Beecher v. Wetherby

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United States Supreme Court

95 U.S. 517

Beecher  v.  Wetherby

ERROR to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

This was replevin by Beecher to recover from Wetherby, James, and Stille, saw-logs, cut and taken by them during the winter of 1872 and 1873, from section 16, township 28, range 14 east, in Wisconsin. The plaintiff asserts title to the land under patents from the United States bearing date Oct. 10, 1872; and the defendants, under patents from that State of Dec. 15, 1865, and Sept. 26, 1870.

Under the eighth article of the treaty of Aug. 19, 1825, 7 Stat. 272, the Menomonee lands were declared to be 'bounded on the north by the Chippewa country, on the East by Green Bay and Lake Michigan, extending as far south as Milwaukee River, and on the West they claim to Black River.' The lands in question are embraced in this tract.

A treaty concluded with the Menomonees Feb. 8, 1831, id. 342, confirming those boundaries, was ratified by the Senate with a proviso that two townships on the east side of Winnebago Lake should be ceded for the use of the Stockbridge and Munsee Indians.

By a treaty concluded Oct. 18, 1848, and ratified Jan. 23, 1849, 9 id. 952, the Menomonees agreed to cede to the United States all their lands in Wisconsin. The eighth article stipulated that they should be permitted to remain on the ceded lands for the period of two years, and until the President should notify them that the same were wanted.

The act to enable the people of Wisconsin Territory to form a Constitution and State government, and for the admission of such State into the Union, approved Aug. 6, 1846, id. 56, provides 'that section numbered 16 in every township of the public lands in said State, and, when such section has been sold or otherwise disposed of, other lands equivalent thereto, and as contiguous as may be, shall be granted to said State for the use of schools.'

The convention called to form a constitution, on the first day of February, 1849, accepted the proposition contained in the organic act. Rev. Stat. Wis. 1849, p. 45. By an act entitled 'An Act for the admission of the State of Wisconsin into the Union,' approved May 29, 1848, id. 233, such acceptance was assented to by Congress.

A joint resolution of the legislature of Wisconsin, approved Feb. 1, 1853, Gen. Laws of Wis. 1853, p. 110, gives the assent of that State 'to the Menomonee nation of Indians to remain on the tract of land set apart for them by the President of the United States, on the Wolf and Oconto Rivers, and upon which they now reside, the same being within the State of Wisconsin aforesaid, and described as follows, to wit: Commencing at the south-east corner of town 28 north, range 19, running thence west thirty miles, thence north e ghteen miles, thence east thirty miles, thence south eighteen miles to the place of beginning.'

On the 12th of May, 1854, 10 Stat. 1064, a treaty was made with the Menomonees, 'supplementary and amendatory' to that ratified Jan. 23, 1849, wherein it is recited that, 'upon manifestation of great unwillingness on the part of said Indians to remove to the country west of the Mississippi River, &c., which had been assigned to them, and a desire to remain in the State of Wisconsin, the President consented to their locating temporarily upon the Wolf and Oconto Rivers;' and, 'to render practicable the stipulated payments therein recited, and to make exchange of the lands given west of the Mississippi for those desired by the tribe, and for the purpose of giving them the same for a permanent home, these articles are entered into.' By the second article of said treaty, the following-described tract lying on Wolf River in the State of Wisconsin was ceded to the Indians to be held as Indian lands are held: 'Commencing at the south-east corner of town 28 N., R. 16 E., 4th principal meridian, running west twenty-four miles, thence north eighteen miles, thence east twenty-four miles, thence south eighteen miles to the place of beginning, the same being townships 28, 29, and 30 of ranges 13, 14, 15, and 16, according to public survey.'

Under an act of Congress approved Feb. 6, 1871, 16 Stat. 404, entitled 'An Act for the relief of the Stockbridge and Munsee tribe of Indians in the State of Wisconsin,' the two townships set apart for their use, including the section upon which the logs were cut, and forming a part of the Menomonee lands, were sold by the United States, and the plaintiff deraigns title under its patents.

The exterior lines of the township in which the land in question is situate were run in October, 1852, and the section lines in May and June, 1854.

There was a judgment for the defendants. The plaintiff then brought the case here.

Mr. Charles W. Felker for the plaintiff in error.

The act was in the nature of an executory agreement, and by its terms no title to sections numbered 16 could vest in the State until they were surveyed and designated on the plats filed in the surveyor-general's office. The sectional or subdividing lines of the township in question were not run prior to the treaty of May 12, 1854. The proviso to the act implies a reserved power in the government to sell or dispose of sections 16 while they remained a part of the public domain, and that treaty did not reserve any section, but appropriated the entire tract as a reservation, and vested the title thereto in the Indians. Meade v. United States, 2 Ct. of Cl. 224; United States v. Brooks, 10 How. 442. The State took title to none but public land. Land like that in question, continuously and rightfully in the occupation of an Indian tribe under authority of the government, is not 'public' within the meaning of the grant. Mr. Justice Davis, in Newhall v. Sanger, 92 U.S. 761, justly remarked, that the words 'public lands' 'are habitually used in our legislation to describe such as are subject to sale or other disposal under general laws.' The treaty ratified Jan. 23, 1849, allowed the Indians to remain upon the lands for two years, and until the President should give notice that they were wanted. His subsequent act setting them apart as a reservation was a specific appropriation of them. Not having then been surveyed, no right of the State to sections 16 within the reservation vested, and they have never since become 'public lands.' Wilcox v. Jackson, 13 Pet. 498; Cooper v. Roberts, 18 How. 173; Leavenworth, &c. Railroad Co. v. United States, 92 U.S. 733; Spaulding et al. v. Martin, 11 Wis. 262.

The cession to the United States of two townships in the reservation does not affect the principle contended for: they were in fact ceded for a reservation for the Stockbridge and Munsee Indians, and did not become a part of the publ c lands. Neither is it material that they were, by the act of Feb. 6, 1871, directed to be sold for the benefit of those Indians. The relation of the United States to the property is the same. 16 Stat. 404; Leavenworth, &c. Railroad Co. v. United States, supra.

Cooper v. Roberts, 18 How. 173, is not in conflict with these views. There the lands had not been legally appropriated by the government before the title of the State vested.

The position that the title did not vest in the State until the lands were surveyed and the townships subdivided is not affected by the fact that the subdivision was made in June, 1854, before the treaty of May 12 was ratified by the Senate Aug. 2 of that year. The rights of no innocent third parties intervening, the treaty took effect by relation from the day of its date. United States v. Arredondo, 6 Pet. 691.

It cannot be claimed that the defendants are innocent purchasers. The patents under which they claim were issued, the one over eleven, and the other over sixteen years, after that treaty was made, and they bought with knowledge of it.

If it should be held, however, that the survey was made before that treaty was concluded, the eighth article of the treaty of Oct. 18, 1848, and the acts of the President subsequent thereto, were a legal impediment to the vesting of any title in the State.

But if the State ever had any interest, contingent or otherwise, in section 16 in each township of this Indian reservation, such interest was waived by the resolution of the legislature of Feb. 1, 1853. An estoppel is available against the State. Bigelow, Estoppel, 276, 277, and cases cited.

Mr. W. P. Lynde and Mr. Charles Barber, contra.

The act of Congress of Aug. 6, 1846, did not constitute a present grant, but was in the nature of an executory agreement. Rutherford v. Greene's Heirs, 2 Wheat. 196; Cooper v. Roberts, 18 How. 173; Schulenberg v. Harriman, 21 Wall. 44; Leavenworth, &c. Railroad Co. v. United States, 92 U.S. 733; Sherman v. Buick, 93 id. 209; Heydenfeldt v. Daney Gold and Silver Mining Co., id. 634; 8 Opin. Atty.-Gen. 260; Houghton v. Higgins, 25 Cal. 255.

At the time of the survey in October, 1852, and the subdivision in May and June, 1854, no legal impediment existed to the complete investiture of the title of the State. Heydenfeldt v. Daney Gold and Silver Mining Co., supra.

The fee to the land was in the United States, subject, in respect to a part, to the right of occupancy by the Menomonees when Congress passed the enabling act of 1846. It was the obvious intention that the grant should be executed from time to time, as that right was extinguished and the surveys designated the sections.

From the origin of the government it had been settled that the United States might make a valid grant of lands to which the Indian right had not been extinguished, and that such a grant passed the title subject to that right. Fletcher v. Peck, 6 Cranch, 87; Clark v. Smith, 13 Pet. 195; The Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, 5 Pet. 1; Johnson v. McIntosh, 8 Wheat. 543; 8 Opin. Atty-Gen. 262; Veeder et al. v. Guppy, 3 Wis. 502.

The argument of the plaintiff, that the joint resolution of 1853 operated as a grant of the sixteenth section, is based upon the assumed fact that the title was then in the State. Even if this were correct, the joint resolution is for the following, among other, reasons unconstitutional and void: First, because in Wisconsin such a resolution is simply an expression of opinion binding on no one, and without the force of law. Const. of Wis., art. 4, sect. 1; Cooley, Const. Lim. 130, 131. Second, because it does not contain the enacting clause required by the Constitution of the State, and is not a bill. Const. of Wis., art. 4, sect. 17; Rev. Stat. Wis. 1858, p. 30.

MR. JUSTICE FIELD 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).