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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Oregon & California R. Co., 176 U.S. 28 (1900)

United States v. Oregon and California Railroad Company

No. 9

Argued April 14, 1899

Decided January 8, 1900

176 U.S. 28


By the Act of July 2, 1864, 13 Stat. 365, c. 217, Congress granted lands to the Northern Pacific Railroad Company to aid in the construction of a railroad and telegraph line from a point on Lake Superior in Wisconsin or Minnesota to some point on Puget Sound, with a branch via the valley of the Columbia River to a point at or near Portland in the State of Oregon. The grant was of

"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, 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 definitely fixed, and a plat thereof filed in the office of the

Page 176 U. S. 29

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."

In March, 1865, the president of that company filed in the Land Department a map which if of value for any purpose was only a map of "general route," not one of definite location between Wallula and Portland. That map was not accepted. By Act of July 25, 1866, 14 Stat. 239, c. 242, Congress made a grant of land in aid of the construction of a railroad and telegraph line between Portland, Oregon, and the Central Pacific Railroad in California. That grant was in the usual terms employed in such acts. Subsequently the benefit of that grant as to the part of the road to be constructed in Oregon was conferred upon the Oregon Central Railroad Company. The lands here in dispute, whether place or indemnity, were within the limits of the grant of 1866. The entire line of road of the Oregon and California Railroad Company, which was the successor of the Oregon Central Railroad Company, was fully constructed and duly accepted by the President, and at the time this suit was begun was being operated and had been continuously operated by that company. The Oregon Company filed its map of definite location in 1870, and it was accepted by the Land Department. By the Act of September 29, 1890, 26 Stat. 496, c. 1040, all lands theretofore granted to any state or corporation to aid in the construction of a railroad opposite to or coterminous with the portion of any such railroad not then completed and in operation, for the construction of which such lands were granted, were forfeited to the United States. There never was any withdrawal of indemnity lands on the proposed line of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company between Wallula and Portland, nor was there any definite location or construction of its road opposite to the lands in suit. Held,

(1) That nothing in the act of 1864 stood in the way of Congress' subsequently granting to other railroad corporations the privilege of earning any lands that might be embraced within the general route of the Northern Pacific Railroad.

(2) That as the grant contained in that act did not include any lands that had been reserved, sold, granted or otherwise appropriated at the time the line of the Northern Pacific Railroad was "definitely fixed," as the route of the Northern Pacific Railroad had not been definitely fixed at the time the Act of July 25, 1866, was passed, or when the line of the Oregon Company was definitely located, as the lands in dispute are within the limits of the grant contained in the act of 1866, as the route of the Oregon Railroad was definitely fixed at least when the map showing that route was accepted by the Secretary of the Interior on the 29th day of January, 1870, the Northern Pacific Railroad Company having done chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 176 U. S. 30

nothing prior to the latter date except to file the Perham map of 1865, and as prior to the forfeiture Act of September 29, 1890, there had not been any definite location of the Northern Pacific Railroad opposite the lands in dispute, there is no escape from the conclusion that these lands were lawfully earned by the Oregon Company and were rightfully patented to it. Of course, if the route of the Northern Pacific road had been definitely located before the act of 1890 was passed, and had embraced the lands in dispute, different questions would have been presented.

The case is stated in the opinion.

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