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Opinion of the Court.
for its application, because the claim arises out of the unconstitutional provisions of the act giving bounties in 1890. It is impossible, it is said, to build even an equity out of an act of Congress which is utterly void; that as the original act offering and paying bounties was void, it cannot become legal to pay them because of any alleged equities of those who would suffer from their sudden discontinuance as set forth in these cases. For the reasons already given we do not think, under the circumstances surrounding these cases, that the validity of the act of 1895 can be questioned successfully.
In regard to the question whether the facts existing in any given case bring it within the description of that class of claims which Congress can and ought to recognize as founded upon equitable and moral considerations and grounded upon principles of right and justice, we think that generally such question must in its nature be one for Congress to decide for itself. Its decision recognizing such a claim and appropriating money for its payment can rarely, if ever, be the subject of review by the judicial branch of the government. Upon the general principle, therefore, that the government of the United States, through Congress, has the right to pay the debts of the United States, and that the claims in these cases are of a nature which that body might rightfully decide to constitute a debt payable by the United States upon considerations of justice and honor, we think the act of Congress making appropriations for the payment of such claims was valid without reference to the question of the validity or invalidity of the original act providing for the payment of bounties to manufacturers of sugar, as contained in the tariff act of 1890. The judgments in these cases are right, irrespective of how that question might be decided, or of any conclusion that might be reached upon other questions suggested at the bar. The judgments are, therefore,
MR. JUSTICE WHITE did not sit in nor take any part in the decision of these cases.
Opinion of the Court.
BLACK v. ELKHORN MINING COMPANY.
ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH
No. 220. Argued April 15, 16, 1996. — Decided May 18, 1596.
A locator of an unpatented mining claim under the laws of the United States, having only the possessory rights conferred by those laws, has not such an interest in the property as will sustain a claim for dower therein, against the grantee of the husband.
THE case is stated in the opinion.
Mr. Thomas H. Carter for plaintiff in error. Mr. Robert B. Smith and Mr. Robert L. Word filed a brief for the same.
Mr. W. E. Cullen for defendant in error. Mr. J. K. Toole was on his brief.
MR. JUSTICE PECKHAM delivered the opinion of the court.
This is a writ of error to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The action was brought by the plaintiff in error for the purpose of recovering dower in a mining claim in Montana, a fractional interest in which was owned by her husband during coverture. The question is whether a mere locator of a mining claim in the State of Montana and under the laws of the United States, and having only the possessory rights conferred by those laws, has such an estate in the property as will sustain a claim for dower therein. The claim is made by the plaintiff, as widow, under the statute of Montana relating to dower, 1 Laws of Montana, 1876, chapter 63, which reads as follows: "A widow shall be entitled to a third part of all lands whereof her husband was seized of an estate of inheritance at any time during the marriage, unless the same shall have been relinquished in legal form. Equitable estates shall be subject to a widow's dower, and all real estate of every description contracted for by the husband during his
Opinion of the Court.
lifetime, the title to which may be completed after his decease." Another statute of Montana provides that "the word 'land' or 'lands' and the words 'real estate' shall be construed to include lands, tenements and hereditaments, and all rights thereto and all interests therein." Section 202, p. 248, Compiled Laws of Montana.
The case was commenced in the state court and was subsequently removed, on the petition of the defendant, to the United States Circuit Court for the District of Montana. The facts upon which the question arises appear in the pleadings. and the question was raised by demurrer.
The plaintiff is the widow of one Leander W. Black, who died intestate in July, 1881. During his lifetime, and while the plaintiff was his wife, Black owned an undivided two fifths of a certain mining claim situate in the then Territory of Montana, called the A. M. Holter quartz lode. On the 7th of March, 1879, Black sold and conveyed his interest in this claim to one Burton, who took possession thereof, but the plaintiff did not join in that conveyance. The interest conveyed by him to Burton subsequently passed by various mesne conveyances to the defendant in error. On the 29th of October, 1883, an application was made to the proper United States land office by the immediate predecessor in interest of the defendant in error to enter the claim for patent, and such proceedings were had in the matter of the application that on the 19th of November, 1889, a patent therefor was issued by the United States to the applicant, covering the whole interest in the mining claim. No protest or adverse claim or objection of any character was made or filed by the plaintiff in error at any stage of such proceedings in the land department. Upon these facts the Circuit Court held: That the plaintiff had a contingent dower interest in the mining claim, under the Montana statute, although none in the interest the United States retained in such mining lands prior to the locator becoming entitled to a patent therefor; but that by the granting of a patent by the United States to the defendant's predecessor, the estate or interest in the lands called a mining claim ceased to exist, and the title to the whole land passed to the
Opinion of the Court.
patentee; the mining claim became merged in the paramount title and perished, and no estate was in the defendant out of which plaintiff could ask to have dower assigned.
Upon writ of error sued out by the plaintiff to review the judgment rendered against her by the Circuit Court, the case was argued before the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, where the judgment was affirmed. That court held that the locator before he made any application to purchase or paid any of the purchase money had no such estate in the mining claim as against the government or its grantee, as that a right of dower could be founded thereon by virtue of any state legislation, and it therefore affirmed the judgment of the Circuit Court. 7 U. S. App. 393. The plaintiff brings the case here for a review of the judgment against her in the Court of Appeals.
The two courts, while not precisely harmonious in their views as to the principles upon which the judgment should be rested, yet agreed in the result that the plaintiff was not entitled to dower. It was stated on the argument here that there is no decision of the Supreme Court of the State of Montana construing the state statute on the subject of dower, so far as regards this question.
The first question that presents itself is, what is the character of the interest which a locator has in a mining claim under the Revised Statutes of the United States, and prior to the time that he has made any application to purchase or paid any of the purchase money, and where no patent has been issued to him for the land? Also, what interest does he convey by a conveyance purporting to convey it all, but in which his wife does not join?
The Revised Statutes provide that:
"SEO. 2318. In all cases land valuable for minerals shall be reserved from sale, except as otherwise expressly directed by law. "SEC. 2319. All valuable mineral deposits in lands belonging to the United States, both surveyed and unsurveyed, are hereby declared to be free and open to exploration and purchase, and the lands in which they are found to occupation and purobase by citizens of the United States.
Opinion of the Court.
Section 2320 states the conditions governing mining claims already located as to length, etc., and also as to those located after the 10th of May, 1872. But it is provided that location of a mining claim shall be made until the discovery of the vein or lode within the limits of the claim located.”
Section 2322 gives to locators of all mining claims and their heirs and assigns, as stated therein, "the exclusive right of possession and enjoyment of all the surface included within the lines of their locations, and of all veins, lodes and ledges throughout their entire depth, the top or apex of which lies" as described in said statute.
It does not by its terms grant any right to the wife of the locator either present or contingent. Being the owner of the lands, the government could of course impose its own terms upon which to grant any right, whether of possession or of purchase.
By section 2324 certain conditions are imposed upon locators, upon a failure to comply with which the claim is rendered open to a relocation the same as if never before located. One of the conditions is the following: "On each claim located after the tenth day of May, eighteen hundred and seventy-two, and until a patent has been issued therefor, not less than one hundred dollars' worth of labor shall be performed or improvements made during each year." The section also contains a provision that "upon the failure of any one of several coöwners to contribute his proportion of the expenditures required hereby, the coöwners who have performed the labor or made the improvements may, at the expiration of the year, give such delinquent coöwner personal notice in writing or notice by publication in the newspaper published nearest the claim, for at least once a week for ninety days, and if at the expiration of ninety days after such notice in writing or by publication such delinquent should fail or refuse to contribute his proportion of the expenditure required by this section, his interest in the claim shall become the property of his coöwners who have made the required expenditure."
A patent can be obtained under section 2325, which pro