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Opinion of the Court.

lien thereon presents no question as to the jurisdiction of a court of equity over the estate of a decedent.

It follows from the foregoing that the court below erred in refusing to recognize the claim of the complainants and to enforce in their favor a lien on the Memphis bonds in the hands of Mrs. Brown, and for the errors in these particulars the decree must be Reversed, and the case remanded to the trial court for further

proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.



No. 208. Argued January 7, 8, 1896. – Decided March 1, 1897.

The Spanish law did not, proprio vigore, confer upon every Spanish villa or

town, a grant of four square leagues of land, to be measured from the

centre of the plaza of such town. Although, under that law, all towns were not, on their organization, en

titled by operation of law, to four square leagues, yet, at a time subsequent to the organization of Santa Fé, Spanish officials adopted the theory that the normal quantity which might be designated as the limits

of new pueblos, to be thereafter created, was four square leagues. The rights of Santa Fé depend upon Spanish law as it existed prior to the

adoption of that theory. An inchoate claim, which could not have been asserted as an absolute right

against the government of either Spain or Mexico, and which was subject to the uncontrolled discretion of Congress, is clearly not within the purview of the act of March 3, 1891, c. 539, creating the Court of Private Land Claims; but the duty of protecting such imperfect rights of property rests upon the political department of the government.

The case is stated in the opinion.

Mr. Assistant Attorney General Dickinson and Mr. Matthew G. Reynolds for appellants.

Mr. T. B. Catron and Mr. William Il. Pope for appellee.

MR. JUSTICE White delivered the opinion of the court.

Opinion of the Court.

This case comes on appeal taken by the United States from a decree of the Court of Private Land Claims confirming to the lot holders in privity with the city of Santa Fé the lots held by them in severalty in that city, and confirming to the city itself in trust for the use of its inhabitants a tract of four square leagues claimed by the city, except mines of gold, silver and quicksilver, and property appropriated, used, occupied, possessed or owned by the United States.

It is conceded or shown that prior to 1680 there existed a Spanish town known as La Villa de Santa Fé, which was the seat of government of the Spanish province of New Mexico, and that there was also prior to that date the official mechanism required by the Spanish law to direct the affairs of a Spanish villa or town. The origin of the town or villa is obscure, but the record indicates that as early as 1543 the settlement was made by deserters from the Spanish military force under Coronado, who refused to accompany their commander on his return to Mexico, and settled at Santa Fé. In 1650 the Spaniards were driven out by an Indian insurrection and Santa Fé was destroyed, the Spaniards retreating to Paso del Norte, where they remained until 1692, when Diego de Vargas reconquered the country. In 1693 de Vargas reëstablished Santa Fé. From that time to the American occupation - although the record does not fix the precise character of the municipal government - there is no doubt that there was a settlement on the site of the old villa of Santa Fé, and that it was also the capital of the province. In 1851 Santa Fé was incorporated and its boundaries defined by act of the territorial legislature of New Mexico. Laws of New Mexico, 1851–52, Kearney's Code, 112. The municipal charter granted in 1851 was shortly thereafter repealed, and the probate judge of the county became, by operation of law, the custodian of the records of the corporation and was a trustee to wind up its affairs. Laws of New Mexico, 1851-52, Kearney's Code, 272. No municipal body existed from this time until the year 1891, when Santa Fé was again organized pursuant to the laws of New Mexico.

Under the eighth section of the act approved July 22, 1851,

Opinion of the Court.

c. 103, 10 Stat. 308, the probate judge of the county of Santa Fé presented to the surveyor general of New Mexico a claim on behalf of the city for four square leagues of land. This claim was substantially based upon the averment that as the city of Santa Fé was in existence during the whole period of Spanish sovereignty over New Mexico, it was certain that “under the Spanish laws, usages and customs the inhabitants thereof were, as a community, entitled to receive, and your petitioners believe and claim did in fact receive, a grant from the crown for at least four square leagues of land and commons which they now claim.” As the legal authority for this asserted right of the city, reference was made to specified provisions of the law of Spain, and the prayer of the petition was "that said land be surveyed, and that a patent therefor be issued by the United States, to the probate judge for the time being of said county of Santa Fé, in trust for the use and benefit of the landholders and inhabitants within said tract, and for the city of Santa Fé until the same be by law incorporated under charter, and thereby become the rightful custodian of the patent for said tract of land.” The surveyor general reported to Congress for confirmation the claim thus made (H. of R. Ex. Doc. 239, 43d Congress, 1st session), and the recommendation not having been acted upon, this suit was commenced, by the city of Santa Fé, under the provisions of the act of March 3, 1891, creating the Court of Private Land Claims. 26 Stat. 854, c. 539.

The petition originally filed on behalf of the city, after setting out the existence of the Spanish villa known as La Villa de Santa Fé, substantially averred that the municipality of Santa Fé occupied the situs of the Spanish villa and possessed jurisdiction over the same territory, and, therefore, was, in law, the successor to all the rights enjoyed by the Spanish villa. It alleged that, prior to the Indian insurrection in 1680, the villa had received a pueblo grant of four square leagues of land, the central point of which was in the centre of the plaza of the city of Santa Fé; that the grant was made by the King of Spain; that juridical possession was given thereunder, and that such facts were evidenced by a valid testimonio; that

Opinion of the Court.

the archives and records of the villa were destroyed in the Indian insurrection of 1680, and, therefore, the title could not be produced. The fact was also averred that the claim had been submitted to the surveyor general, and bad been by him recommended favorably to Congress. The prayer was for a confirmation of the grant to the city “in trust for the use and benefit of the inhabitants thereof, and of such grantees and assignees of parts of the said lands as have derived, or may hereafter acquire by due assignments, allotments and titles in severalty to said parts respectively.” The defendant demurred on the ground that the petition stated no cause of action, and also because it failed to disclose the fact that there were many adverse claimants, under Spanish grants, to the land sued for, and that such claimants were necessary parties defendant.

Appearances were thereafter filed by seventeen persons, alleging that they were the holders of Spanish titles to land within the area claimed, and that their interests were, therefore, adverse to those of the city. Thereupon an amended petition was filed by the city, which in its caption mentions as defendants not only the original defendant, the United States, but the seventeen persons who had made appearance as having adverse interests. This amended petition substantially reiterated the averments of the original petition as to the foundation and existence of the villa of Santa Fé, but omitted the allegations on the subject of an express grant to La Villa de Santa Fé, the delivery of juridical possession thereunder and the issuance of a testimonio. The allegation on these subjects was that prior to the insurrection in 1680, “ La Villa de Santa Fé was entitled to, and had under the laws of the kingdom of Spain in force in that territory at that time, a municipal or pueblo grant, conceding to and vesting in said Spanish town or villa a certain tract of land containing four square Spanish leagues.” The positive averment in the original petition as to the destruction during the insurrection of 1680 of the evidence showing the existence of an express grant was replaced by a qualified averment that “all the muniments of title of such municipal grant, if any such existed, were utterly destroyed by the hostile Indians engaged in such insurrection."

Opinion of the Court.

The amended petition also averred that within the boundaries of the grant claimed there “are now living about seven thousand people, and about fifteen hundred heads of families, nearly all of whom own, occupy and have improved lands which they claim to hold under the said grant to the Villa de Santa Fé, and there is erected thereon buildings and improvements in public and private ownership, claiming under said grant to the value of several millions of dollars, and that none of said claimants and occupants are in any sense adverse claimants to your petitioner. And your petitioner further shows that there are claimed to be certain private land grants to individuals named as defendants in this proceeding, of tracts of land within the exterior line of said four square leagues granted to your petitioner as aforesaid. But your petitioner avers that if any such exist each and all of them are junior in date, subordinate and subject to the said municipal grant to your petitioner's predecessor as a town and villa, and whether the said private land grants are claimed adversely to your petitioner or not, your petitioner is not advised, but it states that all of said private land grants have been filed before this court for adjudication and have already been set for hearing in this court for the same date as this case, and that all of said claimants have subjected themselves to this court, with their alleged private land grants for its determination and decision, when the matter of their interests as against those of your petitioner can be fully and finally determined.”

The answer of the United States denied the alleged facts as to the foundation and organization of La Villa de Santa Fé; denied that the plaintiff, a municipal corporation, existing under the laws of New Mexico, was the successor or entitled to assert the rights, if any, of the Spanish villa ; it also denied that the Spanish villa had received title to or was by operation of the Spanish law entitled to claim the four square leagues of land; averred that title to a large portion of the land embraced within the four square leagues was claimed under Spanish grants by others than the plaintiff, the validity of which claims was not, however, admitted, and that other portions of the four square leagues were in control, occupancy

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