THE CASTAC CANYON RAILROAD LAND FEUD.
The Law And Facts Of The Case Causes Leading Up To
The Trouble Responsibility Of The Southern Pacific Railroad Company In The Premises.
The Castac Canon murderers were still at large at last accounts. The recent brutal and cowardly killing of their two victims-settlers on disputed lands in that quarter-cannot be defended or excused on the plea that the murderers have a license or claim to the land from the Southern Pacific Railroad Company. While the search for these fugitive criminals is going on, let the facts of the case be reviewed.
In view of the enormity of the crimes committed, and the further fact that such crimes may be repeated under the same excuse of a "permit" from the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, the present will be an opportune time to give a brief history of the pretended dispute over the land titles, so that the public can place the moral responsibility where it belongs.
These lands are a part of a body of over one million acres, lying mostly in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, which are in the so-called "overlapping grants" of the Atlantic Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads, and which lands were granted to the Atlantic and Pacific Company by an act of Congress in the year 1866, and by the act of 1871, making the grant to the Southern Pacific, were expressly excepted and deducted from the grant to that company.
The Atlantic and Pacific railroad not having been completed, that portion of its land grant in California was, by an act of Congress passed July 6, 1886, forfeited and reverted to the United States; and the act provided that the "lands be and hereby are restored to the public domain." So that after the passage of this act these lands were a part of the public domain, and under the national settlement laws were subject to entry as homesteads and preemptionís. Not withstanding the plain provisions of law and the clause in the Southern Pacific grant excepting these lands, that company still claimed them, and the question came up before Secretary of the Interior Lamar (now one of the Supreme Court Justices), and it appears from the reports that he decided in the Gordon case in the fall of 1887 (see Gordon case, vol. 3; land decisions, p.691) that the Southern Pacific had no right to any of these lands, and that they became a part of the public domain and subject to homestead entry, by virtue of the act of Congress of July 6, 1886.
When Vilas became Secretary of the Interior the Southern Pacific renewed the fight before him, and it appears from the reported cases that they were again beaten (see vol. 6, same decisions).
It appears from these decisions that Secretaries Lamar and Vilas based their decisions not only on the clause of the Southern Pacific grant, excepting these lands, but upon an exacting parallel case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in vol. 112, U.S. reports, p. 720. Still desiring to prevent the settlement of these lands, the Southern Pacific Railway Company brought a suit against Wesley Coble to eject him from a tract of this land, upon which he had settled, and again it was decided by Judge Hutton of the Superior Court of Los Angeles county that the railway company had no right to these lands. This decision was rendered, as appears from the records, in July, 1888, and, though it appears an appeal was taken, the Southern Pacific has now for nearly two years systematically delayed and postponed the case to prevent the Supreme Court from reviewing the appeal and affirming the judgment. The records of the court at the Clerk's office show this to be the case.
In the three cases of the United States against the Southern Pacific Railroad, in the United States Circuit Court, it was decided by Judge Ross about one year ago that all the lands on the general line of the grant of 1886 to the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad were excepted from the grant to the Southern Pacific Railroad. This case is reported in vol.39, Federal Reporter, p.132; and, though nearly a year has elapsed, the case has not even reached the Supreme Court.
If the Southern Pacific Company had been desirous of having any more decisions against them from any better or higher courts, there has been ample time and opportunity, of which they have not seen fit to avail themselves.
Finally, to remove all obstacles to a settlement of the lands and clear off the cloud cast by the Southern Pacific, an order was made by Secretary of the Interior Vilas on June 23, 1888-nearly two years ago- that all the lands in the granted limits of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad should be open to entry, and the claims of the Southern Pacific Railroad canceled.
The high prerogative and political influence of the president of the Southern Pacific, who was also a Senator from California, have become manifest and useful. Upon the application of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, the order to open the lands was suspended, and from that day to this-nearly two year-no further action has been taken.
To make matters worse, and in violation of the law and of all the decisions of the department and of the courts, and to prevent settlement of the lands, the Southern Pacific Railroad made contracts for large bodies of these lands to cattlemen and sheep-grazers and others.
While the railroad company has no right to sell the lands, and the contracts do not purport to sell them, it is agreed that if the company should get title from the United States, it will convey to the purchaser.
This kind of contract, however, is a sufficient excuse for desperate and lawless men to act upon and killing innocent settlers, who, in going upon these lands to make homes, have done so in obedience to their rights and the law, declared repeatedly and successively by two Secretaries of the Interior, the Attorney-General of the United States, the United States Circuit Court and our Superior Court-all based upon authoritative decisions of the United States Supreme Court in numerous parallel cases.
In light of these facts all matters of record does any impartial and intelligent person doubt who is primarily responsible for these serious land troubles which have brought suffering to citizens and reproach to the State?