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Caja del Rio Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Captain Nicolas Ortiz petitioned Governor Gaspar Domingo de Mendoza for a grant covering the tract of land called the Caja del Rio, which he described as being bounded:

On the north, by a large table‑land standing in front of the cultivated lands of San Ildefonso; on the east, by the Canada Anela; on the south, by the source of the Santa Cruz Spring; and on the west by the Rio Grande.

Ortiz requested the grant as a reward for the services he had performed and monies he had expended in the reconquest of New Mexico and the pacification of the Indians. He called the governor’s attention to the fact that he was among the settlers sent to recolonize New Mexico by Viceroy Galve in 1693. He reminded the governor that while each colonist had been promised a liberal grant upon which to settle, he had not received his grant since he had spent the previous forty‑nine years campaigning against the Indians. He was careful to point out that during his long military service he had always furnished his own arms and horses and on one occasion had even paid for a load of powder. After examining the contents of the petition, Mendoza, on May 30, 1742, granted the tract to Ortiz subject to all the conditions pertaining to royal grants and with the understanding that “the pasturage and watering places be in common.” He also directed the Alcalde of Santa Fe, Antonio de Ulibarri, to place Ortiz in royal possession of the grant. On June 18, 1742, Alcalde Ulibarri checked with Captain Ignacio Roybal, Juana Lujan, and the governor and three of the oldest inhabitants of the Pueblo of San Ildefonso and advised each of them of the grant. Upon being assured by these adjoining land owners that they had no objections, Alcalde Ulibarri proceeded to the Caja del Rio where he performed the customary ceremony for the delivery of possession of the grant to Ortiz. Ulibarri also notified Ortiz that the pastures, woods, and watering places were to be held by him as commons.[1]

Ortiz promptly moved to the grant where he opened a number of fields and stocked the uplands with herds of sheep and cattle. A few years later, Juan Estévan Garcia de Noriega received a grant located in the Canada Ancha from Governor Joaquin Codallos y Rabol. Ortiz brought a trespass suit against Garcia in October, 1751, alleging that the Caja del Rio Grant covered all of the Canada. After a full investigation into the dispute, Governor Tomas Velez Cachupin in a decree dated February 7, 1854, nullified the grant to Garcia.[2] Thereafter, Ortiz or his descendants held peaceful possession of the land for the one hundred seventeen years, except for relatively short periods when the Indians were so hostile as to prevent its occupancy without undue danger to life and limb.[3]

On May 7, 1871, the descendants of Nicolas Ortiz presented their claim to Surveyor General T. Rush Spencer for investigation under the Eighth Section of the Act of July 22, 1854.[4] Three witnesses were examined by Surveyor General James K. Proudfit in November, 1872. Their testimony supported the claimants’ allegations concerning their relationship to Nicolas Ortiz and the continuous use and occupation of the grant. By decision dated November 21, 1872, Proudfit held:

I have no reason to doubt the genuineness of the original grant and possession papers which have been in the archives of this office ever since it was established, having been among the Mexican Archives on deposit in this City at the time of the occupation, by the United States troops in 1846, nor do I doubt, from the testimony that the heirs and legal representatives of Nicolas Ortiz, deceased, were in undisputed possession of the property in question at the time of the American occupation in 1846.[5]

Therefore, he recommended that the grant be confirmed by Congress to the heirs and legal representatives of Nicola Ortiz, decreased. A preliminary survey of the grant was made in November, 1877, by Deputy Surveyors Griffin & McMullin for 62,343.01 acres.[6]

Since Congress never acted on the claim, Felipe Delgado filed suit[7] in the Court of Private Land Claims on October 14, 1892, seeking the confirmation of the grant to the heirs and legal representatives of Nicolas Ortiz, deceased. He asserted that the grant contained approximately 60,000 acres. An amended petition was filed on August 10, 1893, in which Delgado alleged that the preliminary survey was incorrect and that the grant actually contained about 72,000 acres. The plat attached to the amended petition depicted the grant as including all of the Mesa de San Ildefonso and extending northward to the southern boundary of the Pueblo of San Ildefonso Grant.

When the case came up for trial, the plaintiffs introduced the expediente of the grant together with a number of documents in relation to proceedings had with reference to this grant and its occupancy during the Spanish and Mexican periods, all of which recognized the existence and validity of the claim. The government while recognizing the genuineness of the grant papers and the bona fide of the occupation, contended that “the north boundary of the grant as claimed by the plaintiff had been stretched so as to include 4,000 acres” more than it should. In its decision dated August 30, 1893, the court confirmed the grant in accordance with the description contained in the grant papers.[8] Thus, it left the boundary question to be resolved by the survey required under the provisions of Section 10 of the Act of March 31 1891.[9]

The grant was surveyed by Deputy Surveyor Sherrard Coleman for 68,070.36 acres which included 1,221.58 acres which conflicted with the Pueblo of Cochiti Grant. Coleman’s Survey located the north boundary just south of the Mesa de San Ildefonso. The plaintiff relinquished any claim to the lands in conflict. This action resolved the dispute between the owners of the grant and the Indians, and since no objections were raised, the court approved the survey and a patent based thereon was issued on February 20, 1897.[10]

[1] Archive No. 1078 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[2] Archive No. 1079 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[3] The Caja del Rio Grant, No. 63 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[4] An act to establish the office of Surveyor General of New Mexico, Kansas and Nebraska to grant donations to actual settlers therein, and for other purposes, Chap. 103, Sec. 8, 10 Stat. 308 (1854).

[5] H. R. Exec. Doc. 128, 42d Cong., 3d Sess., 4‑9 (1873).

[6] The Caja del Rio Grant No. 63 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[7] Delgado v. United States, No. 178 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[8] 1 Journal 213 (Mss, Records of the Ct, Pvt. L. Cl.).

[9] Court of Private Land Claims Act, Chap. 539, Sec. 10, 26 Stat. 854 (1891).

[10] The Caja del Rio Grant No. 63 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).