Aladdin Petroleum Corp. v. State ex rel. Comm'rs of the Land Office, Case Number: 32625

Citation191 P.2d 224,1948 OK 39,200 Okla. 134
Decision Date17 February 1948
Docket NumberCase Number: 32629,Case Number: 32625
CourtSupreme Court of Oklahoma

¶0 1. NAVIGABLE WATERS - At statehood Oklahoma became owner of title to river beds where stream navigable - Where not navigable title did not pass.

Upon admission of Oklahoma into the Union, the title to the beds of the streams within its borders passed to and became the property of the State of Oklahoma by operation of law where the stream was navigable. And, where not navigable, the title to the bed did not pass.

2. COURTS - Question of navigability of stream presents Federal question.

Where previous to and on the admission of Oklahoma into the Union the title to the bed of any stream was in the United States or another as its grantee, the question of the navigability of such stream so far as it is determinative of or relates to the title of the United States or of its grantee presents a Federal question.

3. NAVIGABLE WATERS - Under Federal law "navigable" means navigable in fact.

Under the Federal law the word "navigable" means navigable in fact.

4. JUDGMENT - Binding effect of decision of state court as to navigability of river.

A decision of the Supreme Court of this state that a specified river within the limits of the state is navigable is not binding upon the United States Government if it is not a party to the suit in which the decision is made.

5. SAME.

The judgment of a state court as to the navigability of a river within the limits of the state is not binding on the Federal courts in determining whether or not title to the bed of the river passed with a Federal grant made long prior to the organization of the state.

6. JUDGMENT - NAVIGABLE WATERS - Non-navigability of river as declared by the Supreme Court of the United States.

It is proven in this cause that, at the time of the grant by the United States of the riparian lands here involved, the Arkansas river opposite such grants was, in fact, nonnavigable. Therefore, under the applicable and controlling law, as declared by the Supreme Court of the United States, the river, so far as the question of its navigability is pertinent to the issues herein, is nonnavigable in law, notwithstanding any decision of this court to the contrary, in any action to which the United States was not a party.

7. PUBLIC LANDS - Power of states to divest grants.

A state, upon its admission into the Union, takes sovereignty over the public lands in the condition in which they are at that time; and if the bed of a nonnavigable river has then passed into private ownership by grant of the Federal Government, the state cannot divest the title by declaring the river to be navigable.

8. NAVIGABLE WATERS - WATERS AND WATER COURSES - Title of riparian owners to bed of Arkansas river passed to them under Federal grants executed prior to statehood.

The Act of the Oklahoma Legislature (Laws 1919, ch. 206, p. 293, sec. 2, Tit. 64 O. S. 1941 § 290) was and is ineffective to disturb the title, if any, of the riparian owners herein to the bed of the Arkansas River which passed to them under Federal grants executed prior to statehood.

9. INDIANS - WATERS AND WATER COURSES - Patents of United States, executed prior to statehood, carried title to center line of river opposite lots.

Under application of the common law rule which was then recognized by the United States as operative in Oklahoma Territory and applicable thereto, the patents of the United States, executed prior to statehood, and conveying lots 6 and 7 of section 23 and lot 8 of section 24, all in township 23 north, range 3 east, now in Pawnee county, carried title to the center line of the river opposite said lots.

Appeal from District Court, Pawnee County; Leslie Webb, Judge.

Actions by State ex rel. Com'rs of Land Office et al. against Aladdin Petroleum Corporation et al. and L.D. Oldham et al. and cross-actions by defendants, each to quiet title to river bed lands. From judgment for plaintiffs, defendants appeal. Reversed and remanded, with instructions.

Monnet, Hayes & Brown, of Oklahoma City, Don Emery, Rayburn L. Foster, R.B.F. Hummer, and D.E. Hodges, all of Bartlesville, McCollum & McCollum, of Pawnee, Keaton, Wells, Johnston & Lytle, of Oklahoma City, E.R. McNeill, of Pawnee, N.E. McNeill, of Tulsa, and Edward Howell, of Oklahoma City, for plaintiffs in error.

Mac Q. Williamson, Atty. Gen., J. Walker Field, Asst. Atty. Gen., Walter Marlin, Law and Executive Council of the Commissioners of the Land Office of the State of Oklahoma, all of Oklahoma City; and Nathan Scarritt and E.S. Champlin, both of Enid, for defendants in error.


¶1 These cases involve title to a portion of the south half of the bed of the Arkansas river in township 23 north, range 3 east, Pawnee county. In each case the State of Oklahoma ex rel. Commissioners of the Land Office of the State of Oklahoma and Champlin Refining Company, its lessee, defendants in error herein, as plaintiffs, instituted action in trial court against plaintiffs in error, defendants below, to quiet title to that portion of the south half of the river bed which lay opposite the riparian lands of the defendants, owners and their lessees. In each case defendants, on cross-appeal, claimed ownership in themselves of such river bed and sought to quiet their title thereto against the plaintiffs, and, in one of the cases, asked an accounting for oil produced from the bed by the plaintiffs. Upon the trials plaintiffs in each case were awarded judgment, and it is therefrom these appeals were taken. The cases involve the same question, and have been consolidated, briefed and argued together, and, for the purpose of review, they will be treated as one case. For convenience the parties, plaintiffs and defendants in the trial court, will be hereinafter referred to as state and defendants, respectively.

¶2 A historical review of the title to the land involved is necessary to a clear understanding of the questions involved. In United States v. Champlin Refining Co. et al., 156 Fed. 2d 769, there was involved the title to river bed land in the same vicinity and held under like chain of title as the lands here involved. The historical review there stated is applicable here, and we quote therefrom:

"The United States originally acquired title to the land in suit as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Under treaties of May 6, 1828, February 14, 1833, and December 29, 1835, the United States, by deed dated December 31, 1838, conveyed to the Cherokee Nation a large tract of land on both sides of the bed of the Arkansas River, embracing the south half of the river bed here in suit. By the treaty of July 19, 1866, the Cherokee Nation agreed that the United States might settle friendly Indians upon that part of the Cherokee lands known as the Cherokee Outlet, which embraced the portions of the river bed here in suit. Article 16 of that treaty provided that such lands would be conveyed to the Indians so settled. By treaty of October 28, 1867, a reservation was set aside for the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians between the Cimarron and Arkansas Rivers. That reservation embraced the portions of the river bed here in suit. It was expressly extended to the middle of the Arkansas River. The Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians declined such reservations and relinquished their claim. On June 5, 1872, Congress authorized the Cherokee Nation to convey to the Osage Nation a tract of land described as follows: 'Bounded . . . on the south and west by the north line of the Creek country and the main channel of the Arkansas River, . . .' The conveyance was made. It included the land on the opposite side of the river at approximately the location of the four riparian tracts and title of the Osage Nation to the north half of the river bed was upheld in subsequent litigation between the United States and the State of Oklahoma.
"The land on both sides of the Arkansas River at the location of the portions of the river bed here in suit was first surveyed into sections, townships, and ranges in September, 1872. The survey was approved on September 16, 1872.
"Two of the riparian tracts are in Township 23 North, Range 4 East of the Indian Meridian. These tracts are held in trust for Pawnee Indians. The other two riparian tracts are located in Township 23 North, Range 3 East of the Indian Meridian. These tracts are held in trust for Otoe Indians.
"Under the 1866 treaty with the Cherokees, and pursuant to the Act of March 3, 1881, the Secretary of the Interior designated and assigned for the use and occupation of the Confederated Otoe and Missouria tribes of Indians 'that portion of Tp. 23, N. R. 3 E. lying West of the Arkansas River. . . .' Pursuant to the 1886 treaty with the Cherokees, and in conformity with the Act of March 3, 1883, the Cherokee Nation, on June 14, 1883, conveyed to the United States in trust for the use and benefit of the Otoe and Missouria Indians: 'Fractional township twenty-three (23) North, range three (3) East of the Indian Meridian; lying and being on the right bank of the Arkansas River, according to a plat of said lands hereto annexed, marked 'A', and made a part of this conveyance' . . . .' "

¶3 In addition to what is contained in the quotation, there is the treaty of December 19, 1891, between the Cherokee Nation and the United States whereby there was ceded to the United States all right and claim of the Nation "in and to that part of the Indian Territory bounded on the west by the one hundred degree (100ø) of west longitude; on the north by the State of Kansas; and on the east by the ninety-sixth degree (96ø) of west longitude", which embraces the area here involved.

¶4 The riparian lands herein are particularly described as lots 6 and 7 of section 23 and lot 8 of southwest quarter of section 24, all in said township and range. The defendants claim title under or through trust patents...

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