Bates v. Illinois Central Railroad Company

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

66 U.S. 204

Bates  v.  Illinois Central Railroad Company

Writ of error to the Circuit Court of the United States for the northern district of Illinois.

This was ejectment in the Circuit Court brought by George C. Bates against the Illinois Central Railroad Company for a parcel of land called the 'Sand Bar,' now covered with water, and which the plaintiff alleged in his declaration was a part of the north fraction of section 10, town 9, in the city of Chicago.

The plaintiff's title to the north fraction of section ten was not contested. The section was surveyed by public authority in 1821. This fraction was pre-empted in 1831 by Robert A. Kinzie, to whom a patent for it according to the survey was issued in 1837. The plaintiff held Kinzie's title.

But the defendant denied that the Sand Bar in dispute was within the proper limits of the plaintiff's fraction. The Chicago river is one of the boundaries called for by the survey and patent. Great changes have taken place in the bed and mouth of the river during thirty years. What these changes were, and when they took place, were subjects on which must evidence was given by both parties. If the bed and mouth of the river were at the place where they are laid down in the plat of the survey and mentioned in the field-notes, then the plaintiff's tract did not include the Sand Bar for which he brought suit. The Circuit Court left it to the jury to say, as matter of fact, what were the true boundaries of the tract, and whether the Sand Bar was or was not included by them.

Previous to the erection of the piers in Chicago harbor, (which commenced in 1833,) the land in controversy was dry, but afterwards the currents created by those piers washed it away, and it gradually sunk beneath the waters of the lake. The plaintiff asserted, as matter of law, that his title was not changed or divested by that fact. The court charged the jury that, assuming the plaintiff to be the owner of the land when it was above water, if he suffered it to be gradually washed away until it was entirely covered, and then permitted it to remain an open roadstead for more than seven years, the title became vested in the public, and he could not recover.

To these rulings of the Circuit Court exceptions were taken, and the verdict and judgment being for the defendant, the plaintiff brought the cause up to the Supreme Court by writ of error.

Upon the point last mentioned-namely, the destruction of the plaintiff's title by the action of the water and by his failure to reclaim it from the bottom of the lake for more than seven years the arguments here were very elaborate. But it will be seen by the opinion of Mr. Justice Catron that the cause turned entirely on the question of boundary, which was submitted to the jury, and found against the plaintiff on evidence regarded as conclusive.

Mr. Wills, of Illinois, for plaintiff in error.

Mr. Joy, of Michigan and Mr. Noyes, of Illinois, for defendant in error.

Mr. Justice CATRON.


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).