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BEST V. POLK, 85 U. S. 112 (1873)

U.S. Supreme Court

Best v. Polk, 85 U.S. 18 Wall. 112 112 (1873)

Best v. Polk

85 U.S. (18 Wall.) 112


1. The Treaty of May 24, 1834, with the Chickasaw Indians, 7 Stat. at Large 450, conferred title to the reservations contemplated by it, which was complete when the locations were made to identify them.

2. A patent (as often decided before) is void which attempts to convey lands previously granted, reserved from sale, or appropriated.

3. Reservees under the treaty above named are not obliged, in addition to proving that the locations were made by the proper officers, to prove also that the conditions on which these officers were authorized to act had been observed by them.

4. Copies of records appertaining to the land office, certified by the register of the district where they are, are evidence in Mississippi.

5. An officer commissioned to hold office during the term of four years from the 2d of March, 1845, is in office on the 2d of March, 1849. The word

"from" excludes the day of date.

By virtue of a treaty made October the 20, 1832, [Footnote 1] the Chickasaw Nation of Indians, in the belief that it was better to seek a home west of the Mississippi, ceded their lands to the United States, who agreed to survey and sell them on the same terms and conditions as the other public lands, and to pay the proceeds to the nation. In order, however, that the people of the tribe should not be deprived of a home until they should have secured a country to remove to, they were allowed, after the survey and before the first public sale of their lands, to select out of the surveys a reasonable settlement for each family and to retain these selections as long as they were occupied. After this occupation ceased, the selected lands were to be sold and the proceeds paid to the nation.

On the 24th of May, 1834, a little more than a year after the date of the first treaty, another treaty [Footnote 2] was made with these Indians, essentially changing the provisions of the former one. These changes were made owing to the supposed inability of the Chickasaws to obtain a country within the

Page 85 U. S. 113

territorial limits of the United States adequate to their wants, and to the desire expressed by them to have within their own direction and control the means of taking care of themselves. Accordingly they abandoned the idea of selecting, out of the surveys, lands for temporary occupancy, and in lieu thereof reservations of a limited quantity were conceded to them. The scheme embraced the whole tribe -- heads of families as well as all persons over twenty-one years of age, male and female, who did not occupy that relation. The sixth article of the treaty reserved a section of land to each of this latter class of Indians, a list of whom, within a reasonable time, seven chiefs (named in the treaty) were to make out and file with the agent. On this officer's certifying that the list was believed to be accurate, the register and receiver were to cause the locations to be made.

In this state of things, the United States, on the 13th of March, 1847 -- reciting that one James Brown had paid, "according to the provisions of two several treaties with the Chickasaw Indians, dated October 20, 1832, and May 24, 1834," &c., for the section 23, in township 5, of range 11 west, in the district of lands subject to sale at Pontotoc, Mississippi, containing &c.,

"according to the official plat of the survey returned into the General Land Office by the surveyor general, which said tract has been purchased by the said James Brown,"

granted the section of land described to the said Brown in fee.

Brown granted it to one Polk. Hereupon, a certain Best being in possession, Polk sued him in ejectment. The defendant set up that prior to the issuing of the patent to Brown, the section had been located to an Indian, named Bah-o-nah-tubby, of the Chickasaw Nation, under the terms of the second treaty, and that he held under the said Indian.

On the trial the defendant offered in evidence a paper certified by one A. J. Edmondson, styling himself register of the land office of the United States at Pontotoc, Mississippi, to be "a true copy of the roll, number, reserves, and locations under the sixth article" of the treaty between the United States and Chickasaw Indians &c., "and of the list

Page 85 U. S. 114

of persons furnished by the Chickasaw agent to the register and receiver as Indians entitled to land under said article." The paper ran thus:

Reservations under the sixth article of the Chickasaw treaty.


The certificate of Edmondson to this exhibit was dated March 2d, 1849, while the commission of Edmondson himself, which was produced and put in evidence by the other side, was dated on March 2d also, four years previously; and appointed him register of the land office at Pontotoc "during the term of four years from the 2d day of March, 1845."

The plaintiff objected to the paper offered in evidence, upon the ground that it did not purport to be a copy of the record of the land office; that the certificate was not authorized by any act of Congress; that it stated facts and legal conclusions; that it did not show that the list was made by the person named in the articles of the treaty, or that the agent certified to its believed accuracy; that it was not founded on any order of survey, donation, preemption, or purchase; that it did not purport to be a copy of the plat of the general office; that it could not be set up to defeat a patent; that the present action being one of ejectment the legal title alone was involved, and that such title could only pass by a patent; that a patent could not be impeached at law except for defects apparent on its face; that the treaties did not convey the title in fee to the Indian Bah-o-nah-tubby, for the section of land sued for, but that the title remained in the United States till it passed out by patent.

The court decided that the paper was incompetent, and verdict and judgment having been rendered for the plaintiff, the defendant brought the case here, assigning for error the exclusion of the paper.

Page 85 U. S. 115

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