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Opinion of the Court.

this as suggestive but not controlling, we turn to the joint resolution of June 28, 1870, upon which the contention is rested. Its chief purpose was to sanction a route which the Secretary of the Interior had disapproved. Southern Pacific Railroad Co. v. United States, 183 U. S. 519, 523. It reads as follows (16 Stat. 382, * No. 87):

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"That the Southern Pacific Railroad Company of California may construct its road and telegraph line, as near as may be, on the route indicated by the map filed by said company in the Department of the Interior on the third day of January, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven; and upon the construction of each section of said road, in the manner and within the time provided by law, and notice thereof being given by the company to the Secretary of the Interior, he shall direct an examination of each such section by commissioners to be appointed by the President, as provided in the act making a grant of land to said company, approved July twenty-seventh, eighteen hundred and sixty-six, and upon the report of the commissioners to the Secretary of the Interior that such section of said railroad and telegraph line has been constructed as required by law, it shall be the duty of the said Secretary of the Interior to cause patents to be issued to said company for the sections of land coterminous to each constructed section reported on as aforesaid, to the extent and amount granted to said company by the said act of July twenty-seventh, eighteen hundred and sixty-six, expressly saving and reserving all the rights of actual settlers, together with the other conditions and restrictions provided for in the third section of said act."

It will be observed that there is no direct mention of mineral lands, nor any indirect reference to them save such as is involved in the general mention of the "conditions and restrictions" of § 3 of the granting act.

As stated in one of the briefs, the contention is this: "The resolution provided in express terms that these

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Opinion of the Court.

patents should cover all of the lands coterminous with the constructed sections of the railroad, and in effect provided that the patents should save and reserve the lands excepted by the provisions of section 3 of the original granting act, which included the exception of mineral lands.” In other words, it is meant that the resolution required that all the odd-numbered sections within the primary limits of the grant and coterminous with the constructed road should be patented to the railroad company without any inquiry or investigation to determine which of those sections were sold, reserved, occupied by homestead settlers, preempted, or otherwise disposed of at the date of definite location, or were mineral, and that a general exception conforming to that in the granting act was to be inserted in the patents. This would mean that lands already sold were to be patented to the company, that reserved lands were to be patented to it, and that lands occupied by homestead settlers or preempted were to be dealt with in the same way; in short, that the grant, instead of being administered and adjusted in an orderly way by the officers customarily charged with that duty and in possession of the records and data without which little could be done, was to be administered and adjusted in the courts through the ordinary channels of litigation. Manifestly, that is not what Congress contemplated. It did not intend that the company's title should be so uncertain, and clearly it did not intend that the title to lands already sold or those reserved should be thus beclouded or that homesteaders and preemptioners should be placed in a situation which would be so embarrassing and discouraging to them. What would become of the indemnity provisions under that theory? Certainly, it was not intended that the company should receive a patent for lands in the place limits and also indemnity for the same lands. We think there is a more reasonable view of the provision in the resolution than the one suggested. Omit

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Opinion of the Court.

ting its saving clause, the provision is not materially different from § 4 of the original act, being the section providing for patents. As already said, the chief purpose of the resolution was to sanction a route-the one indicated on the map mentioned. The Secretary of the Interior had disapproved it because not within prior authorization. If it was to be approved it was but reasonable that the existing right to the patents should be applied to it. This evidently is what was intended. Another matter also claimed consideration. Three years had passed since the filing of the map, and in the meantime the situation had been complicated by a withdrawal of the adjacent lands, a revocation of the withdrawal and a suspension of the revoking order. The validity of the route shown on the map and of the withdrawal had been the subject of differing opinions, and some of the lands had come to be occupied by settlers, whose status was uncertain in view of the withdrawal. See 16 Op. A. G. 80. As reported to the Senate by one of its committees, the resolution was in its present form without the saving clause. That was added when the resolution was under consideration.1 Without it the resolution had two purposes, one to sanction the route which had been pronounced unauthorized, and the other to make secure the right to patents along that route. What was the purpose of the saving clause? Its words and the situation just mentioned leave no doubt that one purpose was to take care of the actual settlers then on the lands. Another, equally plain, was to require that the conditions and restrictions, that is, the exclusions and exceptions, of § 3 (the granting section) of the original act be applied to that route. But how were these purposes to be accomplished? Was it to be by patenting all the lands to the railroad company, even those occupied by

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J Congressional Globe, 41st Cong., 2d Sess., parts 4 and 5, pp. 33493351, 3828-3830, 3950-3953.

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Opinion of the Court.

actual settlers, and inserting saving clauses in the patents? Or was it to be by giving effect to the rights of the settlers and to the exclusions and exceptions in the normal and rational way, that is, by patenting to the company no lands occupied by actual settlers or otherwise excluded or excepted from the grant? The latter seems to us the only admissible conclusion.1

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Lastly, it is urged that the railroad company accepted the patent with the mineral-land exception therein and also expressly agreed that the latter should be effective as one of the terms of the patent, and so is bound by it or at least estopped to deny its validity. There are insuperable objections to this contention. The terms of the patent whereby the Government transfers its title to public land are not open to negotiation or agreement. The patentee has no voice in the matter. It in no wise depends upon his consent or will. He must abide the action of those whose duty and responsibility are fixed by law. Neither can the land officers enter into any agreement upon the subject. They are not principals but agents of the law, and must heed only its will. Deffeback v. Hawke, 115 U. S. 392, 406; Davis v. Wiebbold, 139 U. S. 507, 527; Shaw v. Kellogg, 170 U. S. 312, 337, 343. Nor can they indirectly give effect to what is unauthorized when done directly. Of course, if they enter into any forbidden arrangement whereby public land is transferred to one not entitled to it the patent may be annulled at the suit of the Government, but they cannot alter the effect which the law gives to a patent while it is outstanding.

Taking up the several questions in the light of what we have here said, we answer them as follows:

1. Did the said grant to the Southern Pacific Railroad Company include mineral lands which were known to

1

See Tome v. Southern Pacific R. R. Co., 5 Copp's L. O. 85; Southern Pacific R. R. Co. v. Rahall, 3 L. D. 321.

Opinion of the Court.

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be such at or prior to the date of the patent of July 10, 1894?

Answer.--Mineral lands, known to be such at or prior to the issue of patent, were not included in the grant but excluded from it, and the duty of determining the character of the lands was cast primarily on the Land Department, which was charged with the issue of patents.

2. Does a patent to a railroad company under a grant which excludes mineral lands, as in the present case, but which is issued without any investigation upon the part of the officers of the Land Office or of the Department of the Interior as to the quality of the land, whether agricultural or mineral, and without hearing upon or determination of the quality of the lands, operate to convey lands which are thereafter ascertained to be mineral?

Answer.-A patent issued in such circumstances is irregularly issued, undoubtedly so, but as it is the act of a legally constituted tribunal and is done within its jurisdiction, it is not void and therefore passes the title (Noble v. Union River Logging Railroad, 147 U. S. 165, 174–175), subject to the right of the Government to attack the patent by a direct suit for its annulment if the land was known to be mineral when the patent issued. McLaughlin v. United States, 107 U. S. 526; Western Pacific Railroad Co. v. United States, 108 U. S. 510.

3. Is the reservation and exception contained in the grant in the patent to the Southern Pacific Railroad Company void and of no effect?

Answer. The mineral land exception in the patent is void.

4. If the reservation of mineral lands as expressed in the patent is void, then is the patent, upon a collateral attack, a conclusive and official declaration that the land is agricultural and that all the requirements preliminary to the issuance of the patent have been complied with?

Answer. It is conclusive upon a collateral attack.

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