Wetzel v. Minnesota Railway Transfer Company

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

169 U.S. 237

Wetzel  v.  Minnesota Railway Transfer Company

This was a bill in equity, filed in the United States circuit court for the district of Minnesota by the widow (since remarried) and heirs at law of George W. Remsen against the Minnesota Railway Transfer Company and over 200 other defendants, to establish title to 160 acres of land situate within the corporate limits of the city of St. Paul, which the complainants contended was held in trust for them by the defendants. The land was estimated to be of the value of over $1,000,000.

The facts of the case are substantially as follows: George W. Remsen was a private in Company K, 3d regiment, United States infantry, and served in the Mexican war. By virtue of his enlistment as a soldier he became entitled, under section 9 of the act of congress of February 11, 1847 (9 Stat. 123), to locate a quarter section of government land, subject to private entry, under the regulations and restrictions established by the commissioner of the general land office. This section further provided that, in case of the death of the soldier, his right under the act should descend to his widow and minor children; and, further, that in the event of the issuance of a land warrant to the minor children of a deceased soldier, 'then the legally constituted guardian of such minor children shall, in conjunction with such of the children, if any, as may be of full age upon being duly authorized by the orphans' or other court having probate jurisdiction, have power to sell and dispose of such certificate or warrant for the benefit of those interested.'

Remsen died in the military service in October, 1847, and thereafter a land warrant was issued on September 30, 1848, to 'Elizabeth Remsen, widow, Harriet A. Remsen, Mary Ann Remsen, John W. Remsen, Elizabeth Remsen, and George W. A. Remsen, children, heirs at law, of George W. Remsen, deceased.' On October 6, 1848, Mrs. Remsen qualified as guardian of all the minor children of Remsen (except Harriet A., who was then seventeen years of age) before the orphans' court for the county of Philadelphia, Pa.

The land warrant issued to the widow and minor children of Remsen was never located by any or either of them, but was sold and assigned on October 11, 1848, to one Nathan C. D. Taylor, of St. Croix county, territory of Minnesota, who subsequently located it upon the land in controversy, and to whom a patent was issued by the government on March 20, 1850, and from whom all the defendants in this case, directly or indirectly, claim title.

The sale and assignment of the warrant were made without an order authorizing or confirming it, so far as appears, of the orphans' court appointing Mrs. Remsen as guardian, and was consummated by Mrs. Remsen, acting in her own right and as the guardian of the minor children, with whom was joined Harriet A. Remsen.

It was contended by the complainants in the circuit court, as well as in the circuit court of appeals, that the sale and assignment of the land warrant to Taylor was utterly void as to the interests of all the minor children of George W. Remsen other than Harriet A., who joined in the assignment, because the sale and assignment made by the mother as guardian was not authorized by any order or decree of the orphans' court of the county of Philadelphia.

The circuit court dismissed the bill on the ground of laches. 56 Fed. 919. Upon appeal that decree was affirmed by the circuit court of appeals for the Eighth circuit (27 U.S. App. 594, 12 C. C. A. 490, and 65 Fed. 23); whereupon the complainants appealed to this court.

Ernest Howard Hunter and John W. Hinsdale, for appellants.

C. K. Davis, for appellees.

Mr. Justice BROWN, after stating the facts in the foregoing language, 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).