59 U.S. 539 (1856), De Arguello v. U.s.

Citation:59 U.S. 539, 15 L.Ed. 478
Case Date:May 12, 1856
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 539

59 U.S. 539 (1856)

15 L.Ed. 478







United States Supreme Court.

May 12, 1856


THESE were appeals from the district court of the United States for the northern district of California.

The facts are stated in the opinion of the court.

Page 540


They were argued by Mr. Jones, with whom were Mr. Benton and Mr. Strode, for the claimants, and by Mr. Gillett, for the United States, upon which side there was also a brief filed by Mr. Cushing, (attorney-general.)

Mr. Justice GRIER delivered the opinion of the court.

The claimants in this case presented their petition to the commissioners for settling private land claims in California, praying to have their title confirmed 'to a certain tract of land called the 'Rancho de las Pulgas." They allege that this tract contains twelve square leagues of land, having a front on the bay of San Francisco of four leagues, bounded southerly by a creek called San Francisquito, and northerly by the San Mateo, and extending back from the bay some three leagues to the sierra or range of mountains, so as to include the valley, or Ca)ada de Raymundo.

The commissioners confirmed the claim to the extent of four leagues in length between said creeks, and one league in breadth, excluding the valley Raymundo, and bounded by it on the west. This decision of the commissioners was confirmed by the district court, and both parties have appealed to this court.

We shall first consider the appeal of the claimants.

Have they shown a title to more than the four leagues confirmed to them by the commissioners and the court below?

The appellants represent the heirs of Don Luis Arguello, who died about the year 1830.

1. They allege that Don José Dario Arguello, father of Don Luis, being one of the founders of the country, and in its military service as commandanté of the Presideo at San Francisco, was the owner of a tract called 'Las Pulgas,' by virtue of some title or license derived from Don Diego Borica, then governor of the province, who was in possession of it as early as 1795; that this early title has been lost, and remains only in tradition.

2. That, in 1820 or 1821, Don Pablo Vincenté de Sola made a new title to Don Luis Arguello, who had succeeded his father, Don José, in the possession.

3. That after the death of Don Luis, in 1830, his family remained in possession; that in August, 1835, one Alvisu petitioned the governor for a grant of the 'Ca)ada de Raymundo,' and, it being found that the heirs of Arguello claimed that valley to be within the bounds of their rancho Pulgas, notice was ordered to be given to the widow and heirs, of Alvisu's petition. That they appeared by their attorney, Estrada, before the governor, and protested against the grant to Alvisu; and that the governor, on inquiry, acknowledged the justice of the claim of the Arguello, and refused to grant the valley to Alvisu.

Page 541

4. That in October, 1835, Estrada, the executor of Luis Arguello, and acting as agent for the family, made application to the governor, setting forth their long possession and praying a corresponding title to be issued in their names; and that the governor, after examining into the justice of their claim, issued a decree of concession dated 26th of November, 1835, which was approved by the territorial assembly on the 10th of December following.

This last-mentioned decree or grant thus approved is the only documentary evidence of title exhibited by the claimants. If it includes within its boundaries the 'Ca)ada de Raymundo,' as part of 'Las Pulgas,' it will follow that the claimants have shown a complete title thereto; and our inquiry would end here. Therefore, though last in order in the claimants' deraignment of their title, we shall consider it first.

On the 27th of October, 1835, Don Jose Estrada, executor of Don Luis Arguello, presented his petition on behalf of the widow and heirs, to Don Jose Castro, the governor, praying for a grant of the 'rancho of Las Pulgas,' and describing its boundaries as 'from the Creek of San Matteo to the Creek of San Francesquito, and from the Estheros, (the estuary or bay,) to the Sierra, or mountains.' The petition alleged also that the Arguellos had 'been in possession of the same since 1800, as is publicly and notoriously known, but the papers of possession had been mislaid.'

The rough draft (diseno) accompanying this petition represents a range of hills designated as 'Lomeria baja,' and parallel to these a range of loftier character marked 'Sierra;' between these ranges is a ca)ada, or valley; this is the Valley Raymundo. The claim of the petition is evidently intended to include it.

On the 26th of October, 1835, the governor made the usual order requiring the alcaldé of San Francisco de Assiz to take information as to the land, and make return of the expediente. The alcaldé made a report, accompanied by the testimony of three witnesses, who proved an occupancy of the rancho of Las Pulgas by the Arguellos for many years as a cattle range. One describes it as extending from east to west (evidently a mistake for north to south) four leagues, and from the estuary to the hills (lomas) situate at the west of Monte Redondo and Canada 'Raymundo.' This would include the valley now claimed. But the second witness describes it as 'about four leagues' from creek to creek, and 'one league' from the estuary to the mountains covered with trees.' The third as 'four leagues from creek to creek and one league from the estuary to the mountains covered with trees, of the Ca)ada Raymundo.'

Page 542

The petitioner did not exhibit any documentary evidence of a prior grant of any given quantity of land, or setting forth any certain boundary, nor did the witnesses pretend to have ever seen any.

When the report was returned to the governor, he made the following order, dated 26th November, 1835:----

'Monterey, November 26, 1835.

'In view of the petition with which this espediente begins, and the information of three competent witnesses, and in conformity with the laws and regulations of the subject, the minor orphans of the deceased citizen, Don Louis Arguello, at the petition of Jose Estrada, citizen, are declared the owners in property of the tract known under the name of 'Las Pulgas;' reserving the approval of the M. E. territorial deputation, to which this espediente shall be sent, the corresponding patent to be signed, and recorded in the corresponding book, delivering it to the interested parties for its suitable uses. Senor Don Jose Castro, senior member (vocal) of the M. E. territorial deputation, and political chief, ad interim, of Upper California, thus ordered, decreed, and signed; to which I certify.'

On the next day (27th of November, 1835), the governor executed the following document to serve as a title or letters-patent. It is signed by the governor and secretary, and recorded in the archives.

'Whereas, citizen Jose Estrada has petitioned in the name of his wards, Jose Ramon and Luis Arguello, and the girls M'a Concepcion and M'a Josefa, minors and legitimate children of the deceased citizen, Luis Arguello, having previously taken the deposition of proper witnesses, and they having declared the land called 'Las Pulgas' to have been their property of the deceased ever since the year of 1800, whereof the limits are on the south, the Arrogo of San Francisquito, on the north, that of San Matteo, on the east the estuaries, and on the west the Ca)ada de Raimundo; and using the faculties which are conferred on me by decree of this day, and in the name of the Mexican nation, I have come to declare him the owner thereof by the present letters, this grant being understood as made in entire conformity with the disposition of the laws with the reservation of the approval of the most excellent territorial deputation. The land herein mentioned is four leagues in latitude and on in longitude. In consequence, I order that the present, serving as a title to him, and to be held as firm and...

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