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February 29, 1904



Fuller, Harlan, Brewer, Brown, White, Peckham, McKenna, Holmes, Day


[ 193 U.S. Page 178]

 MR. JUSTICE PECKHAM, after making the foregoing statement of facts, delivered the opinion of the court.

The land in controversy in this case is described in the foregoing statement of facts, and it lies between the meander line as it appears on the plat of the survey referred to in the patents and the actual borders of the lake. (See the sketch of the plat at page 43 of volume 189, United States Reports.) Regarding the question of the boundaries, counsel for plaintiff in error assert in their brief that if distance is to prevail, then the land in controversy is an unsurveyed strip lying between the lots of the plaintiff in error and the lake; while if the natural monument is to prevail, then the strip of land in controversy is part and parcel of the lots of the plaintiff in error. The boundaries of the lots as shown upon the plat of survey giving the so-called meander line of the lake, described in the field notes, are unquestionably correct, so far as the three sides of the fractional lots are concerned, and the only difference is as to the side which purports to front on the lake. In regard to this fourth side, the plaintiff in error, as a remote grantee from the patentees, bases its claim to the land lying between the

[ 193 U.S. Page 179]

     meander line and the lake, upon the grounds that the patents conveying the lots to the patentees contained the clause: "According to the official plat of the survey of the said lands returned to the General Land Office by the surveyor general;" that the plat of the survey of the lands, by reason of such reference, became a part of the grant described in the patents; that the plat showed, as the fourth side of the land granted, a meander line around Cedar Island Lake; that the lake thereby became a natural monument or boundary, and that although the plat of the survey turns out to have been a mistake as to the position of the lake, and the line was, therefore, not in truth anything like an accurate meander line, yet by reason of that plat and of that line, which assumed to show the borders of a lake, the patentees had the right to claim that they bought in reliance upon and that they were entitled to a boundary upon a lake.

In support of these contentions the plaintiff in error cited Cragin v. Powell, 128 U.S. 691, and Jefferis v. East Omaha Land Co., 134 U.S. 178, 194, as to the effect of a grant according to an official plat of a survey referred to in the grant, and the cases of McIver's Lessee v. Walker (1815), 9 Cranch, 173; Newsom v. Pryor's Lessee (1822), 7 Wheat. 7; County of St. Clair v. Lovingston (1874), 23 Wall. 46; Land Company v. Saunders (1880), 103 U.S. 316, and other cases, affirming the general rule that, in matters of boundaries, natural monuments or objects will control courses and distances.

These general rules may be admitted. The rule as to natural monuments is not, however, absolute and inexorable. It is founded upon the presumed intention of the parties, to be gathered from the language contained in the grant, and upon the assumption that the description by monuments approaches accuracy within some reasonable distance, and places the monument somewhere near where it really exists. White v. Luning, 93 U.S. 514; Ainsa v. United States, 161 U.S. 208, 229; Baldwin v. Brown, 16 N.Y. 359; Buffalo &c. Railroad Company v. Stigeler, 61 N.Y. 348; Higinbotham v. Stoddard, 72 N.Y. 94;

[ 193 U.S. Page 180]

     its meander line on the plat of the survey filed by the surveyor. It covers only about twenty acres in the southeast corner of section 4. The surveyor never was on the ground and never saw the lake he pretended to measure, and the lake never existed where he laid it down in his fraudulent survey. If the side lines of the various lots were projected in their course, those of lot 3 would never reach the lake, and those of lots 5 and 6 would not reach the lake within the limits of section 4, while the south line of lot 7 would touch the lake, and a few feet of frontage would then be secured, and that lot would then have 139 instead of 25.25 acres. The side lines of lots 5, 6 and 7, if protracted, would instantly cross the protracted side lines of lot 3. There are at least 1,000 acres of high, tillable land between the actual water line of the lake and the meander line as returned by the field notes and the plat of survey, and the land is covered by trees of more than a century's growth and growing down to the water's edge. In order to bound on the lake the lots would exhibit a totally different form from that which they take on the plat of survey and such boundary would violate every rule of statutory survey, by conveying lands not conforming to the system adopted by the government and carried out ever since its adoption.

The patentees, it must also be borne in mind, get all the land they really purchased and paid for, as laid down by the lines and distances set forth in the survey and as stated in the patents. These lines and distances (of lots 3, 5, 6 and 7) gave the patentees 140.87 acres of land, and that was the amount they paid for, while if the fourth line of the boundary of the lots were taken out and others substituted in the way shown by the dotted lines in the plat in 189 U.S. supra, and so as to reach the borders of the lake as it then actually existed and now exists, they would get 571 acres, or fourfold more land than was actually mentioned and described in the patents conveying these four lots, or than they supposed they were purchasing, or than they actually paid for.

Upon these facts the question recurs whether ...

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