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THE UNITED STATES, APPELLANTS, v. RAFAEL GARCIA.

December 1, 1859

THE UNITED STATES, APPELLANTS,
v.
RAFAEL GARCIA.



THIS was an appeal from the District Court of the United States for the northern district of California. The case is stated in the opinion of the court. It was argued by Mr. Stanton and Mr. Black (Attorney General) for the United States, and by Mr. Benham for the appellee. The Attorney General, after stating the case, said that the board of land commissioners rejected the claim unanimously. Judge Hoffman delivered an opinion concurring with the board, but Judge McAllister decided in favor of the claimant, expressing 'considerable doubt' of its legal justice. The United States have appealed. We ask the court to reverse the decree of confirmation, and reject the claim, upon the ground that there is absolutely no title whatever, nor anything that even by courtesy could be called a show of title. A Governor of the Department in 1844 gave the claimant a passport, so that he might go out and hunt for nine leagues of land, and, if he should happen to find any, gives him authority to take possession of it until a title could be made out. The claimant now says that he did happen to find exactly nine leagues of land, but he did not report to the Governor who gave him the roving commission under which he was travelling when he made the discovery. He waited nearly two years, until another Governor came into office, and then he did not proceed according to law by presenting a petition, and doing what the regulations of 1828 require. Nor did he ask for any definite action. The order of the Governor was as vague as the petition. It was simply an order that the alcalde of San Rafael might report. The alcalde made report, and in that report falsely stated that the land had been previously granted to the claimant by Micheltorena, and added, somewhat paradoxically, that it did not belong to any private individual, on account of its distance from the frontier. Slight evidence of occupancy is added to this, and there rests the case. Not a single provision contained in the act of 1824, or in the regulations of 1828, has been complied with or followed in all this business. It bears no sort of resemblance to the proceeding which those laws require to be instituted and carried on before an individual can be vested with a title to a portion of the public domain. It was wholly unlike the measures and acts and records which were usual in such cases. This is not a title derived from Mexico according to the laws or according to the customs of that Government. It is not a grant at all. It does not pretend to be a grant. It is folly to call Micheltorena's passport a grant of land; and Pico signed nothing but an order upon the alcalde to report upon the matter. The claim under such a title as this is so preposterous that it is impossible to argue against it with any sort of seriousness. It never was regarded as a title by the Mexican Government. There was no expediente on file. The papers are all produced from the private custody of the claimant himself. There is no trace of the proceeding to be found anywhere upon record. The genuineness of the papers is extremely doubtful. The proof would be regarded as defective, if the witnesses were men of good character; but the testimony comes from William A. Richardson and Manuel Castro, both of whom have been made utterly infamous by being frequently detected in the commission of wilful and corrupt perjuries. If anything were wanting to expose this claim to further contempt, it might be found in Micheltorena's proclamation of December 16, 1844, wherein he states exactly how he was employed on the 15th of November, the day upon which his passport to Garcia is dated. It makes it, to say the least, extremely improbable that he could on that day have done what he describes, and been at the same time in Monterey issuing such papers as this to Garcia, and transacting business in the way that Richardson describes. The seal affixed to Micheltorena's letter is a manifest forgery.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Justice Catron delivered the opinion of the court.

Mr. Benham replied for the appellee:

In this case, a brief for the appellee was filed two years ago, addressed to the views of the law agents of the Government as then known. Novel and startling views having since been offered by Mr. Attorney General in his brief in this case, as in others, it is deemed necessary to reply to them.

In doing so, we shall quote Mr. Attorney General's remarks in the argument accompanying his brief seriatim, subjoining to each quotation such comments as may seem appropriate.

'We ask the court to reverse the decree of confirmation, and reject the claim, upon the ground that there is absolutely no title whatever, nor anything that, even by courtesy, could be called a show of title. A Governor of the Department, in 1844, gave the claimant a passport, so that he might go out and hunt for nine leagues of land, and, if he should happen to find any, gives him authority to take possession of it until a title could be made out.'

We maintain there is title, legal perhaps, certainly equitable. We care not to debate as to its dignity, since, for all purposes connected with this quasi litigation with the Government, an equitable title is as good as a legal title. We think a promise of title is imported at least in the authority to select, occupy with property, (cattle,) and hold possession of a tract, while the procedure (to obtain a titulo) was being had on the presentation of the requisite diseno; and that this promise, performance of the conditions of the decree and of the law being shown, entitles the claimant to a confirmation. He has held this land for sixteen years–save some parts from which he has been forcibly ejected.

'The claimant now says that he did happen to find exactly nine leagues of land, but he did not report to the Governor who gave him the roving commission under which he was travelling when he made the discovery. He waited nearly two years, until another Governor came into office, and then he did not proceed according to law by presenting a petition, and doing what the regulations of 1828 require.'

The delay should not provoke remark. There was no hurry. He was occupying the land during the two years, which was all the Government wanted. He had no reason to anticipate the change of flags.

He did present a petition in substantial conformity with the regulations, and he did ask for definite action. If his petition to Pico was deficient, it is to be presumed that the one addressed to Micheltorena was satisfactory, since that officer acted favorably upon it. His request for appropriate action was sufficient. He informed Pico that Micheltorena had authorized his selection, & c., and required the diseno; that he had selected, &c.; offered the diseno, and prayed for such action as should be most proper.

'Nor did he ask for any definite action. The order of the Governor was as vague as the petition. It was simply an order that the alcalde of San Rafael might report. The alcalde made report, and in that report falsely stated that the land had been previously granted to the claimant by Micheltorena, and added, somewhat paradoxically, that it did not belong to any private individual, on account of its distance from the frontier.'

The order was relative, and so–amply sufficient. It required a pertinent report. Such a one was given. That report certified that Garcia had been for some time in occupation of the land; the transaction which he thought was a grant on Micheltorena's part; that the land was vacant; and assigned as his reason for saying so, that it lay in a section of country where he might well know, from its remoteness, there was no grant, except Richardson's, (which was Garcia's starting point,) and those of Juarez and Vallejo.

'Slight evidence of occupancy is added to this, and there rests the case.'

The occupancy was judicially ascertained by Pacheco in his report to Pico. Richardson, and Rosa, and Vallejo, prove its character.

It was ample. Garcia had a house on the land, cultivated it, and had a large herd of cattle on it; had laborers on it, and this continuously.

He resided alternately there and on another ranch.

'Not a single provision contained in the act of 1824, or in the regulations of 1828, has been complied with or ...


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