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Black Mesa Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Sometime during 1743, Juan Garcia de la Mora and Diego de Medina appeared before and jointly petitioned Governor Juan Gaspar Domingo de Mendoza for a grant covering a tract of land located on the Ojo Caliente River and containing some “patches of table land” which could be cultivated or used as pastures. They advised the governor that the lands which they sought had been granted to either Miguel Quintana or his son-in-law, Pedro Sanchez, by Governor Juan Domingo de Bustamante in about the year 1731 but the grantee had never occupied the premises as required by the Royal Ordinances. Garcia and Medina contended that they needed the land in order to support their large families and maintain their livestock. Garcia pointed out that he did not have any land of his own and was then living on borrowed money. Medina, in turn, stated that he was residing on a small strip of land which would scarcely “grow three almudes of corn”. This tract had been given to his wife by her father and even half of that had been “carried away by the river”. In closing, they stated that poverty had compelled them to seek the favor which they were soliciting. After carefully considering the petition, Mendoza found that the previous grant had been forfeited and the applicants’ request should be vouchsafed. Therefore, by order dated October 5, 1843, he commanded Juan Jose Lovato, Alcalde of Santa Cruz, to place the two new grantees in possession of the requested lands. Ten days later, Lovato, being personally indisposed but desiring to comply promptly with the governor’s decree, he delegated authority to his lieutenant, Domingo Vigil, to verify that there were no impediments to the issuance of the grant. If Vigil found none, he was directed to survey the lands and place the grantees in possession of the grant. In obedience to the alcalde’s direction’s Vigil proceeded to investigate the facts surrounding the grant which previously had been made by Governor Bustamante. During his investigation, Miguel Quintana alleged that he had pastured his herds on the land for one full year and parts of the following three winters; however, Ventura Mestas, the adjoining landowner, advised Vigil that Pedro Sanchez had planted a few fields of corn and pumpkin on the grant but had abandoned them after about four months. He further stated that sometime later Sanchez had attempted to pasture sheep on the grant but that even this limited use was terminated when the “wolves bit his shepherds”. Based on this evidence, Vigil concluded that notwithstanding the question over to which the former grant had been issued to, it was clear that it had been forfeited. Whereupon, in obedience to the governor’s command, he surveyed and delivered possession of the new grant to Garcia and Medina. His field notes describe the grant as being bounded:

On the north, by the lands of Antonio de Abeyta running as far as the close of the canon of the Rio Grande across the end of the Mesa or table lands; on the east, by the Sebastian Martin Grant and part of the land of the Indians of San Juan de los Caballeros; on the south, by the end of the said table land, and the Chama River with the boundaries of the lands owned by the minor children of Trujillo; and on the west, by the lands of Ventura Mestas, where his boundary was declared to be.

The alcalde’s proceedings were returned to Governor Mendoza, who, on October 10, 1743, approved such actions. A certified copy of the expediente was made for the grantees in 1744 by Francisco Ortiz, Alcalde of Santa Cruz.[1]

For some unexplained reason, the heirs and legal representatives of Juan Garcia de la Mora and Diego de Medina never filed their claim in the Surveyor General’s office; however, on January 6, 1892, they filed suit[2] against the United States seeking the confirmation of the grant which was known as the Black Mesa Grant. The case came up for trial on August 29, 1894, at which time the plaintiffs offered as evidence of their claim the certified copy of the expediente The government objected to the introduction of this instrument on the grounds that it had not been archived in the proper depository and an alcalde was not authorized under Spanish law to issue certified copies. The court overruled the objection, and the trial proceeded with the plaintiffs introducing a considerable amount of oral testimony tending to prove their possession of the property and establish the location of the boundaries of the grant. The government, in turn, argued that the land of Ventura Mesta, which was referred to in the expediente as forming the western boundary of the grant, was not the Juan Jose Lovato Grant, as contended by the plaintiffs, but was a tract lying east of the Juan Jose Lovato Grant and a low range of foothills situated just west of the Ojo Caliente River formed the eastern boundary of the Mesta property.

The court in a decision[3] dated September 28, 1894, held that the plaintiffs were entitled to the relief they prayed for in their petition for the grant was valid and absolute; however, it sustained the government’s contention pertaining to the location of the boundaries of the grant. Neither party appealed from this decision. The grant was surveyed in January, 1896, by Deputy Surveyor Sherrard Coleman and his work shows that it contains 19,371.35 acres. A patent based on this survey was issued on December 9, 1901.[4]


[1] Martinez v. United States. No. 56 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[2] Ibid.

[3] 2 Journal 221 (Mss.., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[4] The Black Mesa Grant, No. F‑226 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).