MR. WICKHAM. Mr. Chairman, the legislation proposed by this bill is, to a vast portion of our territory, of supreme importance. The area of country to be affected by it is nearly equal in extent to that of the States of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire combined. It concerns the settlement of titles to land embracing 13,500,000 acres.
By the terms of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, made between the United States and the Government of Mexico on the 2d day of February, 1848, and the Gadsden Purchase, made on the 30th day of December, 1853, it became the solemn duty of this Government speedily to recognize and settle all claims to public lands in the territory ceded or granted by those treaties arising under any Spanish or Mexican grants made prior to the respective dates of those treaties .,. .
The Spanish Government, prior to the independence of Mexico, and the Mexican Government, after that event and before the dates of these treaties, made grants and concessions of public lands to individuals for considerations of divers kinds satisfactory to those governments. Large numbers of these claims covered land included within the boundaries of the territories acquired by these treaties. This territory included portions of Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and California.
In recognition of the treaty obligations resting upon the United States, Congress passed “An act to establish the offices of surveyors general of New Mexico, Kansas, Nebraska, etc.,” which was approved July 22, 1854, the eighth section of which made it the duty of the surveyors-general –
to ascertain the origin, nature, character, and extent of all claims to lands, under the laws, usages, and customs of Spain and Mexico, and to make full reports thereon in the manner therein provided, such reports to be laid before Congress for such action as might be deemed just and proper, with a view to confirm bona fide grants between the United States and Mexico.
The provisions of this section were extended to Colorado by the act of February 28, 1861, and to Arizona by the act of July 15, 1870. The remedy thus seeming to have been provided has proved inadequate and almost a failure.
The Secretary of the Interior, in his report for 1880, used this language:
After a lapse of nearly thirty years, more than one thousand claims have been filed with the Surveyor-General, of which less than one hundred and fifty have been reported to Congress, and of the number so reported Congress has finally acted upon only seventy-one.
And in the same report, speaking of the law, he said:
Its operation has been a failure, amounting to a denial of justice, both to the claimants and to the United States.
Since that time the situation has not improved as not one of this large number of claims has been acted upon by Congress, and now, after a lapse of nearly forty years since the passage of the original act, the same condition of thing which the Secretary was lamenting ten years ago still continues. And this, too, in the face of the fact that year after year Secretaries of the Interior, Commissioners of the General Land Office, and surveyors general have called attention to the necessity of some legislation to settle these claims.
The unwillingness of Congress to undertake the settlement of these claims is not unnatural. Many of them are for large tracts of land; some of those already acted upon have been found to be fraudulent, while there is a widespread feeling, which has been by Congress, that some, if not many, of those yet unsettled are fraudulent. The difficulty of examining claims of this character, involving so many details so much evidence which must necessarily be received and examined ex parte, the demand upon the attention of Congress of so many other matters of great importance, increasing year by year, and all pressing for consideration; these, and many other reasons which might be given, are all calculated to lead Congress to hesitate, and, at the best, to be slow to act.
The committee of one Congress has hardly time to investigate and become familiar with the facts and grounds of one, or at most of a few of these claims; and when the next Congress assembles a new committee has to travel over the same road, and so, while there may seem to be progress, there is no real advancement.
Many of these claims purport to based upon Spanish or Mexican grants, scores of years, and in some instances a century or more old, to ascertain the genuineness of which requires the most careful and patient scrutiny of those who are versed in the ancient laws and usages of those countries – a kind of knowledge which cannot be expected in members of Congress, who come together from various callings in life, none of which have directed their attention into channels which would afford any preparation for such work.
It is evident from these considerations and the experience of the past that Congress either cannot or will not settle these claims. This being so, it becomes the duty of Congress to provide some speedy and just method for their settlement; some tribunal that has the means by which can ascertain the truth in a speedy manner, and that will fearlessly and honestly enforce its findings and decrees; one that cannot be bribed, deceived, nor driven to a wrong decision.
Some have favored the appointment of a land commission. While this plan has, perhaps, some advantages, yet experience has proven that it would not be satisfactory.
One of the Secretaries of the Interior in his report says:
To the suggestion of a special commission, to sit at convenient times and places to hear and disposes of these claims, equally vigorous objections are presented, and it is urged that the experience obtained from the California commission is of such a character as to make a tribunal of that kind least advantageous of all the methods proposed.
This plan has been opposed by many officials of the Government, whose attention has been called to the subject and who have been in a position to understand the needs of the situation and the inadequacy and failure of this method. These officials were Commissioners of the General Land Office and surveyors general.
Besides, grave questions involving the power of the Commissioners to exercise judicial functions have arisen.
In his report for 1888, the surveyor general of New Mexico, in speaking of this plan, uses the following vigorous language:
Under the California act from thirty to forty cases of controverted title or survey are yet undisposed of at the end of thirty-seven years. The commissioners appointed under that act were men of character and eminence, but their sessions were held under the immediate shadow of great monopolies and in an atmosphere strongly impregnated with corruption. The litigation of the claimants was too often practically ex parte, and the arts of forgery, bribery, and perjury were employed with such matchless skill that the commission in many cases became the mere stool pigeon of theft and plunder. No honest man who will acquaint himself with the history of this tribunal can desire to see its operations repeated or even hazarded in New Mexico; for here all the resources of roguery have been successfully mobilized by experts in robbing the public domain, who are eager to repeat their achievements.
One plan suggested to dispose of these claims is to give authority to the Land Office of the Interior Department to settle them. While there might be some advantages in such a plan, yet it seems to me that it would prove wholly unsatisfactory. The investigation would, of course, be conducted in a measure ex parte. There would be no power to compel attendance of witnesses nor punish for contempt, or if such power should be conferred, practically the Land Office would be turned into a court, all of whose sessions must be held here in the City of Washington, at such a distance from the land claimant and much of the evidence and many of the witnesses as practically to deny justice to many claimants and in other cases place the Government at a great disadvantages for the same reason.
Again, the investigations and decisions in the Land Office would necessarily be made largely by clerks and other employees, who, in many instances would not have that preparation for the investigation and decision of intricate questions and weighing of evidence that would be possessed by judges learned in the law and trained to the examination and determination of questions of facet, and to the application of to such facts when found.
Besides, as is well known, the land office is now overwhelmed with business, and calling for more force and more room with which and in which to do its work.
Mr. Julian, who, it has been said, favored the adoption of this plan, in his report already referred to, as surveyor general of New Mexico, for 1888, seems to claim what I do not charge, that the land office might be imposed upon by unscrupulous grant claimants, in the use of the following language:
So long as Congress continued to pass upon the cases submitted by the surveyor general the grant claimants of the Territory were perfectly content. They were able to place the questions of both title and survey in the most satisfactory shape through their control over the surveyor general and his deputies, while they successfully manipulated the General Land Office and even shaped the action of Congress itself by beguiling the committees whose reports were made the basis of legislation.
Another plan that has been suggested is to refer these claims for adjudication to the district courts of the respective Territories and States in which the lands are situated, with the right of appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States.
As the judges of the respective district courts are already overburdened with business, and several years behind with their work, many years would elapse before these claims could be settled under this plan; and so the claimants would be doomed to wait, how many years no man can tell, until “hope deferred” so long would surely “make the heart sick”; and meanwhile, which perhaps is of more importance, the progress and advancement of the States and Territories within the boundaries of which these lands are found will be more or less seriously retarded.
Other objections to this plan are urged with more force by the surveyor general of New Mexico, in his annual report for 1880, in the following language:
Judging from the light of experience, I am of the opinion that a reference of these cases for adjudication to the district courts of the respective districts in which the lands may be situated would not be advisable, and while there are some arguments in favor of such a reference I believe the results would not be as satisfactory as under the present system.
Some of the objections to that method are that the court of adjudication should have direct and ready access to all the archives, it being frequently necessary, on account of the antiquity of the title papers, to introduce for purposes of comparison other original documents bearing the signatures of the same Spanish or Mexican officials whose signatures or purported signatures appear on the muniments of title in the case at bar, and the genuineness or ungenuineness of these title papers are frequently necessary determined by such comparison when there are no living witnesses familiar with the signatures of such officials to prove or disprove the genuineness of the same.
The evidence of the abandonment or fraudulent character of a grant may exist among the archives in documents having no direct connection with the case at bar in one district, and the same document may embrace evidence of a similar character or reverse in another case pending in another district, and the document may be required in evidence in both district courts at the same time, or its existence may be known to one and unknown to the other, or my be unknown to either, unless direct and easy access to the entire archives can be had by the court. If these documents were sent back and forth from one district to another or to and from the regular custodian of the same, they would be liable to be lost, and if distributed among the several judicial districts, the evidence of legality or illegality of the documents in some particular case might be on file in another district than the one in which it might be required in evidence in such particular case.
The investigations of this office the past three years have demonstrated that some of these alleged grants are forgeries, and a comparison of the signatures of the governor on the alleged title papers with the signature of such officer, proven and accepted as genuine upon other documents in the archives, and the judgment of experts thereon, is not unfrequently required to establish the character of the documents under consideration. Unless the court before which these claims are adjudicated can have access to all of these archives, it is much more liable to be imposed upon by fraudulent titles to papers.
The plan provided in the bill under consideration, it has seemed to the committee, without exception, provides the most speedy, the most complete, and the most just method yet suggested. It provides for establishing a court whose sole business it shall be to examine and determine the validity of these claims, under the forms and surrounded by the safeguards against fraud and corruption, to be found, if found anywhere in the world, within the exercise of the jurisdiction of courts of justice, made up of men, as our courts generally are, above suspicion or reproach, where all the parties will have the advantage and will be compelled to the scrutiny of open public examination and trial.
This plan would seem to avoid all the objections made to the other methods that I have mentioned.
The bill provides for a court composed of a chief justice and two associate justices, for a clerk, interpreter, stenographer, and United States attorney; that the court shall hold a term annually at the capitals of Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico, at such times as shall be fixed by the rules of the court, and such extra and special terms at such times and places as may from time to time be ordered; and that terms may also be held in the City of Washington whenever, in the opinion of the court, the convenience of business shall require.
The bill further provides that any person or persons, or corporations, or their legal representatives, claiming lands within the limits of the territory derived by the United States from the Republic of Mexico and now embraced within the Territories of New Mexico, Wyoming, Arizona, or Utah, or within the States of Nevada or Colorado, by virtue of any Spanish or Mexican grant, concession, warrant, or survey as the United States are bound to recognize and confirm, by virtue of any Spanish or Mexican grant, concession, warrant, or survey as the United States are bound to recognize and confirm, by virtue of the treaties of cession of said country by Mexico to the United States which at the date of the passage of the act have not been confirmed by act of Congress or otherwise finally decided upon by lawful authority, and which have not become completed and perfect, may present a petition in writing to the said court in the State or territory where said land is situated and where the said court holds its session; but in cases arising in a State or Territory in which the court does not hold regular sessions at such place as may designated by the rules of the court; which petition be designated by the rules of the court; which petition shall fully set forth the nature of the claim, including the claimant’s chain of title and the quantity and boundaries of the land claimed. It is also provided that such petition shall be filed within three years after the taking effect of the act, or the claimant shall be forever barred and his claim be regarded as abandoned.
The provision just mentioned, for a limitation of three years within which claimants shall file their petitions, is one of the most beneficent features of the bill, and one that will go a long way towards bringing about a speedy and final settlement of these claims. In the statute of 1854, to which I have already referred, singularly enough, there was contained no limitation within which claims should be presented to the surveyors general, and the result is that notwithstanding the lapse of more than forty years since the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and thirty-six years since the enactment of that law, claims are yet being asserted.
There is provision in the bill for appeal from the decision of the court to the United States Supreme Court by either the claimant or the Government within one year from the date of the decision, in the same manner and upon the same conditions as are now provided by law for the taking of appeals from decisions of the circuits courts of the United States.
In some of the Territories to which this bill is applicable, and especially in the Territory of New Mexico, there are large numbers of small holdings of which the claimants have been in possession by themselves and their ancestors for many years, relying upon such possession for their title, and which are of such small value that the claimants could not afford the expense of proceedings to establish their titles in the court, or before any similar tribunal at a distance from their homes.
The bill makes ample provision for such cases by providing that in township surveys hereafter to be made, if it shall be made to appear to the satisfaction of the deputy surveyor making such survey that any person has, through himself, his ancestors, or grantors, been in the actual possession residing thereon as his home, of any tract of land not exceeding 160 acres, for twenty years next preceding such survey, the deputy surveyor shall recognize and establish the lines of such possession, and make the subdivision of the adjoining lands in accordance therewith; and also that in cases of townships heretofore surveyed all persons who, or those ancestors or grantors became citizens of the United States by reason of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and who are now and have been in the possession of tracts not exceeding 160 acres each for twenty years next preceding such survey, shall be entitled, upon making proof of such facts to the satisfaction of the register and receiver of the proper land district, to enter, without payment of purchase money, fees, or commissions, such tract, not exceeding 160 acres, as shall so be in their possession.
The situation is aptly described by some of the surveyors general.
The surveyor general of New Mexico, in his report for 1880, says:
The acquisition to the population of New Mexico the ensuing year from immigration is estimated at not less than 40,000, and probably will exceed that, and it is all important that these titles be adjusted without further delay, and the lands embraced therein segregated from the public domain, so that the settlers upon the public lands may locate with some degree of confidence and certainty in eventually securing title to the lands settled upon by them.
Many of these grant title papers are doubtless still in the personal possession of the grantees or their descendants, and the particular location of the tracts covered by them, as well as the land embraced by those claims, on file but unadjudicated, is necessarily unknown. Individuals may locate on what is supposed to by public land, and, after they have erected valuable buildings and improved the tract, it may finally be ascertained to be embraced within the limits of a grant, and the labor and outlay of years are taken from the settler.
Where the Government has such large interests involved, and the property and improvements of settlers on the public lands are so much in jeopardy, it does seem as though Congress should give this matter prompt attention.
And the surveyor general of the same Territory, in his report for 1888, gives the following account of the forlorn condition of affairs in that Territory:
At the close of another fiscal year Congress has done nothing which gives promise of a speedy and final settlement of Spanish and Mexican grant titles. This is deeply to be regretted, and the people of the Territory have abundant cause to complain. New Mexico became a part of the Union more than forty years ago, and yet the promise of the Government to recognize and adjust these titles, which was solemnly made by the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, has not been fulfilled. During the past fifteen or eighteen years her people have continuously importuned Congress for relief, but Congress has continuously turned a deaf ear to their petitions. I repeat what I have said in a previous report, that if New Mexico was worth fighting for and adding to the territory of the United States it is worth governing and caring for by decent and civilized methods. The situation is a melancholy one, and it invites a particular examination in the light of actual facts.
This is a brief statement of the condition of these claims, of their history, and of the provisions of this measure for the relief of the claimants, and also of those who may settle upon lands, supposing them to be public lands, only to discover after making lasting and valuable improvements, that they are included within the boundaries of some claim that may or may not be valid. These people have not been waiting for justice longer than the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, and have not yet come in sight of their “promised land.”
It is the duty of Congress, not only under solemn treaty obligations, but as the great law-making power of the land, who alone can, by wise legislation, bring relief to these people, suffering so long from the discouragement and harassment of uncertain land titles, to afford them that relief, and do it speedily.
MR McCREARY. Mr. Chairman, this is a very important bill, and I hope it will receive the careful consideration of the members of this House. It is very similar to a bill that was discussed at some length, of same title, in the Fiftieth Congress, Which I had the honor to introduce, which was reported from the Committee on Private Land Claims, passed by the House of Representatives, and sent to the Senate, but was not acted upon by the Senate.
The object of this bill is to establish a United States land court and to provide for the judicial investigation and settlement of private land claims in the Territories of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, and in the States of Wyoming, Colorado, and Nevada.
The importance of this bill is shown in the large number of land claims that it proposes to settle.
The Commissioner of the General Land Office states that there are now pending in Congress and awaiting confirmation the reports of the surveyor general upon private land claims as follows:
In New Mexico, 107 claims, covering 8,704,785 acres; in Arizona, 15 claims, covering 414,833 acres; in Colorado claims covering 229,814 acres; making a total of 9,349,433 acres. The number of acres for which no claim has been filed and the number of acres for which claims have been filed but which have been rejected are not included in these figures. It is, however, estimated that the total number of acres claimed under private land grants in New Mexico is about 10,000,000 acres; in Colorado about 3,000,000 acres; in Arizona, about 500,000 acres; making in all the enormous territory of 13,500,000 acres, which is nearly equal to the combined areas of the States of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.
I go into these details, Mr. Chairman, in order to show how important this measure is and how long Congress has been tardy in doing justice to the States and Territories names in the bill. The provisions of this bill are demanded not only by the people who live in the sections to which it applies, but they are demanded in justice to our Government and also in justice to treaties that have been made between the United States and Mexico.
I was asked the question a few minutes ago as to the difference between a private land claim and a public land claim. I will define the difference. According to the rules of this House, public lands are the lands that are owned by the United States. These private land claims to which we refer in this bill are claims owned or controlled by individuals or corporations. Now, strange as it may seem, although during the last forty years Presidents of the United States, Secretaries of the Interior, and various Commissioners of the Land Office have asked for the passage of some kind of a bill to settle these private land claims, yet up to this good hour no law has ever been passed that was adequate and effective for the settlement of such claims.
In this regard Congress has been unfair and unjust to the States and Territories, named in the bill, acquired from Mexico. Congress has been more generous to the people residing on other lands acquired by treaty or purchase. In 1803, when we acquired the Louisiana Territory from France, consisting of 757,000,000 acres of land, very soon thereafter we sent out two sets of commissioners to settle these private land claims.
When we acquired Florida from Spain, containing 38,000,000 acres, we soon organized a board of commissioners, and these private land claims were settled; but in 1848 when, under the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, we acquired 334,500,000 acres from Mexico, and when in 1853 we acquired, under what is known as the Gadsden treaty, 30,000,000 acres, nothing was done except to pass an act in 1854, which has been simply a stumbling-block in the way, and has not led to the settlement of these private land claims.
MR. BLANCHARD. Will the gentleman from Kentucky allow me to ask him a question?
MR. McCREARY. Yes, sir.
MR. BLANCHARD. The gentleman stated that after the territory embraced in what was known at that time as the Louisiana purchase was acquired, commissioners were sent out; and the private land claims included in that territory acquired by the Government, from France and Spain, had all been settled. Is not my friend mistaken in saying that they have been settled? In the State of Louisiana, to my knowledge, there a number of Spanish and French land claims remaining to this day unsettled; and many of them have been reported for confirmation by the General Land Office, but it has been impossible to get Congress to act upon them.
MR. McCREARY. The gentleman from Louisiana misunderstood my remark. I said that in 1803, when we acquired from France the Louisiana Territory, immediately thereafter two boards of commissioners were appointed to examine and settle the private land claims; but that forty years have elapsed since the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was made between the United States and Mexico, and up to this good hour I said no board of commissioners has been appointed and sent out for the purpose of settling the private land claims in the Territories and in the States named in this bill.
MR. BLANCHARD. I think my friend said that a commission was appointed to look into these matters in the Territory of Louisiana, and had settled these private land claims; when in point of fact many of these claims at this time remain unsettled and are unconfirmed by Congress, notwithstanding the recommendation of the General Land Office.
MR. McCREARY. The gentleman misunderstood me if he understood me to say that. There are some Louisiana claims still pending. But what I say is, when we acquired from France the immense and valuable territory which today forms nine of the States of this Union and part of four other States in this Union, that immediately after we acquired under that treaty 757,000,000 acres, we sent out two boards of commissioners to settle these private land claims; and so when we acquired the 38,000,000 acres from Spain known as the Florida purchase, immediately thereafter a board of commissioners was organized to settle private land claims in Florida. But when we acquired the 334,500,000 acres the Guadalupe Hidalgo treaty, and when we acquired the 38,000,000 acres under the Gadsden treaty, Congress simply passed what is known as the act of 1854, which, as I said before, has been an obstruction rather than a benefit, and has been inadequate for the settlement of these private land claims.
The reports of the land commissioners are very interesting on this subject. The reports of the Commissioner of the Land Office show that after a lapse of nearly thirty years over one thousand claims have been filed, and but one hundred and fifty cases have been reported to Congress. Under the act of 1854 a report is made on these claims by the surveyor general to the Secretary of the Interior, and by him laid before Congress; and yet in the last thirty years there have only been a few of those claims confirmed by Congress. From 1860 until 1869 only five private land claims were confirmed by Congress; from 1869 to 1879 only three private land claims were confirmed by Congress, and from 1879 up to the present time – eleven years – not one solitary private land claim has been confirmed by Congress.
Therefore, Mr. Chairman, we are compelled to look to some other forum than the Congress of the United States to settle these private land claims. Various plans have been suggested. Some members of this House suggested two years ago that these claims be settled in the Interior Department, but it is manifest that that is not the proper forum to settle them. There are other gentlemen who have suggested that we have boards of commissioners. But boards of commissioners have not worked well in the last few years.
THE CHAIRMAN. The time of the gentleman has expired.
MR. McCREARY. I ask that the gentleman in charge of the bill to yield be a little further time.
THE CHAIRMAN. Ten minutes more is yielded to the gentleman.
MR. McCREARY. The bill under consideration has been carefully prepared, and it is now generally conceded that a tribunal clothed with the functions of a court and authorized to judicially investigate and settle private land claims will furnish the relief desired. The court provided for only continues four years. The papers in hundreds of cases are already filed in the Interior Department. There are a number of small claims in these Territories and States named in the bill in which the papers are not prepared, and this bill is drawn so as to meet all these cases.
It provides that the judges appointed are to hold their courts in Washington, and it also provides for sending out members of that court to the different Territories and States named, and that they shall hold their courts in the capitals of those Territories or States.
Now, Mr. Chairman, I ask for the passage of this bill upon another ground. I have before me the so-called treaties of Guadalupe Hidalgo and Gadsden. Under these treaties made between the United States and Mexico, we entered into a solemn agreement that we would protect the settlers that were found upon those lands in all the rights derived from Mexico and from Spain.
That has not been done. Many of the small holders have been ejected, and they have been treated in such a manner as that, from New Mexico alone, delegation after delegation has come here, the governor of the Territory has been here, two of the justices of the district court of New Mexico, and a large delegation of citizens have been here, all asking for some kind of a law that would settle these private land claims.
MR OATES. I will ask the gentleman from Kentucky whether this bill is similar to the one introduced by him in the last Congress
MR. McCREARY. Yes, sir; this bill is almost exactly similar to that which I prepared and introduced in the Fiftieth Congress, and which, after being considered in this House for a day, passed the House. There are some immaterial provisions of this measure that I do not favor, but in the main I endorse the bill that has been reported by the committee.
Mr. Chairman, it is perfectly clear to my mind that if we are going to give any relief whatever, it should be given through a land-court bill. In that way, I think we can get through with the work in four years; whereas, if we turn the business over to the United States district courts of the Territories and States names, it will drag along for many years.
So, if we appoint a board of commissioners, it will take years to settle the business, but if we send out men vested with judicial power, if we organize a court and let that court sit in Washington and send out its members to these States and Territories, then there will be judicial investigation and settlement of these private land claims, and justice will be done to all parties concerned.
Of the States and Territories named, Colorado, Wyoming and Nevada have already reached statehood, but Arizona, New Mexico and Utah are still Territories. It is our duty to look after the interests of all of them. These Territories and States are forging along. They are progressing, they are improving, and we ought to protect them from the land-pirates and the homestead wreckers that are going out there and taking up their lands.
The people there need protection and they ought to have protection. Justice demands, sir, that we should do something for them. They have a grand country. They have inexhaustible mines of gold and silver and copper. They have illimitable deposits of coal. They have grand agricultural wealth. They have a climate as salubrious as any in the world. There is today but one blight, but one thing to retard their progress, and that is these unsettled land claims. That remains a menace upon their prosperity and a check to their progress.
I say, sir, that justice to our own Government, justice tor the people who live out there, justice to our obligations under the treaties that we have entered into with Mexico, demands that this bill should pass and that there should be a speedy settlement of these land claims . . . .
MR. STOCKDALE. Mr. Speaker, I want to submit a few suggestions with reference to this bill. It provides for a court of special jurisdiction, to sit in special places, for particular purposes, to settle disputes between citizens of the United States. It provides for a certain jurisdiction now and for such other jurisdiction as Congress may hereafter, from time to time, confer.
The tribunal is made either a local or an itinerant court, as it may determine. It may sit in Washington. It is required to sit annually at the capitals of certain Territories. It may hold special terms when and where it please, the time and place depending upon publication in a newspaper. The bill provides what effect shall be given to certain testimony now in existence in various places over which jurisdiction is conferred upon this tribunal. It provides how suits shall be commenced and what sort of evidence shall be received. It also provides that the proceedings shall be as nearly as possible in the manner of the chancery side of the United States courts.
Now, sir, I undertake to say that this will produce an incongruity which will make this court inefficient and leave it without any proper degree of respect from the litigants whose causes it is to have authority to determine. You provide a certain mode of procedure for a specific purpose, and then you allow Congress to give the tribunal other jurisdiction over other matters, and still the same course of procedure will have to be followed in relation to the matters which ought to be tried, not in a court of equity, but in a court of law.
This court can inquire into only such cases and decide upon such rights as had accrued at the time when these Territories were acquired by the United States. It can decide only upon titles that had accrued under the government from which the Territories were acquired. It can decide such claims as would have been valid under the government from which we acquired the Territory, and a party can only succeed in this court upon a title that he could have succeeded upon under the laws of the government existing at the time the Territory was acquired by the United States.
Now, I say that involves questions of the very highest legal order; questions which have been the subject of discussion for probably fifty or seventy-five years; questions which in many instances have been before the courts of the Unites States for many years. Such questions require for their determination the very best and most learned judges, courts that will command the respect of the people of the United States, as well as of the litigants. Hence, this jurisdiction ought to be retained in the courts of the United States. We should not commit these important questions to an itinerant court of special and limited jurisdiction, created for this special purpose, and for which, when it is organized, the people will have no respect. The jurisdiction of such questions should be retained in the United States court.
MR. CASWELL. Mr. Chairman, as the hour, I suppose, has been about exhausted –
THE CHAIRMAN. The gentleman has three minutes remaining.
MR. CASWELL. I ask unanimous consent that I may occupy ten minutes additional, if necessary, in order to make a statement in regard to this bill, as I have given time to other gentlemen.
THE CHAIRMAN. Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from Wisconsin (Mr. Caswell)? The Chair hears none.
MR. CASWELL. Mr. Chairman, the committee proposes to strike “Arizona” out of the bill and not have its provisions apply to that Territory.
A MEMBER. Why?
MR. CASWELL. The reason is this: In Arizona the settlers, as a general rule, have possession of the lands involved, while in New Mexico the land claimants have possession of the lands. In Arizona the people are asking to be exempted from the operations of this bill, that the jurisdiction of this land court shall not be extended over them.
The Delegate from that Territory (Mr. Smith) is opposed to having the measure applied to Arizona, a fact which I presume is well known to the House, because that Territory was stricken out of the bill in the last congress at his request. He is opposed to applying the bill to Arizona, unless there be added certain amendments which I think the House would not approve. For this reason, we have prepared amendments omitting Arizona from the bill.
There is but a small amount of land in Arizona really involved in this measure. The large grant, known as the Peralta Grant, involving five or six million acres, the Land Department refused to recognize as a claim. That leaves but a small amount of land which would be involved under the operations of this bill.
But the people of New Mexico are differently situated. As has been already explained by various gentlemen, the United States Government, under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, actually pledged itself to recognize and preserve the rights of those holding lands under grants from the Mexican Government. We are bound by this treaty stipulation. During the several Administrations the Executive has called the attention of Congress to the fact of the omission to observe and protect those rights. The people in every part of New Mexico are sending telegrams here, asking that this bill be passed, in order that these claims may be settled, as the settlers throughout that Territory are threatened by these land claimants.
The local courts decline to take jurisdiction of the questions involved in these land titles. In cases of ejectment, they go back only to possession and hold uniformly that they cannot take jurisdiction of these questions arising under the Mexican grants. Consequently, it is absolutely necessary, in order that these questions may be settled, that some judicial tribunal be established.
Now, we provide in the simplest way for a court of three members, who shall hold their sessions at the capital of each of these Territories once a year at least, and tat they shall take jurisdiction of these questions. And, while they are holding these courts, they may take testimony, oral as well as written, giving investigation to the questions presented, and rendering decisions that will be of great value because they will settle these controverted questions.
Mr. Chairman, this land court, as we call it, is universally demanded by the people of New Mexico. I think there is no opposition there to the measure. The claimants, as well as the settlers, want these questions determined. It is an absolute fact that the title to the land in the Cities of Albuquerque and Las Vegas is entirely unsettled; for there are claimants asking for the very lands on which these cities are built, and it is a matter of imperative necessity that some tribunal be established to settle these claims.
We have prepared several amendments to make the bill as simple and effective as possible. We provide for three judges. The committee amendments will give these judges a salary of $6,500 each. We have fixed this amount because the judges will be subjected to very great expenses, and it is the intention to secure excellent ability in order that there be a wise and proper decision of these questions. They are largely questions of face, involving the genuineness of claims. It was the custom of the Mexican Government many years ago, while they owned this Territory, to make grants to parties who wished to go and settle unclaimed lands. Some of these grants were genuine and should be respected; but there are large numbers no doubt that are regarded as forgeries and not valid at all. To determine the genuineness of these grants would involve full investigation of matters of fact.
There is no way in which these titles can be settled except by some provision for organizing a court. Unfortunately, by the act of 1854 . . . . the mere filing of a claim before the Surveyor General took the lands out of the market. There are some ten million acres which have been withdrawn from the market in this way. Although, in some cases, the report of the Surveyor General was against the claim, still, under the language of the law, these lands must be withdrawn from market. In that way there are in these Territories ten or twelve million acres of land withdrawn from market, in consequence of the filing of claims before the Surveyor General; and although, as I have stated, the report was in many cases against the claim, yet by force and operation of the law, the lands have been withdrawn.
Now, it has been the custom, when the party owning lands, leaving heirs, to divide the lands. Thus, in a great many cases the lands have been cut up into narrow strips. The settler who has purchased from the claimant and is upon the land knows not whether his title will be sustained or not.
And, for that reason, the whole Territory is practically paralyzed. That is one of the main reasons why the population of New Mexico does not increase, simply because the settlers have no warrant whatever that they will secure titles to the land they occupy. They do not know how soon a claimant under some old Spanish grant will spring up for the land on which they have settled and which they have improved.
This bill provides a limitation of time in which they must present those claims or be forever barred, and the statute of limitation will set at rest these disputed claims forever, unless presented within the time fixed by the law.
Now, Mr. Chairman, we limit the term of the court which is created by the bill. We provide that its legal existence shall terminate on the 31st day of December, 1895. These litigations, then, must be settled and closed up within that time or be forever barred, and this court will then go out of existence. We have guarded it in every possible way in order that they may do the work and complete it and the court expire by the limitation of the act within that time . . . .