Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That there shall be, and hereby is, established a court to be called the court of private land claims, to consist of a chief justice and four associate justices, who shall be, when appointed, citizens and residents of some of the States of the United States, to be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to hold their offices for the term expiring on the thirty-first day of December, anno Domini eighteen hundred and ninety-five; any three of whom shall constitute a quorum. Said court shall have and exercise jurisdiction in the hearing and decision of private land claims according to the provisions of this act. The chief justice and associate justices shall each receive a compensation of five thousand dollars per year, payable monthly, and their necessary traveling and personal expenses while engaged in the performance of their duties. The said court shall appoint a clerk, at a salary of two thousand dollars a year, who shall attend all the sessions of the court, and a deputy clerk, where regular terms of the court are held, at a salary of eight hundred dollars a year. The court shall also appoint a stenographer, at a salary of fifteen hundred dollars a year, who shall attend all the sessions of the court, and perform the duties required of him by the court.
The said court shall have power to adopt all necessary rules and regulations for the transaction of its business and to carry out the provisions of this act; to issue any process necessary to the transaction of the business of said court, and to issue commissions to take depositions as provided in chapter seventeen of title thirteen of the Revised Statutes of the United States. Each of said justices shall have power to administer oaths and affirmations. It shall be the duty of the United States marshal for any district or Territory in which the court is held to serve any process of the said court placed in his hands for that purpose, and to attend the court in person or by deputy when so directed by the court. The court shall hold such sessions in the States and Territories mentioned in this act as shall be needful for the purposes thereof, and shall give notice of the times and places of the holding of such sessions by publication in both the English and Spanish languages, in one newspaper published at the capital of such State or Territory, once a week for two successive weeks, the last of which publications shall be not less than thirty days next preceding the times of the holding of such sessions, but such sessions may be adjourned from time to time without such publication.
SEC. 2. That there shall also be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, a competent attorney, learned in the law, who shall when appointed be a resident and citizen of some State of the United States, to represent the United States in said court. Such attorney shall receive a compensation of three thousand five hundred dollars per year, payable monthly, and his necessary traveling and personal expenses while engaged in the discharge of his duties. And there shall be appointed by the said court a person who shall be when appointed a citizen and resident of some State of the United States, skilled in the Spanish and English languages, to act as interpreter and translator in said court, to attend all sessions thereof, and to perform such other service as may be required of him by the court. Such person shall be entitled to a compensation of one thousand five hundred dollars per year, payable monthly, and his necessary traveling and personal expenses while engaged in the discharge of his duties.
SEC. 3. That immediately upon the organization of said court the clerk shall cause notices thereof, and of the time and place of the first session thereof, to be published for a period of ninety days in one newspaper at the city of Washington and in one published at the capital of the State of Colorado and of the Territories of Arizona and New Mexico. Such notices shall be published in both the Spanish and English languages, and shall contain the substance of this act.
SEC. 4. That it shall be the duty of the Commissioner of the General Land Office of the United States, the surveyors-general of such Territories and States, or the keeper of any public records who may have possession of any records and papers relating to any land grants or claims for land within said States and Territories in relation to which any petition shall be brought under this act, on the application of any person interested, or by the attorney of the United States, to safely transmit such records and papers to said court or to attend in person or by deputy any session thereof when required by said court, and produce such records and papers.
SEC. 5. That the testimony which has been heretofore lawfully and regularly received by the surveyor-general of the proper Territory or State or by the Commissioner of the General Land Office, upon any claims presented them, respectively, shall be admitted in evidence in all trials under this act when the person testifying is dead, so far as the subject matter thereof is competent evidence; and the court shall give it such weight as, in his judgment, under all the circumstances, it ought to have.
SEC. 6. That it shall and may be lawful for any person or persons or corporation, 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 Territory of New Mexico, Arizona, or Utah, or within the States of Nevada, Colorado, or Wyoming by virtue of any such 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 this act have not been confirmed by act of Congress, or otherwise finally decided upon lawful authority, and which are not already complete and perfect, in every such case to 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 sessions, but cases arising in the States and Territories in which the court does not hold regular sessions may be instituted at such place as may be designated by the rules of the court.
The petition shall set forth full the nature of their claims to the lands, and particularly state the date and form of the grant, concession, warrant, or order of survey under which they claim, by whom made, the name or names of any person or persons in possession of or claiming the same, or any part thereof, where situate, with a map showing the same, as near as may be, and whether the said claim has heretofore been confirmed, considered, or acted upon by Congress or the authorities of the United States, or been heretofore submitted to any authorities constituted by law for the adjustment of land titles within the limits of the said territory so acquired, and by them reported on unfavorably or recommended for confirmation, or authorized to be surveyed or not; and pray in such petition that the validity of such title or claim may be inquired into and decided.
And the said court is hereby authorized and required to take and exercise jurisdiction of all cases or claims presented by petition in conformity with the provisions of this act, and to hear and determine the same, as in this act provided, on the petition and proofs in case no answer or answers be filed after due notice, or on the petition and the answer or answers of any person or persons interested in preventing and claim from being established, and the answer of the attorney for the United States where he may have filed an answer, and such testimony and proofs as may be taken; and a copy of such petition, with a citation to any adverse possessor or claimant, shall, immediately after the filing of the same, be served on such possessor or claimant in the ordinary legal manner of serving such process in the proper State or Territory, and in like manner on the attorney for the United States; and it shall be the duty of the attorney for the United States, as also any adverse possessor or claimant, after service of petition and citation as hereinabove provided, within thirty days, unless further time shall, for good cause shown, be granted by the court, or a judge thereof, to enter an appearance, and plead, answer, or demur to said petition; and in default of such plea, answer, or demurrer being made within said thirty days, or within the further time which may have been granted as aforesaid, the court shall proceed to hear the cause on the petition and proofs, and render a final decree according to the provisions of this act, and in no case shall a decree be entered otherwise than upon full legal proof and hearing; and in every case the court shall require the petition to be sustained by satisfactory proofs, whether an answer or plea shall have been filed or not.
SEC. 7. That all proceedings subsequent to the filing of said petition shall be conducted as near as may be according to the practice of the courts of equity of the United States, except that the answer of the attorney of the United States shall not be required to be verified by his oath, and except that, as far as practicable, testimony shall be taken in court or before one of the justices thereof. The said court shall have full power and authority to hear and determine all questions arising in cases before it relative to the title to the land the subject of such case, the extent, location, and boundaries thereof, and other matters connected therewith fit and proper to be heard and determined, and by a final decree to settle and determine the question of the validity of the title and the boundaries of the grant or claim presented for adjudication, according to the law of nations, the stipulations or the treaty concluded between the United States and the Republic of Mexico at the city of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, on the second day of February, in the year of our Lord, eighteen hundred and forty-eight, or the treaty concluded between the same powers at the city of Mexico, on the thirty day of December, in the year of our Lord, eighteen hundred and fifty-three, and the laws and ordinances of the Government from which it is alleged to have been derived, and all other questions properly arising between the claimants or other parties in the case and the United States, which decree shall in all cases refer to the treaty, law, or ordinance under which such claim is confirmed or rejected; and in confirming any such claim, in whole or in part, the court shall in its decree specify plainly the location, boundaries, and area of the land the claim to which is so confirmed.
SEC. 8. That any person or corporation claiming lands in any of the States or Territories mentioned in this act under a title derived from the Spanish or Mexican Government that was complete and perfect at the date when the United States acquired sovereignty therein, shall have the right (but shall not be bound) to apply to said court in the manner in this act provided for other cases for a confirmation of such title; and on such application said validity of the same and the right of the claimant thereto, its extent, location and boundaries, in the same manner and with the same powers as in other cases in this act mentioned.
If in any such case, a title so claimed to be perfect shall be established and confirmed, such confirmation shall be for so much land only as such perfect title shall be found to cover, always excepting any part of such land that shall have been disposed of by the United States, and always subject to and not to affect any conflicting private interests, rights, or claims held or claimed adversely to any such claim or title, or adversely to the holder of any such claim or title. And no confirmation of claims or titles in this section mentioned shall have any effect other or further than as a release of all claim of title by the United States; and no private right of any person as between himself and other claimants or persons, in respect of any such lands, shall be in any manner affected thereby.
It shall be lawful for and the duty of the head of the Department of Justice, whenever in his opinion the public interest or the rights of any claimant shall require it, to cause the attorney of the United States in said court to file in said court a petition against the holder or possessor of any claim or land in any of the States or Territories mentioned in this act who shall not have voluntarily come in under the provisions of this act, stating in substance that the title of such holder or possessor is open to question, or stating in substance that the boundaries of any such land, the claimant or possessor to or of which has not brought into court, are open to question, and praying that the title to any such land, or the boundaries thereof, if the title be admitted, be settled and adjudicated, and thereupon the court shall, on such notice to such claimant or possessor as it shall deem reasonable, proceed to hear, try, and determine the questions stated in such petition or arising in the matter, and determine the matter according to law, justice, and the provisions of this act, but subject to all lawful rights adverse to such claimant or possessor, as between such claimant and any other claimant or possessor, and subject in this respect to all the provisions of this section applicable thereto.
SEC. 9. That the party against whom the court shall in any case decide – the United States, in case of the confirmation of a claim in whole or in part, and the claimant, in case of the rejection of a claim, in whole or in part – shall have the right of appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, such appeal to be taken within six months from date of such decision, and in all respects to be taken in the same manner and upon the same conditions, except in respect of the amount in controversy, as is now provided by law for the taking of appeals from decisions of the circuit courts of the United States. On any such appeal the Supreme Court shall retry the cause, as well the issues of fact as of law, and may cause testimony to be taken in addition to that given in the court below, and may amend the record of the proceedings below as truth and justice may require; and on such retrial and hearing every question shall be open, and the decision of the Supreme Court thereon shall be final and conclusive. Should no appeal be taken as aforesaid the decree of the court below shall be final and conclusive.
Upon the rendition of any judgment of the court confirming any claim, it shall be the duty of the attorney of the United States to notify the Attorney-General, in writing of such judgment, giving him a clear statement of the case and the points decided by the court, which statement shall be verified by the certificate of the presiding judge of said court; and in any case in which such statement shall not be received by the Attorney-General within sixty days next after the rendition of such judgment, the right of appeal on the part of the United States shall continue to exist until six months next after the receipt of such statement. And if the Attorney-General shall so direct, it shall be the duty of the clerk of the court to transmit the record of any cause in which final judgment has been rendered to the Attorney General for his examination. In all cases it shall be the duty of the Attorney-General to instruct the attorney for the United States what further course to pursue and whether or not an appeal shall be taken.
SEC. 10. That whenever any decision of confirmation shall become final, the clerk of the court in which the final decision shall be had shall certify that fact to the Commissioner of the General Land Office, with a copy of the decree of confirmation, which shall plainly state the location, boundaries, and area of the tract confirmed. The said Commissioner shall thereupon without delay cause the tract so confirmed to be surveyed at the cost of the United States. When any such survey shall have been made and returned to the surveyor-general of the respective Territory or State, and the plat thereof completed, the surveyor-general shall give notice that same has been done, by publication once a week, for four consecutive weeks in two newspapers, one published at the capital of the Territory or State and the other (if any such there be) published near the land so surveyed, such notices to be published in both the Spanish and English languages; and the surveyor-general shall retain such survey and plat in his office for public inspection for the full period of ninety days from the date of the first publication of notice in the newspaper published at the capital of the Territory of State.
If, at the expiration of such period, no objection to such survey shall have been filed with him, he shall approve the same and forward it to the Commissioner of the General Land Office. If, within the said period of ninety days, objections are made to the survey, either by any party claiming an interest in the confirmation or by any party claiming an interest in the tract embraced in the survey or any part thereof, such objection shall be reduced to writing, stating distinctly the interest of the objector and the grounds of his objection, and signed by him or his attorney, and filed with the surveyor-general, with such affidavits or other proofs as he may produce in support of his objection. At the expiration of the said ninety days the surveyor-general shall forward such survey, with the objections and proofs filed in support of or in opposition to such objections, and his report thereon, to the Commissioner of the General Land Office.
Immediately upon the receipt of any such survey, with or without objections thereto, the said Commissioner shall transmit the same, with all accompanying papers, to the court in which the final decision was made for its examination of the survey and of any objections and proofs that may have been filed, or shall be furnished; and the said court shall thereupon determine if the said survey is in substantial accordance with the decree of confirmation. If found to be correct, the court shall direct its clerk to endorse upon the face of the plat its approval. If found to be incorrect, the court shall return the same for correction in such particulars as it shall direct. When any survey is finally approved by the court, it shall be returned to the Commissioner of the General Land Office, who shall as soon as may be cause a patent to be issued thereon to the confirmee. One half of the necessary expenses of making the survey and plat provided for in this section, and in respect of which a patent shall be ordered to be issued, shall be paid by the claimant or patentee, and shall be a lien on said land, which may be enforced by the sale of so much thereof as may be necessary for that purpose, after a default of payment thereof for six months next after the approval of such survey and plat; and no patent shall issue until such payment.
SEC. 11. That the provisions of this act shall extend to any city lot, town lot, village lot, farm lot, or pasture lot claimed directly or immediately under any grant which may be entitled to confirmation by the United States, for the establishment of a city, town, or village, by the Spanish or Mexican Government, or the lawful authorities thereof; but the claim for said city, town, or village shall be presented by the corporate authorities of the said city, town or village; or where the land upon which said city, town, or village is situated was originally granted to individual the claim shall be presented by or in the name of said individual or his legal representatives.
SEC. 12. That all claims mentioned in section six of this act which are by the provisions of this act authorized to be prosecuted shall, at the end of two years from the taking effect of this act, if no petition in respect to the same shall have then been filed as hereinbefore provided, be deemed and taken, in all courts and elsewhere, to be abandoned and shall be forever barred: Provided, That in any case where it shall come to the knowledge of the court that minors, married women, or persons non compos mentis are interested in any land claim or matter brought before the court it shall be its duty to appoint a guardian ad litem for such persons under disability and require a petition to be filed in their behalf, as in other cases, and if necessary to appoint counsel for the protection of their rights. The judges, respectively, of said court are hereby authorized in all cases arising under this act to grant in vacation all orders for taking testimony, and otherwise to hear and dispose of interlocutory motions not affecting the substantial merits of a case. And said court shall have and possess all the powers of a circuit court of the United States in preserving order, compelling the production of books, papers, and documents, the attendance of witnesses, and in punishing contempts.
SEC. 13. That all the foregoing proceedings and rights shall be conducted and decided subject to the following provisions as well as to the other provisions of this act, namely:
First. No claim shall be allowed that shall not appear to be on a title lawfully and regularly derived from the Government of Spain or Mexico, or from any of the States of the Republic of Mexico having lawful authority to make grants of land, and one that is not then complete and perfect at the date of the acquisition of the territory by the United States, the claimant would have had a lawful right to make perfect had the territory not been acquired by the United States, and that the United States are bound, upon the principles of public law, or by the provisions of the treaty cession, to respect and permit to become complete and perfect if the same was not at said date already complete and perfect.
Second. No claim shall be allowed that shall interfere with or overthrow any just and unextinguished Indian title or right to any land or place.
Third. No allowance or confirmation of any claim shall confer any right or title to any gold, silver, or quicksilver mines or minerals of the same, unless the grant claimed effected the donation or sale of such mines or minerals to the grantee, or unless such grantee has become otherwise entitled thereto in law or in equity; but all such mines and minerals shall remain the property of the United States, with the right of working the same, which fact shall be stated in all patents issued under this act. But no such mine shall be worked on any property confirmed under this act without the consent of the owner of such property until specially authorized thereto by an act of Congress hereafter passed.
Fourth. No claim shall be allowed for any land the right to which has hitherto been lawfully acted upon and decided by Congress, or under its authority.
Fifth. No proceeding, decree, or act under this act shall conclude or affect the private rights of persons as between each other, all of which rights shall be reserved and saved to the same effect as if this act had not been passed; but the proceedings, decrees, and acts herein provided for shall be conclusive of all rights as between the United States and all persons claiming any interest or right in any such lands.
Sixth. No confirmation of or decree concerning any claim under this act shall in any manner operate or have effect against the United States otherwise than as a release by the United States of its right and title to the land confirmed, no shall it operate to make the United States in any manner liable in respect of any such grants, claims, or lands, or their disposition, otherwise than as is in this act provided.
Seventh. No confirmation in respect of any claims or lands mentioned in section six of this act or in respect of any claim or title that was not complete and perfect at the time of the transfer of sovereignty to the United States as referred to in this act, shall in any case be made or patent issued for a greater quantity than eleven square leagues of land to or in the right of any one original grantee or claimant, or in the right of any one original grant to two or more persons jointly, nor for a greater quantity than was authorized by the respective laws of Spain or Mexico applicable to the claim.
Eighth. No concession, grant, or other authority to acquire land made upon any condition or requirement, either antecedent or subsequent, shall be admitted or confirmed unless it shall appear that every such condition and requirement was performed within the time and in the manner stated in any such concession, grant, or other authority to acquire land.
SEC. 14. That if in any case it shall appear that the lands or any part thereof decreed to any claimant under the provisions of this act shall have been sold or granted by the United States to any other person, such title from the United States to such other person shall remain valid, notwithstanding such decree, and upon proof being made to the satisfaction of said court of such sale or grant, and the value of the lands so sold or granted, such court shall render judgment in favor of such claimant against the United States for the reasonable value of said lands so sold or granted, exclusive of betterments, not exceeding one dollar and twenty-five cents per acre for such lands; and such judgment, when found, shall be a charge on the Treasury of the United States. Either party deeming himself aggrieved by such judgment may appeal in the same manner as provided herein in cases of confirmation of a Spanish or Mexican grant. For the purpose of ascertaining the value and amount of such lands, surveys may be ordered by the court, and proof taken before the court, or by a commissioner appointed for that purpose by the court.
SEC. 15. That section eight of the act of Congress approved July twenty-second, eighteen hundred and fifty-four, entitled “An act to establish the offices of surveyor-general of New Mexico, Kansas, and Nebraska, to grant donations to actual settlers therein, and for other purposes,” and all acts amendatory or in extension thereof, or supplementary thereto, and all acts or parts of acts inconsistent with the provisions of this act are hereby repealed.
SEC. 16. That in township surveys hereafter to be made in the Territories of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, and in the States of Colorado, Nevada and Wyoming if it shall be made to appear to the satisfaction of the deputy surveyor making such a survey that any person has, through himself, his ancestors, grantors, or their lawful successors in title or possession, been in the continuous adverse actual bona fide possession, residing thereon as his home, of any tract of land or in connection therewith of other lands, all together not exceeding one hundred and sixty acres in such township for twenty years next preceding the time of making 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. Such possession shall be accurately defined in the field notes of the survey and delineated on the township plat, with the boundaries and area of the tract as a separate legal subdivision. The deputy surveyor shall return with his survey the name or names of all persons so found to be in possession, with a proper description of the tract in the possession of each as shown by the survey, and the proofs furnished to him of such possession.
Upon receipt of such survey and proofs the Commission of the General Land Office shall cause careful investigation to be made in such manner as he shall deem necessary for the ascertainment of the truth in respect of such claim and occupation, and if satisfied upon such investigation that the claimant comes within the provisions of this section, he shall cause patents to be issued to the parties so found to be in possession for the tracts respectively claimed by them: Provided, however, that no person shall be entitled to confirmation of, or to patent for, more than one hundred and sixty acres in his own right by virtue of this section: And provided further, that this section shall not apply to any city lot, town lot, village lot, farm lot, or pasture lot held under a grant from any corporation or town the claim to which may fall within the provisions of section eleven of this act.
SEC. 17. That in the case of townships heretofore surveyed in the Territories of New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah, and the States of Colorado, Nevada, and Wyoming, all persons who, or whose ancestors, grantors, or their lawful successors in title or possession, became citizens of the United States by reason of the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, and who have been in the actual continuous adverse possession and residence thereon of tracts of not to exceed one hundred and sixty 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, and of the Commissioner of the General Land Office upon such investigation as is provided for in section sixteen of this act, to enter without payment of purchase money, fees, or commissions, such legal subdivisions, not exceeding one hundred and sixty acres, as shall include their said possessions: Provided, however, that no person shall be entitled to enter more than one such tract, in his own right, under the provisions of this section.
SEC. 18. That all claims arising under either of the two next preceding sections of this act shall be filed with the surveyor-general of the proper State or Territory within two years next after the passage of this act, and no claim not so filed shall be valid. And the class of cases provided for in said two next preceding sections shall not be considered or adjudicated by the court created by this act, and no tract of such land shall be subject to entry under the land laws of the United States.
SEC. 19. That the powers and functions of the court established by this act shall cease and determine on the thirty-first day of December, eighteen hundred and ninety-five, and all papers, files, and records in the possession of said court belonging to any other public office of the United States shall be returned to such office, and all other papers, files, and records in the possession of or appertaining to said court shall be returned to and filed in the Department of the Interior.
Approved, March 3, 1891.