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Belen Grant

by J. J. Bowden

The common combination of large families and insufficient land prompted a group of thirty‑four colonists from Santa Cruz, led by Captain Diego de Torres, to petition Governor Gaspar Domingo de Mendoza for a grant covering a choice tract of vacant land[1] located on both sides of the Rio Grande and described as being:

 Bounded on the north, by the lands of Nicolas de Chaves and the Town of Tome; on the east, by the Sandia Mountains; on the south, by the ruins of the hacienda of Felipe Romero; and on the west, by the Rio Puerco.

 Since the Spanish government was anxious to have the Rio Abajo Area resettled, Governor Mendoza promptly acted upon the request. By an instrument entitled “Royal Grant” dated November 15, 1740, he ordered that the grant be made to the parties named in the petition. Recognizing that other grants previously had been made in the area, the governor directed the Senior Alcalde and War Captain of Albuquerque, Nicolas Duran of Chaves, to investigate and satisfy himself that the new concession would not conflict with the vested rights of any third party. If the alcalde determined that the Belen Grant did not conflict with any of the senior grants, then he was to place the grantees in legal possession of the lands embraced within the boundaries described in their petition. On December 9, 1740, Alcalde Duran reported that he had given notice to the adjoining landowners of the issuance of this grant in accordance with the governor’s instructions and haying received no protests, he performed the ceremonies necessary to place the grantees in possession of the grant. Since a number of the grantees failed to promptly settle upon the grant as they had agreed, Governor Mendoza issued an order on July 20, 1742, which provided that any grantee who had not settled upon the grant by August 19, 1742, would forfeit all rights under the concession.[2]

In order to protect their settlement from the Indians, the inhabitants of Belen formed a local militia of one hundred men. The militiamen were required to furnish their own horses, arms and equipment, but proved so effective that a large rancheria of Jicarillas which had posed a threat to the new community was finally abandoned by the Indians, who moved to the Anton Chico Area. As early as 1760, Belen was considered as a military outpost or quasi‑presidio.[3] By 1793, Belen had achieved the status of a partido. When the United States acquired New Mexico, Belen was one of the most important towns in the Rio Abajo Area.

On January 26, 1857, Attorney N. Ashurst filed a petition on behalf of all the residents of the Belen Grant in the Surveyor General’s office, requesting the confirmation of the grant. After investigating the validity of the claim, Surveyor General William Pelham rendered a decision dated March 8, 1857, wherein he recommended that the Belen Grant be confirmed by Congress.[4]  Based upon the Surveyor General’s favorable report, Congress passed the Act of December 22, 1858, which confirmed, among other grants, the Belen Grant.[5]

A preliminary survey of the grant was made in 1859, by Deputy Surveyor John W. Garretson, which showed that the grant embraced 194,663.75 acres. A patent was issued to the Town of Belen and its successors and assigns on April 28, 1871, for all of the lands described in Garretson’s survey.[6] Since the patenting of the grant, it has been managed and controlled by the Board of Trustees of the Belen Grant, a corporation organized and existing under the general laws of the State of New Mexico.

[1] There is a question as to whether or not the lands covered by the Belen Grant were actually vacant at the time Captain Torres and the other grantees filed their petition. In 1746, Antonio Casados and Luis Quintana brought a suit before the Governor of New Mexico against the owners of the Belen Grant, claiming that the lands at Belen were the property of an Indian pueblo which had been formed for the Genízaros. The Genízaros were Christianized Indians who had been captured or kidnapped by hostile Indians but were later ransomed. The Governor forwarded the problem to the Viceroy for his decision. Nothing seems to have come of this litigation and the Genízaros who were living on the grant were gradually absorbed into the community. Archive No. 183 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[2] H. R. Report No. 321, 36th Cong., 1st Sess., 203‑206 (1860).

[3] Stanley, The Belen Story. 6 (1962)

[4]The Town of Belen Grant, No. 13 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[5] An Act to Confirm the Land Claims of Certain Pueblos and Towns in the Territory of New Mexico, Chap. 5, 11 Stat. 374 (1858).

[6] 34 Deed Records 462 (Mss., Records of the County Clerk’s office. Socorro, New Mexico)