72 U.S. 761 (1867), New York Indians, In Re

Citation:72 U.S. 761, 18 L.Ed. 708
Case Date:May 16, 1867
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 761

72 U.S. 761 (1867)

18 L.Ed. 708


United States Supreme Court.

May 16, 1867

ERROR to the Court of Appeals of New York; the case being thus:

In 1786, and before the adoption, therefore, of the Federal

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Constituktion, the State of Massachusetts, which laid claim to four tracts of land in Western New York then occupied by native Indians (Senecas, chiefly), and known respectively as the Alleghany, Cattaraugus, Buffalo Creek, and Tonawanda reservations, entered, at the conclusion of some disputes, into an agreement with the State of New York by which New York ceded to Massachusetts, and her grantees, in fee, the right of pre-emption from those Indians and all estate in the reservations, except jurisdiction and sovereignty, which it was agreed should belong to the State of New York. By the fourth article of this compact New York stipulated thus:

'The said Indian reservations, so long as they shall remain the property of Massachusetts, shall be exempt from all taxes whatever, and no general or State tax shall be charged on the lands of the said reservations thereafter to be granted by Massachusetts, or on the occupants or proprietors of such lands, until fifteen years after the confirmation of such grants in the manner mentioned in the compact; but the said lands, and the occupants thereof, during the said period shall be subject to town and county charges or taxes only.'

Before the adoption of the Constitution, the then United States, and after its adoption, the Federal government, made several treaties with these Indians; 1 the Treaty of Canandaigua, November 11, 1794, being one, 2 by which the land in those reservations were acknowledged to belong to them, the said Indians, and by which it was agreed that the United States would 'never claim' the same, nor disturb the Indians, and that the land should 'remain theirs until they chose to sell the same to people of the United States.'

In 1791 Massachusetts parted with her rights in these reservations, and the same had, in 1838, become vested in Ogden & Fellows. In that year, 1838, a treaty was made between

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the United States and the Indians, poviding for the removal of the latter to the west of the Mississippi River; and at the same treaty a deed of conveyance was executed between the Seneca nation and Ogden & Fellows in fee, as joint tenants of the four reservations. The treaty provided for the removal of the Indians within five years. It was to become obligatory on the parties only after being proclaimed by the President. And as this proclaimation was not made till April 4, 1840, no right (as the treaty was construed by the officers of the Federal government, a construction in which Ogden & Fellows acquiesced) accrued to Ogden & Fellows till April 4, 1845.

Before the expiration of these five years, differences arose between the Indians and Ogden & Fellows, and in order to settle them, a new treaty was made in 1842 between the United States and the Indians; and a deed was executed between Ogden & Fellows and the Indians, by which it was agreed that the Indians should remain in possession of two of the reservations, to wit, the Alleghany and Cattaraugus, with the same right and title in all things that they had possessed before the sale. The two others (the Buffalo Creek and Tonawanda) being, by the deed, ceded to Ogden & Fellows.

The Indians remained in possession accordingly of the two retained reservations.

In 1840, May 9th, the legislature of New York passed an act, by which it authorized a highway tax to be assessed upon the Alleghany and Cattaraugus reservations (the two still in possession of, and subsequently agreed to be retained by, theIndians); and the tax was assessed.

In the following year, May 4th, 1841, the same legislature authorized the assessment of other taxes for making roads upon those same two reservations, and on one of the others also, the Buffalo Creek.

That act of 1841 contained eight sections.

The first authorized the board of supervisors of Erie County to appoint commissioners to lay out, open, and construct roads across the Cattaraugus reservation lying within the county, and the same in respect to the supervisors of the

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county of Cattaraugus, over the Alleghany reservation in that county.

The second provided for the survey of these roads by the commissioners, and conferred upon the supervisors the power to direct the repair and improvement of them.

The third provided for raising money to defray the expenses of constructing and repairing the roads, and for the building of bridges, and repairing the same, by levying for the years 1841, 1842, and 1843, on the lands in the Cattaraugus reservation, lying in the county of Erie, the sum of $4000, and on the Alleghany $4000, and on the Cattaraugus, lying within the county of Cattaraugus, $1000 each year.

The fourth provided for the survey and maps of the reservations, with a view to the taxation. with a view to the taxation.

The fifth section provided for the sale of the lands in case of default in the payment of the taxes. It contained, however, this proviso:

'PROVIDED, That no sale for the purpose of collecting said taxes shall in any manner affect the right of the Indians to occupy said lands.'

The eighth or last section was thus:

'The taxes hereby authorized may be imposed, assessed, levied, and collected as directed by this act, notwithstanding the occupation of the said lands, or parts or portions thereof, by the Indians, or by any other person or persons; and the failure to...

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