76 U.S. 282 (1870), St. Louis Public Schools v. Walker

Citation:76 U.S. 282, 19 L.Ed. 576
Case Date:February 14, 1870
Court:United States Supreme Court

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76 U.S. 282 (1870)

19 L.Ed. 576




United States Supreme Court.

February 14, 1870


ERROR to the Supreme Court of Missouri; the controversy being one of those, quite numerous in this court, growing out of the various acts of Congress intended to settle the land titles originating in the lands of Louisiana prior to its purchase by our government from France. The case was thus:

The President and Directors of the St. Louis Public Schools brought suit, in the St. Louis Land Court of Missouri, against Walker and another, to recover certain lands situate in the city of St. Louis.

The title of the plaintiffs, who represented the common schools of St. Louis, rested on two acts of Congress. The first of these was the act of June 13th, 1812, 1 the first section of which, after confirming the common field lots and commons to certain towns and villages, of which St. Louis is one, directs the deputy surveyor of the Territory to survey and marke the out-boundary lines of said several towns so as to include the out-lots, common field lots, and commons thereto respectively belonging.

The second section, under which the plaintiffs' claim arose, enacted that:

'All town or village lots, out-lots, or common field lots, included in such survyes, which are not rightfully owned or claimed by any private individuals, or held as commons belonging to such towns or villages, or that the President of the United States may not think proper to reserve for military purposes, shall be, and the same are hereby, reserved for the support of schools in the respective towns or villages aforesaid; provided, that the whole quantity of land contained in the lots reserved for the support of schools in any one town or village shall not exceed one-twentieth part of the whole lands included in the general survey of such town or village.'

The other act was that of July 27th, 1831. 2 The second section of this act, referring to the section just cited from the act of 1812, declares:

'That the United States do hereby relinquish all their right,

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title, and interest in and to the town and village lots, out-lots, and common field lots, in the State of Missouri, reserved for the support of schools in the respective towns and villages aforesaid, by the second section of the above-recited act of Congress, and that the same shall be sold or disposed of, or regulated for the said purposes, in such manner as may be directed by the legislature of the State.'

It was conceded that, by the survey made under the first section of the act of 1812, the lot in controversy was found to be within the out-boundary of the town of St. Louis and its common field lots, commons, &c. It was also admitted that by appropriate legislation of the State the plaintiffs have become invested with such right as the State could give by virtue of the last-recited act of Congress.

The surveyor-general at St. Louis, on demand of the plaintiffs, on the 3d June, 1861, had caused this lot to be surveyed and certified to them, as a lot embraced within and covered by the reservation for school purposes, and on this survey and certificate and the acts aforesaid they rested their title.

Such was the plaintiffs' case.

The defendant, who had been in possession by himself and those under whom he claimed from 1844 till the beginning of this suit in 1864, now asserted that this land was, at the time the act of 1812 was passed, rightfully claimed by Joseph Brazeau, a 'private individual,' and was, therefore, not relinquished to the State by the act of 1831.

In support of this assertion he showed that, long before the act of 1812, Brazeau had filed with a board of commissioners, organized under the act of 1805 to report on such cases, his claim and the evidences of it furnished him by the colonial authorities. Though this first board of commissioners reported against the claim because he had not proved the inhabitancy and cultivation prior to 1803, which the act of 1805 required, yet Congress, which had never made the reports of these commissioners final, but in all the numerous acts regulating the various commissions appointed for this purpose, had reversed to itself the power to...

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