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MCMICKEN V. UNITED STATES, 97 U. S. 204 (1877)

U.S. Supreme Court

McMicken v. United States, 97 U.S. 204 (1877)

McMicken v. United States

97 U.S. 204


1. On Dec. 17, 1798, A. applied to the Spanish governor general for a grant of six hundred and ten arpents of land, for a plantation and settlement, in the District of Baton Rouge, three miles from the Mississippi. To the application was annexed a certificate of the local surveyor that in the District of St. Helena, on the west bank of the Tangipahoa River, beginning at the thirty first parallel of latitude, the boundary line of the United States, and about fifty miles east of the Mississippi, there were vacant lands in which could be found the arpents front which the petitioner asked for, excluding whatever might be in the possession of actual settlers. To this application the surveyor of the district added a further certificate, dated Dec. 22, 1798, and addressed to the governor, by which he stated that four hundred and ten arpents might be conceded in the place indicated by the local surveyor. Thereupon De Lemos, then governor, issued a warrant or order of survey, as follows:

"NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 2, 1799"

"The surveyor of this province, Don Carlos Trudeau, shall locate this interested party on four hundred and ten arpents of land, front, in the place indicated in the foregoing certificate, they being vacant, and thereby not causing injury to anyone, with the express condition to make the high road and do the usual clearing of timber in the absolutely fixed limit in one year, and that this concession is to remain null and void if at the expiration of the precise space of three years the land shall not be found settled upon, and to not be able to alienate it within the same three years, under which supposition there shall be carried out uninterruptedly the proceedings of the survey, which he (the surveyor) shall transmit to me, so as to provide the interested party with the corresponding title papers in due form."

Neither survey, settlement, nor improvement of any kind was ever made by A. or by anyone claiming under him. On Feb. 20, 1806, after the cession of Louisiana to the United States but before this part of it was surrendered by Spain, he procured from the local Spanish surveyor at Baton Rouge an authority to a deputy surveyor to survey the tract according to certain general instructions which do not appear, specifying, however, that it was understood that the warrant was for a certain number of arpents in front, and that the depth ought to be forty arpents, or four hundred perches of Paris. Nothing was ever done by the deputy surveyor, and the prosecution of the grant was abandoned by A. and his assigns until long afterwards. Grandpre, having in 1806 become governor, issued a warrant for a thousand arpents, on a portion of the tract to one Yarr, whose title was subsequently confirmed by the United States. Before the country was occupied by the United States, actual settlers had become possessed of the whole tract, and they were, upon the report of the commission appointed to investigate the titles to land in that region, subsequently confirmed in their holdings by the Act of March 3, 1819. A., Sept. 16, 1814, assigned his right to the land to B., who, Dec. 26, 1824, presented his claim to the lands to the commissioners under the Act passed May 26, 1824, 4 Stat. 59, by whom it was rejected. B. having died, C., claiming as his devisee, brought this suit under the Act of June 22, 1860, entitled "An Act for the final adjustment

Page 97 U. S. 205

of land claims in the States of Florida, Louisiana, and Missouri, and for other purposes," 12 id. 85, but showed no derivation of title to himself. Held, l. that the lands, by reason of the non performance within the specified time of the conditions mentioned in the warrant of survey, were forfeited and became subject to the disposing power of the United States; 2. that if the legal representatives of B. had a valid claim, C., being a stranger thereto, and showing no interest therein, would not be entitled to a decree confirming it in their favor.

2. The said Act of June 22, 1860, supra, although it contains sundry remedial provisions and removes the objection arising from the want of title in the government which was in possession of the territory at the time of making the grants, if they were otherwise sustainable on the principles of justice and equity, does not aid claims which from intrinsic defects were invalid in 1815 or 1825.

3. The laws and the proceedings thereunder, touching French and Spanish grants, mentioned, and the decisions as to the effect thereon of a breach of the conditions annexed thereto cited and examined.

The facts are stated in the opinion of the Court.

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