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WOODWARD V. DE GRAFFENRIED, 238 U. S. 284 (1915)

U.S. Supreme Court

Woodward v. De Graffenried, 238 U.S. 284 (1915)

Woodward v. De Graffenried

No. 164

Submitted February 25, 1915

Decided June 14, 1915

238 U.S. 284


In an action to determine by what law the beneficiaries of a Creek allotment are to be determined where the allotment was selected by a Creek citizen and made by the Dawes Commission under § 11 of the Curtis Act of June 28, 1898, followed first by the death of the allottee after receiving the allotment and prior to the Original Creek Agreement and then by action of the Commission, after ratification of that agreement, awarding the land to the heirs of the deceased allottee, and the ultimate issue of a patent to them, held, after reviewing the history of the legislation of Congress in regard to distribution of Creek lands, that:

The only lawful authority possessed by the Dawes Commission to allot Creek lands prior to the adoption of the Original Creek Agreement was derived from the Curtis Act.

Under § 11 of the Curtis Act, allottees took no assignable or inheritable interest in the land, or anything more than an exclusive right to possess and enjoy the surface of the land during the lifetime of the occupant.

Decisions of the state court regarding descent of property, the earliest of which was made within three years and after the present action was commenced, cannot be regarded as a rule of property, but, while giving those decisions full weight, this Court must examine the questions involved upon their merits.

The rule that reports of the committee having the matter specially in charge, so far as they antedate the statute, may be resorted to as aid to interpretation, applies especially in construing the Curtis Act, to the reports of the Dawes Commission, as that Commission was in a real sense "the eyes and the ears" of Congress pertaining to Indian Territory and the legislation was framed with special regard to its recommendations.

Under the Original Creek Agreement, allotments made prior thereto under the Curtis Act, if not inconsistent therewith, were to be treated as if made after the ratification thereof including designation of beneficiaries in case of the death of the allottee.

Under the Original Creek Agreement, the allotments of those who had selected lots and received allotments under the Curtis Act

Page 238 U. S. 285

and had died before the ratification of the agreement descended according to the Creek Law, and not according to the laws of Arkansas.

The equitable title to an allotment made under the Curtis Act to a Creek female citizen who died before the ratification of the Original Creek Agreement vested in her heir under § 28 of the Agreement, and, if not within excepted classes, was confirmed by § 6 of the agreement to her heir, to be determined by the Creek law of descent.

Under the laws of the Creek Indians, the husband, whether citizen or not, took a half interest in his wife's property if she died without children.

The restriction upon alienation contained in the Original Creek Agreement did not apply to allotments made on behalf of deceased members of the tribe. Skelton v. Dill, 233 U. S. 206.

A partition suit which is dismissed because the plaintiff could not maintain it against defendants who held adversely without first establishing title in an action in equity is not res judicata that the plaintiff has no interest in the property and a bar to an action in ejectment by plaintiff against the same defendant.

36 Okl. 81 affirmed.

The facts, which involve the construction and application of the Curtis Act and the Original Creek Agreement and the disposition of an allotment made by the Dawes Commission to the heirs of a Creek Indian after the death of the allottee, are stated in the opinion.

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