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Opinion of the Court.
"SANTA FÉ, December 31, 1845.
"To the prefect of the district, that he ascertain whether the land applied for has an owner, and cause the corresponding justice to deliver the land referred to by the petitioner. ARMIJO.
"JUAN BAUTISTA VIGIL Y ALARID, Secretary."
But, under all the authorities to which we have referred the mere endorsement by a Mexican governor of action on the petition, before any of the prerequisite steps mentioned in the regulations of 1828 had been taken to determine whether as to the land and the applicants the power to grant might be exercised, was treated as a mere reference by the governor to ascertain the preliminary facts required to justify an approval of an application, and not as having force and effect as an actual grant of title to the land petitioned for. Under the decisions referred to, it cannot be doubted that the regular practice was deemed to be the execution of a formal deed of grant, following a decree acceding to the application, after reports made as to the results of the investigation directed to be had as required by law.
Whilst, as we have said, it may have been the practice in New Mexico for the governor not to make an independent, formal grant, but, after the receipt of reports from subordinate officials, to indorse a decree of concession or grant upon the papers evidencing the "proceedings" in the matter, such practice would not justify the conclusion that the mere approval indorsed on a petition, amounting but to a direction to take the necessary steps for the ascertainment of needed information, should be treated as dispensing with any manifestation by the governor of his intention to grant a title to land after the requisite information had been communicated to him. It is manifest that the prefect to whom the indorsement by the governor on the petition was addressed did not consider it as a grant of title to the tract of land in question, since he directed the justice of the peace, if the land was vacant and third parties would not be injured thereby, to "proceed to grant them of the land an abundance of what each can cultivate, under the condition that they inclose the same with a regular fence, in order to prevent damage, and that they do not obstruct the road, pastures and water
Opinion of the Court.
ing places, and with notice that they should keep arms sufficient for their defense."
Now, it is undoubted that the documents executed by the prefect and the justice of the peace fairly import that those officials assumed authority to grant something as respected the land in question, either title or a right of possession for purposes of cultivation, but it is beyond controversy that the officials referred to did not, in 1845, possess power to grant the title to public lands. Hays v. United States, 175 U. S. 248; Crespin v. United States, 168 U. S. 208; United States v. Bergere, 168 U. S. 66. If, however, the subordinate officials referred to presumed to act on behalf of the governor in making a grant of title, the failure of the latter to subsequently ratify their action rendered their acts nugatory. United States v. Bergere, supra.
As a grant of title by the governor was a prerequisite to the conferring of juridical possession, of necessity the delivery thereof must have conformed to such precedent grant, and the mere act of possession cannot in any view have the force and effect of a grant. The document evidencing possession certainly formed no part of the "proceedings" or expediente which was required to be transmitted to the legislative body for its decision, approving or disapproving action taken by the governor antecedent to the giving of possession.
Passing, however, from the mere question of form and considering the substance of things, can the papers relied upon be treated as constituting a grant of title to the land in question? Certainly, the adjudications of this court upon the regulations of 1828, from the beginning, have established the doctrine that a grant of Mexican land could not be confirmed unless there had been at least a reasonable compliance with the requirements of those regulations. Now, the Mexican law under which, if at all, a grant of this land could have been made, required the governor to be informed both as to the capacity of the individual under the law to receive the grant, and as to whether the land petitioned for was in a condition for grant. And whilst exacting that the governor should thus have the means of information in order to enable him to form a judgment, the law pointed out the officials to whom he should refer the petition for examination and report on these subjects.
Opinion of the Court.
Now, in the case before us, that the governor at the inception of the proceedings was not sufficiently informed, either as to the land or the applicants, to take final action upon the petition, is patent on the face of the documents. Thus, the petition does not designate who were the "five" associates of Santistevan, and the governor in his indorsement requires the prefect to ascertain the condition of the land. Further, though the prefect was not informed, either by the petition or the indorsement of the governor, as to who were the petitioners to whom delivery of the land was to be made, he remained ignorant on the subject, and directed the justice of the peace to ascertain the condition of the land, and to grant to the "petitioners" (asserted in the petition of Santistevan to be six in number) an abundance of what each could cultivate of the land, under certain prescribed conditions. We find, however, the justice of the peace assuming to grant to "five petitioners" jointly, either a title to or the right of possession of, all the land within described boundaries.
Regarded as a grant of title, the documents relied upon import, contrary to the letter and spirit of the regulations, that it was a matter of no consequence to what particular individuals a grant was to be made, and that Santistevan might designate, at his pleasure, the persons to be placed with himself in possession. But, by article 3 of the regulations, the determination whether the conditions required by the colonization law existed, "both as regards the land and the applicant," was imposed upon the executive head of the territory. And as already shown, the grant could not have been created by the mere conferring of juridical possession, since the authority to give possession was necessarily derived from and must have conformed to a precedent grant.
It is manifest that the indorsement of Governor Armijo, considered by itself or in conjunction with the petition, failed to identify the petitioners, and did not, in terms, purport to grant title to land. As Santistevan petitioned that the grant be made by the governor "in the name of the high powers of our Mexican Republic," it is not permissible to infer that the governor intended to delegate to subordinate officials the power to decide whether an absolute or any title to the land petitioned for should
Opinion of the Court.
be granted, or to determine what portion thereof should be granted. The reasonable interpretation of the act of the governor would appear to be that he intended either to license the occupation of land within the prescribed limits for cultivation, or that he desired an examination and report to be made, with a delivery of temporary possession, pending further action on his part.
When it is borne in mind that the application of Santistevan purports to have been made at a time when hostilities were impending between Mexico and the United States, and the territory of New Mexico was undoubtedly in a disturbed condition, its citizens in all probability preoccupied with preparations for an impending clash of arms, the inference from the documents we have been considering is not unwarranted that but a mere temporary possession or license was intended by the prefect and justice of the peace to be conferred upon the applicants. Such an hypothesis would account for the long delay following the direction of the prefect to the justice of the peace, bearing date January 3, 1846, and the delivery of possession on the 20th of March following. And it is to be remarked that such a possession as could have been had of the land in question under then existing circumstances, during the short time intervening the asserted delivery of possession and the conquest of the country by the American forces, would have been insufficient to have constituted even an equity in favor of the alleged grantees, which this court could recognize were it clothed with the broad powers conferred by the California act. Peralta v. United States, 3 Wall. 434, 441. It may be added that the record fails. to satisfactorily establish any occupancy or cultivation prior to the conquest, and but trifling cultivation thereafter, and the latter by a portion only of the alleged grantees.
To summarize. In the documents presented as establishing title in the alleged original grantees, there is an entire disregard of the requirements of the regulations of 1828, and the proceedings do not warrant the finding that the acts of the prefect and of the justice of the peace were ever reported to or received the approval of the governor, or that the latter official ever made a grant of title. The major portion of the documents claimed
Opinion of the Court.
to constitute title, if regular, properly constituted part and parcel of an expediente belonging to the archives. They, however, bear no indorsement to indicate that they had ever been among public archives prior to their production in 1872 from private custody for filing in the office of the surveyor general of New Mexico. So, also, no evidence was introduced tending to show that any sort of official record had ever been made of a grant of title to the land in controversy, while the tenor of the act of possession forbids the inference that any formal grant was ever executed by the governor. The case is therefore without the principle of various decisions of this court where, with repect to a formal grant, introduced in evidence, complying with the requirements of the regulations, but whose authenticity was disputed, the case was remanded to the lower court to permit the introduction of evidence, if such could be produced, to establish that archive evidence of the grant once existed. One of the prerequisites for the introduction of secondary evidence of title is proof that a "grant was obtained and made in the manner the law required." United States v. Castro, 24 How. 346, 350.
Unless it be assumed that the Mexican Government was indifferent as to the disposition of its lands, and that anybody and everybody possessed power to convey them, as a matter of course, to whoever chose to ask for them, proceedings such as those we have reviewed cannot be treated as having had the effect of divesting the Republic of Mexico of title to a portion of its public lands.
Sustaining, as we do, the first two contentions urged by the Government, it becomes unnecessary to consider or pass upon the others which were pressed upon our attention. As a consequence of the foregoing reasons, it results that the claim should have been rejected by the Court of Private Land Claims, and that because it erroneously confirmed the alleged grant, the decree made below should be
Reversed and the cause remanded with instructions to reject the claim and dismiss the petition, and it is so ordered.
MR. JUSTICE BREWER and MR. JUSTICE BROWN Concurred in the result.
MR. JUSTICE SHIRAS and MR. JUSTICE MCKENNA dissented.