ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON.
MR. JUSTICE FIELD, after stating the facts as above and referring to the act of Congress mentioned, reserving to the States, respectively, certain lands for university purposes and authorizing each of the States named to appoint commissioners for the selection and location of such lands, delivered the opinion of the court, as follows:
The contest between the parties to the premises in controversy arises from a claim made by each of them to a segregation of a portion of such lands for a homestead under the act of Congress of July 17, 1854, c. 84, 10 Stat. 305.
By the fourth section of that act it is provided: "That, in lieu of the two townships of land granted to the Territory of Oregon by the tenth section of the act of eighteen hundred and fifty, for universities, there shall be reserved to each of the Territories of Washington and Oregon two townships of land of thirty-six sections each, to be selected in legal subdivisions, for university purposes, under direction of the legislatures of said Territories, respectively."
On the 11th day of January, 1861, the legislative assembly of the Territory of Washington passed an act appointing a board of commissioners to select, locate, and dispose of lands
reserved for university purposes in the Territory of Washington by the act of Congress quoted.
It appears, from an examination of the proceedings, read in connection with the legislation of Congress and the action of the commissioners of the State, that a doubt was created as to the legality of the conveyance by the commissioners of the land in controversy, to John Ross, from the fact that previous to that conveyance one Lemuel J. Holgate had filed upon and entered, as a homestead, the land described, which was not cancelled until December 20, 1871. It appears that Holgate executed a relinquishment of his homestead entry upon the land previous to the execution by the commissioners of their conveyance of the same to John Ross. That relinquishment was executed and delivered in February, 1864, and the selection of lands by the university commissioners was on the 10th day of March, 1864. But it is contended by the plaintiff that the relinquishment was in effect a quitclaim from Holgate to Ross, as there was no provision for a voluntary relinquishment prior to May 14, 1880, and that the only way by which lands once filed on under the homestead acts could be restored to the public domain was either by lapse of time or by contest.
But this position is not sustained by the judgment of the Secretary of the Interior, nor was it in harmony with the rulings of the land department. In its legal effect the relinquishment by Holgate was to the United States.
Section 1 of the act of May 14, 1880, c. 89, 21 Stat. 140, provides "that when a preemption, homestead, or timber culture claimant shall file a written relinquishment of his claim in the local land office, the land covered by such claim shall be held as open to settlement and entry without further action on the part of the Commissioner of the General Land Office;" and, as held by the Commissioner, the effect of the law was to give authority to local land officers to cancel the entry at once without awaiting the action of the Commissioner of the General Land Office as had been preceding that time its custom.
As stated by the Commissioner, it had previously been the
uniform practice of the land department to cancel entries on the voluntary relinquishment of the entryman, and it would be a strange doctrine to announce that a party did not have the right to relinquish any right that he had to or in any property, and that it was the intention of the government to compel its citizens to go to the expense and delay of a contest ...