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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Southern Pacific R. Co., 146 U.S. 570 (1892)

United States v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company

Nos. 921, 922

Argued November 9-10, 1892

Decided December 12, 1892

146 U.S. 570


The intent of Congress in each and all of its railroad land grants was that the grant should operate at a fixed time, and should cover only such lands as at that time were public lands, grantable by Congress, and such a grant is not to be taken as a floating authority to appropriate lands within the specified limits which at a subsequent time might become public land.

The grant of land made to the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad Company by the Act of July 27, 1866, 14 Stat. 292, c. 278, and the grant to the Southern Pacific Railroad Company by the Act of March 3, 1871, 16 Stat. 573, c. 122, were grants in praesenti which, when maps of definite location were filed and approved, took effect, by relation, as of the dates of the respective statutes.

The filing by the Atlantic and Pacific Company of a map of definite location from the Colorado River through San Buenaventura to San Francisco, under a claim of right to construct a road for the entire distance, was good as a map of definite location from the Colorado River to San Buenaventura.

The Atlantic and Pacific Railroad Company having duly filed a valid and sufficient map of definite location of its route from the Colorado River to the Pacific Ocean which was approved by the Secretary of the Interior, the title to the lands in dispute passed thereby to that company under the grant of July 27, 1866, and remained held by it, subject to a condition subsequent, until their forfeiture under the Act of July 6, 1886, 24 Stat. 123, c. 637, and by that act of forfeiture the title thereto was chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 146 U. S. 571

retaken by the United States for its own benefit, and not for that of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, whose grant never attached to the lands so as to give that company any title of any kind to them.

On July 27, 1866, Congress passed an act granting lands to aid in the construction of a railroad from the States of Missouri and Arkansas to the Pacific Coast. 14 Stat. 292. c. 278. By the first section, a corporation to be known as the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad Company was created, and authorized to construct and operate a road from a point near the Town of Springfield, in the State of Missouri, westward through Albuquerque,

"and thence along the thirty-fifth parallel of latitude, as near as may be found most suitable for a railway route, to the Colorado River at such point as may be selected by said company for crossing; thence by the most practicable and eligible route to the Pacific."

The third section making the land grant is, so far as touching any question in this case is concerned, as follows:

"SEC. 3. That there be, and hereby is, granted to the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad Company, its successors and assigns, for the purpose of aiding in the construction of said railroad and telegraph line to the Pacific Coast, and to secure the safe and speedy transportation of the mails, troops, munitions of war, and public stores over the route of said line of railway and its branches, every alternate section of public land, not mineral, designated by odd numbers, to the amount of twenty alternate sections per mile, on each side of said railroad line, as said company may adopt, through the territories of the United States, and ten alternate sections of land per mile on each side of said railroad whenever it passes through any state, and whenever, on the line thereof, the United States have full title,

Page 146 U. S. 572

not reserved, sold, granted, or otherwise appropriated, and free from preemption or other claims or rights at the time the line of said road is designated by a plat thereof filed in the office of the Commissioner of the General Land Office, and whenever, prior to said time, any of said sections or parts of sections shall have been granted, sold, reserved, occupied by homestead settlers, or preempted, or otherwise disposed of, other lands shall be selected by said company in lieu thereof, under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, in alternate sections, and designated by odd numbers, not more than ten miles beyond the limits of said alternate sections, and not including the reserved numbers, provided that if said route shall be found upon the line of any other railroad route to aid in the construction of which lands have been heretofore granted by the United States, so far as the routes are upon the same general line, the amount of land heretofore granted shall be deducted from the amount granted by this act."

The eighteenth section was in these words:

"SEC. 18. That the Southern Pacific Railroad, a company incorporated under the laws of the State of California, is hereby authorized to connect with the said Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, formed under this act at such point near the boundary line of the State of California as they shall deem most suitable for a railroad line to San Francisco, and shall have a uniform gauge and rate of freight or fare with said road, and in consideration thereof, to aid in its construction, shall have similar grants of land, subject to all the conditions and limitations herein provided, and shall be required to construct its road on the like regulations, as to time and manner, with the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, herein provided for."

On March 3, 1871, Congress passed an act, 16 Stat. 573, to incorporate the Texas Pacific Railroad Company, and to aid in the construction of its road, the twenty-third section of which act reads:

"That, for the purpose of connecting the Texas Pacific Railroad with the City of San Francisco, the Southern Pacific Railroad Company of California is hereby authorized (subject to the laws of California) to construct a line of railroad from

Page 146 U. S. 573

a point at or near Tehachapa Pass, by way of Los Angeles, to the Texas Pacific railroad at or near Colorado River, with the same rights, grants, and privileges, and subject to the same limitations, restrictions, and conditions, as were granted to said Southern Pacific Railroad Company of California by the Act of July 27, 1866, provided, however, that this section shall in no way affect or impair the rights, present or prospective, of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad Company or any other railroad company."

Under the Act of July, 1866, the Atlantic and Pacific Company proceeded to construct a part of its road, but did not work west of the Colorado River, the east line of the State of California. It did, however, file maps of that which it claimed to be its line of definite location from the Colorado River to the Pacific Ocean, which, on April 11, 1872, and August 15, 1872, were accepted and approved by the Secretary of the Interior. On July 6, 1886, Congress passed this act of forfeiture:

"At act to forfeit the lands granted to the Atlantic"

"and Pacific Railroad Company, etc."

"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Re