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THAYER V. SPRATT, 189 U. S. 346 (1903)

U.S. Supreme Court

Thayer v. Spratt, 189 U.S. 346 (1903)

Thayer v. Spratt

No. 207

Argued March 12, 1903

Decided April 6, 1903

189 U.S. 346


On proceedings to cancel an entry which has been transferred, where the Land Department has notice thereof, and the records show the name and address of the transferee, the transferee has a right to notice.

Upon a writ of error to a state court, this Court has no right to review its decision upon the ground that the finding was against evidence or the weight of evidence.

It appearing from the facts that, at the time of making their entries, entrymen were entitled to purchase lands under the Act of Congress of June 3, 1878, for the sale of timber lands in Washington Territory and elsewhere, and that, in the purchase of the land, they fully complied with the laws of the United States and the rules and regulations of the Land Department; that the applications were allowed and certificates duly issued as applied for, and the lands included in the entries were at all times chiefly valuable for timber thereon and at that time unfit for cultivation, and that thereafter based upon a misconstruction of the act of 1878 the land office cancelled the entries on the ground that as the land could be cultivated after the removal of the timber, it was not subject to entry as timber land:

Page 189 U. S. 347

Held: that the original entries were valid, and that the conveyances of the original entrymen passed a good title to their grantee for which he was entitled to a patent from the United States.

The plaintiffs in error, in December, 1898, brought this action in the state court against the defendant for the purpose of quieting their title to certain land described as section 32 in township 9, etc., situated in Cowlitz County, State of Washington. They obtained judgment in their favor for the northwest and southwest quarters of the section, but the court gave judgment in favor of the defendant for the northeast and the southeast quarters of the same section, and directed that the patents for the two quarters of the section, which had been issued on June 25, 1890, to plaintiffs' grantors, should be held by the plaintiffs in trust for the defendant, and that the plaintiffs should execute a proper deed therefor, and, in default of such deed of conveyance, the decree of the court was to stand and be treated in the place of such deed. The plaintiffs appealed from that portion of the judgment just described to the supreme court of the state, where it was affirmed, and they have brought the case here for review.

The northeast and the southeast quarters of the section were entered in the proper land office in Washington under the Act of Congress approved June 3, 1878, and entitled "An Act for the Sale of Timber Lands in the states of California, Oregon, Nevada, and in Washington Territory." 20 Stat. 89. These entries were made on May 26, 1883, and the entrymen, after payment for the land by them to the land office and the receipt of a certificate of such payment, and about six months thereafter, assigned and transferred the certificates to the defendant for a valuable consideration paid to them by him. After such transfers had been made and a record of the deeds of conveyance had also been made in the records of Cowlitz County, which was the proper office, the Land Department informed the register and receiver of the land office at Vancouver, Washington, that action had been suspended upon the entries, based upon the report of the special agent regarding the lands, and the Department directed the register and receiver to give notice to the original entrymen of a time and place when and where they

Page 189 U. S. 348

might be heard, and, in default, that their entry would be cancelled. The Department also stated that it appeared from the report of its special agent that the lands had been transferred by warranty deed of March 13, 1884, to the defendant, and it therefore directed that notice should be given him as the transferee; but for some reason, this direction was overlooked, and no notice was ever given defendant of the pendency of any proceedings towards the cancellation of the certificates or either of them which had been transferred to him.

At the time he purchased the certificates, the defendant resided in Alpena, Michigan, and resided there for thirty years, and the deeds to defendant, which were on record, showed his residence to be in that place.

The notices by mail to the entrymen were not received, the letters to them being returned as "uncalled for," and so it happened that there was no hearing before the Land Department upon the return of the order, and the entry was cancelled in the absence of both of the entrymen and the defendant, the transferee.

The action of the Department was taken upon the report of one of its inspectors, which was founded, as stated in the report of such inspector, upon the fact that the land was not of the character provided for in the act, for the reason that, although covered by a heavy growth of valuable timber and chiefly valuable as such at that time, yet, as it would be fit for cultivation when the timber should be removed, it was on that ground held that the land was not subject to entry under the timber act of 1878, supra. This was the sole and only reason upon which the Land Department rested its action in cancelling the entries and certificates.

After their cancellation, certain homestead entries were made upon these two quarter sections by Benjamin L. Hennis for the northeast quarter, and by Ellis Walker for the southeast quarter, patents were issued to them, and the plaintiffs deraign title from those patentees.

Upon the trial, evidence was given by the defendant as to the character of his ownership; that he purchased the different quarter sections in good faith from each of the parties who

Page 189 U. S. 349

had entered them, and without any agreement in reference to the purchase before final proof, etc., and that he had never heard of the entrymen before he made the purchase from them through his agent, and paid them the sum of $800 for each quarter section (double the price paid for the land by the entrymen to the government), and that the total cost of the land, including his expenses paid to his agent and to the parties who made the locations, etc., amounted, as the defendant testified, to about $4,400.

The defendant on the trial also gave evidence tending to show that the land in question had the finest quality of timber on it, and that, in its then existing condition, the land was chiefly valuable for timber and would probably run 200,000 feet to the acre. The land would have to be cleared and then it might be cultivated, but it would all have to be cleared first.

It was stipulated between the parties, on the trial, that certain papers named and on file in the office of the Commissioner of the General Land Office, and certain exhibits from the land office in Vancouver, in the State of Washington, relating to the proceedings in making the entry for the lands in question by the defendant's grantors, might be regarded as in evidence in the case and be considered by the court, and the copies of such papers then presented to the court were admitted to be

"correct, full, true, and complete transcripts of all proceedings of the land office at Vancouver, Washington, and of the General Land Office, Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C., touching . . . the timber land entry of Frank Smith, for the northeast quarter of section 32 [etc.], and also the timber land entry for the southeast quarter of section 32,"

etc. These papers showed that the entrymen for the northeast and the southeast quarters were entitled to enter the lands under the timber act, and that all the necessary facts required by the act and the Land Department officials had been proved by them to entitle them to enter the specific lands.

The finding of the court shows there has never been any dispute as to the actual condition of the land, but the entries were vacated and the certificates cancelled because the Land Department held the land was not of the kind to be entered under

Page 189 U. S. 350

the timber act of 1878, for the reason that, after the timber should be cleared, the land would be good agricultural land.

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