Beecher v. Wetherby

In Beecher v. Wetherby, 95 U.S. 517 (1877), the Court had occasion to consider the nature of the right which Wisconsin took to the sixteenth section in the townships of that State by virtue of her enabling act, which declared that it was an unalterable condition of her admission into the Union that section sixteen of every township of the public lands of the State which had not been sold or otherwise disposed of, should be granted to her for the use of schools. The court said that this compact, whether considered as merely promissory on the part of the United States, and constituting only a pledge of a grant in future, or as operating as a transfer of the title to the State, upon her acceptance of the proposition, as soon as the sections could be afterwards identified by the public surveys - in either case the lands which might be embraced within those sections were appropriated to the State, subject to any existing claim or right to them; that for many years before Wisconsin became a State various portions of the territory within her limits were occupied by a tribe of Indians, but the right which they had was only that of occupancy. The court held that the fee was in the United States, subject to that right, and could be transferred whenever they chose, but added, "the grantee would take only the naked fee, and could not disturb the occupancy of the Indians; that occupancy could only be interfered with or determined by the United States."