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Northern Pacific Ry. Co. v. United States, 227 U.S. 355 (1913)

Northern Pacific Railway Company v. United States

No. 500

Argued January 8, 9, 1913

Decided February 24, 113

227 U.S. 355


While punctuation is a fallible standard of the meaning of a statute, the location of commas in the description of a boundary line may be considered.

Where there is confusion in the calls bounding land described in a treaty, the effort of this Court should be to execute the intention of the treatymakers.

In construing a treaty with Indians ceding lands, the Court will consider the differences in power and intelligence of the Indians and will not so construe it as to make it an instrument of fraud to deprive the Indians of more than they understood they were ceding.

The western boundary of the reservation of the Yakima Indians reserved by Treaty of 1855 is defined by the greater boundaries of nature which the Indians understood and estimated, and so held that the main ridge of the Cascade Mountains is the western boundary, and not the inferior ridges and spurs.

The action of the Land Department in approving a survey of a treaty reservation must be given strong consideration, but is not always controlling, and quaere whether the rule that such action should only be disturbed for clear and convincing reason applies when the government is proceeding in behalf of the Indians.

The rule that resolves doubts in favor of patents issued by the United States does not apply to those issued for land within the boundaries of an Indian reservation fixed by treaty.

The Act of March 2, 1896, 29 Stat. 42, was one of a series of acts, and applies only to public lands open to entry, and not to lands within an Indian reservation.

Purchasers from railroads, even though in good faith, are not bona fide purchasers under the public land laws.

191 F. 947 affirmed.

The facts, which involve the validity of certain patents for land issued to the Northern Pacific Railroad Company and the construction of the Treaty of 1855 with the Yakima Indians, are stated in the opinion.

Page 227 U. S. 356

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