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Canada de Los Mestanos

by J. J. Bowden

Juan Gallegos and ten associates appeared before Vicente Trujillo, Alcalde of Taos, requesting a grant covering a tract of lend located in the Canada de los Mestanos. In response to their oral petition, Alcalde Trujillo granted the tract to the eleven applicants on December 11, 1828, stating that he knew it would not prejudice the rights of any third party. The testimonio of this proceeding recites that the grant was made “in conformity with the Proclamation of 1813, which provides that the lands which are vacant shall be given to persons who will cultivate and work them.”[1] Having made the grant, Trujillo proceeded to place the petitioners in possession of the premises and designated the following natural objects as its boundaries:

On the north, the Penasco de San Cristobal; on the east, the Mesita road which goes to San Cristobal; on the south, the brow of said canada which separates it from the lands of Arroyo Hondo; and on the west, the Rio Grande.  

Next, he allotted each of the grantees a separate farm tract and cautioned them to comply with the usual conditions pertaining to settlement and their mutual defense, He also authorized the grantees to use the waters from the San Cristobal and Lovo Rivers for the irrigation of their fields. [2]

The owners of the grant deposited their grant papers in the Surveyor General’s office on June 7, 1861 but did not request an investigation into its validity. Several suspicious alterations have been made on this document. First, the name of Juan Gallegos has been stricken through and the name Vicente Trujillo has been added in a manner to make it appear that the Alcalde allotted himself a 200 vara tract. The amount of land allotted to Darcan Archuleta has been erased. The most suspicious of these changes is the one pertaining to the 10,050 vara allotment allegedly made to Gaviel Garcia. Most of the allotments were 232 varas, however, the last two were for only 100 varas. Garcia’s allotment was third from the last and would appear to also have been for 100 varas, but that someone added “50” after the figure 100.

On March 3, 1893, Julian Martinez instituted a suit[3] in the Court of Private Land Claims seeking the confirmation of the grant which he alleged contained 16,000 acres of land. When he case came up for trial on November 23, 1896, Martinez offered the grant papers and deeds from several of the original grantees as the foundation for his claim. He also introduced the oral testimony by several witnesses in support of his claim. One witness testified that after possession had been delivered, he had heard that the Governor had confirmed, validated, and ratified the grant. The balance of the oral testimony tended to prove that the grant had been occupied continuously after 1828. The government offered no evidence but merely argued that an alcalde had no authority to make grants of the public domain in 1828. The court adopted the government’s contention in its unfavorable decision[4] dated December 2, 1896. Martinez, considering himself aggrieved by the decision, appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal on January 17, 1899, pursuant to Rule 10.[5]

[1] The Decree of January 4, 1813 provides for the disposal of the royal domain to private individuals and the defenders of the country “in order to improve agriculture and industry”. Hall, The Laws of Mexico 45 (1885).

[2] The Canada de los Mestanos Grant, No, F‑82 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[3] Martinez v. United States, No. 163 (Mss., Records of the Ct., Pvt. L. Cl.).

[4] 3 Journal 170 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[5] Martinez v. United States, 19 S. Ct. 878,; 43 L. Ed. 1177 (1899) (mem.).