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Bernabé Manuel Montaño Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Bernabé Manuel Montano and eleven other persons, all residents of the Town of Albuquerque, petitioned Governor Tomas Velez Cachupin asking him to grant them a tract of vacant land situated on the Rio Puerco and lying about twenty miles west of that town. The petitioners stated that the limited amount of land which they were then occupying was poor and, notwithstanding the fact that they diligently worked their fields, they were not able to produce enough food to support their families even on a day-to‑day basis. Therefore, they were forced to work for the Indians of the nearby pueblos, “sometimes weeding their fields, sometimes bringing firewood from the mountains, for the small compensation of the few ears of corn with which they pay for this and other very laborious work. They also pointed out that their livestock were suffering from a lack of an adequate pasturage. They reminded Cachupin that their fathers and grandfathers had served the king in the conquest and reconquest of New Mexico and numerous campaigns against the hostile Indians and neither they nor the petitioners previously had asked for or received a land grant. They assured the governor that their request was prompted solely due to necessity and they feared that if the requested lands were not granted to them, a large number of their animals would undoubtedly die during the coming winter. By decree dated October 21, 1753, Cachupin ordered Antonio Baca, Alcalde of Zia, Jemez and Santa Ana, to reconnoiter the area and report to them as to the possibility of farming the requested lands by   would support. On the second of the following month, Baca reported that he personally had examined the land and was of the opinion that by constructing an irrigation system the lands could be made tillable, they were adaptable for stock raising, and since both water and wood were plentiful, the families of the twelve petitioners easily could be accommodated. The governor, as a result of Baca’s favorable report, granted the lands to the petitioners and ordered Baca to place them in royal possession of the premises and distribute the cultivable lands amongst the grantees. The grant was made subject to conditions that the pastures, woods, and watering places were to be held in common and the “families only to whom the grain growing lands were measured and marked off will have legal title to such particular tracts so assigned.” The grantees, in order to protect themselves from the incursions of the savages, were instructed to construct their houses in a compact square with only one gate, which was to be large enough for a wagon to enter. The new settlement was to be called Nuestra Señora de la Luz, San Fernando y San Blas. Pursuant to the governor’s order, Baca, on December 11, 1753, delivered possession of the premises to the twelve grantees and established its boundaries as follows:

On the north, the wagon road going from the Pueblo of Zia to La Laguna; on the east, the brow of the mountain commonly called the Rio Puerco Mountain; on the south, the Cerrito Colorado; and. on the west, the Mesa Prieta.[1]

During the following four months, little progress was made in connection with the actual settlement of the grant. Impatient with the continued delay, Baca called the grantees together on March 11, 1754 and, after allotting home sites ranging in width from 20 to 40 varas and distributed a 300 by 100 vara grain growing tract to each grantee, ordered them to build their homes and move to the grant within two months under penalty of forfeiture. Cachupin approved the Act of Possession and distribution proceedings on March 28, 1754 and ordered that a testimonio of the grant papers be delivered to the grantees for their protection.[2]

For some unexplained reason, the grantees failed to move to the grant until about the middle of January, 1759. Shortly thereafter, they petitioned Governor Francisco Antonio Marín del Valle seeking the revalidation of the grant. They requested the prompt consideration of their request in order that they might commence the construction of a dam since the water in the river was even then decreasing and by the end of February it would be too late and, if sufficient water was not impounded that year, their crops and animals undoubtedly would suffer much loss and damage. On January 18, 1759 Valle ordered the petitioners to appear before him in order to determine whether they would agree to make them establish the town as require by the royal regulations. Jose de Jesus Montana and Juan Bautista Montana, for themselves and on behalf of the other original grantees, appeared before Valle and agreed to perform all conditions and obligations contemplated by law. Whereupon, the governor revived and reinstated the grant.[3] Shortly thereafter, the grantees formed the settlement of Nuestra Señora  de la Luz, San Fernando y San Blas which was located in the southwest quarter of Section 29, Township 12 North, Range 1 West, N.M.P.M.

Meanwhile, the Town of Atrisco, which had been established in about 1700, had become overcrowded and fifteen of its inhabitants petitioned Governor Fermin de Mendinueta on April 28, 1768 asking that they be granted what amounted to an additional 25,000 acres of land west of the first grant to that town. Mendinueta granted the requested tract and directed Francisco Trebol Navarro, Alcalde of Albuquerque, to deliver royal possession of the premises to the grantees. On May 7, 1768 Navarro summoned he grantees and adjoining land owners to appear before him. At this meeting, Navarro requested the Alcalde of Nuesta Señora  de la Luz, San Fernando y San Bias to produce its grant papers. Upon examining its testimonio he found, that the description of the land involved had been altered so as to describe a much larger tract, but he was able to read the true description under the erasures. He determined, that the southern boundary of the grant to the founders of Nuestra Señora  de la Luz, San Fernando y San Blas, was located two leagues south of the town at two large cottonwoods on the west bank of the Rio Puerco.[4] In August, 1769 Luis Jaramillo petitioned Mendinueta asking for a grant covering the land at a place known as Agua Salada. The inhabitants of Nuestra Señora de la Luz, San Fernando y San Bias protested the issuance of the grant on the ground it conflicted with their grant. Upon investigating the protest, Mendinueta found that someone had “stupidly and maliciously altered the testimonio of the grant and Act of Possession” by adding the number of leagues from the town to the natural boundaries mentioned in said grant.[5] After reprimanding Juan Bautista Montano, who had confessed to having made the erasures, Mendinueta hold that their grant should hold to the distances mentioned in the expediente and not the natural objects mentioned therein. He then held that the boundaries of the grant were located as follows:

On the north, the wagon road from the Pueblo of Zia to la Laguna, about one and a half leagues from the town; on the east, the brow of the mountain called Rio Puerco which is located somewhat more than a half league from the town; on the south, the Cerrito Colorado, the distance from the town to said Cerrito Colorado being about two leagues; and on the west, the Mesa Prieta, the distance from the mesa to the town being about one and a half leagues.[6]

Thus, the grant would be a rectangular tract three and a half leagues in length and two leagues in width. Once he had determined that the west boundary of the Bernabé Manuel Montano Grant was located one and a half leagues west of the town, it was obvious that the Aqua Salada tract would not conflict with it. Therefore, Mendinueta overruled the protest and granted the tract to Luis Jaramillo.[7]

On May 31, 1770 the inhabitants of Nuestra Señora  de la Luz, San Fernando y San Bias petitioned Governor Mendinueta stating that they were having a great deal of trouble obtaining sufficient water on the Bernabé Montano Grant to maintain their livestock. They advised him that they had dug five wells in search for additional water, but had been unsuccessful. They even hired a water witcher to locate water for them, but when the well he was digging hit quicksand and caved in, he barely escaped with his life. Thereafter, he refused to continue the search even for twice the pay. Therefore, they requested an additional grant which had a permanent water supply at the rocky ford. They described the requested tract as being bounded:

On the north by the place called Rocky Ford of the Rio Puerco; on the east, the ridge commonly called Rio Puerco; on the south, their original grant; and on the west, the lands of Luis Jararnillo.

Mendinueta granted the request on June 30, 1770 and directed Lieutenant Alcalde Bernabé Montano to deliver royal possession of the additional grant to the petitioners. In answer to the governor’s order Montana placed the grantees in possession of the land and distributed grain growing tracts measuring 300 varas in width to each of the grantee. Two new colonists, Ignacio Jaramillo and Tomas Gurule, were each allotted a 120 vara tract. Mendinueta approved these proceedings on March 13, 1772.[8] The two grants were continuously occupied and used until about 1735, when the increased hostility of the Indians forced the abandonment of the, lands. The grant was not reoccupied until about 1866 when the descendants of a number of the original grantees returned and established the settlements known as San Ignacio, Duran, San Francisco, and La Cueva. Within a few years, the grant had a total population of 250.[9] On May 25, 1869 John Watts, attorney for the heirs of the original grantees, petitioned[10] Surveyor General T. Rush Spencer asking “that such steps be taken in the premises as will cause the grant to be reported to Congress for confirmation, as is provided by law.” The petition described the grant as being bounded:

On the north, by the road leading from the Pueblo of Zia to Laguna; on the east, by the Ceja del Rio Puerco; on the south, by the Cerrito Colorado; and on the west, by the Mesa Prieta.

For some unexplained reason, the petition made no mention of the additional grant. Less than a year later, Watts filed an amended petition[11] in which he stated:

… As said grant has never been surveyed it is impossible to state with accuracy the quantity of land contained within the boundaries of said grant. It is supposed to be about three and one-half by two leagues, making in all about seven square leagues.

By opinion[12] dated November 15, 1870, Spencer held that the authority making the grant is known to have been competent in the premises, and the grant seems to be genuine and complete. He noted that the claimants had proved, by two very aged witnesses that the town had been abandoned “on account of the hostilities of the Navajo and Apache Indians, who were continually massacring men, women, and children at the place; the government sent a force of men to escort the settlers in safety to another residence in the Rio Grande Valley.” He noted that the locality had always been considered dangerous and unsafe owing to the hostility of the Indians. Therefore; he found that the abandonment of the grant was necessary and entirely justified and had been effected with the approval and aid of the provincial government. Based on these findings, he held:

The grant in this case being held by this office to be “under the laws, usages, and customs of Spain and, Mexico,” and under the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo a good and valid one, and the grantees to have acquired thereunder a perfect title to the seven square leagues or thirty thousand nine hundred and ninety-six acres contained within the metes and bounds herein before stated, the same is hereby approved and the case is transmitted for the action of the Congress of the United States.

A preliminary survey of the grant was made in September, 1877 by Deputy Surveyors Sawyer & White. Their survey purported to conform to the boundaries described in the Act of possession. It contained an area of 151,056.90 acres or a tract of about 25 miles from north to south and about 9 miles from east to west. In January, 1886 the inhabitants of the Town of Atrisco protested, claiming that it covered a large portion of their lands. As a result of this protest, the Commissioner of the General Land Office, William A. J. Sparks directed Surveyor General George W. Julian to reexamine and report upon the merits of the claim and its extent. In a Supplemental Opinion[13] dated July 23, 1886, Julian raised a number of questions. First, he questioned whether the grant conveyed the fee to all the lands, agricultural, pasturable, and woodlands, or only the grain growing tracts allocated to the original grantees. He pointed out that twelve agricultural tracts containing 30,000 square varas each or approximately five acres had been allotted. He stated:

It is known as a matter of public history that at the date of the grant the location of this settlement was upon the very outskirts of the settlements of this sparsely‑settled country, and was greatly exposed to the ravages of the hostile Indians. Under this state of facts, is it supposable that these persons would undergo the necessary privations and hardships, and incur the expense and perform the labor necessary to construct their houses and ditches, etc., to enable them to live upon and cultivate their land, if they were only to receive title to five acres and a fraction to each family. Such a conclusion is certainly not reasonable when it is considered that land in this country at that date was held to be of little value. The governor, it seems, regarded the raising of animals of a much importance as agriculture, for in his granting decree he said: “That they may have lands to cultivate and to raise all kinds of livestock, as is the will of His Majesty … The reasonable construction of the language used, when viewed in the light of the existing facts and circumstances, would seem to be that the house lots and farming lands were assigned, and that the other lands were to be held in equal proportions jointly, but in fee by all of the grantees.

Next, Julian turned his attention to the question of the quantity of land covered by the grant. In this connection, he noted, that record in the case showed that the grant papers which had been transferred from the Archives to his office had altered to eliminate all references to distance from he description of the grant and that the Spanish government previously had discovered the fraud, reprimanded the culprit and held that the grant should be governed by its original metes and bounds description and limited to an area of about seven square leagues or 31,000 acres. As a result of these findings he stated, “No argument is needed to demonstrate that a monstrous fraud was attempted in making this survey.” Therefore, he recommended that the claim be confirmed to the extent of seven square leagues and that a new survey be made for the purpose of fixing the boundaries of the grant one and one-half leagues north; one-half leagues east; two leagues south; and one and a half leagues west of the old town of Nuestra Señora de la Luz, San Fernando y San Bias. Julian’s Supplemental Report was referred to Congress but was never acted upon by that august body. Therefore, the final adjudication of the claim was left up to the Court of Private Land Claims.

On March 5, 1892 Charles W. Lewis, who in the meantime had acquired, by mesne conveyances, the interests o the heirs of the original grantees, filed suit[14] in the Court of Private Land Claims seeking the recognition of both the original and additional grants, which he described as being a rectangular tract covering 151,000 acres and bounded:

On the north, by the Rocky Ford of the Rio Puerco; on the east, by the Ceja del Rio Puerco; on the, south, by a line drawn from east to west two leagues from Nuestra Señora  de la Luz, San Fernando y San Bias; and on the west, by line drawn from north to south one and a half leagues from said town.

The government, in its answer, asserted that the granting officers had no authority to make the grant, that the grant had terminated as a result of the failure of the Grantees to perform the conditions upon which it had been made; and that the grantees had abandoned the grant prior to the date the United States had acquired New Mexico. The case came up for trial just ten days after it was filed. It was first case tried and also the first case decided by the court. On March 25, 1892 the court held[15] that the grant was complete and perfect and confirmed both the original and additional grants. It defined the two tracts w being bounded as follows:

Original Grant

On the north, by a line drawn east and west through a point one and a half leagues north of the town of Nuestra Señora  de la Luz, San Fernando y San Bias; on the east, by the brow of the ridge of the Rio Puerco distance somewhat more than half of a league from the town; on the south, by a line drawn east and west through a point two leagues south of the town; and on the west, by a line drawn north and south through a point one and a half leagues west of the town.

Additional Grant

On the south, by the north line of the original grant on the east, by the ridge of the Rio Puerco; on the north, by a line drawn east and west through a point on the road from the Pueblo of Zia to Laguna, known a the Rocky Ford of the Rio Puerco; and on the west, by an extension of the west boundary of the original grant.

The government filed a motion called the court’s attention to the fact that the Ceja del Rio Puerco was located about two leagues east of the claim and the grant papers specified that the eastern boundary was to be located “somewhat more than half a league east of the town.” Therefore, it requested that the confirmation decree be modified in order to fix the east boundary as a north‑south line located half a league east of the town. By decree dated August 30, 1892,[16] the court granted the government’s motion and the government waived its right of appeal.

Once the decision became final, Lewis’ attorney, Archibald Yell, frequently requested the prompt surveying and patenting of the grant. However, month after month passed with no action being taken on his request. In a pert letter to Surveyor General Charles F. Easley dated January 20, 1894, Yell states that Lewis had been put off “until patience ceased to be a virtue.” He pointed out that during the two years that had elapsed since the confirmation of the grant, “other grants had performed their important mission, but no tripod had gladdened the inquisitive eye of the jack‑rabbit and coyote on the Rio Puerco.”[17]

This latter apparently pricked the Easley conscience, for on April 26, 1894 he awarded a contract to Deputy Surveyor Hiram T. Brown for the surveying of the grant. Brown’s survey depicted the grant as containing a total area of 43,727.35 acres. He fixed the northwest corner of the additional grant at a point 700 feet east and 139 feet south of Rocky Ford. Brown contended that this was the location of Rocky Ford in 1753. Lewis protested and the court ordered Brown to correct his survey in order to locate the northwest corner of the additional grant at the then location of the Rocky Ford.

In compliance with the court’s order Brown resurveyed the grant for a total of 44,070.60 acres. The grant was finally patented on July 30, 1908.[18] However, most of the grant subsequently was reacquired by the government and incorporated into the Laguna Indian Reservation.


[1] A number of words have been erased from the description contained in the Act of Possession. These alterations will be discussed later.

[2] Archive No. 416 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[3] Archive No. 688 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[4] Armijo v. Town of Atrisco, 56 N.M. 2; 239 P. 2d 535 (1951).

[5] Archive No. 421 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[6] H. R. Exec. Doc. No. 106, 41st Cong., 3d Sess. 16-17 (1871).

[7] The Aqua Salada Grant, No. 103 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[8] Stet.

[9] Widdison, “Historical Geography of the middle Puerco Valley New Mexico,” 34 New Mexico Historical Review 262 (1959).

[10] The Bernabé Manuel Montano Grant, No. 49 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[11] Ibid.

[12] H. R. Exec. Doc. No. 106, 41st Cong., 3d Sess., 22‑23 (1871).

[13] S. Exec. Doc. No. 36, 49th Cong., 2d Sess., 5‑8 (1887).

[14] Lewis v. United States, No. 7 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[15] 1 Journal 20‑24 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.). On February 11, 1893 Justo R. Armijo filed a suit seeking the confirmation of an interest he had acquired in the grant by purchase. Armijo v. United States, No. 77 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.). Since the grant already had been confirmed to Lewis, the Court, in an opinion dated August 20, 1894 dismissed this suit without prejudice to any cause of action he might have against Lewis. 2 Journal 162, (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[16] 1 Journal 45‑48 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[17] The Bernabé Manuel Montano Grant, No. 49 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[18] Ibid.