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UNITED STATES V. ROWELL, 243 U. S. 464 (1917)

U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Rowell, 243 U.S. 464 (1917)

United States v. Rowell

No. 63

Argued November 2, 3, 1916

Decided April 9, 1917

243 U.S. 464


In the exercise of its guardian powers over tribal Indians through allotment of lands of their reservation and conversion of surplus lands into tribal funds, Congress is free to adjust its action to meet new and changing conditions so long as no fundamental right is violated.

Having enrolled a white man as an adopted member of an Indian tribe, and authorized and directed the Secretary of the Interior to issue him a patent in fee for a designated tract of the tribal land as his allotment, to be in lieu of all claim on his part to allotment or to money settlement in lieu thereof, Congress had power to recall the direction before the fee had passed, upon finding that the tract designated had been lawfully devoted to a special use (e.g., school purposes) from which it could not be withdrawn with due regard for the tribe, or that in situation and value it exceeded a fair distributive share of the common property -- this without prejudice to the right of the allottee to obtain another allotment in the usual way.

An act of Congress directing the Secretary of the Interior "to issue a patent in fee" to a designated member of an Indian tribe for a designated tract of land set apart as his allotment, but containing no other words indicative of an intention to pass title by the act itself, held not a grant in praesenti.

Such a provision calls for no acceptance other than such as would be implied from taking the patent when issued.

Page 243 U. S. 465

A direction by Congress that a patent be issued an individual for land assigned him as an Indian allotment is to be regarded, not as a proposal by the government which upon acceptance makes a contract, but as a law amendable and repealable at the will of Congress, subject to the qualification that rights created by the execution of such provision cannot be divested or impaired. Levey v. Stockslager, Commissioner, 129 U. S. 470.

The case is stated in the opinion.

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