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Opinion of the Court.
The court below correctly interpreted the decision in Prentice v. Stearns, 113 U. S. 435, as holding that the deed from Armstrong to Prentice, under which alone the latter can assert a title to the land in controversy, was an instrument designed to convey a defined tract or parcel of land, not any possible interest existing in Armstrong under the treaty with the Chippewas, the selection of Buffalo, and the appointment that the lands selected by him should be conveyed to Armstrong and other named relatives.
This question was reargued in the court below, in the present case, in the light of additional facts supposed to have been adduced.
Mr. Justice Miller, in his opinion in this case, said: “We remain of the opinion we were on the former trial. The first descriptive clause of the deed from Armstrong to Prentice is of a tract of land a mile square, beginning at a large stone or rock, which, as a matter of fact, we find in the present case is now identified, and was well known at the time the deed was made. The description proceeds with the points of the compass one mile east, one mile north, one mile west, one mile south, to the place of beginning. It would be difficult, the beginning point being well ascertained, to imagine that Armstrong intended to convey any other land, or any other interest in land, or interest in any other land, than that so clearly defined. And if that description is to stand as a part of the deed made by Armstrong to Prentice, it leaves no doubt where the land was; and there is no occasion to resort to any inference that he meant any other land than that. It is now found as a fact that this boundary would include a surface from one-half to three-fourths of which is land, and the remainder is water of Lake Superior." 43 Fed. Rep. 270, 274.
The specific description by metes and bounds of the land conveyed by the Armstrong deed to Prentice, namely, “one undivided half of all the following-described piece or parcel of land, situate in the county of St. Louis and Territory of Minnesota, and known and described as follows: Beginning at a large stone or rock at the head of St. Louis River Bay, nearly adjoining Minnesota Point, commencing at said rock
Opinion of the Court.
and running east one mile, north one mile, west one mile, south one mile to the place of beginning," does not, it is conceded, embrace the land in dispute. Indeed, the plaintiff insists, on several grounds, that that description should be rejected altogether, as inaccurate and mistaken. And he is driven to rest his claim of title to the lands in dispute upon the clause of the deed, immediately following the words, above quoted, namely, "and being the land set off to the Indian Chief Buffalo, at the Indian treaty of September 30, 1854, and was afterwards disposed of by said Buffalo to Armstrong, and is now recorded with the government documents."
But the plaintiff, although compelled to rely upon the words last quoted, insists that they mean what, in our opinion, is not justified by a fair interpretation of them. It seems entirely clear that the words in the clause beginning "and being the land," etc., were intended to describe, generally, what had been before specifically described by metes and bounds; that "and being" is equivalent to "which is," in which case this clause of general description -- the specific description by metes and bounds being rejected as not embracing the land — cannot, it is conceded, be regarded as an independent description of the subject of the conveyance.
It is said that the deed should not be construed as intended to convey merely a specific tract, and thereby make it inoperative, because, at the time it was executed, Armstrong did not have any interest in a specific tract that he could convey, but only a general right, under the Buffalo document, to have land located and patented to him by the United States. Referring to the argument made by counsel in support of this view, Mr. Justice Miller said, p. 274: "They say that the reference to the land set off to the Indian Chief Buffalo at the treaty of 1854 meant, not any definite piece of land, but any land which might come to Buffalo or his appointees, of whom Armstrong is one, by the future proceedings of the government of the United States in that case; and that, no matter where such land was found, provided it was within the limits of the land granted by the Chippewa treaty, then the deed from Armstrong to Prentice was intended to convey
Opinion of the Court.
such after-acquired interests which were patented to the parties by the United States. We do not see anything in the whole deed or transaction between Armstrong and Prentice that points to or indicates any such construction of it. Both clauses of the description are definite as to the land conveyed, and treat it as a piece of land well described, well known, and well defined. Of course, any man endeavoring to ascertain what land was conveyed under that grant would suppose that, when he found the stone or rock, which we now as a matter of fact find to have an existence, and can be well identified, he had bought a mile square according to the points of the compass, the southwest corner of which commenced on that rock. He would not suppose that he had bought something that might be substituted in lieu of that mile square by future proceedings of the government of the United States. And so with regard to the other description. Buffalo had made his selection, had described the land which he designed to go by that treaty, not to him, but to his relatives, whose names are given, and it was an undivided half of this land thus selected by the Buffalo chief, and not other land, or different land which might come to Armstrong, that he conveyed and intended to convey to Prentice."
After distinguishing this case from Doe v. Wilson, 23 How. 457, and Crews v. Burcham, 1 Black, 352, Mr. Justice Miller proceeded, p. 275, 276: "But in the case before us, not only had Buffalo made his selection, and designated the parties to whom the land should go, but the selection had definiteness about it to a certain extent; it was a thing which could be conveyed specifically, and which Armstrong undertook to convey specifically. It is not necessary that we resort to the supposition that Armstrong was talking about some vague and uncertain right — uncertain, at least, as to locality and as to its relation to the surveys of the United States which he was intending to convey to Prentice, instead of the definite land which he described or attempted to describe. If such were his purpose in this conveyance, it is remarkable that he did not say so in the very few words necessary to express that idea, instead of resorting to two distinct descriptive clauses, neither
Opinion of the Court.
of which had that idea in it, one of which is rejected absolutely by the plaintiff's counsel as wholly a mistake, and the other is too vague in its language to convey even what plaintiff claimed for it. We are not able, therefore, to hold with counsel for plaintiff, that, if this conveyance does not carry the title to any lands which can be ascertained by that description in the deed, resort can be had to the alternative that the deed was intended to convey any land that might ultimately come to Armstrong under the treaty, and under the selection, and under the assignment to Buffalo."
We are entirely satisfied with these views. It results that neither the description by metes and bounds, nor the general description of the lands conveyed by the deed under which the plaintiff claims, is sufficient to cover the lands here in dispute.
Another matter deserves notice. It is found as a fact that if the lines of the course called for as east and west in the deed of Armstrong to Prentice, under which the plaintiff asserts title, were exactly reversed, the description in the deed would include a large part of the land actually selected by Buffalo Chief, and also included in the patents from the United States. But this fact is immaterial, for it is found that if the course were reversed, as suggested, it would not include the particular lands here in controversy.
The case then is this: Looking into the deed, under which the plaintiff claims title, for the purpose of ascertaining the intention of the parties, we find there a specific description, by metes and bounds, of the lands conveyed, followed by a general description which must be held to have been introduced for the purpose only of showing the grantor's chain of title, and not as an independent description of the lands so conveyed. As neither description is sufficient to cover the lands in suit, there can be no recovery by the plaintiff in this action of ejectment, whatever may be the defect, if any, in the title of the defendants. If this were a suit in equity to compel a reformation of the deed upon the ground that, by mistake of the parties, it did not properly describe the lands intended to be conveyed, and if such a suit were not barred
by time, a different question would be presented upon the merits.
What has been said renders it unnecessary to consider whether the deed from Armstrong and wife to Prentice was so acknowledged and certified as to entitle it under the laws of Minnesota to record in that State, and, by such record, become legal notice of its contents to Gilman and those claiming under him.
We perceive no error in the record to the prejudice of the plaintiff in error, and the judgment is
BALKAM v. WOODSTOCK IRON COMPANY.
ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA.
No. 329. Argued March 28, 29, 1894.- Decided May 26, 1894.
An action of ejectment was brought in a state court of Alabama, in which the parties were the same, the lands sought to be recovered were the same, the issues were the same and the proof was the same as in this action. That case was taken to the Supreme Court of the State, and it was there held that, whilst the plaintiffs and those whom they represented had no legal right to bring an action of ejectment pending a life estate in the premises, yet, in view of a probate sale of the reversionary interest and the recorded title thereto, and of the payment of the purchase price into the estate and its distribution among the creditors of the estate, the heirs had an equitable right to commence a suit to remove the cloud on the title which the probate proceedings created; and, inasmuch as they had failed to do so during twenty years, their right of action was barred under the doctrine of prescription. The statutes of Alabama provide that two judgments in favor of the defendant in an action of ejectment, or in an action in the nature of an action of ejectment, between the same parties, in which the same title is put in issue, are a bar to any action for the recovery of the land, or any part thereof, between the same parties or their privies, founded on the same title. The plaintiffs, availing themselves of this statute, brought this suit. Held, that, although the judgment of this court might be, if the question were before it for original consideration, that the bar of the statute would only begin to run upon the death of the holder of the life estate, yet that, the court of last resort of the State having passed upon the VOL. CLIV-12