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Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

77 U.S. 224

Hornsby  v.  United States

[Syllabus from pages 224-226 intentionally omitted]

APPEAL from the District Court of California.

This case was brought by the appellants, Hornsby and Roland, for the confirmation of a claim made by them under a Mexican grant for nine square leagues of land, situated in California, under the act of Congress of March 3d, 1851, to ascertain and settle private land claims in that State. [1] The grant was issued to Luis Arenas (whose interest had since passed to the claimant Hornsby) and Jose Roland, May 6th, 1846, by Pio Pico, then governor of the Department of California.

Some years before the issue of this grant, a grant of two square leagues in the place called Las Animas had been made to one Thomas Brown, from whom the property by mesne conveyances had passed to a certain Charles Weber; and a grant of about the same quantity in the place called Canada de Pala had been made to Jose Bernal and others. For the surplus land remaining in these places, after satisfying the previous grants, including lands of the Cerro Colorado, within the jurisdiction of the same pueblo, to make up the amount of nine leagues, Arenas and Roland, on the 5th of May, 1846, presented their petition to the governor. No map of the land accompanied this petition, but the parties in the petition offered to present a map to the governor at a convenient time.

On the margin of the petition, the governor made an order that a decree of concession be issued, and the title (the grant) be delivered to the parties for their protection. On the following day, the 6th, the governor made a full and formal decree of concession, in which he stated that in the exercise of the powers with which he was invested by the supreme government, and in the name of the Mexican nation, he declared the petitioners owners of the land so located, and directed that the title (titulo-the grant) be issued which would secure to them the property.

The formal grant then issued; in it the governor recited the petition, and then stated that the 'necessary steps having been taken, and inquiries made,' he had, by a decree of that day in the exercise of the powers with which he was invested by the supreme government in the name of the Mexican nation, declared, and did then declare the petitioners 'owners in full property' of the land, describing it as in the petition, in conformity with the law of the 18th of August, 1824, and the regulations of November 21st, 1828, 'subject to the approval of the departmental assembly, and under the following conditions:

'1st. They (the grantees) may inclose it without injuring the passes, roads, and servitudes, and may enjoy it fully and exclusively, appropriating it to such use as may suit them.

'2d. They shall solicit the proper judge to give them juridical possession by virtue of this decree, and he shall mark the boundaries with the proper landmarks.

'3d. The land hereby granted is nine leagues of the largest size, and is situated in the surplus or vacant lands of the ranchos of Don Carlos Weber and Don Jose de Jesus Bernal, including the lands of the Cerro Colorado towards the valley. The judge who shall give the possession, shall have it measured in conformity to law, in view of the map which will be presented by the parties interested.'

Traced copies of the petition, the marginal order, the decree of concession, and of the draft of the grant, from the archives of the Department of California, in the custody of the Surveyor-General of the United States for California, and the original grant issued to the petitioners, were produced before the board of land commissioners, and in the District Court. No question appears to have been made in either tribunal as to their genuineness. The grant issued bore the signatures of the governor, Pio Pico, and of the acting secretary of state at the time, Moreno. The genuineness of these signatures was proved by a witness produced by the claimants before the commissioners; but they rejected the claim on the ground that there was no evidence that the grant was ever approved by the departmental assembly, or that jurisdical possession was ever given, or that the grantees were ever in possession of the land, or occupied it in any manner; and that the description of the land was too vague and indefinite to enable the commissioners to describe it with any degree of certainty. The commissioners, without making the fact a distinct ground of rejection, also observed, in their opinion, that the governor, the day following the receipt of the petition, had, 'without, so far as appears from the record, making any inquiries or investigations in relation to the matter, entered a decree of concession, and directed the title to be issued and delivered to the interested parties.'

From the decree of the board of land commissioners an appeal was taken to the District Court. Whilst the case was pending in that court, the parties entered into a stipulation that certain depositions of Pio Pico, of Moreno, and of Rufus C. Hopkins, taken in another case in which Roland was also a claimant, might be used in this case. In his deposition thus used, Pico testified to the genuineness of his signature to the grant in this case, and also that it was customary to take informes (that is, to have an official report upon the subject) as to the qualifications of applicants and upon the land solicited before making a concession, but that it was not indispensable, and that it was not unusual for a petition to be signed, a marginal order and a decree of concession made, and a title issued on the same day; that often a number of concessions were made on the same day; and in the assembly a number of concessions were often confirmed on the same day.

Moreno, in his deposition, also testified to the genuineness of his own signature, and that of Pico, to the grant in this case.

Hopkins, the keeper of the Mexican archives in California, in his deposition, testified that he had made the archives of the former Spanish and Mexican governments in California his special study for the then last preceding seven years; that there was no book of record in the archives showing petitions presented for land, and grants made with maps of the lands granted, as required to be kept by the regulations of November, 1828, and that there was no trace whatever amongst the archives of the existence of any such book at any former time; that the nearest approach to any such record were the espedientes on file in the archives; that these espedientes were the various proceedings in reference to individual grants, written upon sheets of paper and stitched together, and, when concluded, indorsed and numbered by the secretary, and filed in the archives.

In answer to the question as to what evidence, if there was no record, did the archives furnish of the fact of the issue of any grant whatever since 1828, the witness stated, 'That the only evidences to be found in the archives of the issuance of grants since 1828, are 1st, the espedientes already referred to; 2d, a book in which titles (the grants) are recorded, which were issued in 1833, '34, and '35; 3d, the index known as the 'Jemino Index,' embracing grants made from 1833 to 1844, inclusive; 4th, a Toma de Razon, or registry of grants issued in 1844, '45; 5th, an index known as the 'Hartnell Index;' 6th, Toma de Razon, kept by prefects in 1843; 7th, journals of the departmental assembly, from 1829 to 1846; 8th, official correspondence in which grants are referred to; 9th, some loose maps and borradors in reference to grants.' He continued:

'The record I have referred to, of 1833 to 1835, contains a copy of the entire grant or titulo-without the previous proceedings or maps;' and with respect to grants issued in 1846, he testified that 'the only evidence the archives furnish of grants made in 1846, are the espedientes referred to, journals of the departmental assembly, the Hartnell index, and official correspondence, borradors, &c.'

The District Attorney of the United States admitted in writing in the District Court, that the grant in this case was issued by Governor Pico on the 6th of May 1846; and that the extent of the surplus lands for which it was issued had not then been ascertained.

The District Court affirmed the decree of the board of land commissioners and rejected the claim, but the district judge states in his opinion below, that the genuineness of the papers produced from the archives and of the title produced by the claimants, was not disputed by the counsel of the United States. The rejection of the claim was placed on the ground that no investigation was had by the governor as to the condition of the land, or the qualification of the parties; that the whole proceeding was commenced and consummated within two days; and that no evidence was offered to show that either of the grantees ever settled or attempted to settle on the land, or that any surplus lands existed for which the grant called.

Of the regulations for the colonization of the territories of Mexico, adopted November 21st, 1828, the following are those which bear upon the questions raised in this case. [2]

1st. The governors (Gefes Politicos) of the territories are authorized (in compliance with the law of the General Congress, of the 18th of August, 1824, and under the conditions hereafter specified) to grant vacant lands, in their respective territories, to such contractors (empressarios), families, or private persons, whether Mexicans or foreigners, who may ask for them, for the purpose of cultivating and inhabiting them.

2d. Every person soliciting lands, whether he be an empressario, head of a family, or private person, shall address to the governor of the respective territory a petition, expressing his name, country, profession, the number, description, religion, and other circumstances of the families, or persons, with whom he wishes to colonize, describing, as distinctly as possible, by means of a map, the land asked for.

3d. The governor shall proceed immediately to obtain the necessary information, whether the petition embraces the requisite conditions, required by said law of the 18th of August, both as regards the land and the candidate, in order that the petitioner may at once be attended to; or, if it be preferred, the respective municipal authority may be consulted, whether there be any objection to making the grant or not.

4th. This being done, the governor will accede, or not, to such petition, in exact conformity to the laws on the subject, and especially to the before mentioned one of the 18th of August, 1824.

5th. The grants made to families, or private persons, shall not be held to be definitively valid without the previous consent of the territorial deputation, to which end the respective documents (espedientes) shall be forwarded to it.

6th. When the governor shall not obtain the approbation of the territorial deputation, he shall report to the supreme government, forwarding the necessary documents for its decision.

7th. The grants made to empressarios, for them to colonize with many families, shall not be held to be definitively valid, until the approval of the supreme government be obtained, to which the necessary documents must be forwarded along with the report of the territorial deputation.

8th. The definitive grant asked for being made, a document signed by the governor shall be given to serve as a title to the party interested, wherein it must be stated that said grant is made in exact conformity with the provisions of the laws, in virtue whereof possession shall be given.

9th. The necessary record shall be kept in a book destined for the purpose, of all the petitions presented and grants made, with the maps of the lands granted, and the circumstantial report shall be forwarded quarterly to the supreme government.

Messrs. M. Blair and F. A. Dick, for the appellants.

Mr. Wills, contra.

Mr. Justice FIELD delivered the opinion of the court.


^1  9 Stat. at Large, 631.

^2  Taken from the translation in Rockwell's Spanish and Mexican Law in relation to mines and titles to real estate, vol. i, p. 453.

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).