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decided: January 23, 1888.



Author: Field

[ 124 U.S. Page 380]

 MR. JUSTICE FIELD, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

As seen by the statement of the case, the patent of the United States to Wells and Moyer of their placer claim, within the surface lines of which, drawn down vertically, the premises in controversy are situated, contains several conditions, and among others that the premises may be entered by the proprietors of any vein or lode of quartz, or other rock in place, bearing gold, silver or other valuable deposits, for the purpose of extracting and removing the ore from them, should they be found to penetrate into the premises. This exception is founded upon the statute, which provides, that the owners of any mineral vein, lode, or ledge situated on the public domain, the location of which was made after the 10th day of May, 1872, should have the exclusive right of possession and enjoyment, not only of all the surface included within the lines of their locations, but also the exclusive right of possession and enjoyment "of all veins, lodes, and ledges throughout their entire depth, the top or apex of which lies inside of such surface lines extended downward vertically, although such veins, lodes, or ledges may so far depart from a perpendicular in their course downward as to extend outside the vertical side lines of such surface locations." § 2322. The defendant

[ 124 U.S. Page 381]

     Reynolds set up in his answer, that he is the owner of the Crown Point mining lode and the Pinnacle mining lode, adjoining the placer claim of the plaintiff, and that he, and the defendant Morrisey as his licensee, entered the premises in controversy by following the veins of their lodes from their outcropping within their surface lines. But on the trial the defendants disclaimed any right to the demanded premises under any apex or outcrop pints of their lodes within the surface lines thereof, and rested their defence upon another exception of the patent, namely, that if any vein or lode of quartz, or other rock in place, bearing gold, silver, or other valuable deposit, was claimed or known to exist within the premises described at the date of the patent, the same was excluded from the grant. This exception is founded upon and limited by the statute which we shall presently consider.

When this case was formerly before us, it was held that if a lode or vein of gold or silver was known to exist within a placer claim at the time the application for the patent was made, the patentee could not recover its possession even as against a mere intruder. The patentee having no title to such lode or vein by reason of its exception from his patent under the statute, could not enforce any legal right to it against any one, being bound to rely upon the strength of his own title and not the weakness of his adversary's. The defendants, therefore, on this trial, placed their defence upon this exception, and the question for determination was, whether the lode or vein in question was known to exist at the time the application for a patent was made.

In anticipation of this defence, and to establish title to the demanded premises, if not sufficiently covered by the patent for the placer claim, the plaintiff offered in evidence a patent of the United States for the Rock and Dome lode mining claims, and a deed of them to the plaintiff from the patentees, for the purpose of showing that the lode which, since the issue of the patent of the placer claim, has been ascertained to dip into and extend within the boundaries of that claim, has its apex or outcrop within the boundaries of these lode claims; but the court refused to admit the patent, and the plaintiff

[ 124 U.S. Page 382]

     excepted. In thus ruling there was plain error. If the fact thus sought to be established existed, it would force the defendants from their position of intruders without title, and compel them to show prior title in themselves to the premises or to surrender them to the plaintiff.

It is not readily perceived on what ground the ruling of the court rested. The plaintiff did not base its action upon any particular source of title; it simply averred that it was the owner and possessed of certain described mining ground, from a portion of which the defendants had ousted it and wrongfully withheld the possession. The patent was evidence of the grand of the whole of the described premises, if no portion was excepted from its operation either in terms or by force of the statute. But if any portion was excepted for any cause, the duty fell on the plaintiff to furnish title to such excepted portion from some other source, and that, the court, by its ruling, refused to permit the plaintiff to do.

The exception in the patent from its grant of any vein or lode of quartz, or other rock in place, bearing gold, silver, cinnabar, lead, tin, or other valuable deposit, if "claimed or known to exist," is in terms broader than the language of § 2333, under which the patent was issued. The statute does not except veins or lodes "claimed or known to exist," but only such as are "known to exist," and it fixes the time at which such knowledge is to be had as that of the application for the patent, and not that of the date of the patent, to take the vein or lode out of its grant. Section 2333, as stated by this court when the case was first here, makes provision for three distinct classes of cases:

1.When one applies for a placer patent, who is at the time in the possession of a vein or lode included within its boundaries, he must state the fact, and then, on payment of the sum required for a vein claim and twenty-five feet on each side of it at $5.00 an acre, and $2.50 an acre for the placer claim, a patent will issue to him covering both claim and lode.

2. Where a vein or lode, such as is described in a previous section, is known to exist at the time within the boundaries of the placer claim, the application for a patent therefor, which

[ 124 U.S. Page 383]

     does not also include an application for the vein or lode, will be construed as a conclusive declaration that the claimant of the placer claim has no right of possession to the vein or lode.

3. Where the existence of a vein or lode in a placer claim is not known at the time of the application for a patent, that instrument will convey all valuable mineral and other deposits within its boundaries.

The question under this section, which must control and limit any conflicting exception expressed in the patent, is, when can it be said that a vein or lode is "known to exist" within the boundaries of a placer claim for which a patent is sought. The language of the statute appears to be sufficiently intelligible in a general sense; and yet it becomes difficult of interpretation when applied to the determination of rights asserted to such veins or lodes from the possession, or absence, of such knowledge at the time application is made for the patent. At the outset, as stated when the case was here before, the inquiry must be whether the alleged knowledge must be traced to the applicant, or whether it is sufficient that the existence of the vein or lode was at the time of the application generally known. If general knowledge of such existence should be held sufficient, the inquiry would follow as to what would constitute such general knowledge, so as to create an exception to the grant, notwithstanding the ignorance of the patentee. Such suggestions indicate the difficulties of some of the questions which may arise in the application of the statute.

The court below instructed the jury that it was unnecessary to declare what circumstances might be sufficient to affect a patentee with knowledge as prescribed by the statute, "for, if, in any case, it appear that an application for a patent is made with intent to acquire title to a lode or vein which may exist in the ground beneath the surface of a placer claim, it is believed a patent issued upon such application cannot operate to convey such lode or vein;" and further, that "that intention could be formed only upon investigation as to the character of the ground, and the belief as to the existence of a valuable lode therein, which would amount to knowledge under the statute."

[ 124 U.S. Page 384]

     This instruction is plainly erroneous. The statute speaks of acquiring a patent with a knowledge of the existence of a vein or lode within the boundaries of the claim for which a patent is sought, not the effect of the intent of the party to acquire a lode which may or may not exist, of which he has no knowledge. Nor does it render belief, after examination, in the existence of a lode, knowledge of the fact.

There may be difficulty in determining whether such knowledge in a given case was had, but between mere belief and knowledge there is a wide difference. The court could not make them synonymous by its charge and thus in effect incorporate new terms into the statute.

Knowledge of the existence of a lode or vein within the boundaries of a placer claim may be obtained from its outcrop within such boundaries; or from the developments of the placer claim previous to the application for a patent; or by the tracing of the vein from another lode; or perhaps from the general condition and developments of mining ground adjoining the placer claim. It may also be obtained from the information of others who have made the necessary explorations to ascertain the fact, and perhaps in other ways. We do not speak of the sufficiency of any of these modes, but mention them merely to show that such knowledge may be had without making hopes and beliefs on the subject its equivalent. As well observed by the court, when the case was here before, it is better that all questions as to what kind of evidence is necessary, and we may add sufficient, to prove the knowledge required by the statute, should be settled as they arise.

For the errors mentioned,

The judgment must be reversed and the case remanded for a new trial.


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