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Creek Nation v. United States, 318 U.S. 629 (1943)

Creek Nation v. United States

No. 321

Argued January 6, 7, 1943

Decided April 5, 1943*

318 U.S. 629


1. The provisions of treaties of 1866 with the Creek and Seminole Nations, whereby the United States guaranteed to them quiet possession of their country, cannot be construed as obliging the United States to indemnify them for damages sustained through wrongful appropriations of tribal land in the guise of "station reservations," but for non-railroad purposes, by railroad companies whose lines were built and operated in the Indians' country by permission of the United States and under sanction of the treaties. P. 318 U. S. 633.

2. Section 15 of the Act of February 28, 1902, provided that the Indian tribes through whose land railroads were to be built under the Act should be compensated by the railroad companies for the land taken, and established a system of valuation under judicial supervision with a right of appellate review. These provisions prescribe an adequate method by which the tribes could protect their own interests, but contain no indication that the United States should pay for the lands taken. P. 318 U. S. 636.

3. Read in view of its legislative history and its relation to other similar legislation, the Act of February 28, 1902 (§ 16), in providing that, where a railroad is constructed under it in the Indian territory, the railroad company shall pay to the Secretary of the Interior, for the benefit of the particular tribe or nation through whose lands it is constructed, "an annual charge of fifteen dollars per mile" did not make the Government an insurer of collection, nor put upon the Secretary a mandatory duty to collect, nor does it import an obligation of the United States to the tribe for, charges which railroad companies have failed to pay. P. 318 U. S. 637.

4. The Act of April 26, 1906, § 11, providing that all revenues accruing to the Creek and Seminole tribes shall "be collected by an officer appointed by the Secretary of the Interior under rules and regulations to be prescribed by him," did not make the United States liable for rents and profits of tribal land allegedly taken and used for non-railroad purposes by railroad companies under color of

Page 318 U. S. 630

authority to build and operate railroads in the Indians' country. P. 318 U. S. 638.

5. As to trespasses which may have been committed by the railroad without compliance with the forms of the authorizing Acts, or as to holdings, once proper, which the railroads may have retained after the rights to them had expired, the Act of 1906 imposed no absolute duty on the Secretary to obtain compensation. P. 318 U. S. 639.

6. The duty of the Secretary of the Interior under the Act of 1906 to collect revenues of the Creeks and Seminoles, and to bring suits for their use in the name of the United States for the collection of any moneys, or the recovery of any land claimed by them, was discretionary. P. 318 U. S. 639.

7. The Creek and Seminole Tribes, not having been dissolved, had a legal right to bring actions for trespasses on their lands by railroad companies -- a right which was not precluded by the fact that the United States also, as guardian, was empowered to sue. P. 318 U. S. 640.

9 Ct.Cls. 591, 723, affirmed.

Certiorari, 317 U.S. 614, to review judgments sustaining demurrers to petitions setting up claims against the United States, and dismissing the petitions. See also 75 Ct.Cls. 873.

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