« AnteriorContinuar »
the council of the nation, and the descendants of those appearing on such rolls," and certain others specified who had been lawfully added to the rolls. By the Curtis Act of June 28, 1898, 30 Stat. 495, 502, the Commission was authorized and directed to make correct rolls of the citizens by blood of the Creek Tribe, eliminating from the tribal rolls such names as might have been placed thereon by fraud or without authority of law, enrolling such only as, might have lawful right thereto, and their descendants born since such rolls were made. It was provided that the Commission should make such rolls descriptive of the persons thereon, so that they might be identified thereby, and the Commission was authorized to take a census of each of said tribes, or to adopt any other means by them deemed necessary to enable them to make such rolls, with the right of access to all rolls and records of the several tribes, and with authority to administer oaths, examine witnesses, and send for persons and papers. The rolls so made, when approved by the Secretary of the Interior, were to be final, and the persons whose names were found thereon, with their descendants thereafter born to them, with such persons as might intermarry according to tribal laws, were alone to constitute the several tribes which they represented. By § 28 of the Creek Agreement of March 1, 1901, 31 Stat. 861, 870, it was provided that all citizens who were living on the first day of April, 1899, entitled to be enrolled under the above provisions of the Curtis Act, should be placed upon the rolls to be made by the Dawes Commission under that act, and provision was made for allotment to the heirs where any such citizen had died since that time. "The rolls so made by said commission," the act continues, "when approved by the Secretary of the Interior, shall be the final rolls of citizenship of said tribe, upon which the allotment of all lands and the distribution of all moneys and other property of the tribe shall be made, and to no
Opinion of the Court.
other persons.' "This agreement was ratified by the Creek Council May 25, 1901, 32 Stat. 1971.
244 U. S.
The legislation which we have outlined indicates the purpose of Congress to make provision for the partition of the lands belonging to the Creek Nation among the members of the tribe, and to that end it authorized the Dawes Commission to make investigation and determine the names of such as were entitled to be on the rolls of citizenship and to participate in the division of the tribal lands. This purpose indicated in the Curtis Act of 1898 was emphasized by the so-called Creek Agreement of 1901, subsequently ratified by the tribe. In that act the Commission was authorized to investigate the subject, and its action when approved by the Secretary of the Interior was declared to be final. There was thus constituted a quasi-judicial tribunal whose judgments within the limits of its jurisdiction were only subject to attack for fraud or such mistake of law or fact as would justify the holding that its judgments were voidable. Congress by this legislation evidenced an intention to put an end to controversy by providing a tribunal before which those interested could be heard and the rolls authoritatively made up of those who were entitled to participate in the partition of the tribal lands. It was to the interest of all concerned that the beneficiaries of this division should be ascertained. To this end the Commission was established and endowed with authority to hear and determine the matter.
A correct conclusion was not necessary to the finality and binding character of its decisions. It may be that the Commission in acting upon the many cases before it made mistakes which are now impossible of correction. This might easily be so, for the Commission passed upon the rights of thousands claiming membership in the tribe and ascertained the rights of others who did not appear before it, upon the merits of whose standing the Commis
Opinion of the Court.
sion had to pass with the best information which it could obtain.
244 U. S.
When the Commission proceeded in good faith to determine the matter and to act upon information before it, not arbitrarily, but according to its best judgment, we think it was the intention of the act that the matter, upon the approval of the Secretary, should be finally concluded and the rights of the parties forever settled, subject to such attacks as could successfully be made upon judgments of this character for fraud or mistake.
We cannot agree that the case is within the principles decided in Scott v. McNeal, 154 U. S. 34, and kindred cases, in which it has been held that in the absence of a subjectmatter of jurisdiction an adjudication that there was such is not conclusive, and that a judgment based upon action without its proper subject being in existence is void. In Scott v. McNeal it was held that a probate court had no jurisdiction to appoint an administrator of a living person and to sell property in administration proceedings after finding that he was in fact dead. In that case it was held that a sale of the property of a living person by order of the probate court without notice to him necessarily deprived him of due process of law by selling his property without notice and by order of a court which had no jurisdiction over him in any manner. The notice in such cases to his next of kin, the court held, was not notice to him, and to make an order undertaking to deprive such person of his property would be to take it by a judgment to which the living person was not a party or privy; and it was held that jurisdiction did not arise from the mere finding of the court that the person whose property was thus taken was in fact deceased. In the present case the Government had jurisdiction over these lands. It had the authority to partition them among the members of the tribe. Shulthis v. McDougal, 170 Fed. Rep. 529, 534; McDougal v. McKay, 237 U. S. 372, 383.
Opinion of the Court.
For this purpose it determined to divide the lands among those living on April 1, 1899, and constituted a tribunal to investigate the question of membership and consequent right to share in the division. We think the decision of such tribunal, when not impeached for fraud or mistake, conclusive of the question of membership in the tribe, when followed, as was the case here, by the action of the Interior Department confirming the allotment and ordering the patents conveying the lands, which were in fact issued. If decisions of this character may be subject to annulment in the manner in which the Government seeks to attack and set aside this one, many titles supposed to be secure would be divested many years after patents issued, upon showing that the decision was a mistaken one. The rule is that such decisions are presumably based upon proper showing, and that they must stand until overcome by full and convincing proof sufficient within the recognized principles of equity jurisdiction in cases of this character to invalidate them. Maxwell Land-Grant Case, 121 U. S. 325, 379, 381; Colorado Coal & Iron Co. v. United States, 123 U. S. 307.
As to the second contention, that the Commission acted arbitrarily and without evidence of the fact that Thlocco was living on April 1, 1899, there is no attack upon the finding of the Commission for fraud, and this record shows an earnest attempt to conform the rolls to the requirements of the law.
Thlocco's name appeared on the Tribal Rolls of 1890 and 1895 and on a census card made by a clerk of the Commission in 1897.
An enrolling clerk with the Dawes Commission testified that he entered the name of Barney Thlocco upon the census card on May 24, 1901; that at that time there were a great many names on the old rolls unaccounted for, and the party went to Okmulgee to get them to come out and get them enrolled; that a great many were brought in;
that Thlocco was one of those who were unaccounted for at that time, and the witness could not say whether his name was taken from the old census roll or whether someone appeared and asked for his enrollment; that after Thlocco's name was listed there was some investigation upon the question as to whether or not he was living or dead on April 1, 1899, but the Commission would have to be satisfied or have information of some kind that he was living on that date; that the Commission knew that Thlocco was dead in 1901 and it apparently was satisfied that he was living on April 1, 1899; that they would ask town kings and town warriors when they came in and anybody else if they knew this or that about the applicants; that because of a discrepancy between the ages of Thlocco on the census cards they must have had some information other than the old census card; that the invariable custom and practice was never to fill out one of the cards until they had some information from some source with reference to the question as to whether the applicant was living or whether he had died prior to April 1, 1899; that the Commission never arbitrarily listed any name; that no name was listed solely because it was on the Roll of 1895, but some particular individual evidence was required outside of that roll; that before the new rolls were sent to Washington the clerks and the chairman of the Commission would get together and go over every one of them.
The clerk who made out the census card in 1897 testified that as Chief Clerk of the Commission he helped in the enrollment; that a notation on the census card "died in 1900" was in his handwriting, but that he did not know who had given him the information or what use was made of the notation, except that it was intended that when the Commission came to pass on that name for final record on the roll an inquiry should be made as to when Thlocco died or whether he was dead and get the proper affidavit