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Agua Salada Grant

 by J. J. Bowden

Retired Corporal Luis Jaramillo, a resident of Santa Fe, appeared before Governor Pedro Fermin de Mendinueta and registered a tract of vacant land situated on the slope of Navajo country, which he described as being bounded:

On the north, by the lands of Antonio Baca; on the east, by the road crossing the place leading to the Pueblo of Laguna; on the south, by the lands of Pedro Padillo; and on the west, by the lands of Salvador Jaramillo.

He stated that the tract consisted of one league square, a little more or less. He pointed out that he had a thousand head of sheep and a few cows, but no place to keep them. He also reminded the governor that his deceased father and relatives had served the king and in the pacification of the country, and he had been in the service of the crown for thirty‑six years. His petition closed with a prayer that he be granted the requested royal aid. On July 20, 1769 Mendinueta issued a decree in which he stated:

… in consideration of the statements he sets forth, the arguments he alleges, and his well known merits, for which he should be heard, I declare that I would make, and I do de facto make a grant in the name of His Majesty (God preserve him) to Luis Jaramillo, for the tract of land he applies for, with the boundaries he mentions, and under the conditions he shall occupy it with his livestock within the time prescribed by law . . . .[1]

The decree also directed Antonio Sedillo, Alcalde of Laguna, to place Jaramillo in royal possession of the premises provided he was satisfied there was no legal impediment to the grant and its issuance prejudiced the rights of no party. Sedillo was instructed to return the expediente of his proceedings for filing in the archives. Pursuant to this decree, Sedillo summoned the adjoining landowners to a hearing set for August 3, 1769. In response thereto, a number of the inhabitants of Nuestra Señora de la Luz, San Fernando y San Blas, appeared and protested the issuance of the grant on the ground that it conflicted with their rights and privileges. Whereupon, Sedillo suspended the proceeding and returned the grant to Mendinueta for his further action. After carefully considering the dispute, Mendinueta found that the western boundary of the grant[2] to the inhabitants of Nuestra Señora de la Luz, San Fernando y San Blas should be located one and a half leagues from the settlement as stated in the granting decree, instead of at Cerro Colorado as fixed by the Act of Possession. Thus, there should be no conflict between the grant to the settlement and Jaramillo’s. Therefore, he issued a decree on August 7, 1769 ordering Sedillo to proceed with the delivery of possession of the Agua Salada Grant to Jaramillo as previously ordered. In compliance with this decree, Sedillo delivered possession of the grant to Jaramillo on August 14, 1769 and fixed its boundaries as follows:

On the north, the close of the survey of Antonio Baca; on the east, the mouth of the small valley called Los Cañoncitos; on the south, a high mesa called the Cocina behind which runs the main road from the Pueblo of Zia to Laguna; and on the west, the lands of Salvador Jaramillo.

 The expediente of the grant was returned to the governor and filed among the archives.[3]

The heirs and legal representatives of Luis Jaramillo petitioned[4] Surveyor General James K. Proudfit for the confirmation of the grant on November 10, 1874. Proudfit promptly proceeded to investigate the claim. He inspected the expediente and was so thoroughly convinced that the document was genuine that he did not take a single word of testimony in support of the claim. On December 23, 1874 he issued an Opinion[5] recommending confirmation of the grant to the legal representatives of Luis Jaramillo according to the boundaries set forth in the Act of Possession. A preliminary survey of the grant was made in August, 1879 by Deputy Surveyor Robert G. Marmon for 13,046.59 acres.[6] Since the claim was still pending before Congress it was re‑examined both as to title and boundaries by Surveyor General George W. Julian pursuant to the instructions[7] he received from Commissioner William A. J. Sparks dated December 11, 1885. In a Supplemental Report[8] dated October 8, 1886, Julian pointed out that although there was no question over the genuineness of the expediente no proof had been offered showing that the conditions of occupancy had been timely performed or identifying the petitioners and the extent of their interests. He contended that the self‑serving averment by the claimants that they were the heirs and legal representatives was not sufficient to sustain the claim. Turning next to the question of boundaries, Julian noted that Jaramillo had requested a tract consisting of “one league square, a little more or less,” or about 4,340 acres, but the claim had been expanded to cover 13,046.59 acres. He especially called attention to the fact that there was no documentary evidence in the archives showing the location of Salvador Jaramillo’s land and that it was notorious that the self‑interests of the Deputy Surveyor frequently tempted them to extend grant boundaries so as to include vast amounts of the public domain. Therefore, he recommended that the grant be rejected by Congress. Notwithstanding Julian’s recommendation, Congress took no action on the grant.

After the establishment of the Court of Private Lard Claims, the Spanish and Mexican land grant claimants turned to that tribunal for relief. On August 20, 1892 Jesús Armijo y Jaramillo, who claimed an interest in the premises as an heir and legal representative of the original grantee, filed suit[9] against the United States in that court seeking the recognition of the grant. The government in its answer denied that Sedillo had delivered possession of the grant as alleged in the plaintiff’s petition. When the case came up for trial on August 15, 1893, Jaramillo offered a certified copy of the expediente as evidence of his title. The government acknowledged that there was a prima facie presumption that the grant papers were genuine. However, it contended that the Act of possession was spurious. In support of this contention, William M. Tipton, a Special Agent of the Justice Department and handwriting ex­pert testified that Sedillo’s signature on that document was not genuine. He was of the opinion that the Act of Possession and Sedillo’s signature thereto were written by Carlos Mirabal, who was one of the witnesses to the delivery of possession. Tipton’s opinion was based on the obvious difference between Sedillo’s signature on the transmittal of the proceedings back to the governor on August 3, 1769 and the Act of Possession, and the similarity between Mirabal’s signature and Sedillo’s on the Act of Possession. The government argued that if Sedillo had not signed the Act of Possession, a necessary and indispensable step was missing which rendered the grant imperfect. Jaramillo offered no controverting evidence on this point, but introduced testimony from a number of witnesses tending to prove that the grant had been occupied by the original grantee and his heirs since 1769 and connecting the plaintiff with the original grantee, who was his great grandfather. In its opinion[10] dated August 31, 1893, the court noted that Sedillo was a “poor penman” and it would be reasonable to presume that he had requested Mirabal to write and sign the Act of Possession for him. Therefore, it confirmed the grant to the heirs and legal representatives of Luis Jaramillo. The government’s attorney in his report[11] stated:

I believe this grant should be appealed with a view to determine what is the legal effect of an Act of Juridical Possession; what presumptions of law are to be drawn therefrom; and if it is shown to be a forgery, what effect it will have upon the ultimate validity of the grant.

Pursuant to this recommendation, the government appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court. However, for some unexplained reason, the government requested that the case be dismissed. Whereupon the Supreme Court, in a memorandum opinion[12] dated February 1, 1897, dismissed the appeal.

The grant was surveyed in February, 1899 by Deputy Surveyor George H. Pradt for 13,702.78 acres. Pradt’s survey showed that the grant conflicted with 3,008.30 acres covered by the Town of Cebolleta Grant.[13] The Court of Private Land Claims approved the survey subject to the understanding that the confirmation of the grant confirmed no right or title to any land which conflicted with the Town of Cebolleta Grant.[14] The grant finally was patented on November 15, 1909.[15]

[1] Archive No. 421 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[2] The grant actually had been made to Antonio Baca who formed the settlement.

[3] Archive No. 421 (Mss., Records of the A N.M.).

[4] The Agua Salada Grant, No. 103 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[5] H. R. Exec. Doc. No. 62, 43d Cong., 2d Sess., 104‑105 (1875).

[6] The Agua Salada Grant, No. 103 (Mss., Records of 3 the S.G.N.M.).

[7] S. Exec. Doc. No. 113, 49th Cong., 2d Sess., 2 (1887).

[8] S. Exec. Doc. No. 20, 50th Cong., 1st Sess., 1‑3 (1887).

[9] Jaramillo v. United States, No. 31 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[10] 1 Journal 187‑191 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[11] Report of the United States Attorney dated September 28, 1893, in Jaramillo v. United States, (Mss., Records of the General Services Administration, National Archives, Washington, D. C.), Record Group 60, Year File 9865‑92.

[12] United States v. Jaramillo, 17 S. Ct. 1001, 41 L. Ed.. 1185 (mem.) (1897).

[13] The Agua Salada Grant, No. 103 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[14] 4 Journal 128 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[15] The Agua Salada Grant, No. 103 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).