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Bowden’s Research on the Town of Las Trampas Grant

by J. J. Bowden

In conformity with a royal order, Governor Tomas Veles Cachupin made a tour through New Mexico in 1751 to determine the general conditions prevailing in his province. At Santa Fe, he found that the population had increased to the point where there was not sufficient agricultural land and water for their support. He also noted that many of its younger inhabitants had no trade or occupation to earn a livelihood. Since there was an abundance of unappropriated public land along the northern frontiers, he exhorted these indigent persons to migrate to that area in order to improve their standard of living and at the same time serve as a barrier between the interior settlements and the hostile Indians. In response to the Governor’s fervent plea, twelve families notified him of their desire to settle at the place known as Santo Tomas del Rio de las Trampas if they could obtain an adequate grant. However, when they discovered that there was only a limited amount of vacant land at that site, which was located between the Sebastian Martin and Santa Barbara Grants, their interest in the project began to wane. To insure the formation of the settlement in the vicinity of his grant, Sebastian Martin agreed to give the colonists a strip of land off the east side of his grant. This additional incentive was enough to prompt the interested parties to make the move.

On July 1, 1751, Sebastian Martin conveyed a strip of land 1,640 varas wide off the east side of his grant to the twelve colonists, being the land situated between the Penasco del Canoncito on the east and the main road on the west. The deed was not signed by Martin due to an impediment in his sight but was certified to be his free act and deed by Alcalde Juan Jose Lobato.

Two weeks later Cachupin granted each of the colonists a 180 varas tract of arable land situated n the canon of the Trampas River. In addition to said 2,160 varas, he granted them the lands located in the canons known as De los Alamos and Ojo Sarco, which were located south of the river. While these additional lands were not irrigable, they were described as being good and fertile. To include all of such lands, Cachupin designated the following natural objects as the boundaries of the grant:

On the north, the southern boundary of the Pueblo of Picuris Grant; on the east, a narrows made by the river where it joins the mountain; on the south, the summit of the Canada del Ojo Sarco and on the west, the narrows of the river which marked the eastern boundary of the Sebastian Martin Grant.

Lobato was instructed to allot the individual farm tracts and place the grantees in legal possession of the grant. In conclusion, the governor approved the donation made to the new settlement by Sebastian Martin. Heedful of the governor’s command, Lobato placed the twelve grantees in royal possession of the grant and distributed the 12 farm lots amongst them on July 20, 1751.[1] Nine years later, Bishop Tamaron in his report on his tour through New Mexico, mentions that a small settlement had been established at Las Trampas.[2]

It was evident that during the following century, the tenacious inhabitants of that community were able to continually overcome the severe adversities associated with frontier life for it was still in existence when the United States acquired New Mexico. On June 21, 1859, Cristobal Romero, a Justice of the Peace for Taos County, New Mexico, filed a petition[3] in the Surveyor Generals Office seeking recognition of the rights of the heirs and successors of the twelve original colonists to the estimated 53,000 acres covered by the grant. The case came up for trial before Surveyor General William Pelham one month later at which time a limited amount of testimony was taken from two elderly witnesses; who each stated that they had known of the Town of Las Trampas since their youth, and it was in existence in 1846. Based on this testimony and the fact that the original grant papers were located among the archives of New Mexico, Pelham, in his report to Congress dated August 1, 1859, recommended the confirmation of the claim to the legal representatives of the original grantees.[4] As a result of this favorable report, Congress, by act approved June 21, 1860,[5] confirmed the claim.

The Town of Las Trampas Grant was surveyed in June, 1876, by Deputy Surveyors Sawyer & McBroom. The survey represented the grant as being about 12 miles long and containing 46,461.22 acres. By letter dated June 12, 1884, Commissioner N. C. McFarland advised Surveyor General Henry M. Atkinson that the east boundary line of the grant was located too far east and thereby caused the Town of Las Trampas Grant to conflict or overlap the Santa Barbara Grant. He estimated that the area in conflict represented one half of the Santa Barbara Grant and divided it into two irregularly shaped parcels. Atkinson ordered Will M. Tipton to investigate and report on the correctness of the survey. Tipton noted that the only river referred to in the grant papers was the Las Trampas River and that the east boundary line was supposed to be located at the narrows made by the river where it joined to mountains. As a result of his on‑the-ground investigation, he discovered that this point was located about two miles south of the seven mile station on the south boundary line as surveyed. By decision[6] dated May 13, 1885, Comrnissioner William Sparks set the survey aside and ordered a resurvey of the southern and eastern boundaries. The resurvey was to commence at the southwest corner of the Sawyer & McBroom Survey and run in a southwesterly direction to the point where the Las Trampas River joined the mountains and thence north to the southeast corner of the Pueblo of Picuris Grant. Deputy Surveyor Clayton G. Coleman resurveyed the entire grant in May, 1891. His work showed that the grant covered an area of only 28,131.67 acres. A patent based on the Coleman Survey was issued on January 6, 1903.[7]


[1] Archive No. 975 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[2] Adams, Bishop Tamaron’s Visitation of New Mexico 1760 56 (1954).

[3] H. R. Exec. Doc. No. 14, 36th Cong., 1st Sess., 119‑130 (1860).

[4] The Town of Las Trampas Grant, No. 27 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[5] An Act to confirm certain private land claims in the Territory of New Mexico, Chap. 167, 12 Stat. 71 (1860).

[6] The Town of Las Trampas Grant No. 27 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[7] Ibid.