270 U.S. 49 (1926), 47, United States v. Holt State Bank

Docket Nº:No. 47
Citation:270 U.S. 49, 46 S.Ct. 197, 70 L.Ed. 465
Party Name:United States v. Holt State Bank
Case Date:February 01, 1926
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 49

270 U.S. 49 (1926)

46 S.Ct. 197, 70 L.Ed. 465

United States


Holt State Bank

No. 47

United States Supreme Court

February 1, 1926

Argued April 24, 27, 1925




1. In general, lands underlying navigable waters within a state belong to the state in its sovereign capacity, and may be used and disposed of as it may elect, subject to the paramount power of Congress to control such waters for the purposes of navigation in interstate and foreign commerce. P. 54.

2. Where the United States, after acquiring the territory and before the creation of the state, has granted rights in such lands, in carrying out public purposes appropriate to the objects for which the territory was held, such rights are not impaired by the subsequent creation of the state, and the rights which otherwise would then pass to the state in virtue of its admission into the Union are restricted and qualified accordingly. Id.

3. But disposals by the United States, during the territorial period, of lands under navigable water should not be regarded as intended unless the intention was made very plain by definite declaration or otherwise. P. 55.

4. Navigability, when asserted as the basis of a right arising under the Constitution, is a question of federal law, to be determined by the rule applied in the federal courts, and not by a local standard. Id.

5. By the federal rule, streams or lakes which are navigable in fact are navigable in law; they are navigable in fact when used, or susceptible of use, in their natural and ordinary condition, as highways of commerce over which trade and travel are or may be conducted in the customary modes on water, and navigability does not depend on the particular mode of such actual or possible use -- whether by steamboats, sailing vessels, or flatboats -- nor on the absence of occasional difficulties in navigation, but upon whether the stream, in its natural and ordinary condition, affords a channel for useful commerce. P. 56.

6. The evidence requires a finding that Mud Lake, in Minnesota, now drained, was navigable when Minnesota was created a state in 1858. Id.

7. At the time of Minnesota's admission as a state, Mud Lake and other and much larger navigable waters within her limits were

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included in the Red Lake Indian Reservation, which had resulted from a succession of treaties by which the Chippewas ceded to the United States their right of occupancy of the surrounding lands, leaving this remainder of the aboriginal territory, recognized as a reservation but never formally set apart as such. There had been no affirmative declaration of the Indians' rights in the reservation, nor any attempted exclusion of others from the use of the navigable waters therein. Held that the land under Mud Lake passed to the state, since there was nothing to evince a purpose of the general government to depart from the established policy of holding such land for the benefit of the future state. P. 57.

294 F. 161 affirmed.

Appeal from a decree of the Circuit Court of Appeals which affirmed a decree of the district court dismissing on the merits, after final hearing, a bill brought by the United States to quiet title to the bed of a drained lake and to enjoin the defendants from asserting any claim to the land.

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VANDEVANTER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE VAN DEVANTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a bill in equity by the United States to quiet in it the title to the bed of Mud Lake -- now drained and uncovered -- in Marshall County, Minnesota, and to enjoin the defendants from asserting any claim thereto. After answer and a hearing, the district court entered a decree dismissing the bill on the merits. The United States appealed to the [46 S.Ct. 198] circuit court of appeals, where the decree was affirmed, 294 F. 161, and then, by a further appeal, brought the case here.

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Mud Lake is within what formerly was known as the Red Lake Indian Reservation, which had an area exceeding 3,000,000 acres and was occupied by certain bands of the Chippewas of Minnesota. Most of the reservation, including the part in the vicinity of Mud Lake, was relinquished and ceded by the Chippewas comformably to the Act of January 14, 1889, c. 24, 25 Stat. 642, for the purposes and on the terms stated in that Act. It provided that the lands when ceded should be surveyed, classified as...

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