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decided: May 25, 1896.



Author: White

[ 163 U.S. Page 507]

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

It is wholly immaterial, for the purpose of the legal issue here presented, to consider whether the place where the elk were killed is in the vicinage of white settlements. It is also equally irrelevant to ascertain how far the land was used for a cattle range, since the sole question which the case presents is whether the treaty made by the United States with the Bannock Indians gave them the right to exercise the hunting privilege, therein referred to, within the limits of the State of Wyoming in violation of its laws. If it gave such right, the mere fact that the State had created school districts or election districts, and had provided for pasturage on the lands, could no more efficaciously operate to destroy the right of the Indian to hunt on the lands than could the passage of the game law. If, on the other hand, the terms of the treaty did not refer to lands within a State, which were subject to the legislative power of the State, then it is equally clear that, although the lands were not in school and election districts and were not near settlements, the right conferred on the Indians by the treaty would be of no avail to justify a violation of the state law.

The power of a State to control and regulate the taking of game cannot be questioned. Geer v. Connecticut, 161 U.S. 519. The text of article 4 of the treaty, relied on as giving the right to kill game within the State of Wyoming, in violation of its laws, is as follows:

"But they shall have the right to hunt on the unoccupied lands of the United States, so long as game may be found thereon, and so long as peace subsists among the whites and Indians on the borders of the hunting districts."

It may at once be conceded that the words "unoccupied

[ 163 U.S. Page 508]

     lands of the United States" if they stood alone, and were detached from the other provisions of the treaty on the same subject, would convey the meaning of lands owned by the United States, and the title to or occupancy of which had not been disposed of. But in interpreting these words in the treaty, they cannot be considered alone, but must be construed with reference to the context in which they are found. Adopting this elementary method, it becomes at once clear that the unoccupied lands contemplated were not all such lands of the United States wherever situated, but were only lands of that character embraced within what the treaty denominates as hunting districts. This view follows as a necessary result from the provision which says that the right to hunt on the unoccupied lands shall only be availed of as long as peace subsists on the borders of the hunting districts. Unless the districts thus referred to be taken as controlling the words "unoccupied lands," then the reference to the hunting districts would become wholly meaningless, and the cardinal rule of interpretation would be violated, which ordains that such construction be adopted as gives effect to all the language of the statute. Nor can this consequence be avoided by saying that the words "hunting districts" simply signified places where game was to be found, for this would read out of the treaty the provision as "to peace on the borders" of such districts, which clearly pointed to the fact that the territory referred to was one beyond the borders of the white settlements. The unoccupied lands referred to, being therefore contained within the hunting districts, by the ascertainment of the latter the former will be necessarily determined, as the less is contained in the greater. The elucidation of this issue will be made plain by an appreciation of the situation existing at the time of the adoption of the treaty, of the necessities which brought it into being and of the purposes intended to be by it accomplished.

When in 1868 the treaty was framed the progress of the white settlements westward had hardly, except in a very scattered way, reached the confines of the place selected for the Indian reservation. Whilst this was true, the march of advancing civilization foreshadowed the fact that the wilderness,

[ 163 U.S. Page 509]

     which lay on all sides of the point selected for the reservation, was destined to be occupied and settled by the white man, hence interfering with the hitherto untrammelled right of occupancy of the Indian. For this reason, to protect his rights and to preserve for him a home where his tribal relations might be enjoyed under the shelter of the authority of the United States, the reservation was created. Whilst confining him to the reservation, and in order to give him the privilege of hunting in the designated districts, so long as the necessities of civilization did not require otherwise, the provision in question was doubtless adopted, care being, however, taken to make the whole enjoyment in this regard dependent absolutely upon the will of Congress. To prevent this privilege from becoming dangerous to the peace of the new settlements as they advanced, the provision allowing the Indian to avail himself of it only whilst peace reigned on the borders was inserted. To suppose that the words of the treaty intended to give to the Indian the right to enter into already established States and seek out every portion of unoccupied government land and there exercise the right of hunting, in violation of the municipal law, would be to presume that the treaty was so drawn as to frustrate the very object it had in view. It would also render necessary the assumption that Congress, whilst preparing the way, by the treaty, for new settlements and new States, yet created a provision not only detrimental to their future well-being, but also irreconcilably in conflict with the powers of the States already existing. It is undoubted that the place in the State of Wyoming, where the game in question was killed, was at the time of the treaty, in 1868, embraced within the hunting districts therein referred to. But this fact does not justify the implication that the treaty authorized the continued enjoyment of the right of killing game therein, when the territory ceased to be a part of the hunting districts and came within the authority and jurisdiction of a State. The right to hunt given by the treaty clearly contemplated the disappearance of the conditions therein specified. Indeed, it made the right depend on whether the land in the hunting districts was unoccupied

[ 163 U.S. Page 510]

     public land of the United States. This, as we have said, left the whole question subject entirely to the will of the United States, since it provided, in effect, that the right to hunt should cease the moment the United States parted with the title to its land in the hunting districts. No restraint was imposed by the treaty on the power of the United States to sell, although such sale, under the settled policy of the government, was a result naturally to come from the advance of the white settlements in the hunting districts to which the treaty referred. And this view of the temporary and precarious nature of the right reserved, in the hunting districts, is manifest by the act of Congress creating the Yellowstone Park Reservation, for it was subsequently carved out of what constituted the hunting districts at the time of the adoption of the treaty, and is a clear indication of the sense of Congress on the subject. Act of March 1, 1872, c. 24, 17 Stat. 32; act of May 7, 1894, c. 72, 28 Stat. 73. The construction which would affix to the language of the treaty any other meaning than that which we have above indicated would necessarily imply that Congress had violated the faith of the government and defrauded the Indians by proceeding immediately to forbid hunting in a large portion of the Territory, where it is now asserted there was a contract right to kill game, created by the treaty in favor of the Indians.

The argument, now advanced, in favor of the continued existence of the right to hunt over the land mentioned in the treaty, after it had become subject to state authority, admits that the privilege would cease by the mere fact that the United States disposed of its title to any of the land, although such disposition, when made to an individual, would give him no authority over game, and yet that the privilege continued when the United States had called into being a sovereign State, a necessary incident of whose authority was the complete power to regulate the killing of game within its borders. This argument indicates at once the conflict between the right to hunt in the unoccupied lands, within the hunting districts, and the assertion of the power to continue the exercise of the privilege in question in the State of Wyoming in defiance

[ 163 U.S. Page 511]

     of its laws. That "a treaty may supersede a prior act of Congress, and an act of Congress supersede a prior treaty," is elementary. Fong Yue Ting v. United States, 149 U.S. 698; The Cherokee Tobacco, 11 Wall. 616. In the last case it was held that a law of Congress imposing a tax on tobacco, if in conflict with a prior treaty with the Cherokees, was paramount to the treaty. Of course the settled rule undoubtedly is that repeals by implication are not favored, and will not be held to exist if there be any other reasonable construction. Cope v. Cope, 137 U.S. 682, and authorities there cited. But in ascertaining whether both statutes can be maintained it is not to be considered that any possible theory, by which both can be enforced, must be adopted, but only that repeal by implication must be held not to have taken place if there be a reasonable construction, by which both laws can coexist consistently with the intention of Congress. United States v. Sixty-seven Packages Dry Goods, 17 How. 85; District of Columbia v. Hutton, 143 U.S. 18; Frost v. Wenie, 157 U.S. 46. The act which admitted Wyoming into the Union, as we have said, expressly declared that that State should have all the powers of the other States of the Union, and made no reservation whatever in favor of the Indians. These provisions alone considered would be in conflict with the treaty if ...

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