APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF PRIVATE LAND CLAIMS
Fuller, Harlan, Brewer, Brown, Shiras, Jr., Peckham, McKenna; MR Justice Gray and Mr. Justice White took no part in the decision of this case.
MR. JUSTICE PECKHAM delivered the opinion of the court.
The Government appeals in this case from a decree of the Court of Private Land Claims in favor of the appellees, confirming their title to a certain tract of land in the county of Dona Ana, Territory of New Mexico, alleged in the petition to contain four square leagues. The petition of the appellees alleged the making of a grant to their predecessors prior to the year 1790 of a tract of land known as Santa Teresa; that the grant
was a good and valid one, and the grantee entered upon and took possession of the same, and that he and his heirs and assigns continued in peaceable possession up to and after the ratification of the treaty of December 30, 1853, between the governments of Mexico and the United States, by the terms of which treaty territory, including the Santa Teresa grant, was transferred to the sovereignty of the United States. The petition then alleged that in the year 1846, while the original documents of title were in existence in the town of Paso del Norte, in the State of Chihuahua, where the heir resided, the place was occupied by the military forces of the United States, and the original documents of title and the official registry where they were recorded were destroyed by the American forces; that proceedings had been taken on January 7, 1853, for the purpose of perpetuating evidence of the title, and in accordance with which the judicial authorities reestablished the boundaries and monuments of the grant, and placed the heir in formal and legal possession of the same on January 16, 1853. A certified record of these proceedings was alleged to be on file in the office of the United States surveyor general for the Territory of New Mexico, a duplicate copy of the same in the Spanish language, with a translation also in duplicate, being filed with the petition. The boundaries of the grant were stated, and the petitioners averred that they were the owners in fee of the land contained in the grant by inheritance and purchase from the original grantee, Francisco Garcia, and that the title of the original grantee, his heirs and assigns, in and to the grant was complete and perfect at the date when the United States acquired sovereignty over the Territory of New Mexico, and also at the time of the ratification of the treaty between the United States and the Mexican Republic, known as the Gadsden purchase, on December 30, 1853; and it was averred that the land had been in the peaceable and undisturbed possession of the original grantee, his heirs, etc., from the date of the making of the grant to the present time; and that there was no person in possession of the land claiming the same adversely to the petitioners or otherwise than by lease or permission from them.
The answer of the United States denied all the material
averments of the petition, and denied that the petitioners were entitled to the relief or any part thereof prayed for, and asked that the petition should be dismissed. Subsequently certain persons, claiming adversely to the petitioners, entered their appearance by their solicitor as defendants.
The principal issue in the case in regard to the boundaries of the alleged grant related to the southern line, the petitioners claiming that it was located at the international boundary line, while the Government claimed it was above the Southern Pacific Railroad bridge, a considerable distance north of that line. The interests of the individual defendants, who were co-defendants with the Government, were upon the tract of land lying between the international boundary and the line of the Southern Pacific Railroad bridge. The decree of the court fixed the south boundary at the point contended for by the Government, thus leaving the lands in which the individual defendants were interested untouched, and as this location of the line has been acquiesced in by the petitioners, the case no longer has any bearing upon the interests of those defendants.
The decree of the court was in favor of the petitioners, establishing their grant, with the southern line thereof as stated, and found that the petitioners were the grantees or assignees of the title of the original grantee, Garcia. Two of the judges dissented from the opinion and judgment of the court upon grounds stated in their opinions. The court made the following findings of fact:
"That prior to the year 1790, in accordance with the petition of Francisco Garcia, a citizen of the province of New Mexico and Kingdom of Spain, then and there duly made and presented to the duly authorized representatives of the King of Spain in and for New Biscay, which is now the State of Chihuahua of the Mexican Republic, the said authorities and representatives of the Crown and the King of Spain, by virtue of the power and authority in them vested as such, and in accordance with the laws, usages and customs of the said Kingdom of Spain, made to the said Francisco Garcia a grant of a certain piece and parcel of land situate in the county of Dona Ana, in the Territory of New Mexico, as at present constituted,
the same then being a dependency and province of the said Kingdom of Spain, said piece and parcel of land so granted as aforesaid being bounded, described, located and designated as follows:
"The tract of land known as the 'Santa Teresa:' Bounded on the north by that bend known as the 'Cobrena;' on the south by the bend of the Piedras Paradise, the same being somewhat to the north of the present location of the Southern Pacific Railroad bridge, where the same crosses the Rio Grande del Norte; on the east the old bed of the said Rio Grande del Norte, as the same ran and existed in the year 1853; and on the west the brow of the ridge running parallel with the said river.
"2. That thereupon then and there the said Francisco Garcia was duly placed in legal possession of the said grant by officials to that end duly authorized by the laws, usages and customs of the said Kingdom of Spain, according to the laws, usages and customs then in force.
"3. That the land included in the said outboundaries continued in the possession of the said grantee, his heirs, legal representatives and assigns, from the time of the making thereof, prior to the year 1790, as aforesaid, down to the present time, and that the petitioners herein have succeeded in part to the rights of the said original grantee.
"And the court thereupon finds, as matter of law, that by reason of the facts aforesaid an imperfect or equitable title and right such as the United States under the stipulations of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ought to recognize and confirm to, the said land was vested in the said original grantee aforesaid, which right and title existed at the date when the United States acquired sovereignty over the country now embraced within the Territory of New Mexico, within which the said grant is situated, and that the ...