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Opinion of the Court.
stead law, claiming that, by the cancellation for abandonment, it had passed back into the mass of public lands and was not brought within the grant; and upon that claim ousted the defendant in error, who afterwards brought his action against the railroad company for a breach of covenant, obtaining a judgment in the court below, which was afterwards affirmed by this court.
The court said, Mr. Justice Miller delivering its opinion:
“The record shows that, on July 25, 1866, Miller made a homestead entry on this land which was in every respect valid.
It also shows that the line of definite location of the company's road was first filed
September 21, 1866."
“In the language of the act of Congress, this homestead claim had attached to the land, and it therefore did not pass by the grant. Of all the words in the English language, this word attached was probably the best that could have been used. It did not mean mere settlement, residence, or cultivation of the land, but it meant a proceeding in the proper land office, by which the inchoate right to the land was initiated. It meant that by such a proceeding a right of homestead had fastened to that land, which could ripen into a perfect title by future residence and cultivation. With the performance of these conditions the company had nothing to do." p. 644.
“It is argued by the company that, although Miller's homestead entry had attached to the land, within the meaning of the excepting clause of the grant, before the line of definite location was filed by it, yet when Miller abandoned his claim, so that it no longer existed, the exception no longer operated, and the land reverted to the company — that the grant by its inherent force reasserted itself and extended to or covered the land as though it had never been within the exception.
“We are unable to perceive the force of this proposition." p. 639, 640.
Opinion of the Court.
“No attempt has ever been made to include lands reserved to the United States, which reservation afterwards ceased to exist, within the grant, though this road, and others with grants in similar language, have more than once passed through military reservations for forts and other purposes, which have been given up or abandoned as such reservations, and were of great value. Nor is it understood that, in any case where lands had been otherwise disposed of, their reversion to the government brought them within the grant.
Why should a different construction apply to lands, to which a homestead or preëmption right had attached ? Did Congress intend to say that the right of the company also attaches, and whichever proved to be the better right should obtain the land ?” p. 641.
Counsel for plaintiff in error contends that the case just cited has no application to the one we are now considering, the difference being that in that case the entry existing at the time of the location of the road was an entry valid in all respects, while the entry in this case was invalid on its face, and in its inception; and that this entry having been made by an agent of the applicant, and based upon an affidavit which failed to show the settlement and improvement required by law, was, on its face, not such a proceeding, in the proper land office, as could attach even an inchoate right to the land.
We do not think this contention can be maintained. Under the homestead law three things are needed to be done in order to constitute an entry on public lands: First, the applicant must make an affidavit setting forth the facts which entitle him to make such an entry ; second, he must make a formal application ; and, third, he must make payment of the money required. When these three requisites are complied with, and the certificate of entry is executed and delivered to him, the entry is made the land is entered. If either one of these integral parts of an entry is defective, that is, if the affidavit be insufficient in its showing, or if the application itself is informal, or if the payment is not made in actual cash, the register and receiver are justified in rejecting the application. But if, notwithstanding these defects, the application is
Opinion of the Court.
allowed by the land officers, and a certificate of entry is delivered to the applicant, and the entry is made of record, such entry may be afterwards cancelled on account of these defects by the Commissioner, or on appeal by the Secretary of the Interior; or, as is often the practice, the entry may be suspended, a hearing ordered and the party notified to show by supplemental proof a full compliance with the requirements of the department; and on failure to do so the entry may then be cancelled. But these defects, whether they be of form or substance, by no means render the entry absolutely a nullity. So long as it 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 there fore precludes it from subsequent grants. In the case before us, at the time of the location of the company's road, an examination of the tract books and the plat filed in the office of the register and receiver, or in the land office, would have disclosed Turner's entry as an entry of record, accepted by the proper officers in the proper office, together with the application and necessary money — an entry the imperfections and defects of which could have been cured by a supplemental affidavit or by other proof of the requisite qualifications of the applicant. Such an entry attached to the land a right which the road cannot dispute for any supposed failure of the entryman to comply with all the provisions of the law under which he made his claim. A practice of allowing such contests would be fraught with the gravest dangers to actual settlers, and would be subversive of the principles upon which the munificent railroad grants are based.
As was said in the Dunmeyer case, supra :
“It is not conceivable that Congress intended to place these parties [homestead and preëmption claimants on the one hand and the railway company on the other) as contestants for the land, with the right in each to require proof from the other of complete performance of its obligation. Least of all is it to be supposed that it was intended to raise up, in antagonism to all the actual settlers on the soil, whom it had invited to its occu
Opinion of the Court.
pation, this great corporation, with an interest to defeat their claims, and to come between them and the government as to the performance of their obligations." p. 641.
A question somewhat analogous, in principle, to the one in this case, arose in Newhall v. Sanger, 92 U. S. 761. In that case, Newhall claimed under a patent issued to the Western Pacific Railroad Company for land supposed to be within the grant made by the act of July 1, 1862, 12 Stat. 489, c. 120, and that of July 2, 1864, 13 Stat. 356, c. 216, and Sanger claimed under a subsequent patent which recited, among other things, that the former patent had been erroneously issued. The land in controversy had been within the boundaries of a claim made under a Mexican grant, which was pending in the Land Department of the United States at the time the order withdrawing the railroad lands from entry was made. The Mexican claim was rejected a few days thereafter because of its fraudulent character. Under that state of facts, the contention of the railroad company was, that, the Mexican claim having been declared invalid, the land in controversy became subject to the operation of the granting acts, and, therefore, passed to the company. But this court declared otherwise, and held that the land never became subject to the grant, and that the claimant under the second patent had the better title.
In addition to this, section 2308 of the Revised Statutes provides :
"Where a party at the date of his entry of a tract of land under the homestead laws, or subsequently thereto, was actually enlisted and employed in the Army or Navy of the United States, his services therein shall, in the administration of such homestead laws, be construed to be equivalent, to all intents and purposes, to a residence of the same length of time upon the tract so entered,” etc.
That act is a curative act, or, rather, one putting a construction
upon the prior act of 1864, under which the Turner entry was made. The effect of it is to declare service in the Army or Navy of the United States by the applicant, at the date of an entry made under the act of 1864, equivalent to actual resi
upon the land by him. In that view of the case the affi
Opinion of the Court.
davit in the Turner entry was sufficient; for, in contemplation of law, he was then residing upon the tract embraced in his entry.
The conclusion at which we have arrived is in harmony with the later rulings of the Land Department. See Graham v. Hastings & Dakota Railroad, (this case,) 1 Land Dec. 380; St. Paul &c. Railway v. Forseth, 3 Land Dec. 457 ; So. Minn. Railway v. Galli pean, 3 Land Dec. 166 ; Hastings & Dakota Railway v. United States, 3 Land Dec. 479; St. Paul &c. Railway v. Leech, 3 Land Dec. 506 ; Ilastings & Dakota Railway v. Whitnall, 4 Land Dec. 249; and many others of like tenor and effect.
It is true that the decisions of the Land Department on matters of law are not binding upon this court, in any sense. But on questions similar to the one involved in this case they are entitled to great respect at the hands of any court. In United States v. Moore, 95 U. S. 760, 763, this court said: “The construction given to a statute by those charged with the duty of executing it is always entitled to the most respectful consideration, and ought not to be overruled without cogent reasons.
The officers concerned are usually able men, and masters of the subject. Not unfrequently they are the draftsmen of the laws they are afterwards called upon to interpret." See also Broin v. United States, 113 U. S. 568, 571, and cases there cited; United States v. Burlington &c. Railroad, 98 U. S. 334, 341; Kansas Pacific Railroad v. Atchison Railroad, 112 U. S. 414, 418.
Other subsidiary questions have been argued by counsel for plaintiff in error, but they are all virtually disposed of in the foregoing
For the foregoing reasons we concur with the court below that Turner's homestead entry excepted the land from the operation of the railroad grant; and that upon the cancellation of that entry the tract in question did not inure to the benefit of the company, but reverted to the government and became a part of the public domain, subject to appropriation by the first legal applicant, who, as the record shows, was the defendant in error, Julia D. Whitney, née Graham.
The decree of the Supreme Court of Minnesota is Affirmed.