Barker v. Downey

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

181 U.S. 481

Barker  v.  Downey

 Argued: March 20, 21, 1901. --- Decided: May 13, 1901

These cases were brought by defendants in error in the superior court of the county of San Diego, California, to quiet their title to certain premises in that county. Decrees rendered in their favor were carried to the supreme court of the state, and by that court affirmed. 126 Cal. 262, 58 Pac. 692. To such affirmance these writs of error have been sued out.

The facts in the cases are so nearly alike that it is sufficient to consider only the first. The land in question is within the limits of the territory ceded to the United States by the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, February 2, 1848. 9 Stat. at L. 922. Generally speaking, the plaintiffs claim title by virtue of a patent issued to John J. Warner on January 16, 1880, in confirmation of two grants made by the Mexican government. On the other hand, the defendants do not claim a fee in the premises but only a right of permanent occupancy by virtue of the alleged fact that they are mission Indians, so called, and had been in occupation of the premises long before the Mexican grants, and, of course, before any dominion acquired by this government over the territory; insisting, further, that the government of Mexico had always recognized the lawfulness and permanence of their occupancy, and that such right of occupancy was protected by the terms of the treaty and the rules of international law.

The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo provided in article 8 as follows:

'Article VIII.

'Mexicans now established in territories previously belonging to Mexico, and which remain for the future within the limits of the United States, as defined by the present treaty, shall be free to continue where they now reside, or to remove at any time to the Mexican Republic, retaining the property which they possess in the said territories, or disposing thereof, and removing the proceeds wherever they please, without their being subjected, on this account, to any contribution, tax, or charge whatever.

'Those who shall prefer to remain in the said territories may either retain the title and rights of Mexican citizens, or acquire those of citizens of the United States. But they shall be under the obligation to make their election within one year from the date of the exchange of ratifications of this treaty; and those who shall remain in the said territories after the expiration of that year, without having declared their intention to retain the character of Mexicans, shall be considered to have elected to become citizens of the United States.

'In the said territories, the property of every kind, now belonging to Mexicans not established there, shall be inviolably respected. The present owners, the heirs of these, and all Mexicans who may hereafter acquire said property by contract, shall enjoy with respect to it guaranties equally ample as if the same belonged to citizens of the United States.'

Article 10, as originally prepared, was stricken out by the Senate, but in the protocol signed by the representatives of the two nations, at the time of the ratification, on May 26, 1848, it was stated:

'2d. The American government by suppressing the 10th article of the treaty of Guadalupe did not in any way intend to annul the grants of lands made by Mexico in the ceded territories. These grants, notwithstanding the suppression of the article of the treaty, preserve the legal value which they may possess, and the grantees may cause their legitimate [titles] to be acknowledged before the American tribunals.

'Conformably to the law of the United States, legitimate titles to every description of property, personal and real, existing in the ceded territory, are those which were legitimate titles under the Mexican law in California and New Mexico, up to the 13th of May, 1846, and in Texas up to the 2d March, 1836.' Ex. Doc. No. 50 H. R. 30th Cong. 2d Sess. p. 77.

After the acquisition of this territory Congress, on March 3, 1851 (9 Stat. at L. 631, chap. 41), passed an act entitled 'An Act to Ascertain and Settle the Private Land Claims in the State of California,' which created a commission to receive and act upon all petitions for confirmation of such claims. Its decision was subject to appeal to the district court of the United States, and thence to this court. As originally organized the commission was to continue for three years, but that time was extended by subsequent legislation. Sections 8, 13, 15, and 16 are as follows:

'Sec. 8. That each and every person claiming lands in California by virtue of any right or title derived from the Spanish or Mexican government shall present the same to the said commissioners when sitting as a board, together with such documentary evidence and testimony of witnesses as the said claimant relies upon in support of such claims; and it shall be the duty of the commissioners, when the case is ready for hearing, to proceed promptly to examine the same upon such evidence, and upon the evidence produced in behalf of the United States, and to decide upon the validity of the said claim, and, within thirty days after such decision is rendered, to certify the same, with the reasons on which it is founded, to the district attorney of the United States in and for the district in which such decision shall be rendered.'

'Sec. 13. That all lands, the claims to which have been finally rejected by the commissioners in the manner herein provided, or which shall be finally decided to be invalid by the district or supreme court, and all lands the claims to which shall not have been presented to the said commissioners within two years after the date of this act, shall be deemed, held and considered as part of the public domain of the United States; and for all claims finally confirmed by the said commissioners, or by the said district or supreme court, a patent shall issue to the claimant upon his presenting to the General Land Office an authentic certificate of such confirmation, and a plat or survey of the said land, duly certified and approved by the surveyor general of California, whose duty it shall be to cause all private claims which shall be finally confirmed to be accurately surveyed and to furnish plats of the same; and in the location of the said claims the said surveyor general shall have the same power and authority as are conferred on the registrar of the land office and receiver of the public moneys of Louisiana, by the sixth section of the act 'to create the office of surveyor of the public lands for the state of Louisiana,' approved third March, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-one: Provided, always, That if the title of the claimant to such lands shall be contested by any other person, it shall and may be lawful for such person to present a petition to the district judge of the United States for the district in which the lands are situated, plainly and distinctly setting forth his title thereto, and praying the said judge to hear and determine the same, a copy of which petition shall be served upon the adverse party thirty days before the time appointed for hearing the same: And provided, further, That it shall and may be lawful for the district judge of the United States, upon the hearing of such petition, to grant an injunction to restrain the party at whose instance the claim to the said lands has been confirmed, from suing out a patent for the same, until the title thereto shall have been finally decided, a copy of which order shall be transmitted to the Commissioner of the General Land Office, and thereupon no patent shall issue until such decision shall be made, or until sufficient time shall, in the opinion of the said judge, have been allowed for obtaining the same; and thereafter the said injunction shall be dissolved.'

'Sec. 15. That the final decrees rendered by the said commissioners, or by the district or Supreme Court of the United States, or any patent to be issued under this act, shall be conclusive between the United States and the said claimants only, and shall not affect the interests of third persons.

'Sec. 16. That it shall be the duty of the commissioners herein provided for to ascertain and report to the Secretary of the Interior the tenure by which the mission lands are held, and those held by civilized Indians, and those who are engaged in agriculture or labor of any kind, and also those which are occupied and cultivated by Pueblos or Rancheros Indians.'

On the trial before the court, without a jury, the findings of fact were in substance that the plaintiffs had the ownership in fee simple of the premises described; that the defendants had no rights or interest therein, and the decree was in accordance therewith. The statement on appeal prepared by the trial court disclosed that the plaintiffs introduced in evidence the patent to John J. Warner, which patent recited the filing of a petition by Warner with the land commission praying for confirmation of his title, a title based on two Mexican grants,-one June 8, 1840, to Jos e Antonio Pico by Juan B. Alvarado, then constitutional governor of the Californias, and the second, November 28, 1844, to petitioner by Manuel Micheltorena, governor general commandant and inspector general of the Californias; recited also a decree of confirmation of such title, an appeal to the district court of the United States, and an affirmance of the decision of the commission, the return of the surveyor general of the state showing a survey; and conveyed the premises to Warner, 'but with the stipulation that in virtue of the 15th section of the said act neither the conformation of this claim nor this patent shall affect the interests of third persons.' It was admitted that Warner's title had passed to plaintiffs, and that the taxes had all been paid by them. On the other hand, the appeal statement showed that the defendants offered copies of the expedientes of both of the grants referred to in the patent, and also oral testimony of occupation by the defendants and their ancestors. Some witnesses were introduced by the plaintiffs to contradict this matter of occupancy, but on final consideration the court struck out all the testimony in reference to occupancy and of the Mexican grants upon which the patent was issued. Upon the evidence, therefore, that was received by the trial court, there could be no doubt of the rightfulness of the decree, and the question presented by the record to the supreme court of the state was whether there was error in striking out the testimony offered on behalf of the defense.

Messrs. Shirley C. Ward and Assistant Attorney General Hoyt for plaintiffs in error.

Messrs. David L. Withington, Stephen M. White, Charles Monroe, and Cassius Carter for defendants in error.

Jr. Justice Brewer delivered the opinion of the court:


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).