Heirs of De Vilemont v. United States/Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

54 U.S. 261

Heirs of De Vilemont  v.  United States

The heirs of Don Carlos de Vilemont filed their petition in the District Court of Arkansas, to have a confirmation of a grant for two leagues of land front, by one league in depth, lying on the right descending bank of the Mississippi, at a place called the Island del Chico, distant twenty-five leagues below the mouth of the Arkansas River; the cypress swamp of the island being called for as the upper boundary of said tract.

The Governor-General granted the land on the express conditions, 'that a road and regular clearing be made in the peremptory space of one year; and this concession to be null, if, at the expiration of three years' time, the said land shall not be established; and, during which time it cannot be alienated; under which conditions the plat and certificate of survey shall be made out and remitted to me in order to provide the interested with the corresponding title in form.' The concession was made June 17, 1795. No possession was taken of the land by De Vilemont, nor any survey made or demanded, during the existence of the Spanish government. The petition alleges that possession was first taken in 1807; and as an excuse for the delay, it is stated, that the grantee was commandant at the post of Arkansas up to the end of the year 1802, and confined to his official duties there; and, 2dly, that so hostile were the Indians in the neighborhood of the land, that no settlement could be made on it. The proof shows that De Vilemont first took possession in 1822 or 1823. The 2d regulation of O'Reilly of 1770, required that roads should be made and kept in repair, in case of grants fronting on the Mississippi River; and that grantees should be bound within the term of three years to clear the whole front of their lands to the depth of two arpens; and, in default of fulfilling these conditions, the land claimed should revert to the king's domain; nor should proprietors alienate until after three years' possession was held, and until the conditions were entirely fulfilled. In this instance the time was restricted to one year, for making the improvements required by the regulations, and three years were allowed for making an establishment on the premises. In this case where a front of six miles was granted, a clearing to the whole extent was of course not contemplated; yet to a reasonable extent it certainly was; but it was undoubtedly necessary, that an establishment should be made within three years-such being the requirement of the concession, in concurrence with the regulations.

The act of March 26, 1804, prohibited any subsequent entry on the land; and declared void all future acts done to the end of obtaining a perfect title even by an actual settler, if the settlement was not made before the 20th of December, 1803; De Vilemont's title must therefore abide by its condition when the act of 1804 was passed. For further views on this subject we refer to our opinion expressed on Clamorgan's title, at the present term, in the case of Glenn and Thruston v. The United States.

We are asked to decree a title, and to award a patent, on the same grounds that the Governor-General of Louisiana, or the Intendent, would have been bound to do, had application for a perfect title been made during the existence of the Spanish colonial government. The only consideration on which such title could have been founded, was inhabitation and cultivation, either by De Vilemont himself, or his tenants; and having done nothing of the kind, he had no right to a title; nor can an excuse be heard that hostility from Indians prevented a compliance with the conditions imposed, as Vilemont took his concession subject to this risk; and the alleged excuse that he was commandant of the post of Arkansas, and bound to be constantly there in the performance of his official duties, is still more idle, as he held this office when the concession was made, and knew what his duties were.

The petition was dismissed by the District Court, because the land claimed could not be located by survey. The concession is for two leagues front, by one in depth, with parallel boundaries, situate at Chicot Island; the cypress swamp on the island being the upper boundary. Chicot Island is represented in the concession as being twenty-five leagues below the mouth of the Arkansas River. The land now claimed by the petition is represented to lie five leagues below the mouth of that river, at a place known as Chicot Point; being a peninsula included in a sudden bend, and surrounded on three sides by the Mississippi River.

It is difficult to conceive that Chicot Point, lying in fact nearly twenty-five leagues below the mouth of the Arkansas, is the Chicot Island to which the concession refers; but admitting that the Point was meant, (which we believe to be the fact,) still, no cypress swamp is found there to locate the upper boundary; nor is it possible to make a decree fixing any one side line, or any one place of beginning, for a specific tract of land.

Our opinion is, that, on either of the grounds stated, the petition should be dismissed, and the decree below affirmed.

This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record from the District Court of the United States, for the District of Arkansas, and was argued by counsel. On consideration whereof, it is now here ordered, adjudged, and decreed by this court, that the decree of the said District Court in this cause be, and the same is hereby, affirmed.

Notes Edit

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).

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