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Yankton Sioux Tribe of Indians v. United States, 272 U.S. 351 (1926)

Yankton Sioux Tribe of Indians v. United States

No. 250

Argued October 7, 1926

Decided November 22, 1926

272 U.S. 351


1. Where promises are in the alternative, the fact that one of them is at the time, or subsequently becomes, impossible of performance does not, without more, relieve the promisor from performing the other. P. 358.

2. In an agreement, ratified by Congress in 1894, by which the Yankton Sioux Indians made a large cession of lands to the United States, it was stipulated, in part consideration for the cession and with respect to a small tract of other land containing pipestone quarries which were long claimed by the Indians under a Treaty of 1858 with encouragement from Congress, (1) that, if the government questioned their ownership of that reservation, including the fee of the land as well as the right to work the quarries, the Secretary of the Interior should as speedily as possible refer the matter to the Supreme Court of the United States for decision, and (2) that, if this were not done within one year from the ratification of the agreement by Congress, such failure on the part of the Secretary should be a waiver by the United States of all rights to the ownership of such pipestone reservation, and the same should thereafter be solely the property of the tribe. The

Page 272 U. S. 352

Secretary, believing the provision for securing a decision of the Court was beyond the power of Congress, and being advised by the Attorney General that it was impracticable, made no attempt to carry it out. The land ceded was opened to settlement by the government, and passed largely into the possession of innocent purchasers, making restoration of the status quo ante impossible. In new of the equities growing out of these facts, held that the second of the alternative stipulations was enforceable even if the first was not. P. 272 U. S. 356.

61 Ct.Cls. 40 reversed.

Certiorari (270 U.S. 637) to review a judgment of the Court of Claims rejecting the claim of the above-named tribe of Indians for compensation for a tract of land in Minnesota embracing the Red Pipe Stone Quarries, which had been appropriated by the United States. See also 53 Ct.Cls. 67, 81.

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