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Opinion of the Court.
HASTINGS AND DAKOTA RAILROAD COMPANY
ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF MINNESOTA.
No. 49. Argued October 31, November 1, 1889. - Decided December 9, 1889.
So long as a homestead entry, valid upon its face, remains a subsisting entry
of record whose legality has been passed upon by the land authorities, and their action remains unreversed, it is such an appropriation of the tract as segregates it from the public domain, and precludes it from
a subsequent grant by Congress. A defect in a homestead entry on public land in Minnesota made by a soldier
in active service in Virginia during the war, caused by want of the requisite residence on it, was cured by the act of June 8, 1872 “ to amend an Act relating to Soldiers' and Sailors' Homesteads,” 17 Stat. 333, c. 338,
$ 1 (Rev. Stat. § 2308). While the decisions of the Land Department on matters of law are not
binding on this court, they are entitled to great respect.
The case is stated in the opinion.
Mr. Gordon E. Cole for plaintiff in error.
No appearance for defendants in error.
MR. JUSTICE Lamar delivered the opinion of the court.
This is an action, somewhat in the nature of a suit in equity, originally brought in the District Court of Ramsey County, Minnesota, by the Hastings and Dakota Railroad Company, (a corporation organized under the laws of that State,) against Julia D. and John Whitney, to recover a tract of about eighty acres of land situated in that county, for which the defendants have a United States patent.
The material facts in the case are undisputed, and are substantially as follows: By the act of July 4, 1866, Congress granted to the State of Minnesota, for the purpose of aiding in the construction of a railroad from Hastings, through the counties of Dakota, Scott, Carver, and McLeod, to such point on the western boundary of the State as the legislature of the
Opinion of the Court.
State might determine, every alternate section of land, designated by odd numbers, to the amount of five alternate sections per mile on each side of the road. The act further provided that “in case it shall appear that the United States have, when the lines or route of said roads are definitely located, sold any section, or part thereof, granted as aforesaid, or that the right of preëmption or homestead settlement has attached to the same, or that the same has been reserved by the United States for any purpose whatever, then it shall be the duty of the Secretary of the Interior to cause to be selected, for the purposes aforesaid, from the public lands of the United States nearest to the tiers of sections above specified, so much land in alternate sections or parts of sections, designated by odd numbers, as shall be equal to such lands as the United States have sold, reserved or otherwise appropriated, or to which the right of homestead settlement or preëmption has attached as aforesaid, which lands, thus indicated by odd numbers and sections, by the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, shall be held by said State of Minnesota for the purposes and uses aforesaid.” 14 Stat. 87, c. 168, S 1.
On the 7th of March, 1867, the legislature of Minnesota accepted this grant, and transferred it over to the plaintiff. The railroad company complied with all the terms and conditions of the acts of Congress and of the legislature of the State of Minnesota, and, on or about the 7th of March, 1867, definitely located its line of road by filing its map in the office of the Commissioner of the General Land Office.
The land which is the subject of this controversy fell within what are known as the ten-mile limits of the aforesaid grant, when the line of road was definitely located.
The case being brought on for trial on evidence produced by the respective parties, the court made and filed its findings of fact and conclusions of law, the essential parts of which are as follows:
“Claiming to act under the provisions of section 2293 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, one Bentley S. Turner, on the 8th of May, 1865, then being a soldier in the army of the United States, and actually with his regiment in the State
Opinion of the Court.
of Virginia, made an affidavit and caused the same to be filed in the local land office of the district wherein said land was situate. Said affidavit was made before his commanding officer in the State of Virginia, and stated that said Turner was the head of a family, a citizen of the United States, and a resident of Franklin County, New York. Application was made through one Conwell, whom said Turner constituted his attorney for that purpose, upon said affidavit, to enter said land as a homestead. Said affidavit did not state that Turner's family or any member thereof was residing on the land, or that there was any improvement thereon ; and, as a matter of fact, no member of his family was then residing, or ever did reside, on said land, and no improvement whatever had ever been made thereon by any one. Thereupon, upon being paid their fees by said Conwell, the register and receiver of said land office allowed said entry, and the same stood upon the records of said local land office and upon the records of the General Land Office uncancelled until September 30th, 1872, when said entry was cancelled by the proper officers of the United States. It does not appear that any specific reason was assigned for said cancellation, nor does the reason for said cancellation appear, save as it may be furnished by the facts aforesaid. On the 7th day of May, 1877, without notice to the plaintiff, the defendant, Julia D. Whitney, then a single woman, by name Julia D. Graham, who has since intermarried with said defendant, John Whitney, did enter said land at the local land office as a homestead, and thereafter, in the usual course of business, the officers in charge of the General Land Office of the United States caused a patent of the United States for said land to be issued in due form, and delivered to said defendant Julia, who ever since May 7th, 1877, has been and now is in the actual occupancy of said premises, holding the same under said patent. Said land is of the value of six hundred dollars ($600).”
After making these findings of fact, and holding as a conclusion of law that the alleged entry of Turner was absolutely void, that the title to the land in dispute was, under the land grant to the State, vested in the plaintiff, and that the entry
Opinion of the Court.
of Julia D. Whitney thereon was unauthorized and of no effect, the court entered a decree in favor of the plaintiff in error.
On an appeal by the defendant to the Supreme Court of the State that decree was reversed, without any order for a new trial. 34 Minnesota, 538. Such reversal, under the laws of Minnesota, is, in effect, the final judgment of the highest court of that State in which a decision of the cause could be had, and the case has been brought here by a writ of error.
Section 1 of the act of March 21, 1864, 13 Stat. 35, (now section 2293 of the Revised Statutes,) under which Turner's homestead entry was made, provides as follows:
“In case of any person desirous of availing himself of the benefits of this chapter, but who, by reason of actual service in the military or naval service of the United States, is unable to do the personal preliminary acts at the district land office which the preceding sections require, and whose family, or some member thereof, is residing on the land which he desires to enter, and upon which a bona fide improvement and settlement have been made, such person may make the affidavit required by law before the officer commanding in the branch of the service in which the party is engaged, which affidavit shall be as binding in law, and with like penalties, as if taken before the register or receiver; and upon such affidavit being filed with the register by the wife or other representative of the party, the same shall become effective from the date of such filing, provided the application and affidavit are accompanied by the fee and commissions as required by law."
The question presented for our consideration is, whether, upon the facts found and admitted, the homestead entry of Turner upon the land in controversy excepted it from the operation of the land grant under which plaintiff in error claims title.
The doctrine first announced in Wilcox v. Jackson, 13 Pet. 498, that a tract lawfully appropriated to any purpose becomes thereafter severed from the mass of public lands, and that no subsequent law or proclamation will be construed to embrace it or to operate upon it, although no exception be made of it, has been reaffirmed and applied by this court in such a
Opinion of the Court.
great number and variety of cases that it may now be regarded as one of the fundamental principles underlying the land system of this country.
In Witherspoon v. Duncan, 4 Wall. 210, this court decided, in accordance with the decision in Carroll v. Safford, 3 How. 441, that “lands originally public cease to be public after they have been entered at the land office, and a certificate of entry has been obtained.” And the court further held that this applies as well to homestead and preëmption as to cash entries. In either case, the entry being made, and the certificate being executed and delivered, the particular land entered thereby becomes segregated from the mass of public lands, and takes the character of private property. The fact that such an entry may not be confirmed by the land office on account of any alleged defect therein, or may be cancelled or declared forfeited on account of non-compliance with the law, or even declared void, after a patent has issued, on account of fraud, in a direct proceeding for that purpose in the courts, is an incident inherent in all entries of the public lands.
In the light of these decisions the almost uniform practice of the department has been to regard land, upon which an entry of record valid upon its face has been made, as appropriated and withdrawn from subsequent homestead entry, preëmption settlement, sale or grant until the original entry be cancelled or declared forfeited; in which case the land reverts to the government as part of the public domain, and becomes again subject to entry under the land laws. The correctness of this holding has been sustained by this court in the case of Kansas Pacific Railway v. Dunmeyer, 113 U. S. 629, and the principle applied to a railroad grant act, which contained the same exceptions as those embodied in the act under which the plaintiff in error claims title to the tract in controversy. In that case a homestead claim had been made and filed in the land office by one Miller, and there recognized by a certificate of entry, before the line of the company's road was located. Subsequently to the location he abandoned his entry and took a title under the railroad company, and his homestead entry was cancelled. One G. B. Dunmeyer then entered the land under the home