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Bowden’s Research on the Felipe Tafoya Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Felipe Tafoya, an army veteran and landless resi­dent of Santa Fe, appeared before Governor Gaspar Domingo de Mendoza on May 26, 1742, to register a vacant piece of farm land which he had found. Tafoya described the tract as containing three fanegas corn planting land lying on the south side of the Santa Fe River and being the lands formerly known as the Rancho de Velasquez. His request was predicated upon an urgent need for a grant upon which to grow the food necessary to meet his obligations to his wife and children. He also called the governor’s attention to the fact that although his father, Ensign Antonio Tafoya, was one of the reconquerors of New Mexico and had spent a lifetime in the service of the King he had never received a grant. Therefore, the petitioner could not expect to receive any lands by inheritance At the conclusion of the audience, Mendoza granted the request and ordered the Alcalde of Santa Fe, Antonio de Ulibarri, to put Tafoya in possession of the grant in “accordance with the law.” On June 2, 1742, Ulibarri in obedience to directive contained in the granting decree went to the grant in company with his two attending witnesses and placed Tafoya in royal possession of the grant, after designating the following natural objects as its boundaries:

On the north, the old acequia madre which bounds the lands of Gregoria Garduno; on the east, an arroyo which hounds the lands of Felipe Pacheco; on the south, the Camino de los Carros; and on the west, a large cedar tree.[1]

The claim was presented to the Court of Private Land Claims for confirmation on March 2, 1893, by Refugia Aguilar, on behalf of herself and all other heirs and legal representatives of Felipe Tafoya.[2]  In her petition. Aguilar asserted that the claim embraced approximately 500 acres of land, that the grant was complete and perfect at the time the United States acquired sovereignty over New Mexico, and that the premises had been in the continuous arid peaceable occupance and possession of the original grantee, his heirs and legal representatives since 1742. In its answer, the government stated:

That as to the several matters and things alleged in said petition, defendant has‑no knowledge or information sufficient to enable it to form a belief as to the truth thereof, and it accordingly denies each and all of said allegations and prays that complainants be put to their proof of the same, as is provided by the act establishing this court.

 And this defendant further answering, denies that the complainant is entitled to the relief or any part thereof in his petition alleged and prayed for, and prays the same advantage of this answer as if it had pleaded or demurred to the said petition

 Now having fully answered, it prays the court that a decree may be entered rejecting the claim for said alleged grants and dismissing the petition, and for such other orders as the court may deem meet and proper and which it may be authorized to make in the premises.

The City of Santa Fe intervened as a party defendant since the grant was located entirely within, the boundaries of the Santa Fe League.

Before the case came up for trial, the government called Aguilars’ attention to the recitation contained in the expediente of the Tomas Tapia Grant which showed that on the same day that Ulibarri delivered possession of the grant to Tafoya, Mendoza granted the same tract to Tomes Tapia, and directed Ulibarri to place Tapia in possession “of the piece of land designated in the grant that I made to Felipe Tafoya.”[3] The government argued that for some unknown reason, the grant to Tafoya had been revoked on June 2, 1742, and regranted to Tapia on the same day.

While Aguilar noted that the Act of Possession in the Tomas Tapia Grant designated its eastern boundary as being located at “a landmark of Felipe Tafoya” which would indicate that the Tomas Tapia Grant was located west of the Felipe Tafoya Grant, she was at a loss to explain the meaning of the recitation contained in the granting decree to the Tomas Tapia Grant. Confronted with this difficult problem and the Court of Private Land Claim’s continued refusal to approve any grants lying within the Santa Fe League notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s reversal of the Santa Fe Case.[4]  Aguilar decided to abandon the prosecution of this suit and so advised the court, On February 3, 1898, the court issued a decree rejecting the grant and dismissing the action.[5]


[1] Archive No. 961 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[2] Aguilar v. United States, No. 187 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[3] Archive No. 962 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.)

[4] United States v. Santa Fe, 165 U.S. 675 (1897).

[5] 3 Journal 342 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).