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Canada de los Apaches

by J. J. Bowden

Antonio Sedillo petitioned Governor Pedro Fermin de Mendinueta asking for a grant covering a tract of land known as the Canada de los Apaches, which was bounded:

On the north, by the grant to the settlers of the Rio Puerco; on the east, by the Cerro Colorado, which marks the boundary of the Town of Atrisco Grant; on the south, by the boundary of the Mateo Pino Grant;[1] and on the west, by the point of a mesa, which runs in a westerly direction and comes out of the Canada de los Apaches.

In order to give Mendinueta a full account on the background of his request, Sedillo stated that in or about the year 1762, a tract called Los Quelites, the southern portion of which contained the Canada de los Apaches, had been granted to him and sundry other persons by Governor Francisco Antonio Marin de Valle and, thereafter, the grantees had occupied the grant for some four years. However, in 1766, they were forced to abandon the premises due to the hostility of the Indians. During the next three years, Sedillo suffered exceedingly from a lack of sufficient land to maintain his large family. Therefore, he asked that the Canada de los Apaches be granted to him for the support and also in consideration of his more than twenty years of loyal service as both a soldier and alcalde to the Pueblo of Acoma, Laguna and Zuni. In closing, he assured Mendinueta that if the requested tract was granted to him he would not interfere with the resettlement of the balance of the Los Quelites Grant should the other grantees ever return, provided they recognized his rights in the Canada de los Apaches. Mendinueta acted upon Sedillo’s petition on April 20, 1769 and granted the requested tract to him in consideration of his services to the crown. The grant was made subject to the express conditions that Sedillo settle upon the land within the time and for the period prescribed by royal law and that it should not prejudice the rights of any third party having a better claim to the premises. Carlos Mirabal was also commissioned by the governor to deliver royal possession of the property to Sedillo. Just five days later, Mirabal went to Albuquerque where he met with the representatives of the Town of Atrisco, the settlers on the Rio Puerco, and the Navajo Apaches. After showing them the grant, they advised Mirabal that they had no objection to the concession. Thereupon, he proceeded to place Sedillo in possession of the grant and designated the following natural objects as its boundaries:

On the north, by the grant to the settlers of the Rio Puerco; on the east, by the Rio Puerco; on the south, by the boundary of the Mateo Pino Grant; and on the west, by the point of a mesa which runs in a westerly direction and comes out of the Canada de los Apaches.

Sedillo promptly settled upon the grant, erected buildings on it, and continuously occupied the premises up the date of his death in January, 1862. Thereafter, his heirs and representatives occupied and used the grant.[2] Meanwhile, Sedillo, in compliance with the provisions of the Kearny Code,[3] filed his grant papers in the land registry in June, 1849.[4]

 

On April 6, 1871, Felipe Chavez for himself and as agent for the heirs and legal representatives of Antonio Sedillo, deceased, filed the testimonio of the grant and petitioned[5] Surveyor General T. Rush Spencer seeking the confirmation of the grant. As proof of the genuineness of the testimonio Chavez called Spencer’s attention to the similarity between Mendinueta’s signature on that instrument and on a number of documents[6] from the Archives. He also referred Spencer to the papers in the Bernabe Manuel Montano Grant[7] relating to the granting and abandonment of the grant to the settlers of the Rio Puerco or the Los Quelites tract. As further proof of the claim, he referred to the record of the grant in the Kearny registry.[8] In closing, Chavez estimated that the grant was four leagues wide and measured about six leagues from north to south. By opinion[9] dated June 15, 1871, Spencer found that the testimonio was genuine and that Sedillo and those claiming under him had occupied “for many years back.” Therefore, he approved the claim and recommended its confirmation by Congress. A preliminary survey of the grant was made in September, 1877, by Deputy Surveyors Sawyer & White for 88,079.78 acres.[10]

 

The hesitancy of Congress to act upon the large number of claims pending before it, coupled with President Grover Cleveland’s land reform policy, prompted the Commissioner of the General Land Office, William A. J. Sparks, to instruct[11] Surveyor General George W. Julian on December 11, 1885 to reexamine such claims. Pursuant thereto, Julian wrote a Supplemental Opinion[12] on October 11, 1886 in which he held that the validity of the claim depended upon whether or not Sandoval had performed the conditions of settlement and occupancy prescribed by the royal laws. He noted that while the petitioners had averred that he had complied with the laws and customs of Spain and the requirements of the granting decree such averments were not proved. Julian held that such failure was fatal and, therefore, he recommended that the claim be rejected. Continuing, he stated:

If the grant is invalid the question of survey becomes unimportant; but it seems to deserve some attention as an illustration of the remarkable methods so frequently adopted in this territory in determining the boundaries and areas of such grants. The tract as bounded by the Alcalde is “On the east the Puerco River, on the west the point of a mesa extending westwardly out of the Canada de los Apaches, on the north the land of the people of the Rio Puerco, and on the south the land of Mateo Pino.” The Deputy Surveyor entered upon his work guided by these boundaries, and the testimony of three witnesses who undertook to fix the location of the north and west lines of the tract but said nothing of the north and east boundaries. The questions they were called on to answer were printed and leading. They were not cross-examined, and the government was not represented by anyone. It is apparent from the dates given in the field notes that these witnesses were picked up and examined on the ground, pending the survey.

 

The Deputy, who was interested in the length of his lines, commanded the situation, and as the fact is notorious that witnesses can readily be procured to testify in the interest of grant claimants, and that in this way very great frauds have been practiced in this Territory in extending the lines of grants, it is remarkable that the Surveyor General accepted or approved the survey of this tract under the circumstances stated.

 

No further action was taken on the claim for nearly six years. Meanwhile, Congress created the Court of Private Land Claims and gave it authority to adjudicate the validity of Spanish and Mexican land grants in the Southwest. On June 13, 1892 Luis Huning, a descendant of Antonio Sedillo, filed suit[13] in that tribunal against the United States for the confirmation of the grant. He asserted that the grant did not conflict with the rights of any other person or corporation other than the Atlantic and Pacific Railway Company and that he was willing for the confirmation decree to except the lands claimed by it. In connection with the boundaries of the claim, he pointed out that the grant papers fixed its northern boundary at the lands of the settlers of the Rio Puerco or the southern boundary of the Bernabe Manuel Montano Grant. Continuing, he noted that while the Sawyer & White w survey had fixed the common boundary between the Canada de los Apaches and Bernabe Manuel Montano Grants at the Cerro Colorado, the court in its decision in the Lewis case[14] had fixed the southern boundary of the Bernabe Manuel Montano Grant about eight miles north of that mountain. Therefore, Huning assorted that the preliminary survey was incorrect and the north boundary of the grant should be fixed at the southern boundary of the Bernabe Manuel Montano Grant as confirmed. If his contention was correct, the grant would contain approximately 150,000 acres. The government filed a lengthy answer in which it put in issue each of the natural allegations contained in Huning’s petition and also contending that if the claim was valid, it was due to the fact there was no archive evidence of the grant; an imperfect grant which fell within the provisions of Section 6 of the Act of March 3, 1891,[15] therefore, was limited to eleven square leagues.

 

Upon the trial of the case, the genuineness of the title pipers was proven to the satisfaction of the Court and possession of the property by Sedillo and his descendants in the case involved the question of whether the grant was perfect or imperfect and the location of its northern boundary. The Court, in its decision[16] dated December 17, 1892, held that the claim was a perfect grant within the meaning of the eighth section of the Act[17] and, thus, was not limited to eleven square leagues. The Court reasoned that under the law of prescription, which was established in the Alameda case,[18] forty years adverse pos­session under color of title would raise a conclusive presumption of the existence of every fact necessary to transfer the legal title and right of possession to the party holding under such prescription. In regard to the question of the location of the northern boundary of the grant, the Court held that line was situated along the southern boundary of the Bernabe Manuel Montano Grant, as it was claimed in 1769, which was clearly shown to be an east west line running through the apex of the Cerro Colorado.

 

The United States, being aggrieved, appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court. However, it subsequently requested the appeal be dismissed. The Supreme Court formally dismissed the appeal by memorandum opinion[19] dated March 4, 1895. After the decision became opinion final, a contract was awarded to Deputy Surveyor George H. Pradt to officially survey the grant. The survey was made between November 15th and December 3rd, 1896, and showed that the grant contained 86,249.09 acres.[20] The grant was patented on February 8, 1907.

 


[1]This allegedly was the Rancho El Rita Grant.

[2] H. R. Misc. Doc. No. 181, 42d Cong., 2d Sess., 1‑7 (1872).

[3] 1 New Mexico Statutes 64 (1941).

[4] Record of Land Titles 14‑15. This volume was originally in the Surveyor General’s Office but was lost or stolen in 1880.

[5] The Canada de los Apaches Grant, No. 50 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[6] Archive Nos. 581, 582, 583, 584 and 791 (Mss. Records of the A.N.M.).

[7] The Bernabe Manuel Montano Grant, No. 491 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[8] B Record of Land Titles 14‑15.

[9] H. R. Misc. Doc. No. 181, 42d Cong., 2d Sess., 7‑8 (1872).

[10] The Canada de los Apaches Grant, No. 50 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[11] S. Exec. Doc. No. 113, 49th Cong., 2d Sess., 2 (1887).

[12] The Canada de los Apaches Grant, No. 50 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[13] Huning v. United States, No. 15 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

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

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

[16] 1 Journal 101‑103 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[17] Supra., footnote 15.

[18] Stet.

[19] United States v. Huning, 159 U.S. 272 (1895).

[20] The Canada de los Apaches Grant, No. 50 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.). Pradt’s investigation disclosed that the common boundary between the grant and the “lands of Mateo Pino” was an east west line located at the Cerro Mohinos.