Public Schools v. Walker

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

76 U.S. 282

Public Schools  v.  Walker

ERROR to the Supreme Court of Missouri; the controversy being one of those, quite numerous in this court, growing out of the various acts of Congress intended to settle the land titles originating in the lands of Louisiana prior to its purchase by our government from France. The case was thus:

The President and Directors of the St. Louis Public Schools brought suit, in the St. Louis Land Court of Missouri, against Walker and another, to recover certain lands situate in the city of St. Louis.

The title of the plaintiffs, who represented the common schools of St. Louis, rested on two acts of Congress. The first of these was the act of June 13th, 1812, [1] the first section of which, after confirming the common field lots and commons to certain towns and villages, of which St. Louis is one, directs the deputy surveyor of the Territory to survey and marke the out-boundary lines of said several towns so as to include the out-lots, common field lots, and commons thereto respectively belonging.

The second section, under which the plaintiffs' claim arose, enacted that:

'All town or village lots, out-lots, or common field lots, included in such survyes, which are not rightfully owned or claimed by any private individuals, or held as commons belonging to such towns or villages, or that the President of the United States may not think proper to reserve for military purposes, shall be, and the same are hereby, reserved for the support of schools in the respective towns or villages aforesaid; provided, that the whole quantity of land contained in the lots reserved for the support of schools in any one town or village shall not exceed one-twentieth part of the whole lands included in the general survey of such town or village.'

The other act was that of July 27th, 1831. [2] The second section of this act, referring to the section just cited from the act of 1812, declares:

'That the United States do hereby relinquish all their right, title, and interest in and to the town and village lots, out-lots, and common field lots, in the State of Missouri, reserved for the support of schools in the respective towns and villages aforesaid, by the second section of the above-recited act of Congress, and that the same shall be sold or disposed of, or regulated for the said purposes, in such manner as may be directed by the legislature of the State.'

It was conceded that, by the survey made under the first section of the act of 1812, the lot in controversy was found to be within the out-boundary of the town of St. Louis and its common field lots, commons, &c. It was also admitted that by appropriate legislation of the State the plaintiffs have become invested with such right as the State could give by virtue of the last-recited act of Congress.

The surveyor-general at St. Louis, on demand of the plaintiffs, on the 3d June, 1861, had caused this lot to be surveyed and certified to them, as a lot embraced within and covered by the reservation for school purposes, and on this survey and certificate and the acts aforesaid they rested their title.

Such was the plaintiffs' case.

The defendant, who had been in possession by himself and those under whom he claimed from 1844 till the beginning of this suit in 1864, now asserted that this land was, at the time the act of 1812 was passed, rightfully claimed by Joseph Brazeau, a 'private individual,' and was, therefore, not relinquished to the State by the act of 1831.

In support of this assertion he showed that, long before the act of 1812, Brazeau had filed with a board of commissioners, organized under the act of 1805 to report on such cases, his claim and the evidences of it furnished him by the colonial authorities. Though this first board of commissioners reported against the claim because he had not proved the inhabitancy and cultivation prior to 1803, which the act of 1805 required, yet Congress, which had never made the reports of these commissioners final, but in all the numerous acts regulating the various commissions appointed for this purpose, had reversed to itself the power to confirm or reject their reports, did by the third section of the act of 1812 provide for a further hearing on this question of inhabitancy and cultivation. It also in every act on the subject reserved from sale the lands for which claims had been filed with the recorder of land titles, whether confirmed or not. [3]

Several changes were made in the tribunals authorized to act on these claims, and for a time there was none with such authority.

An act of 1824 [4] directed that individual claims should be presented before a court of the United States within two years, and that unless so presented they should be barred. The time was extended, by subsequent act, to May 26th, 1829. Brazeau did not present his claim under these directions.

Finally, however, by an act of 1832, [5] another commission was organized. The recorder of land titles, in whose office all the old undetermined cases like Brazeau's still remained on file, and two other commissioners, were directed by this act of 1832, to examine all those unconfirmed claims in his office, and classify and report them to Congress. They were to report what claims would have been confirmed under Spanish laws and usages, and what were, in their opinion, destitute of merit under that rule. And while no new claim was to be admitted, they might raise new testimony in addition to that already on file in such cases. This commission passed favorably on Brazeau's claim, the necessary proof of occupancy and cultivation having been made, and reported it to Congress, and that body confirmed the claim by act of July 4th, 1836. [6]

The St. Louis Land Court gave judgment for the defendant, and the Supreme Court having affirmed, the case was now here for review.

The case was elaborately argued by Messrs. Blair and Dick, for the plaintiff in error. They relied largely:

1st. On the fact that Brazeau had not presented his claim as directed to do by the act of 1824, and its supplement; that not having done so his power to establish a right was barred, and ended in 1829; that being then without any rightful claim, the act of 1831 vested the title in the State for the use of the schools.

2d. On the survey made by the surveyor-general and mentioned, supra, p. 284, as part of the plaintiffs' title, and upon this declaration made by this court in Kessell v. Public Schools, [7] as to the legal effect of such a document:

'We are furthermore of opinion, that the certificate of the surveyor-general above set forth, and which was accepted by the grantees, is record evidence of title, by the recitals in which the government and the board of school directors are mutually bound and concluded. And this instrument, declaring that the land described was reserved for the support of schools, and the courts of justice having no power to revise the acts of the surveyor-general, under these statutes, it is not open to them to inquire whether the lands set apart were, or were not, lots of the description referred to in the statutes. The parties interested have agreed that this was a school lot, and here the matter must rest, unless some third person can show a better title.'

Messrs. Todd, Glover, and Shepley, contra.

Mr. Justice MILLER delivered the opinion of the court.


^1  2 Stat. at Large, 748.

^2  4 Id. 435.

^3  See act of 1805, § 5, 2 Stat. at Large, 327; act of 1806, § 5, Ib. 392; act of 1807, § 8, Ib. 442; act of 1811, §§ 6 and 10, Ib. 664-5.

^4  May 26th, 4 Stat. at Large, 52.

^5  July 9th, Ib. 565.

^6  5 Id. 127.

^7  18 Howard, 25.

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