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United States v. Galbraith, 67 U.S. 394 (1862)

United States v. Galbraith

67 U.S. 394


1. In a California land case, the production of a fraudulent and false certificate of approval signed by the governor and secretary who signed the grant and proved by the same witnesses in the same way that the grant was proved, affords (in the absence of explanatory evidence,) strong ground for believing all the title papers to be fabricated.

2. Where the date of a grant has been altered while it was in the hands of the claimants and is produced to the court without evidence to show how the alteration came to be made, this Court cannot confirm the title.

3. The case of United States v. West's Heirs reviewed, the facts stated from the original record, and all its features shown to be strikingly different from this case.

4. The fact that an espediente is found among those indexed by Hartnell in 1847-1848 is no evidence that it was made at the time of its date.

This was a land claim originating before the commission appointed under the Act of March 3, 1851, and coming into this Court by appeal from the decree of the District Court for the Northern District of California.

The petition of John D. Galbraith, John Sime, Richard H. Sinton, and David T. Bagley asserted their right to a tract of land containing four square leagues in Sonoma, called the Bolsa de Tomales, bounded by lands of Juan Viojet, Bartolo Bojorques, the Bay of Bodega and the creek (entre) of Tomales, under a

Page 67 U. S. 395

grant from the governor dated 12 June, 1846, to Juan N. Padilla, whose title by sundry mesne conveyances became vested in the petitioners.

The title papers consisted of 1. a petition for four square leagues, signed by Padilla, addressed to the governor and dated at Monterey, May 14, 1846; 2. a marginal order of the governor, dated Los Angelos, May 20, 1846, directing the Prefect of the Second District "to report about the state of this land with all the particulars concerning the same," and declaring that "when the return is made the governor will resolve;" 3. a certificate of the prefect (Manuel Castro) dated May 10, 1846, that Padilla had made application for the land, that the espediente was in that prefecture, and that the reports show the land to be vacant and grantable; 4. a decree of concession dated June 12, 1846; 5. a borrador of a grant for five leagues, dated same day; 6. the grant or titulo alleged to be the original and bearing the date of February 12, 1846, signed by Pio Pico as governor, and attested by Moreno as Secretary; 7. a certificate dated 14 June, 1846, and signed in the same way by Pico and Moreno, that the grant had been confirmed by the departmental assembly.

The last two of these papers were produced by the claimants from their private custody; the other five were brought from the surveyor general's office, where they were found filed, arranged and deposited in the form of an espediente with a class of documents known as being comprised in Hartnell's Index. An account of that Index will be found in United States v. Knight's Adm'rs, 1 Black 227.

Parol evidence was given by the claimants to prove the handwriting of Padilla to the petition, of Castro to the informe, of Pico to the order of reference, and of Pico and Moreno to the grant and certificate of approval. Moreno, the Secretary, was himself called, and he testified that the signatures to the grant and to the certificate of approval were genuine and made at the time those documents bear date. On cross-examination, he said that the grant appearing to be dated on the 12th of February, he could not have signed it then, for he was not in office until

Page 67 U. S. 396

afterwards, but he must undoubtedly have signed it before the 4th of May, and he was convinced that he did so.

The word Febrero was plainly written as the date of the original grant; all copies of it in the record have it so, and every official translation gives February as the date. The claimants themselves at first, recited it as of that date in their petition. But it appeared from the remarks of the land commission and otherwise that the date had been altered by writing Febrero over some other word, probably Junio. Of this alteration no explanation was given to show when, how, or by whom it was made. The paper did not appear ever to have been in any custody but that of the claimants themselves or the persons from and through whom the title was deduced.

The certificate of approval was shown not to be true by the journals of the departmental assembly. It was made certain by these records that no such grant as this to Padilla was ever laid before that body. But there was no evidence in the case besides that of Moreno to show whether the false certificate was actually made by the governor and secretary or by some other person who counterfeited their signatures.

Mr. Hopkins, clerk in the surveyor general's office and keeper of the archives, was a witness in the cause and gave it as his opinion that the espediente was genuine. His testimony proved that this espediente was numbered 571 on Hartnell's Index, and that the grants in numbers 569, 570, 572, and 573, as well as some others indexed by Hartnell, were originally dated on days subsequent to the conquest, and afterwards altered to other days before the conquest. He regarded these latter grants as fraudulent.

Evidence was given of the occupancy and use of the land by the claimants. It did not establish any clear, notorious or well settled possession previous to the conquest or at any time soon afterwards.

The Land Commission decreed the confirmation of the title with strong expressions of reluctance and much doubt concerning its honesty. That decree was affirmed by the district court from whence it came up to this Court by appeal where

Page 67 U. S. 397

the decree of the district court was reversed and the cause remitted with directions to take further evidence, 63 U. S. 22 How. 89. Much of the evidence referred to above was taken after the cause went back.

The district court upon the whole evidence considered and adjudged the claim to be well founded in law. The decree in accordance with that opinion was brought to the Supreme Court on this appeal by the United States.

Page 67 U. S. 401

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