134 U.S. 178 (1890), Jefferis v. East Omaha Land Co.

Citation:134 U.S. 178, 10 S.Ct. 518, 33 L.Ed. 872
Case Date:March 10, 1890
Court:United States Supreme Court

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134 U.S. 178 (1890)

10 S.Ct. 518, 33 L.Ed. 872




United States Supreme Court.

March 10, 1890

        Appeal from the circuit court of the United States for the district of Nebraska.


         [10 S.Ct. 518] Finley Burke, for appellant.

        J. W. Wool-worth and C. J. Greene, for appellee.


        BLATCHFORD, J.

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        This is a suit in equity, brought in the circuit court of the United States for the district of Nebraska on the 9th of February, 1889, by The East Omaha Land Company, a Nebraska corporation, against Thomas Jefferis.  The case was heard on a demurrer to the bill, which makes it necessary to state with particularity the allegations of the bill.  The are asfollows:  The lands which are the subject of the suit are of the value of $2,000 or more.  In 1851 the deputy surveyors of the United States, then engaged in surveying the public lands in township 75 N., range 44 W., of the fifth principal meridian, in the state of Iowa, ran, marked, and made fieldnotes and plats on the meander line of the left bank of the Missouri river, and returned the said field-notes and plats to the surveyor general of Iowa, who filed the same in the general land office, and they were thereupon duly approved; and since that time no resurvey has been made by the United

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States of the lands lying along, upon, or near said river, or of the premises which are the subject of the bill.  Section 21 in that to wnship was properly surveyed and subdivided by the deputy surveyors, and the plats and notes thereof were duly made, returned, and approved as aforesaid.  By the surveys the section was found, and by the plats and notes thereof returned, as fractional; and a part thereof, designated as lot 4, was formed, containing 37.24 acres, the north boundary thereof being on the Missouri river.  The meander line of the river was described in the fieldnotes as beginning at meander corner No. 6, the same being at a point on the line between sections 16 and 17 in said township and range, about 100 feet north of the intersection of the exterior lines of said sections 16 and 17 and sections 20 and 21; thence south, 71 deg. east, 2.68 chains, to meander post No. 7, on the north line of lot 4; thence south, 79 deg. 50 min. east, 54 chains; thence north, 85 deg. east, 4.50 chains; thence east 15 chains; thence north, 78 deg. east, 5.25 chains to the corner of sections 21 and 22.  A map is annexed, marked 'Exhibit A,' being a true copy of the plat so made, returned, and approved, showing the meander line of the river, and the lines of the subdivisions of sections 16, 17, 21, and 22.  On the 10th of October, 1853, one Edmund Jefferis entered lot 4 at the United States land-office for the district of land subject to sale at Kanesville, Iowa, paid the proper officer of the office the legal price thereof, and received therefor the usual register's certificate; and on the 15th of June, 1855, the usual patent of the government was duly issued to him for the land.  In the certificate and patent the land was described as lot 4, in fractional section 21, in township 75 north, range 44 west, of the fifth principal meridian, containing 37.24 acres, according to the official plat of the survey of the land returned to the general land-office by the surveyor general.  At the time of the entry the meander line of the left bank of the river was the same, or nearly the same, as shown by such field notes and plat.  On the 14th of July, 1856, said Jefferis duly conveyed the

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land to Joseph Still and Joseph I. Town, describing the same simply as lot 4, in section 21, in township 75 N., range 44 W., of the fifth principal meridian.  On the 21st of September, [10 S.Ct. 519] 1857, Town conveyed the undivided half of the premises, with warranty, to one McCoid, who, on the 16th of October, 1857, quitclaimed the premises to one Coleman.  On the 25th of May, 1858, Coleman conveyed them, with warranty, to Mrs. Ruth A. Town.  On the 27th of April, 1859, Joseph I. Town and Ruth A. Town conveyed them, with warranty, to one Boin, who, on the 30th of May, 1861, quitclaimed them to one McBride; and McBride, on the 30th of September, 1861, quitclaimed them to one Schoville.  Schoville having died, his widow and heirs quitclaimed them to the plaintiff, on the 22d of March, 1888.  On the 9th of March, 1888, Still quitclaimed the other undivided half of the premises to Lyman H. Town, who, on the 28th of March, 1888, conveyed the same to the plaintiff.  In each of the deeds made by those several parties the premises were described as lot 4, in fractional section 21, township 75 N., range 44 W., of the fifth principal meridian, and the deeds were duly recorded in the registry of Potta wattamie county, Iowa, in which county the premises were situated.  About the time of the original entry of lot 4 by Edmund Jefferis, new land was formed along and against the whole length of the north line thereof, and from that time continued to form until 1870; so that in that year, at a distance of 20 chains and more from the original meander line before described, and within the lines of the lot on the east and west running north and south, a tract of 40 acres and more had been formed by accretion to the lot, and ever since had been and now is a part thereof.  The said land was so formed by natural causes and imperceptible degress,--that is to say, by the operation of the current and waters of the river, washing and depositing earth, sand, and other material against and upon the north line of the lot; and the waters and current of the river receded therefrom, so that the new land so formed became high and dry, above the usual highwater mark, and the river made for itself its main course far north of the original meander line. 

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Such process, begun in 1853 and continued until 1870, went on so slowly that it could not be observed in its progress; but, at intervals of not less than three or four months, it could be discerned by the eye that edditions greater or less had been made to the shore.  In 1877 the river, at a point more than a mile south of the north line of the lot, suddenly cut through its bank, and made for itself a course through the same, leaving all of section 21 north of its bank.  A plat, marked 'Exhibit B,' is annexed, upon which is delineated the river both before and after such sudden change.  The river is and always has been navigable for steamers of large tonnage.  The United States never claimed any interest in the lands so formed by accretion to lot 4.  The plaintiff submits that by such several mesne conveyances, whereby the title to lot 4 has come to it, it has become seised in fee, not only of the land included within the boundaries of the lot at the time of such survey, but also of the land so formed by accretion thereto, so that the east and west boundaries of the lot are formed by the protraction of the east and west lines north to the left bank of the river as the same was in 1877, when the river suddenly changed its course, and the north boundary of the lot is the said left bank at that time.

        When the plaintiff became seised of the land, it entered into the same, and made large and valuable improvements thereon; and it has projected the enterprise of redeeming the land and other land adjoining it, of improving the same so that the whole will be available for railroad and manufacturing purposes, of building railroad tracks, station-houses, depots, warehouses, and manufacturing establishments, and selling parcels of the land to others for such purposes, and has expended more than $20,000, and has in hand $100,000 which it purposes to expend in grading, and in building roads, bridges, etc.  In 1888 one Counzeman and others, without any authority of law, entered upon the land so formed by accretion, and for a time occupied it, but afterwards abandoned it.  Recently, Counzeman has made to the defendant a deed of quitclaim

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purporting to convey a certain parcel of the land so formed by accretion to lot 4.  The south line of the land so conveyed to the defendant is about 200 feet north of the original meander...

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