248 U.S. 354 (1919), 33, Turner v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 33
Citation:248 U.S. 354, 39 S.Ct. 109, 63 L.Ed. 291
Party Name:Turner v. United States
Case Date:January 07, 1919
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 354

248 U.S. 354 (1919)

39 S.Ct. 109, 63 L.Ed. 291



United States

No. 33

United States Supreme Court

January 7, 1919

Argued November 13, 14, 1918



While recognized by the United States as a distinct political community, the Creek Nation leased a pasture, the lessees undertaking to fence and pay rent. When nearly completed, the fence was destroyed by the action of a Creek mob, participated in by the Creek Treasurer, and thereafter one of the lessees, assignee of the rest, sued the Creek Nation for the cost of the fence and of the assignments and for the loss of the benefits of the lease. Held that there was no cause of action, for a sovereignty, on general principle, is not liable for injuries resulting from mob violence or failure to keep the peace, and neither the wrong of the Treasurer nor any duty under the lease created such liability here. P. 357.

The special Act of May 29, 1908, C. 216, 35 Stat. 444, 457, authorized suit in the Court of Claims against the Creek Nation for the adjudication of this claim, but it did not validate the claim itself or permit that the United States be joined as a defendant. P. 358.

51 Ct.Clms. 125 affirmed.

The case is stated in the opinion.

BRANDEIS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Creek or Muskogee Nation or Tribe of Indians had, in 1890, a population of 15,000. Subject to the control of

Page 355

Congress, they then exercised within a defined territory the powers of a sovereign people, having a tribal organization, their own system of laws, and a government with the usual branches, executive, legislative, and judicial. The territory was divided into six districts, and each district was provided with a judge.{1}

In 1889, the Creek Nation enacted a statute which conferred upon each citizen of the Nation, head of a family engaged in grazing livestock, the right to enclose for that purpose one square mile of the public domain without paying compensation. Inclosure of a greater area was prohibited, but provision was made for establishing, under certain conditions, more extensive pastures near the frontiers to protect against influx of stock from adjoining nations. The conditions prescribed were these: if the district judge should receive notice from citizens of a desire to establish such a pasture, he was required to call a meeting of citizens to consider and act upon the subject, and if it appeared that a majority of the persons of voting age in the neighborhood thus to be protected favored its establishment, the district judge was directed to let such pasture for three years (subject to renewal) to citizens who would, by contract, bind themselves to build a substantial fence around the pasture, and to pay at least five cents per acre per annum for the grazing privilege.

In 1890, Turner and a partner formed, under the name of Pussy, Tiger & Co., an organization consisting of themselves and 100 Creeks, with a view to securing such a pasture in the Deep Fork district. They caused an election to be held and a contract to be entered into by the district judge with Pussy, Tiger & Co., which covered about 256,000 acres. The fence required to enclose it was

Page 356

about 80 miles in length. Before its construction was begun, dissatisfaction had already developed in the neighborhood, and, from the time the fence was commenced, there were rumors of threats by Indians to destroy it if built. The work was, however, undertaken; the threats continued, and Turner and one of his assignees secured from the United States Court in the Indian Territory, First Judicial Division, an injunction restraining the Creek District Judge for the Deep Fork District and L. C. Perryman, the Principal Chief of the Nation, from interfering with or damaging the fence. After it had been nearly completed, three bands of...

To continue reading