APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF THE TERRITORY OF ARIZONA.
MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the court.
This is a suit to quiet title brought in 1887 by the appellee's intestate in the District Court of Arizona.The decision was in favor of the appellee, and this decision was affirmed by the Supreme Court of the Territory,
whereupon the defendant Richardson appealed to this court.
The appellee represents a title derived from a grant by the Mexican Government of land in the portion of Arizona afterwards acquired by the Gadsden Purchase, December 30, 1853. 10 Stat. 1031. At the time of the Gadsden Purchase this title was complete. The appellant claims through mesne conveyances from holders of patents issued by the United States in 1879 and 1880 under the homestead laws.
The first error assigned is that the District Court was without jurisdiction. That point already has been decided against the appellant in this very case under the name of Ainsa v. New Mexico & Arizona R.R. Co., No. 2, 175 U.S. 91, so that it is not open to him to urge it. United States v. Camou, 184 U.S. 572, 574. But it is proper to say that in our opinion the decision did not proceed upon a mistake of fact and is not inconsistent with the reasoning of the immediately preceding decision between the same parties, 175 U.S. 76, 86, although No. 2 was begun before and No. 1 after the passage of the act of March 3, 1891, c. 539, 26 Stat. 854, establishing a Court of Private Land Claims.
In 1892 the United States brought a suit against the present appellee in the Court of Private Land Claims, alleging that his claim was void, and that the United States had granted patents for portions of the land, praying that the title might be adjudicated, and, if valid, the boundaries established, excepting such parts as might have been disposed of by the United States. The appellee answered setting up title, and praying confirmation. Ultimately in pursuance of the decision of this court, Ely's Administrator v. United States, 171 U.S. 220, a decree was entered in his favor and a patent issued to him on October 29, 1906, specifying no exceptions other than one of "gold, silver, or quicksilver mines or minerals of the same."
The appellant however contends that by virtue of the above-mentioned statute of March 3, 1891, the effect of the appellee's appearance in the Court of Private Land Claims was to forfeit all portions of the land in controversy that had been patented by the United States, and to give the appellee in place of it a claim for not exceeding $1.25 per acre so patented against the United States. The contrary decision is the other error assigned.
Of course, the patents for homesteads issued in the name of the United States, on the facts that we have stated, were a mere usurpation and were void. The lands covered by them, whether reserved or not by the acts of July 22, 1854, c. 103, § 8, 10 Stat. 308; July 15, 1870, c. 292, 16 Stat. 304, were not public lands, but private property, which the Government was bound by the express terms of the Gadsden Treaty of December 30, 1853, to respect. The appellant's claim rests solely on an interpretation of §§ 8 and 14 of the above-mentioned act of 1891, that would cut down the performance of the treaty promise by the United States to at least to the narrowest limits consistent with good faith. We are of opinion that the different construction adopted by the court below, and also by the Acting Secretary of the Interior in Ely v. Magee, 34 L.D. 506, 512, is correct. After providing in § 6 for incomplete titles the act goes on in § 8 to deal with complete ones. Holders of claims under such titles, it says, "shall have the right (but shall not be bound) to apply to said court" for a confirmation of their title. Of course, this means that the title is recognized as good without the proceeding in court. Ainsa v. New Mexico & Arizona R.R. Co., 175 U.S. 76, 90.
The confirmation is granted, "excepting any part of such land that shall have been disposed of by the United States," and without prejudice to conflicting private interests. Then, ...