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decided: May 28, 1900.



Author: Harlan

[ 178 U.S. Page 478]

 MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the court.

This case involves a claim to a tract of land arising out of an entry made under the act of Congress of June 3, 1878, c. 151, entitled "An act for the sale of timber lands in the States of California, Oregon, Nevada and in Washington Territory," known as the Timber and Stone Act. 20 Stat. 89.

The act in its first section provided for the sale at a named price and in quantities not exceeding one hundred and sixty acres to any person or association of persons of surveyed public lands in the States and Territory named, not included within the military, Indian and other reservations, and which were "valuable chiefly for timber, but unfit for cultivation." It also provided for the sale of lands "valuable chiefly for stone" on the same terms as timber lands.

By the second section of the act it was provided: "ยง 2. That any person desiring to avail himself of the provisions of this act shall file with the register of the proper district a written statement in duplicate, one of which is to be transmitted to the General Land Office, designating by legal subdivisions the particular tract of land he desires to purchase, setting forth that the same is unfit for cultivation, and valuable chiefly for its timber or stone; that it is uninhabited; contains no mining or other improvements, except for ditch or canal purposes, where any such do exist, save such as were made by or belonging to the applicant, nor, as deponent verily believes, any valuable deposit of gold, silver, cinnabar, copper or coal; that deponent has made no other application under this act; that he does not apply to purchase the same on speculation, but in good faith to appropriate it to his own exclusive use and benefit; and that he has not, directly or indirectly, made any agreement or contract, in any way or manner, with any person or persons whatsoever, by which the title which he might acquire from the Government of the United States should inure, in whole or in part, to the benefit of any person except himself; which statement must be verified by the oath of the applicant before the

[ 178 U.S. Page 479]

     register or receiver of the land office within the district where the land is situated; and if any person taking such oath shall swear falsely in the premises, he shall be subject to all the pains and penalties of perjury, and shall forfeit the money which he may have paid for said lands, and all right and title to the same; and any grant or conveyance which he may have made, except in the hands of bona fide purchasers, shall be null and void."

The third section, after making provision for the publication of the application to purchase, provides: "And upon payment to the proper officer of the purchase money of said land, together with the fees of the register and the receiver, as provided for in case of mining claims in the twelfth section of the act approved May 10, 1872, the applicant may be permitted to enter said tract, and, on the transmission to the General Land Office of the papers and testimony in the case, a patent shall issue thereon: Provided, That any person having a valid claim to any portion of the land may object, in writing, to the issuance of a patent to lands so held by him, stating the nature of his claim thereto; and evidence shall be taken, and the merits of said objection shall be determined by the officers of the land office, subject to appeal, as in other land cases. Effect shall be given to the foregoing provisions of this act by regulations to be prescribed by the Commissioner of the General Land Office."

The bill of complaint presents substantially the following case under the above legislation:

On the 30th day of April, 1883, after having complied with the requirements of the above act, one Henry C. Hackley paid to the receiver of the land office in Olympia, Washington Territory, the purchase price of the N.W. 1/4 of the N.E. 1/4 and the N. 1/2 of the N.W. 1/4 of section 13, and the S.E. 1/4 of the S.W. 1/4 of section 12, all in township 36 north, of range 3 east, Williamette meridian, in the county of Skagit, Territory (now State) of Washington -- taking from the receiver what is known as the final or duplicate receipt. On the same day Hackley conveyed the tract described to Stephen S. Bailey by a sufficient deed of warranty; and on December 29, 1887, Bailey sold, transferred and conveyed the land to the appellants.

[ 178 U.S. Page 480]

     On August 9, 1888, the Commissioner of the Generawl Land Office suspended and held for cancellation the entry made by Hackley, it having been reported to that office by a special agent that the land in question was not chiefly valuable for timber, but was valuable agricultural land, and also that the entry by Hackley was made in the interest of Bailey.

On or about August 23, 1888, the register and receiver of the local land office at Seattle caused notice of the action of the Commissioner of the General Land Office to be served upon the transferees, the notice stating in detail the fact of the entry by Hackley, and that the special agent had reported that he had made a personal examination of the land and found that it was not chiefly valuable for timber, but was valuable agricultural land, and that the entry thereof was made in the interest of Bailey and others, and not for the benefit and use of the entryman.

Within sixty days after the above notice, the transferees made a special appearance by attorneys, and moved that the proceeding be dismissed and the entry reinstated and passed to patent, upon the ground that the action of the Commissioner was in excess of any authority possessed by him or by the Land Department. That motion was denied by the Commissioner. The bill alleges that such denial was not the result of the consideration of any fact or facts, but of an erroneous opinion of the law.

Thereupon the transferees applied for a hearing in accordance with the notice given, and they stipulated with the attorney for the Government that the case be consolidated with eleven other entries owned by them and which were suspended at or about the same time by the Commissioner.

That application was granted, and a hearing was had before the local land office.

The register and receiver being divided in opinion the matter went to the Commissioner, who decided that all the land embraced in the entries before him, including the land here in question entered by Hackley, was timber land that could be entered as such under the act of June 3, 1878; that all of the proceedings in relation to Hackley's entry were regular; that

[ 178 U.S. Page 481]

     the proof submitted on the entry was sufficient; and that the Government had failed to prove that that entry was made in the interest of Bailey or of any other person than the entryman. It was therefore ordered by that officer that the entry in question be removed from suspension and remain intact upon the records of the Land Department, and that the patent of the United States issue therefor.

Subsequently, January 31, 1891, no patent having been issued, Secretary Noble ordered the Commissioner of the General Land Office to certify and transmit all the papers and testimony in the cause to his office. "Said order," the bill alleged, "was made by the said Secretary of the Interior without any appeal being taken by the United States, and without notice to said transferees, or any of the defendants in said cause." The order was complied with, but the papers remaining in the hands of Secretary Noble without any decision being made by him while in office. The case was taken up by his successor, Secretary Smith, and was decided October 19, 1893, adversely to the transferees. United States v. Bailey, 17 L.D. 468. The bill further alleged: "Said decision of the Commissioner of the General Land Office, rendered in said cause as aforesaid, was at no time considered by the honorable Secretary of the Interior and the Attorney General of the United States, acting as a board or otherwise, nor was the testimony and proceedings in said cause by them considered or acted upon, as a board, at all; nor did the Attorney General of the United States at any time consider or act upon said decision of the Commissioner of the General Land Office, or the pretended testimony, or the papers and documents in relation to said entry, at all, either as a member of a board or in his individual capacity."

Throughout all these proceedings appellants protested that the Land Office was without jurisdiction or authority to cancel the entries of the lands that had been transferred to them.

In the course of his opinion Secretary Smith said that there was no charge nor was there any testimony affecting the transaction between Bailey and his transferees. He also said that his interpretation of the statute did not imply that a timber-land entryman was not authorized to sell his entry at any time

[ 178 U.S. Page 482]

     that he chose after he had made his proof and received his certificate. 17 L.D. 468, 471, 476.

In accordance with the directions of the Secretary, the Commissioner of the General Land Office, on November 21, 1893, ordered the cancellation of the timber-land entry of Hackley upon the records of the Land Department, and the land ...

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