provisions of the act of March 3, 1851, and prosecute his claim thereunder, it was completely barred, and the land covered by it reverted to the public domain. The California land-claims disposed of in this court were asserted in a direct proceeding against the United States. It became our duty, as it had been that of the board of commissioners and of the District Court, to decide on their validity, upon the documentary and other evidence incorporated in the record. We were required to be governed by the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the law of nations, the laws, usages, and customs of the government from which the claim was derived, the principles of equity, and the decisions of this court, as far as they were applicable. Were we now exercising appellate jurisdiction over the proceedings of a court or officer specially appointed to determine the validity and extent of the grant in question, it would be our duty to either affirm or reverse the decision, pursuant to the rules prescribed for our guidance. But Congress legislated otherwise for the adjustment of land-claims in New Mexico. By the eighth section of the act of 1854, 10 Stat. 308, the duty of ascertaining their origin, nature, character, and extent was expressly enjoined upon the surveyor-general of that Territory. He was empowered for that purpose to issue notices, summon witnesses, administer oaths, and perform all necessary acts in the premises. He was directed to make a full report, with his decision, as to the validity or invalidity of each claim, under the laws, usages, and customs of the country before its cession to the United States. That report, according to a form to be prescribed by the Secretary of the Interior, was to be laid before Congress for such action as might be deemed just and proper.

It will thus be seen that the modes for the determination of land-claims of Spanish or Mexican origin were radically different. Where they embraced lands in California, a procedure, essentially judicial in its character, was provided, with the right of ultimate appeal by either the claimant or the United States to this court. No jurisdiction over such claims in New Mexico was conferred upon the courts; but the surveyor-general, in the exercise of the authority with which he was invested, decides them in the first instance. The final action on each claim reserved to Congress, is, of course, conclusive, and therefore not subject to review in this or any other forum.

It is obviously not the duty of this court to sit in judgment upon either the recital of matters of fact by the surveyor-general, or his decision declaring the validity of the grant. They are embodied in his report, which was laid before Congress for its consideration and action. We need only say that he distinctly sets forth that Luis Lee and Narciso Beaubien, Sept. 27, 1843, petitioned the then civil and military governor of New Mexico "for a grant of land in what is now the county of Taos, embracing the Costilla, Culebra, and Trinchera Rivers, including the Rito of the Indians, and Sangre de Cristo to its junction with the Del Norte River;" that the petition was referred by the governor to the prefect, with instructions to give the possession asked for by the petitioners; that they were put in possession with the boundaries contained in the petition, "vesting in them, their children and successors, a title in fee to said lands." After stating that, by the death of one of the grantees, his heir-at-law, Charles Beaubien, inherited the undivided half of the land, and that he acquired the remainder from the administrator of the other grantee, the surveyor-general reaches the conclusion that the grant is a good and valid one, and that a legal title vests in Charles Beaubien to the land embraced within the limits contained in the petition. The grant was approved, and recommended for confirmation by Congress.

Congress acted upon the claim "as recommended for confirmation by the surveyor-general." The confirmation being absolute and unconditional, without any limitation as to quantity, we must regard it as effectual and operative for the entire tract.

The plaintiff in error insists that, under the Mexican colonization laws in force when the grant was made, not more than eleven square leagues for each petitioner could be lawfully granted. As there were in the present instance but two petitioners, and the land within the boundaries in question is largely in excess of that quantity, the invalidity of the grant has been earnestly and elaborately pressed upon our attention. This was matter for the consideration of Congress; and we deem ourselves concluded by the action of that body. The phraseology of the confirmatory act is, in our opinion, explicit and unequivocal. In Ryan et al. v. Carter et al., supra, p. 78, we recognized and enforced, as the settled doctrine of this court, that such an act passes the title of the United States as effectually as if it contained in terms a grant de novo, and that a grant may be made by a law as well as by a patent pursuant to law.

Judgment affirmed.


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