137 U.S. 528 (1890), St. Paul, M. & M. Ry. Co. v. Phelps

Citation:137 U.S. 528, 11 S.Ct. 168, 34 L.Ed. 767
Party Name:ST. PAUL, M. & M. RY. CO. v. PHELPS.
Case Date:December 22, 1890
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 528

137 U.S. 528 (1890)

11 S.Ct. 168, 34 L.Ed. 767

ST. PAUL, M. & M. RY. CO.



United States Supreme Court.

December 22, 1890

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


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[11 S.Ct. 168] S. U. Pinney, for appellant.

James McNaught, A. H. Garland, and Heber J. May, for appellee.



This was a suit in equity brought by the St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway Company, a Minnesota corporation, against Ransom Phelps, to quiet the title to about 80 acres of land in Richland county, North Dakota, particularly described as the E. 1/2 of the S. E. 1/4 of section 13, township 132, range 48, alleged to belong to the plaintiff, and which was claimed by the defendant. The bill was filed April 29, 1884, and set forth at great length the various steps by which the plaintiff derived its claim of title, averred that the defendant had no valid title to the land, by reason of plaintiff's prior right in the premises, and prayed that its own equitable title be quieted and protected, and the defendant be enjoined from setting up any claim whatever to the land, and for other and further relief, etc. The defendant answered, denying all the material allegations of the bill, and the plaintiff filed a replication. The case was tried upon an agreed statement of facts, and on the 3d of March, 1886, the circuit court announced its decision and opinion in writing, pursuant to which it ordered that the bill be dismissed at complainant's cost. The opinion is reported in 26 F. 569. On the 4th of March, 1886, a final decree was entered, dismissing the bill of complaint, and an appeal to this court was taken and allowed. The material facts in the case are, briefly, as follows: The plaintiff claims the land in dispute as the present beneficiary under the acts of congress approved March 3, 1857, (11 St. 195,)

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and March 3, 1865, (13 St. 526,) making a grant of lands to the territory of Minnesota, to aid in the construction of railroads. The provisions of the act of 1857 material to this issue are as follows: 'Be it enacted,' etc., 'that there be and is hereby granted to the territory of Minnesota, for the purpose of aiding in the construction of railroads, from Stillwater, by way of Saint Paul and Saint Anthony, to a point between the foot of Big Stone lake and the mouth of Sioux Wood river, with a branch via Saint Cloud and Crow Wing, to the navigable waters of the Red River of the North, at such point as the legislature of said territory may determine; from St. Paul and from Saint Anthony, via Minneapolis, to a convenient point of junction west of the Mississippi, to the southern boundary of the territory in the direction of the mouth of the Big Sioux river, with a branch, via Faribault, to the north line of the state of Iowa, west of range sixteen; from Winona, via Saint Peters, to a point on the Big Sioux river, south of the forty-fifth parallel of north latitude; also from La Crescent, via Target lake, up the valley of Root river, to a point of junction with the last-mentioned road, east of range seventeen,--every alternate section of land, designated by odd numbers, for six sections in width on each side of each of said roads and branches; but in case it shall appear that the United States have, when the lines or routes of said roads and branches are definitely fixed, sold any sections, or any parts thereof, granted as aforesaid, or that the right of pre-emption has attached to the same, then it shall be lawful for any agent or agents to be appointed by the governor of said territory or future state, to select, subject to the approval of the secretary of the interior, from the lands of the United States nearest to the tiers of sections above specified, so much land, in alternate sections, or parts of sections, as shall be equal to such lands as the United States have sold, or otherwise appropriated, or to which the rights of preemption have attached, as aforesaid; which lands (thus selected in lieu of those sold, and to which pre-emption rights have attached as aforesaid, together with the sections and parts of sections designated by

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odd numbers as aforesaid, and appropriated as aforesaid) shall be held by the territory or future state of Minnesota for the use and purpose aforesid: provided, that the land to be so located shall in no case be further than fifteen miles from the lines of said roads or branches, and selected for and on account of each of said roads or branches.' Section 3 provides 'that the said lands hereby granted [11 S.Ct. 169] to the said territory or future state shall be subject to the future disposal of the legislature thereof for the purposes herein expressed and no other.' Section 4 defines the manner in which the lands granted shall be disposed of by the territory or future state. The act of 1865 enlarged the original grant from 6 to 10 sections per mile on each side of the road, and the indemnity limits from 15 to 20 miles. To carry out the provisions of the granting act, the territorial legislature passed an act creating the Minnesota & Pacific Railroad Company, and bestowed upon it the lands which had been granted to the territory; and by the same act the terminus of the main line of the road was fixed at Breckinridge, at the mouth of the Sioux Wood river, as the point 'between the foot of Big Stone lake and the mouth of the Sioux Wood river,' referred to in the act of congress. On the 5th of December, 1857, the company filed with the commissioner of the general land-office a map showing the definite location of the main line of the road as far west as Breckinridge; but, as the public surveys at that time extended only to the west line of range 38,--about half the length of the road,--it was not accepted as the map of definite location by the land-office any further west than the surveys extended. After the surveys had been completed as far west as Breckinridge, the company filed another map of definite location for the remaining part of the road, which was, in reality, a map of the original location made to conform to the public surveys. The exact date of the filing of this latter map and its acceptance by the land department does not appear in the record, but it was prior to May 25, 1869. The railroad was completed to Breckinridge within the time

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limited by the act of March 3, 1865, supra. It is conceded that the tract in controversy is part of an odd section lying within six miles of the line of the road, and that the appellant has succeeded to all the rights and privileges respecting the grant that were originally conferred upon the territory of Minnesota, and by its legislature conferred upon the Minnesota & Pacific Railroad Company.

The main contention of the appellee is that this land, although within six miles of the line of the road as definitely located, and as actually constructed, and otherwise conforming to the description of the lands granted by the act of 1857, was not granted by that act, because it lies outside of the limits of the present state of Minnesota, within what is now the state of North Dakota. although at the date of the grant it lay within the limits of Minnesota territory. This contention is based upon the following theory: At the time the grant of 1857 was made, Minnesota was a territory, whose western boundary was the Missouri river. Five days prior thereto,--to-wit, February 26, 1857,--congress passed an enabling act for the proposed state, (11 St. 166,) which designated the western boundary thereof as follows: 'Beginning at the point in the center of the main channel of the Red River of the North, where the boundary line between the United States and the British possessions crosses the same; thence up the main channel of said river to that of the Boix des Sioux river; thence [up] the main channel of said river to Lake Travers; thence up the center of said lake to the southern extremity thereof; thence in a direct line to the head of Big Stone lake; thence through its center to its outlet; thence by a due south line to the north line of the state of Iowa.' Under this enabling act, the state of Minnesota was organized and admitted into the Union May 11, 1858, (11 St. 285.) It is said that it has been the settled policy of the government to confine land grants made in aid of railroads wholly within a state or territory to lands lying within the same state or territory, and that, therefore, inasmuch as the land in this case is outside of the state of Minnesota, although within the limits of the territory as it existed at the date of the grant, it cannot be included

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in the grant to this branch of the road lying wholly within the state. This was the conclusion reached by the circuit court in view of the ruling of the land department, and the refusal of the secretary of the interior, in the adjustment of the grant to this branch of the road, to certify to the state any lands lying beyond its western boundary line, which ruling the court expressed itself unwilling to reverse, or to jeopardize the rights and large interests (including a prosperous village) that were said to have grown up on the faith of it. Against this...

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