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Bairds Ranch Grant

 by J. J. Bowden

When Texas sold the eastern portion of the present state of New Mexico to the United States on September 9, 1850, Spruce H. Baird, Judge of the Eleventh Judicial District of the State of Texas,[1] was left without a job. Since he did not have the funds to move his family back to Texas, he turned to the practice of law, which proved to be so lucrative that by 1852 he was able to buy one of the ranchos which were located south of Albuquerque from the heirs of the original grantee. W. W. H. Davis, while riding circuit as United States Attorney for New Mexico, gives the following account[2] of his visit at the rancho:

About sundown we arrived at the rancho of Mr. Baird, where, by previous invitation, I tarried all night, while my companion continued on to Peralta, a few miles farther down. Several other gentlemen, on their way to court, arrived before dark, and also remained overnight at the rancho. We were all treated with genuine Southern hospitality, and passed a pleasant evening with our host and hostess.

As Baird prospered from his legal and ranching business, he became increasingly more prominent politically. In 1860, he was appointed Attorney General for the Territory of New Mexico, but on July 12, 1860 he tendered his resignation, stating:

Such is the hostility of the Mojaves that I cannot leave my ranch and comply with the law which requires the Attorney General to live in Santa Fe.[3]

Less than a year later the Confederate forces invaded and temporarily captured New Mexico. Baird was among a small group of southern sympathizers who joined the Confederates when the California Column forced them to withdraw from New Mexico. Colonel Baird spent the balance of the war in Texas, attempting to raise a force to reinvade New Mexico and in command of the troops which were charged with defending the Texas frontier from the hostile Indians.[4]

 

Once the Federal government re‑established its control over New Mexico, it struck out against the Southern sympathizers under the Act of July 17, 1862,[5] which provided for the confiscation for life of the property of persons engaged in aiding and abetting the rebellion. On October 5, 1862 libel proceedings[6] were instituted in the District Court of the Third District of New Mexico to confiscate the property of Spruce M. Baird, which was described as being $260.04 cash and a certain tract of land located in Bernalillo County, known as Baird’s Ranch, which was bounded:

On the north, by the lands of Antonio Sandoval, deceased; on the east, by the mountains east of the Rio Grande; on the south, by the lands of Juan Chavez; and on the west, by the Rio Grande.

By motion dated December 25, 1862, the Judge, Sydney A. Hubbell, ordered United States Marshal Abraham Cutler to attach Baird’s property. On July 23, 1863 a hearing was held, at which William H. Henrie testified that he had seen Baird with General Henry H. Sibley, and that he was “assisting, aiding and abetting in said rebellion against the government of the United States.” Continuing, he stated that Baird was “openly and publicly with them and when they retreated from the Territory he left with them with his family.” Based on this evidence, the Court, on February 9, 1863, condemned the property and ordered that it be sold at the door of the Courthouse of Bernalillo County by the United States Marshal. Cutler, after giving proper notice by publication, sold Baird’s Ranch, during his natural lifetime, to Samuel Archer at a public auction held on October 5, 1863 for $1,350.00.[7] By virtue of such sale and deed, Archer took possession of the ranch and continuously possessed the property up until the time of Baird’s death.

 Following the war, Baird moved to Golden, Colorado and re‑entered the active practice of law, specializing in land grant matters. He died, intestate, of a heart attack on June 5, 1872 while attending court at Cimarron, New Mexico in connection with the litigation over the Maxwell Grant.[8] Upon his death, title to the ranch automatically reverted to his widow, Cassandra E. Baird, and their three children. One child died intestate shortly thereafter, and the other two conveyed their interest in the property to their mother.

 

Cassandra E. Baird filed suit[9] in the Court of Private Land Claims against the United States on September 4, 1892, seeking the confirmation of her title to the Baird Ranch, or the Rancho del Chino Tejano, as it was sometimes called. She alleged that the grant, which covered 33,696 acres, had been granted by or under authority of the King of Spain, and afterwards conveyed by the grantee to her husband. However, she was unable to produce any evidence of the grant, since, through the fault of the government, a part of the archives in which the expediente was filed had been lost. She stated that the testimonio of the grant papers and the mesne conveyances to Baird were in a baggage wagon of the Confederate Army, which was captured by the Union troops in Bernalillo County during the Southerners’ retreat from New Mexico,[10] and all of the muniments of his title were destroyed. However, in support of her claim, she pointed out that Baird’s title had been recognized by the United States in the confiscation proceedings when it found that he was “lawfully seized and possessed of the tract” on March 4, 1862, when he collaborated with the enemy. The government, in turn, raised a number of special defenses to the recognition of the claim. It contended:

1. The confiscation proceedings were void, because they were not based upon a seizure order issued by authority of the President.

2. Even if the confiscation proceedings had been instituted under proper authority, the District Court had no jurisdiction to adjudicate the tract, and did not do so.

3. The confiscation proceedings only forfeited whatever interest Baird had in the tract, and were not an acknowledgment or admission of his title to the land.

4. The Court of Private Land Claims, being a court of limited jurisdiction, had no power to confirm a claim, unless it was shown by full legal proof that it was based upon a grant which had been lawfully and regularly derived from the government of Spain or Mexico, no matter how long possession of the land may have been held by the claimant.

5. Since there was no proof that the tract had been occupied prior to 1852 and, therefore, there could be no presumption that the lands were occupied under a grant at the time of the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

Both sides of the claim were fully presented and argued when the case came up for trial on May 28, 1895. Following the trial, the court took the case under advisement. On October 24, 1895 it announced its decision,[11] rejecting the claim on the ground that there was no evidence showing or tending to show that the land had ever been granted to anyone by the King of Spain, or that it had been occupied or possessed by anyone at the time the United States acquired New Mexico. Continuing, it noted that the District Court, in the confiscation proceedings, did not ascertain or admit that Baird owned said land, but simply declared it forfeited, and ordered to be sold such interest as Baird had; therefore, if Baird had no interest, the Marshal sold and the purchaser bought nothing. The decision was appealed to the United States Supreme Court by the plaintiff, but it was dismissed[12] on October 10, 1899, as a result of plaintiff’s failure to have the case docketed.

 


[1] Binkley, Expansionist Movement in Texas, 158 (1925).

[2] Davis, El Gringo 355 (1857).

[3] Wharton, “Spruce McCoy Baird, XXVII New Mexico Historical Review, 305 (1952).

[4] Ibid., 306‑308.

[5] Confiscation Act, Chap. 195, 12 Stat. 589 (1862).

[6] United States v. Baird, No. 5 (Mss., Records of the District Clerk’s Office, Albuquerque, New Mexico).

[7] D Deed Records, 230‑232 (Mss., Records of the County Clerk’s Office, Albuquerque, New Mexico).

[8] Wharton, What Became of Judge Baird 17 (1940).

[9] Baird v. United States, No. 36 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[10] Baird and his family were riding in an ambulance in an eight wagon train escorted by Lieutenant James A. Darby. One of the wagons contained Baird’s household goods and personal property. The wagons bogged down in the sand north of Peralta and was surprised by a Federal Cavalry force dispatched by Colonel Edward Canby on April 15, 1862. Most of the Confederate escort were killed or taken prisoner in the skirmish. Baird escaped but his property was captured. Hall, Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign 18‑182 (1960).

[11] 2 Journal 407 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L Cl.).

[12] Baird v. United States, 20 S. Ct. 1021, 44 L. Ed., 1219 (1899) (mem.).