United States v. St. Anthony Railroad Company
This action was brought by the United States against the railroad company to recover damages for the unlawful cutting down and conversion by the company, in the year 1899, of certain timber on the public lands belonging to the United States in the state of Idaho. The value of the timber thus cut was, as alleged, over $20,000. The trial was had in the circuit court of the United States for the district of Idaho, southern division, and resulted in a judgment dismissing the complaint, which was affirmed, upon appeal, by the circuit court of appeals, ninth circuit (52 C. C. A. 354, 114 Fed. 722), and the government has appealed to this court.
The defendant answered the complaint and denied its averments as to unlawfully entering upon the lands and cutting the timber. As a further and separate defense the defendant averred that it was duly incorporated on May 18, 1899, under and pursuant to the laws of the state of Idaho, for the purpose of constructing and operating a railroad from the town of Idaho Falls in Bingham county, Idaho, to St. Anthony, in Fremont county, in that state, a distance of approximately 40 miles. On or about July 7, 1899, the board of directors duly adopted the route for the railway, which was practically a straight line between the town of Idaho Falls and the town of St. Anthony, and passed through and over the public lands of the United States. The defendant fully performed all things required by railroad companies by the act of Congress granting to railroads the right of way through the public lands of the United States, approved March 3, 1875, and it thereby became entitled to the benefit of the privileges therein granted to railroad companies. For the purpose of procuring the necessary material with which to construct its railroad, the defendant, through its authorized agents, entered upon the lands described in the complaint, which were, as defendant alleged, adjacent to the line of the railroad, for the purpose of procuring ties and timbers for the construction of the road, and did, during the summer and fall of 1899, cut and remove timber growing on the lands, not to exceed 1,682,975 feet; that the ties and timbers were cut from the nearest public lands to said line of road, and were, as the defendant averred, adjacent thereto; that all the ties and timbers were necessary for the original construction of the road, and were used for that purpose, and the defendant cut and removed the timber in good faith, with no intention of violating any law or committing any trespass, but believing that it had the right to enter upon the lands and take the timber.
For the purpose of the trial there was an agreed statement of facts made, and therein it was stated that the cutting of the timber was upon the lands of the government and the amount thereof was correctly stated in the answer, and its value upon delivery to the defendant was as alleged in the complaint.
The defendant did not act under any mistake of fact in regard to the status of the timber and the lands upon which it grew, and did what was done, believing it had the legal right so to do. It is not disputed that the lands were unoccupied, unentered public lands of the United States.
Upon the question whether the lands where the timber was cut were or were not adjacent, it was agreed:
'That said lands from the place where said timber was cut to the line of the road were and are the following distances, namely: from 17 to 23 miles by air line; from 20 miles to 25 miles by wagon road, and from 22 to 26 miles following the sinuosities of the river upon which said timber was in part conveyed. By far the larger part of the timber was driven or rafted down said river from said lands to said railroad, the other part being hauled by wagon. The wagon road referred to and so used is an ordinarily good road and involves no unusual grades, and said timber could, with reasonable profit, be hauled by wagon from the place where it was cut to said railroad, where it was used for ties and in the construction of bridges. It is further agreed that there were no other timber lands or suitable timber upon either side of said railroad as near as were the land and timber in question, and that said lands are near enough and so located with reference to said railroad as to be directly and materially benefited thereby.'
The statute under which the cutting is justified is § 1 of 'An Act Granting to Railroads the Right of Way Through the Public Lands of the United States,' approved March 3, 1875 (18 Stat. at L. 482, chap. 152, U.S.C.omp. Stat. 1901, p. 1568), and is set forth in the margin.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the right of way through the public lands of the United States is hereby granted to any railroad company duly organized under the laws of any state or territory, except the District of Columbia, or by the Congress of the United States, which shall have filed with the Secretary of the Interior a copy of its articles of incorporaion, and due proofs of its organization under the same, to the extent of one hundred feet on each side of the central line of said road; also the right to take, from the public lands adjacent to the line of said road, material, earth, stone, and timber necessary for the construction of said railroad; also ground adjacent to such right of way for station buildings, depots, machine shops, sidetracks, turnouts, and water stations, not to exceed in amount twenty acres for each station, to the extent of one station for each ten miles of its road.
Assistant Attorney General Purdy for plaintiff in error.
[Argument of Counsel from pages 527-529 intentionally omitted]
Mr. Parley L. Williams for defendant in error.
Statement by Mr. Justice Peckham:
Mr. Justice Peckham, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court: