207 U.S. 564 (1908), 158, Winters v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 158
Citation:207 U.S. 564, 28 S.Ct. 207, 52 L.Ed. 340
Party Name:Winters v. United States
Case Date:January 06, 1908
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 564

207 U.S. 564 (1908)

28 S.Ct. 207, 52 L.Ed. 340



United States

No. 158

United States Supreme Court

January 6, 1908

Argued October 24, 1907




The rule that all the parties must join in an appeal or writ of error unless properly detached from the right so to do applies only to joint judgments and decrees. This Court has jurisdiction of an appeal taken or writ of error sued out by one of several defendants if his interest is separate from that of the other defendants.

In a suit against several defendants as trespassers in which some of them defaulted and others answered, held, that each defendant was a separate trespasser and that, while those who defaulted were precluded from questioning the correctness of the decree entered against them, the answering defendants had nothing in common with the other, and could maintain an appeal without them.

In a conflict of implications, the instruments must be construed according to the implication having the greater force, and, in the interpretation of agreements and treaties with Indians, ambiguities should be resolved from the standpoint of the Indians.

In view of all the circumstances of the transaction, this Court holds that there was an implied reservation in the agreement of May 1, 1888, 25 Stat. 124, with the Gros Ventre and other Indians establishing the Fort Belknap Reservation, of a sufficient amount of water from the Milk River for irrigation purposes, which was not affected by the subsequent Act of February 22, 1889, 25 Stat. 676, admitting Montana to the Union, and that the water of that river cannot be diverted, so as to prejudice this right of the Indians, by settlers on the public lands or those claiming riparian rights on that river.

The government of the United States has the power to reserve waters of a river flowing through a territory and exempt them from appropriation under the laws of the state which that territory afterwards becomes,

148 F. 684 affirmed.

This suit was brought by the United States to restrain appellants and others from constructing or maintaining dams or reservoirs on the Milk River in the State of Montana, or in any manner preventing the water of the river or its tributaries from flowing to the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation.

An interlocutory order was granted enjoining the defendants in the suit from interfering in any manner with the use by the reservation of 5,000 inches of the water of the river. The order was affirmed by the circuit court of appeals. 143 F. 740. Upon the return of the case to the circuit court, an order was taken pro confesso against five of the defendants. The appellants filed a joint and several answer, upon which and the bill a decree was entered making the preliminary injunction permanent. The decree was affirmed by the circuit court of appeals. 148 F. 684.

The allegations of the bill, so far as necessary to state them, are as follows: on the first day of May 1888, a tract of land, the property of the United States, was reserved and set apart

as an Indian reservation as and for a permanent home and abiding place of the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine bands or tribes of Indians in the State (then Territory) of Montana, designated and known as the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation.

The tract has ever since been used as an Indian reservation and as the home and abiding place of the Indians. Its boundaries were fixed and defined as follows:

Beginning at a point in the middle of the main channel of Milk River, opposite the mouth of Snake Creek; thence due south to a point due west of the western extremity of the Little Rocky Mountains; thence due east to the crest of said mountains at their western extremity, and thence following the southern crest of said mountains to the eastern extremity thereof; thence in a northerly direction in a direct line to a point in the middle of the main channel of Milk River opposite the mouth of People's Creek; thence up Milk River, in the middle of the main channel thereof, to the place of beginning.

Milk River, designated as the northern boundary of the

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reservation, is a nonnavigable stream. Large portions of the lands embraced within the reservation are well fitted and adapted for pasturage and the feeding and grazing of stock, and since the establishment of the reservation, the United States and the Indians have had and have large herds of cattle and large numbers of horses grazing upon the land within the reservation, "being and situate along and bordering upon said Milk River." Other portions of the reservation are

adapted for and susceptible of farming and cultivation and the pursuit of agriculture, and productive in the raising thereon of grass, grain, and vegetables,

but such portions are of dry and arid character, and, in order to make them productive, require large quantities of water for the purpose of irrigating them. In 1889, the United States constructed houses and buildings upon the reservation for the occupancy and residence of the officers in charge of it, and such officers depend entirely for their domestic, culinary, and irrigation purposes upon the water of the river. In the year 1889, and long prior to the acts of the defendants complained of, the United States, through its officers and agents at the reservation, appropriated and took from the river a flow of 1,000 miners' inches, and conducted it to the buildings and premises, used the same for domestic purposes and also for the irrigation of land adjacent to the buildings and premises, and by the use thereof raised crops of grain, grass, and vegetables. Afterwards, but long prior to the acts of the defendants complained of, to-wit, on the fifth of July, 1898, the Indians residing on the reservation diverted from the river for the purpose of irrigation a flow of 10,000 miners' inches of water to and upon divers and extensive tracts of land, aggregating in amount about 30,000 acres, and raised upon said lands crops of grain, grass, and vegetables. And ever since 1889 and July, 1898, the United States and the Indians have diverted and used the waters of the river in the manner and for the purposes mentioned, and the United States

has been enabled by means thereof to train, encourage, and accustom large numbers of Indians residing upon the said reservation

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to habits of industry and to promote their civilization and improvement.

It is alleged with detail that all of the waters of the river are necessary for all those purposes and the purposes for which the reservation was created, and that, in furthering and advancing the civilization and improvement of the Indians, and to encourage habits of industry and thrift among them, it is essential and necessary that all of the waters of the river flow down the channel uninterruptedly and undiminished [28 S.Ct. 209] in quantity and undeteriorated in quality.

It is alleged that, "notwithstanding the riparian and other rights" of the United States and the Indians to the uninterrupted flow of the waters of the river, the defendants, in the year 1900, wrongfully entered upon the river and its tributaries above the points of the diversion of the waters of the river by the United States and the Indians, built large and substantial dams and reservoirs, and, by means of canals and ditches and waterways, have diverted the waters of the river from its channel, and have deprived the United States and the Indians of the use thereof. And this diversion of the water, it is alleged, has continued until the present time, to the irreparable injury of the United States, for which there is no adequate remedy at law.

The allegations of the answer, so far as material to the present controversy, are as follows: that the lands of the Fort Belknap Reservation were a part of a much larger area in the State of Montana which, by an Act of Congress approved April 15, 1874, 18 Stat. 28, c. 96, was set apart and reserved for the occupation of the Gros Ventre, Piegan, Blood, Blackfeet, and River Crow Indians, but that the right of the Indians therein "was the bare right of the use and occupation thereof at the will and sufferance of the government of the United States." That the United States, for the purpose of opening for settlement a large portion of such area, entered into an agreement with the Indians composing said tribes by which the Indians "ceded, sold, transferred, and conveyed" to the United States all of the lands embraced in said area, except Fort Belknap Indian Reservation,

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described in the bill. This agreement was ratified by an Act of Congress of May 1, 1888, 25 Stat. 113, c. 213, and thereby the lands to which the Indians' title was thus extinguished became a part of the public domain of the United States and subject to disposal...

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