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Baltazar Baca Grant

by J. J. Bowden

 Baltazar Baca, a resident of the Town of Belen, petitioned Governor Pedro Fermin de Mendinueta on December 16, 1768 requesting a land grant. He stated that he had a large family and a herd of livestock but was without sufficient land to adequately provide for their support and maintenance. Therefore, he had searched out and found the requested tract, which was located about three leagues from the Pueblo of Laguna and about a league and a half from Encinal. He estimated that, the tract was “somewhat more than a league and a half in width and about two and a half in length” and described as being bounded:

On the north, by the mountain; on the east, by the boundary of the league of the Encinal[1]; on the south by some white bluffs; and on the west, by a mesa which approached the Zuni Road.

 He assured the governor that the grant would injure neither the settlement of the Encinal nor the ranches of the Acoma and Laguna Indians since the lands in question were vacant, uncultivated, unsettled, and entirely unappropriated. He also pointed out that he was a descendant of the conquerors of New Mexico and he and his married sons were always ready and willing to serve in the royal service whenever requested. Mendinueta considered the supplication on the same day and granted the tract to Baca and his two married sons for pasturing purposes only; provided, its length and width did not exceed “to any considerable extent” those set forth in the petition. The grant was made subject to the conditions that (1) the grantees continue to live at Belen, (2) they were prohibited from conveying the grant to any ecclesiastical person, and (3) they were not to injure the ranchos and fields of the Indians of the Pueblos of Acoma and Laguna or harm the unchristianized Apaches of the Navajo nation. He also directed Antonio Sedillo, Alcalde of the Pueblos of Acoma, Laguna and Zuni, to locate the west boundary of the grant 1,500 Castillian varas west of the mission at Encinal, and place the grantees in royal possession of the premises. Sedillo, on January 19, 1769, summoned and advised repre­sentatives of the three pueblos and the Navajo Apaches of the grant and, after being assured that they had no objec­tions thereto, delivered possession of the grant to the Bacas. His field notes of tract reads as follows:

I designated to them boundaries in the form his Excellency commands, and they are, on the east, a table‑land, and at the foot thereof I halted end caused to be measured a cordel of one hundred varas of four spans each, whence I measured off five thousand Castilian varas in a due west course, which is the extent of the league, and at which close there stands a sharp pointed black hill; and I did not measure to the north, as I observed that the form of the tract was as asked for by said Baca and his sons, designating to them as boundaries on that side the Cebolleta Mountains; on the south, some white bluffs adjoining an outside ranch belonging to an Acoma Indian, up to a hill at whose base runs the Zuni Road.

 The expediente of the grant was returned to Santa Fe and deposited in the archives.[2]

The heirs and legal representatives of the grantees petitioned[3] Surveyor General James K. Proudfit on December 10, 1874 asking for the confirmation of their title to the grant. On the day before Christmas, 1874 Proudfit, without taking any testimony, issued an opinion[4] finding the expediente to be genuine and recommended that the petitioners’ title be recognized according to the description and boundaries set forth in the Act of Possession. A preliminary survey of the grant was made in October, 1878 by Deputy Surveyors Pradt & Watts for 12,207.40 acres.[5]

Since Congress had not acted upon Pelham’s recom­mendation, the grant was one of the claims re‑examined by Surveyor General George W. Julian under Commissioner William A. Spark’s instructions[6] to him dated December 11, 1885. In a Supplemental Opinion[7] issued on January 24, 1888 Julian called Congress’ attention to two obstacles which caused him to recommend the rejection of the grant. First, he pointed out that the petition purportedly had been filed by the heirs and legal representatives of the original grantees but the petitioners were not named nor was there any proof connecting them with Baca and his two sons. Second, he noted that there was no evidence that the grantees had utilized the property as required by Spanish law. Congress’ failure to pass upon the claim prompted Margarita Baca, a lineal descendant of Baltazar Baca, to sue[8] the United States in the Court of Private Land Claims on February 14, 1893 under the provisions of the. Act of March 3, 1891[9] seeking the recognition of the grant. The cause came up for hearing on August 24, 1896 at which time oral and documentary evidence was introduced by both parties. Baca introduced the expediente of the grant and oral testimony tending to show the occupation of a small portion of the grant for “some years past” and also tending to connect himself to Baltazar Baca. The testimony for the government was to the effect that the plaintiff’s title had no inception under the Baltazar Baca Grant, but was derived by purchase from a group of Navajo Indians who claimed a pos­sessory right to a tract of land located within the grant, which was entirely disconnected with the grant to Baltazar Baca. There was no dispute over the fact that Marcos Baca, the plaintiff’s father, had purchased twenty or thirty acres within the grant from the Navajos in the early 1660s. It also showed that the land claimed by the plaintiff under the grant conflicted with the Rancho de Paguate and Town of Cebolleta Grant, which previously had been confirmed and patented, and that the inhabitants of the Town of Cebolleta and the Laguna Indians occupied all of the lands within the Baltazar Baca Grant. The government, in its argument, contended that the title papers did not convey a fee title but merely granted a license or permission to use the land as pasturage. If this were true, the United States, under the decision in the Zia[10] case, would not be obligated to recognize or confirm such a usuructuay right. It was further contended that under[11] Section 13(4) of the Act of March 3, 1891, the Court had no jurisdiction to pass upon the claim since the land had previously been acted upon by Congress. Next, it assorted that the grantees had failed to perform the conditions of occupancy required by Spanish law and also that this grant had been forfeited by abandonment long prior to the acquisition of the area by the United States. In closing, it argued that the claim, at best, was an imperfect or equitable claim and the government having disposed of the land by confirming it to either the inhabitants of the Town of Cebolleta or the Pueblo of Laguna, it had nothing which it could pass by the confirmation of the grant.

On August 31, 1896 the court ordered[12] that the Indians of the Pueblo of Laguna and the owners of the Town of Cebolleta Grant be named as parties defendant. Baca joined such parties and they were served with process. On May 8, 1897 the court announced its conclusion confirming the claim as a complete and perfect grant. Nine days later the court, on motion of the defendants, entered an order[13] staying the issuance of a decree in the cause until the United States decided the Conway case,[14] which was then on appeal. Following the decision of the Supreme Court in that case, which held land previously confirmed by Congress to an Indian Pueblo should be excepted from a decree confirming a Spanish grant, the court entered a decree[15] dated May 11, 1900, in which it held that the grant was complete, valid, perfect, and entitled to confirmation, but, notwithstanding such fact, the court was without jurisdiction to recognize the plaintiff’s title due to its conflict with the previously confirmed grants to the Lagunans and Cebolletans.

The government appealed the decision on the ground the court should have dismissed the petition for want of jurisdiction. It contended that the decree, while not actually confirming the grant, placed in the hands of its claimant a weapon with which he could go into the local courts and strike at the patents of the government. It argued that the purpose of Section 13(4) was to protect patentees from such a menace.[16] The United States Supreme Court, on February 2, 1902, held that all the powers conferred upon the Court of Private Land Claims were controlled by Section 13 of the Act of March 3, 1891. Continuing, it held that once the Court of Private Land Claims discovered it had no jurisdiction to confirm a claim, it was prohibited from passing upon the merits of a claim. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the decision and remanded the case to the Court of Private Land Claims with directions to dismiss the petition for want of jurisdiction without prejudice to the right of the petitioner to assert his title in any court of competent authority.[17] The Court of Private Claims entered a decree[18] on May 20, 1902 in accordance with the Supreme Court mandate. While he instituted no further proceedings in an effort to secure the recognition of his title, Baca continued to cultivate his fields near Encinal and commenced taking an increasing amount of water from both the streams in the Encinal Canon.[19]

On February 17, 1910 the Pueblo of Laguna filed suit[20] in the District Court of Valencia County to quiet its title to the Rancho de Paguate Grant. This gave Baca an opportunity to obtain the juridical recognition of his claim. The court, on September 28, 1914, held[21] against the Indians stating:

The grant to said Baltazar Baca and his sons is a perfect grant, and the title thereto is complete and the descendants of the grantees whose rights thereto are not in any way affected by the Congressional confirmation of the claim of the plaintiff.

Notwithstanding this adverse discussion and its unsuccessful efforts to secure its reversal, the Indians were given an opportunity to attack the Baltazar Baca Grant as a result of the creation of the Pueblo Lands Board.[22] The dispute was submitted in 1929 to the Board, which, on October 9, 1929 awarded[23] the Indians all of the 6,300.92 acres of the Baltazar Baca Grant which conflicted with the Rancho de Paguate Grant. Instead of helping matters, this decision only increased confusion. However, the interested parties finally compromised their differences, and, in a consent decree[24] in a suit before the District Court for Valencia County, the Baca heirs were awarded 2,527.29 acres of land out of the disputed area and paid $10,500.00 for the 3,853.63 acres awarded to the Indians. The Indians bought the balance of the Baltazar Baca Grant in 1939.[25]


[1] Encinal was a summer camp used by the Laguna Indians from the latter part of the 1700s until the 1820s or 1830s, when it became a permanent settlement.

[2] Archive No. 114 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[3] The Baltazar Baca Grant, No. 104 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[4] H. R. Exec. Doc. No. 62, 43rd Cong., 2d Sess., 111 (1875).

[5] The Baltazar Baca Grant, No. 104 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

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

[7] The Baltazar Baca Grant No. 104 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.). Dr. Jenkins found that the grantees or their descendants had not used the grant for any purpose prior to 1846. In 1846 or 1847 Baca’s great‑grandson, Marcos Baca, took advantage of the confusion created by General Stephen Watts Kearny’s conquest of New Mexico to reclaim the grant. He built a pretentious hacienda, opened a few fields, and commenced pasturing his livestock upon the grant. She contends that the original grazing permit had long since expired and Marcos Baca’s occupation of the land was “clearly trespass.” Jenkins, “The Baltazar Baca ‘Grant’: History of an Encroachment,” 68 El Palacio, 56, 60, 88 (1961).

[8] Baca v. United States, No. 114 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[9] Court of Private Land Claims Act, Chap. 539 26 Stat. 854 (1891).

[10] Pueblo of Zia v. United States, 168 U. S. 39 (1897).

[11] Court of Private Land Claims Act, Chap. 539, Sec. 13(4), 26 Stat. 854 (1891).

[12] 3 Journal 71 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[13] 3 Journal 212 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[14] Conway v. United States, 175 U.S. 60 (1899).

[15] 4 Journal 174 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[16] Report of the United States Attorney dated June 22, 1890, in Baca v United States (Mss., Records of the General Services Administration, National Archives, Washington, D. C.), Record Group 60, Year File 9865‑92.

[17] United States v. Baca, 184 U.S. 653 (1902).

[18] 4 Journal 306, (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[19] Jenkins, “The Baltazar Baca ‘Grant’: History of an Encroachment”, 68 El Palacio 98 (1961).

[20] Pueblo of Laguna v. Candelaria, No. 1693 (Ms. Records of the District Clerk’s Office, Los Lunas, New Mexico).

[21] Ibid.

[22] An Act to Quiet the Title to Lands Within Pueblo Land Grants and for Other Purposes. Chap. 331, Sec. 3, 4.3 Stat. 636 (1924).

[23] The Pueblo of Laguna Grant (Mss., Records of the Pueblo Lands Board, General Services Administration, National Archives, Washington, D. C.).

[24] United States as Gdn. for the Indians of the Pueblo of Laguna v. Armijo, No. 2080 (Mss., Records of the United States District Clerk’s Office, Albuquerque, New Mexico).

[25] Jenkins, “The Baltazar Baca ‘Grant’: The History of an Encroachment”, 68 El Palacio 105 (1961).