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Antonio Ortiz Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Antonio Ortiz, a resident and merchant of Santa Fe, petitioned Governor Facundo Melgares on December 18, 1818, seeking a grant covering a tract of table land on the Gallinas River in order to support his large family and pasture his growing herds of livestock. The requested tract, which was situated on the eastern frontier of New Mexico in the heart of the Indian country, was described as being bounded: 

On the north, the Canon de Aguilar; on the east, the Mesitas de las Conchos; on the south, the road going to Las Conchas; and on the west, the Canon de Lauriana.

Melgares, in turn, ordered the Alcalde of San Miguel del Vado to investigate and give him a full report on the merits of the petition. Alcalde Vincenta Villanueba advised the governor on December 9, 1818, that the land in question was public domain, and the petitioner had grazed his stock on the land for about a year. Continuing, Villanueba noted that while no one had objected to Ortiz’s petition or use of the land, he was of the opinion that the issuance of the grant would restrict the future growth of the livestock industry at San Miguel del Vado. On April 21, 1819, Melgares referred the proceedings to the Tax Assessor of New Mexico, Francisco Ygnacio do Madariaga, for his recommendations. Six days later, he reported that since the Territory of New Mexico was very large and mostly uninhabited, he did not consider it improper to grant the lands to Ortiz. On April 30, 1919, Melgares issued the grant. Legal possession of the premises was delivered to Thomas Maese, who was an agent for Antonio Ortiz, on June 8, 1819, by Francisco Ortiz, the Alcalde of San Miguel del Vado. 1]

Antonio Ortiz occupied the land and continuously pastured his flocks and herds of cattle thereon except for short periods when the hostility of the Indians prevented such use. Following Ortiz’s death, the management of the property was assumed by his five children. They petitioned Surveyor General William Pelham on June 19, 1857, for the confirmation of the grant. The investigation into the validity of the claim was conducted primarily by Pelham but the decision recommending the confirmation of the grant was written by Pelham’s successor, A. P. Wilbar, on November 21, 1860.[2]

For more than eight years, Congress failed to take action upon the Surveyor General’s recommendation. Finally, by act approved March 3, 1869,[3] the grant was confirmed to the children and heirs of Antonio Ortiz, deceased. The second section of this act directed the Commissioner of the General Land Office to cause the lands embraced within said claim to be surveyed, and platted and upon the filing of a copy of such survey and plat in the General Land Office, the Commissioner was to issue a patent.

The grant was surveyed by Deputy Surveyors Sawyer & McBroom in 1876 for 163,921.68 acres. The survey was approved on November 11, 1876, and the grant was patented on February 23, 1877.[4] Shortly after President Grover Cleveland was inaugurated in 1885, he appointed George W. Julian Surveyor General of New Mexico. Julian, steeped in prejudice against Now Mexico, sought to establish in the public mind that his predecessors in office had permitted the despoilation of millions of acres from the public domain. He promptly proceeded to re‑examine not only the claims then pending before Congress but also attacked many of the grants which previously had been confirmed and patented. Few of the large grants escaped his venomous tongue, not even those which had been found to be good and valid by the United States Supreme Court.[5] One of the confirmed grants attacked by Julian was the Antonio Ortiz Grant. Without giving any notice to the owners of the grant, he issued a report on August 25, 1887, in which he claimed that through error or mistake, Sawyer and McBroom had included some 60,000 acres of land which had not been granted to Ortiz. He, therefore, recommended that suit he instituted to set aside the patent. Secretary of Interior, Hoke Smith, fully investigated the matter, and by decision dated September 23, 1893, held that it would be impossible for the Canon de Aguilar to be the north boundary of the grant if the Canon de Lauriano was its western boundary because the Canon de Lauriano was located east of the Canon do Aguilar. However, Smith believed that Antonio Ortiz by mistake reversed the directions when he described the boundaries of the grant in his petition and the Canon de Aguilar should have been called for as the western boundary and the Canon de Lauriano as the northern boundary. He also believed that this error in description innocently had been perpetuated in the subsequent proceedings had in connection with the grant. He believed that Sawyer and McBroom interpreted the situation correctly. He, therefore, declined to follow Surveyor General Julian’s recommendation.[6] This decision, coupled with the rejection of the Town of Chaperito Grant finally cleared the clouds which had been cast upon the title to the Antonio Ortiz Grant.

[1] Archive No. 727 (Mss., Records of the Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe, New Mexico).

[2] H. R. Exec. Doc. No. 28, 36th Cong., 2d Sess., 41-51 (1861).

[3] An act to confirm certain private land claims in the Territory of New Mexico, Chap. 152, 15 Stat. 342 (1869).

[4] The Antonio Ortiz Grant, No. 42 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[5] Springer, “The Private Land Grant Problem in New Mexico,” Report of the New Mexico Bar Association 23 (1890).

[6] Ibid.