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CHRISMAN V. MILLER, 197 U. S. 313 (1905)

U.S. Supreme Court

Chrisman v. Miller, 197 U.S. 313 (1905)

Chrisman v. Miller

No. 171

Argued March 8, 1905

Decided April 3, 1905

197 U.S. 313


This Court does not review questions of fact in cases coming from a state, court but accepts the conclusions of the state tribunal as final.

Where an attempted mineral location is a failure by reason of a lack of discovery and all rights have been conveyed to a third party who formally relinquishes them, the land is again open to location, and the party so relinquishing may locate it and become entitled thereto by subsequent discovery, and otherwise complying with the law, without waiting until the relinquished location lapsed by failure to do the annual work required by statute.

In controversies between two mineral claimants, the rule as to sufficiency of discovery is more liberal than it is in controversies between a mineral claimant and an agricultural entryman, as in the latter the land is sought to be withdrawn from the category of agricultural lands, while in the former the question is merely one of priority.

While the statute does not prescribe what is necessary to constitute a discovery under the mining laws of the United States, it is essential that it gives reasonable evidence of the fact either that there is a vein or lode carrying precious minerals or, if it be claimed as placer ground, that it is valuable for such mining, and where there is not enough in what a locator claims to have seen to justify a prudent person in the expenditure of money and labor in exploitation, this Court will not overthrow a finding of the lower court that there was no discovery.

This was an action in the Superior Court of Fresno County, California, to quiet title to certain lands in that county. The complaint by Miller and the Home Oil Company was filed October 14, 1898. The case was tried by the court without

Page 197 U. S. 314

a jury, findings of fact were made, and a decree entered in favor of the plaintiffs. On appeal to the supreme court of the state, this decree was affirmed, September 13, 1903. 140 Cal. 440. Thereafter the case was brought to this Court on writ of error. The dispute between the parties was as to the validity of respective locations of the land under the mineral laws of the United States. The mineral found therein, and on account of which the locations were made, was petroleum. From the findings, it appears that, on June 14, 1895, eight persons, one Barieau being of the number, attempted to make a mineral location upon the tract in controversy, the same being an entire quarter section. Whatever interest they thus acquired was, on December 24, 1896, conveyed to E. O. Miller. On December 31, 1896, Miller, by his written declaration, abandoned and relinquished all rights which he had acquired by this conveyance. On the same day and about four hours thereafter, Miller and seven others, duly qualified to make entries, made a mineral location of the entire tract. Subsequently all interests obtained thereby were vested in the plaintiffs. On January 1, 1897, the defendants attempted to make a location of certain portions of the tract. The tenth, eleventh, fifteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth findings are as follows:

"X. That immediately after going into possession of said northeast quarter of said section 20, the said plaintiff, Home Oil Company, commenced digging, boring, and excavating thereon for petroleum and other fluid products, and has expended in such work the sum of more than $30,000, and by means of such digging, boring, and excavating discovered large quantities of petroleum therein, and there now exists, and did at the commencement of this action, wells of great depth, sunk and excavated upon said property by said Home Oil Company, from which there is a daily flow of large quantities of petroleum of great value."

"XI. That ever since the 17th day of September, 1897, the said plaintiff, Home Oil Company, has been and is now

Page 197 U. S. 315

in the sole and exclusive possession of all of said real property, and engaged in working, developing, and mining the same, and extracting petroleum and other fluid products therefrom."

"XV. That said defendant A. Y. Chrisman never at any time discovered a seepage of petroleum or other mineral oil upon said land or any part thereof, and the defendant H. T. Chrisman never discovered a seepage of petroleum or other mineral oil upon said land or upon any part thereof, and that the only discovery of petroleum or any other fluid produce upon said lands or upon any part thereof is the discovery made by the plaintiff Home Oil Company as in these findings before stated."

"XVII. That on the said 1st day of January, 1897, no part of the said northeast quarter of section 20 was vacant public mineral land or open to exploration or location for mining purposes, but, on the contrary, the whole of said northeast quarter of said section 20 was then in the possession of J. A. Hannah, E. O. Miller, W. F. Hall, D. G. Overall, L. E. Hall, Harry Levinson, R. B. Biddle, and Charles H. Smith, under and by virtue of their location of said land hereinbefore mentioned."

"XVIII. That the said defendants, A. Y. Chrisman and H. T. Chrisman, did not make the location for mining purposes hereinbefore mentioned in good faith, and did not, nor did either of them, enter into the possession thereof or any part of the same for the purpose of working and mining thereon on the 1st day of January, 1897, or upon any other date, and said defendants have not and neither of them has since the 1st day of January, 1897, or since any day whatever, done and performed upon said land or any part thereof such work and labor or made improvements thereon as is required by the laws of the United States or of the State of California, and that the said defendants have not been and neither of them has been in the exclusive possession of said tracts of land so claimed by them, and said defendants are not, and neither of them is, in the possession of said tracts of land so claimed by them or

Page 197 U. S. 316

either of them, or any part thereof, and the said defendants ever since the said 1st day of January, 1897, or since any day whatever or at all have not been nor are they or either of them now entitled to the exclusive or any possession of the tracts of land claimed by them or any part thereof, nor are said defendants entitled, nor is either of them entitled, to the exclusive or any possession whatever of any part of said northeast quarter of said section 20, in township 19 south, range 15 east, Mt. Diablo base and meridian. "

Page 197 U. S. 319

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