Clipper Mining Company v. Eli Mining Land Company

Decision Date02 May 1904
Docket NumberNo. 76,76
PartiesCLIPPER MINING COMPANY, Plff. in Err. v. ELI MINING & LAND COMPANY, A. D. Searl, F. C. Schroeder, A. F. Britton, and H. J. Gray
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

On December 12, 1877, A. D. Searl and seven associates made a location of placer mining ground near the new mining camp of Leadville. The claim embraced at that time 157.02 acres of land. The original locators shortly conveyed all their interest to A. D. Searl, who applied for a patent on July 5, 1878. The application was met at the Land Office with a multitude of adverse claims. Settlements were made with some of the contestants, and on November 10, 1882, an amended application for patent was filed, including only 101 916/1000 acres. This application was rejected by the Commissioner of the General Land Office on March 6, 1886, and his decision was affirmed by the Secretary of the Interior on November 13, 1890. On November 25, 1890, four lode claims, known as the Clipper, Castle, Congress, and Capital, were located by parties other than the owners of the placer claim within the exterior boundaries of that claim. These four lode claims became, by mesne conveyances, the property of the Clipper Mining Company. It applied for a patent, and on November 23, 1893, the defendants in error, as the owners of the Searl placer location, filed an adverse claim and commenced this action in the district court of Lake county, in support of that claim. Judgment was rendered in favor of the plaintiffs, which was affirmed by the supreme court of the state (29 Colo. 377, 93 Am. St. Rep. 89, 68 Pac. 286,) and thereafter this writ of error was sued out.

Messrs. W. H. Bryant, C. S. Thomas, and H. H. Lee for plaintiff in error.

Messrs.John A. Ewing, A. B. Browne, Charles Cavender, and Alexander Britton for defendants in error.

Mr. Justice Brewer delivered the opinion of the court:

The location of the placer mining claim and both the original and amended applications for patent thereof were long prior to the locations of the lode claims, and the contention of the plaintiffs is that they, by virtue of their location, became entitled to the exclusive possession of the surface ground; that the entry of the lode discoverers was tortious and could not create an adverse right, even though, by means of their entry and explorations they discovered the lode claims. The defendant, on the other hand, contends that the original location of the placer claim was wrongful, for the reason that the ground included within it was not placer mining ground; that the intent of the locators was not placer mining, but the acquisition of title to a large tract of ground contiguous to the new mining camp of Leadville, and likely to become a part of the townsite. In fact, it was thereafter included within the limits of the town, and on it streets and alleys have been laid out and many houses built and occupied by individuals claiming adversely to the placer location.

It is the settled rule that this court, in an action at law, at least, has no jurisdiction to review the conclusions of the highest court of a state upon questions of fact. Republican River Bridge Co. v. Kansas P. R. Co. 92 U. S. 315, 23 L. ed. 515; Dower v. Richards, 151 U. S. 658, 38 L. ed. 305, 14 Sup. Ct. Rep. 452; Israel v. Arthur, 152 U. S. 355, 38 L. ed. 474, 14 Sup. Ct. Rep. 583; Noble v. Mitchell, 164 U. S. 367, 41 L. ed. 472, 17 Sup. Ct. Rep. 110; Hedrick v. Atchison, T. & S. F. R. Co. 167 U. S. 673-677, 42 L. ed. 320, 321, 17 Sup. Ct. Rep. 922; Turner v. New York, 168 U. S. 90-95, 42 L. ed. 392-394, 18 Sup. Ct. Rep. 38; Egan v. Hart, 165 U. S. 188, 41 L. ed. 680, 17 Sup. Ct. Rep. 300. It must, therefore, be accepted that the Searl placer claim was duly located, that the annual labor required by law had been performed up to the time of the litigation, that there was a subsisting valid placer location, and that the lodes were discovered by their locators within the boundaries of the placer claim subsequently to its location. So the trial court specifically found, and its finding was approved by the supreme court.

As against this, it is contended that the Land Department held that the ground within the Searl location was not placer mining ground, nor subject to entry as a placer claim; that such holding by the Department must be accepted as conclusive in the courts, and therefore that the tract should be adjudged public land and open to exploration for lode claims and to location by any discoverer of such claims. It is true that the Commissioner of the General Land Office, in rejecting the amended application for the placer patent, said that he was not satisfied that the land was placer ground, or that the requisite expenditure had been made, and, further, that the locators had not acted in good faith, but were attempting to acquire title to the land on account of its value for townsite purposes and for the lodes supposed to be contained therein. This decision was affirmed by the Secretary of the Interior; but notwithstanding this expression of opinion by these officials, all that was done was to reject the application for a patent. As said thereafter by the Secretary of the Interior upon an application of the Clipper Mining Company for a patent for the lode claims here in dispute:

'The judgment of the Department in the Searl Placer Case [11 Land Dec. 441] went only to the extent of rejecting the application for patent. The Department did not assume to declare the location of the placer void, as contended by counsel, nor did the judgment affect the possessory rights of the contestant to it.' [Re Clipper Min. Co.] 22 Land Dec. 528.

So far as the record shows—and the record does not purport to contain all the evidence—the placer location is still recognized in the Department as a valid location. Such also was the finding of the court; and being so there is nothing to prevent a subsequent application for a patent and further testimony to show the claimant's right to one. Undoubtedly when the Department rejected the application for a patent it could have gone further and set aside the placer location, and it can now, by direct proceedings upon notice, set it aside and restore the land to the public domain. But it has not done so, and therefore it is useless to consider what rights other parties might then have.

The fact that many years have elapsed since the original location of the placer claim, and that no patent has yet been issued therefor, does not affect its validity, for it is a well-known fact, as stated by the court of appeals in Cosmos Exploration Co. v. Gray Eagle Oil Co. 61 L. R. A. 230, 50 C. C. A. 79, 112 Fed. 4, 16, that 'some of the richest mineral lands in the United States, which have been owned, occupied, and developed by individuals and corporations for many years, have never been patented.'

The views entertained by the supreme court of the law applicable to the facts of this case are disclosed by the following quotation from its opinion. After referring to one of its previous decisions, known as the Mt. Rosa Case [26 Colo. 56, 50 L. R. A. 289, 77 Am. St. Rep. 245, 56 Pac. 176] it said:

'If, in the case at bar, the lode claims were known to exist at the time of the entry of defendant's grantors upon the Searl placer, under the decision in the Mt. Rosa Case the entry was not unlawful; but if, on the contrary, the veins were then unknown, by the same decision the right of possession of this ground belonged to the owners of the placer location. Their right of possession included these unknown veins, and the entry for prospecting was a trespass, and no title could thereby be initiated.

* * * * *

'Our conclusion, therefore, is that one may not go upon a prior valid placer location to prospect for unknown lodes, and get title to lode claims thereafter discovered and located in this manner and within the placer boundaries, unless the placer owner has abandoned his claim, waives the trespass, or by his conduct is estopped to complain of it. If the trial court intended to rule that in no circumstances may one, before application for a patent of a placer claim, go upon the ground within its exterior boundaries for the purpose of locating a lode, it went too far; yet, as general language in an opinion must be taken in connection with the facts in the particular case, the ruling here should be limited to the facts disclosed by the record, and no prejudicial error was committed. For, under the authorities, a prospector may not enter upon a prior placer location for the purpose of prospecting for, or locating, unknown lodes or veins; and to uphold the judgment we must presume that the evidence before the trial court showed that the veins or lodes upon which the defendant's grantors based their locations were unknown when they entered upon the Searl placer for the purpose of prospecting.'

The law under which these locations were all made is to be found in chap. 6 of Title 32, Rev. Stat. Section 2319 (U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 1424) of that chapter reads:

'All valuable mineral deposits in lands belonging to the United States, both surveyed and unsurveyed, are hereby declared to be free and open to exploration and purchase, and the lands in which they are found to occupation and purchase.'

Section 2320 (U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 1424) provides for the location of mining claims upon veins or lodes.

By § 2322 (U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 1425) it is provided that——

'The locators of all mining locations . . . on any mineral vein, lode, or ledge, situated on the public domain, . . . shall have the exclusive right of possession and enjoyment of all the surface included within the lines of their locations, and of all veins, lodes, and ledges throughout their entire depth, the top or apex of which lies inside of such surface lines extended downward vertically.'

And by § 2329 (U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 1432):

'Claims usually called 'placers,'...

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