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Opinion of the Court.
(p. 525) "It would in many instances be a great impediment to the progress of such towns if the titles to the lots occupied by their inhabitants were subject to be overthrown by a subsequent discovery of mineral deposits under their surface. If their title would not protect them against a discovery of mines in them, neither would it protect them against the invasion of their property for the purpose of exploring for mines. The temptation to such exploration would be according to the suspected extent of the minerals, and being thus subject to indiscriminate invasion, the land would be to one having the title poor and valueless, just in proportion to the supposed richness and abundance of its products. We do not think that any such results were contemplated by the act of Congress, or that any construction should be given to the provision in question which could lead to such results."
234 U. S.
(p. 527-8) "But we do not attach any importance to the exception, for the officers of the Land Department, being merely agents of the government, have no authority to insert in a patent any other terms than those of conveyance, with recitals showing compliance with the conditions which the law prescribes. Could they insert clauses in patents at their own discretion they could limit or enlarge their effect without warrant of law. The patent of a mining claim carries with it such rights to the land which includes the claim as the law confers, and no others, and these rights can neither be enlarged nor diminished by any reservations of the officers of the Land Department, resting for their fitness only upon the judgment of those officers. Deffeback v. Hawke, 115 U. S. 392, 406. The laws of Congress provide that valuable mineral deposits in lands of the United States shall be open to exploration and purchase. They do not provide, and never have provided, that such mineral deposits in lands which have ceased to be public, and become the property of
Opinion of the Court
private individuals, can be patented under any proceedings before the Land Department, or otherwise."
The case of Shaw v. Kellogg, 170 U. S. 312, related to a claim or right, conferred by statute, entitling its owner to select in a body about 100,000 acres "of vacant land, not mineral," in New Mexico, it being the duty of the Surveyor General "to make survey and location of the lands so selected," and this action being subject to the supervision of the Commissioner of the General Land Office. The owner of the right having made the selection, applied to the surveyor general in 1862 for the survey and location of the tract, and that officer reported the application to the Commissioner, saying in that connection that he had theretofore been informed that the purpose of the owner was to make such a selection as "would cover rich minerals in the mountains." The Commissioner replied that it was essential to the approval of the application by him that "it be accompanied by the certificates of the surveyor general and the register and receiver that the land selected is vacant and not mineral." Such certificates were furnished, but the Commissioner hesitated to act upon them because they were not based upon personal knowledge, but information informally elicited from others, the lands being remote and in an unsurveyed region. Finally, the Commissioner concluded that "the difficulty" could "be avoided" by directing the Surveyor General to proceed and in approving the survey to add to his certificate of approval "the special reservation stipulated by the statute, but not to embrace mineral land." Being instructed accordingly, the Surveyor General, after the field notes and plat of the survey were completed, endorsed upon the field notes a mere approval and upon the plat an approval qualified by the words "subject to the conditions and limitations" of the statute, naming it. The field notes and plat were then forwarded to and accepted by the Commis
Opinion of the Court.
sioner. No patent was issued, the approved survey taking the place of one under the statute. A few years later, when inquiries were made respecting the right of prospectors to take advantage of mineral discoveries in the tract, the Commissioner took the position that the approval of the survey operated as a determination that the land was of the class and character designated in the act; that the title had passed from the Government, and that, notwithstanding the apparently conditional approval, the Land Department was without authority to reopen the question of the character of the land. The case, as presented to this court, involved the possession of a mine located within the tract after the approval of the survey. The plaintiff claimed under the selection of 1862 and the defendant under the mining laws, the controversy turning upon the effect to be given to the condition in the approval of the survey. In disposing of that question the court reaffirmed and applied its rulings in Deffeback v. Hawke, and Barden v. Northern Pacific Railroad Co., supra, and said (p. 337):
"What is the significance of, and what effect can be given to, the clause inserted in the certificate of approval of the plat that it was subject to the conditions and provisions of the act of Congress? We are of opinion that the insertion of any such stipulation and limitation was beyond the power of the Land Department. Its duty was to decide and not to decline to decide; to execute and not to refuse to execute the will of Congress. It could not deal with the land as an owner and prescribe the conditions upon which title might be transferred. It was an agent and not principal. Congress had made a grant, authorized a selection within three years, and directed the Surveyor General to make survey and location, and within the general powers of the Land Department it was its duty to see that such grant was carried into effect and that a full title to the proper land was made. Un
234 U. S.
Opinion of the Court.
234 U. S.
doubtedly it could refuse to approve a location on the ground that the land was mineral. It was its duty to decide the question-a duty which it could not avoid or evade. It could not say to the locator that it approved the location provided no mineral should ever thereafter be discovered, and disapproved it if mineral were discovered; in other words, that the locator must take the chances of future discovery of minerals. It was a question for its action and its action at the time. The general statutes of Congress in respect to homestead, preemption and townsite locations provide that they shall be made upon lands that are non-mineral, and in approving any such entry and issuing a patent therefor could it be tolerated for a moment that the Land Department might limit the grant and qualify the title by a stipulation that if thereafter mineral should be discovered the title should fail? It cannot in that way avoid the responsibility of deciding and giving to the party seeking to make the entry a full title to the land or else denying it altogether."
(p. 341) "But, it is said, no patent was issued in this case, and therefore the holding in the Barden Case, that the issue of a patent puts an end to all question, does not apply here. But the significance of a patent is that it is evidence of the transfer of the legal title. There is no magic in the word 'patent,' or in the instrument which the word defines. By it the legal title passes, and when by whatsoever instrument and in whatsoever manner that is accomplished, the same result follows as though a formal patent were issued."
(p. 343) "While the approval entered upon the plat by the Surveyor General under the direction of the Land Department was in terms 'subject to the conditions and provisions of section 6 of the act of Congress, approved June 21, 1860,' such limitation was beyond the power of executive officers to impose."
According to the statute relating to placer mining claims.
Opinion of the Court.
the patent, save in an instance not material here, should contain an exception of any vein or lode known to exist within the boundaries of the claim at the date of the application for patent, but in the early patents the exception was so stated that it embraced any vein or lode claimed or known to exist at the date of the patent. The change was a material one, not only because of the difference between "claimed" and "known" but also because a year or so sometimes elapsed between the date of the application and that of the patent, and in the meantime a vein or lode might be discovered within the boundaries of the placer claim. Ultimately cases presenting the question of the effect of the exception as stated in the patents came before this court, and it was held that "the exception of the statute cannot be extended by those whose duty it is to supervise the issuing of the patent." Sullivan v. Iron Silver Mining Co., 143 U. S. 431, 441, and cases cited.
These decisions are applicable and controlling here. The reasoning upon which they proceed compels their reaffirmance, and, besides, they have come to be recognized as establishing a rule of property. Not only has the Land Department accepted them as determinative of the invalidity of the excepting clause now before us, but innumerable titles within the limits of the western railroad land grants have been acquired with a like understanding and are now held in the justifiable belief that they are impregnable.
234 U. S.
We come now to a contention which seeks to distinguish patents under this grant from those under other railroad grants. It is that the insertion of the excepting clause in the former was expressly authorized by Congress. Evidently this has not been the view of the Land Department. It not only began to use the clause before this grant was made, but used it in all patents of this class; and when, in December, 1903, its use was discontinued, the order embraced this grant along with the others. But passing VOL. CCXXXIV-45