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Barranca Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Anastacio C. de Baca filed suit[1] in the Court of Private Land Claims on February 17, 1893, seeking to obtain the recognition of the Barranca Grant. In his petition, Baca stated that on March 2, 1735, Geronimo Martin, Ignacio Martin, Juan de Gamboa, Pascual de Manzanares and Tomas de Manzanares petitioned Acting Governor Juan Páez Hurtado for a grant covering a tract of unoccupied land bounded:

On the north, by Copper Mountain; on the east, by the lands of Captain Antonio Montoya; on the south, by some mountainous hills; and on the west, by the hill that goes to Piedra Lumbre.

The petitioners explained that they were destitute and landless and had been compelled for some time to borrow land at the Pueblo of Chama in order to grow enough food to support their families. Therefore, in order to relieve their suffering they prayed that Hurtado would grant their request. Hurtado acted favorably on the petition on the same date and directed the Lieutenant Alcalde of Santa Cruz, Diego de Torres, to place the petitioners in royal possession of the land. Seven days later, Torres, acting under the authority of Hurtado’s decree, placed the petitioners in possession of the tract of land described in their petition. Hurtado was Lieutenant Governor of New Mexico and was serving as acting governor in March of 1735 while Governor Gervacio Cruzat y Góngora was on an official visit to El Paso del Norte. Upon his return to Santa Fe, Cruzat revoked the grant by noting such revocation on the bottom of the expediente of the grant.[2] To overcome this obstacle, the petitioner pointed out that sometime prior to 1750 the Indians became extremely hostile and the inhabitants of a number of the settlements along the northwestern frontier abandoned their homes and on February 21, 1750, Governor Tomas Velez Cachupin issued a proclamation ordering them to return to their colonies.[3] In March, 1750, a number of the settlers of the Pueblo of Abiquiu, including Geronimo Martin appeared before the local alcalde and agreed to resettle their lands. Next, he showed Geronimo Martin conveyed a portion of the premises to Joseph Martin on July 30, 1764, and Jose Martin, together with his brother and sisters, petitioned Governor Juan Bautista de Anza seeking a revalidation of the ancient title which they had inherited from their father, Joseph Martin. Governor Anza investigated the merits of the request and finding no opposition, ordered the local alcalde to sustain the petitioners in their possession of such land. A copy of Archives Number 518 and 1110 together with the original copy of the deed and 1784 proceedings were attached to the petition. The petition estimated that the grant covered 25,000 acres and called attention to the fact that the claim had never been presented to or acted upon by the Surveyor General.

The government filed a general answer denying the plaintiff’s allegations and a special answer alleging that the grant had been revoked by the governor of New Mexico within a few months after its issuance. In support of its special defense, the government attached a copy of Archive No. 524,[4] which was a decree dated November 11, 1735 and signed by Governor Cruzate. In this instrument Cruzate states that upon his return he revoked the grant which had been made to Geronimo Martin for “good reason” and in addition he ordered Martin under penalty of one hundred peso fine to cease building the house which he had commenced upon the grant. The governor also ordered him to tear down the portion which he had already constructed and vacate the premises within eight days and that if he failed to comply with this portion of the decree he would impose upon him “the penalty prescribed by law for those who obtained land of his majesty without legal title.”

When the case came up for trial on August 27, 1896, Baca presented his muniments of title together with oral testimony tending to prove that the original grantees and their descendants had claimed and occupied the grant from 1735 up to the date of trial. The plaintiff was also able to trace his chain of title back to the original grantees. He then argued that Governor Cruzate had no authority to revoke the grant without holding a denunciation pro­ceeding, but if it had been legally revoked in 1735, it had been reinstated in 1750 and confirmed in 1784.

The government, in turn, introduced the Revocation Decree of 1735 and argued that since the grantee was in possession of the land in 1735, a denunciation proceeding was not necessary. It contended that a denunciation proceeding was necessary only if a grantee failed to settle on a grant as required by law or had abandoned his grant. Next, the government then turned its attention to counteracting the plaintiff’s contention that the grant had been either reinstated or confirmed. It argued that even if the Proclamation and 1750 Proceedings could be considered as a reinstatement of some land grant, they did not contain a description sufficient to legally identify the land involved and that the same objection was equally applicable to the 1764 deed and 1784 proceedings. The court’s attention was also called to the fact that the Barranca Grant was totally within the boundaries of the Juan Jose Lovato Grant which previously had been confirmed by the court.

After fully considering the evidence, testimony, and arguments in the case, the court issued a decree[5] rejecting the claim on September 5, 1896. The plaintiff did not appeal from this decision.

[1] Baca v. United States, No. 97 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.). A second suit seeking the confirmation of this grant was filed on March 3, 1893 by Juan Andres Martin, who claimed an interest thereunder by inheritance from Geronimo Martin. Martin v. United States, No. 265 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.). This suit was dismissed by Martin on August 24, 1896. 3 Journal 60 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[2] Archive No. 518 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.)

[3] Archive No. 1100 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[4] Archive No. 524 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[5] 3 Journal 92 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).