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Canada of Santa Clara Grant

by J. J. Bowden

In 1724 Cristobal Tafoya received a grant from Governor Juan Domingo do Bustamante covering a tract of land located on both sides of the Santa Clara River and about one and a half leagues west of the Pueblo of Santa Clara on condition that said land be used only for grazing purposes. Early in the year 1731, Juan Estevan Garcia attempted to establish a sheep ranch in the Cañada de Santa Clara near Tafoya’s ranch. Tafoya violently opposed the move and intimidated Garcia into settling elsewhere. When Governor Bustamante heard that Tafoya had prevented Garcia from settling in the valley, he became incensed. He had Tafoya arrested and forfeited his grant. However, after about fifteen years, Tafoya’s two sons, Juan and Antonio, were permitted to re-settle upon the grant by Governor Joaquin Codallos y Rabal. Thereafter, the grant was continuously and peacefully occupied by the Tafoyas and their heirs and assigns until 1757, except for short periods of time when the Utes were on the warpath. In that year the Santa Clara Indians, through Friar Sebastian Anton, complained that the Tafoyas’ cattle were invading their field and damaging their crops.

 To solve the problem, Governor Francisco Antonio Marin del Valle, on August 24, 1757, ordered the Tafoyas to cease grazing their cattle within one and a half leagues of the Pueblo. Six years later, Brother Mariano Rodriguez de la Torre, missionary and protector of the Indians of the Pueblo of Santa Clara, notified Governor Tomas Velez Cachupin that the activities of the Spanish settlers in the Cañada de Santa Clara were once again inflicting serious damages on the inhabitants of his Pueblo. He stated that the Spaniards were cultivating the lands in the upper valley of the Rio Santa Clara and were appropriating most of the water which was so direly needed by the Indians for the irrigation of their crops. He also pointed out that most of the lands belonging to the Pueblo were arable and under cultivation. Since climatic conditions permitted the growing of only one crop a year, it was essential to the well‑being and livelihood of the Indians that such annual crops not fail. Continuing, he noted that additional pasture land was needed for the grazing of the Indians’ livestock. To adequately protect the interests of the Pueblo, Brother Rodriguez recommended that the lands in the Cañada de Santa Clara be given to the Indians. By decree dated July 19, 1763, Governor Cachupin declared that the Tafoyas had forfeited their rights in the grant as a result of their having violated the condition prohibiting the cultivation of the land and granted the Indians of the Pueblo of Santa Clara:

… the whole of the valley of Santa Clara which runs west as far as the mountains and in which is situated the tract of land granted to Juan and Antonio Tafoya and in it no settler shall be allowed or any grant made.

The Governor instructed the Alcalde of Santa Cruz to notify the Indians and other interested parties of the new grant. While there is no evidence that possession was formally delivered to the Indians, there is ample evidence that their title to such land was repeatedly recognized and respected by the Spanish officials.

In1780, the Indians petitioned Governor Juan Bautista de Anza seeking the removal of a number of squatters who had settled upon the grant. By decree dated April 24, 1780, Anza ordered the interlopers to vacate the premises. Again on August 7, 1788, the Indians requested certain residents of Santa Cruz be ejected from their lands, which was done on August 15, 1788, pursuant to an order by Governor Fernando de Concha.[1]

For some unexplained reason, the Cañada de Santa Clara Grant was not submitted to the Surveyor General for examination with the Pueblo of Santa Clara Grant. However, the Pueblo of Santa Clara, which under the laws of New Mexico had been made a body politic, petitioned[2] Surveyor General Henry M. Atkinson on December 13, 1882, seeking the confirmation of the grant which was described as being a 90,000 acre tract whose dimensions measured 18 miles in length and three leagues or 7‑1/2 miles in width. The Pueblo interpreted the provision in the Decree of August 24, 1757, which prohibited the Tafoyas from grazing their cattle within one and a half leagues of the Pueblo as fixing the limits of their grant. Thus, if no one could graze their livestock within one and a half leagues of their land which covered the entire Santa Clara valley, then the grant must extend one and a half leagues north and south of the stream which ran down the valley. After fully considering the claim, Surveyor General Clarence Pelham, who in the meantime had succeeded Atkinson, found that the Spanish law authorized the granting of additional lands to an Indian pueblo whenever it appeared that its original grant was no longer sufficient to meet the needs of the community. He further found that muniments of title to the grant appeared to be genuine and the Indians had held undisputed possession of the premises since 1763. Therefore, on May 5, 1885, he recommended that the grant be confirmed by Congress to the inhabitants of the Pueblo of Santa Clara according to the boundaries set forth in Cachupin’s decree dated July 19, 1763.[3]

The claim was still pending before Congress when Surveyor General George W. Julian took office. Pursuant to instructions he had received from the Commissioner William A. J. Sparks dated June 24, 1885, he conducted a thorough re‑examination of the Cañada de Santa Clara Grant.

In a decision dated October 10, 1885, Julian held that the United States was obligated under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to deal with pueblo land titles precisely as Mexico would have, had sovereignty not changed. In his opinion, the Spanish Governors of New Mexico had made a valid grant to the inhabitants of the Pueblo of Santa Clara of the lands covered by the Cañada de Santa Clara Grant. However, he was convinced that the northern and southern boundaries of the grant should be confirmed to the valley of the Santa Clara River. Continuing, he called attention to the fact that the Pueblo’s population had declined from approximately 500 in 1849, to a total of less than 200 in 1885, and that only one family was then living on the Cañada of Santa Clara Grant. He also pointed out that the inhabitants of the Pueblo owned and grazed only 150 head of livestock on the grant. Next, he advised Congress that he had learned that a Mexican named Apolonio Vigil had prompted the filing of the petition and was scheming to acquire the tract from the Indians should it be confirmed by Congress. Since it was apparent that the Pueblo no longer needed the land, he recommended that the Indians be paid a fair consideration for a release of their claim and. that the land he opened for settlement.[4] Dolores Romero, an agent for the Pueblo Indian Service, filed a protest on November 28, 1885, against the adoption of Julian’s suggestion on the grounds that if the lands embraced within the grant were opened to settlement, the Pueblo would be deprived of its water supply and thus suffer irreparable damages.[5]

The mere hint that the land might fall into the hands of speculators killed any chance for Prompt Congressional consideration of the claim. However, the creation of the Court of Private Land Claims afforded the Pueblo a new opportunity to press for the prompt recognition of its claim. On June 18, 1892, such a suit was filed.[6] Since the Government had not raised any special defenses, the principal issue raised at the trial concerned the location of the boundaries of the grant. The Government contended that the northern and southern boundaries should be located along the edge of the narrow river valley while the Pueblo asserted they were located a distance of one and a half leagues from the stream. The Government also argued that the western boundary should be located at the foot of the mountains while the Pueblo insisted it was located at the headwaters of the Santa Clara River.

In its decision[7] dated September 29, 1894, the Court held that the grant papers were genuine but fixed the grant’s boundaries in accordance with the Government’s contention. The decree confirmed the claim for the use and benefit of the Indians of the Santa Clara Pueblo to all the lands located in the valley between the foothills on each side of the Santa Clara River westward from the west boundary of the Pueblo of Santa Clara Grant as far as the foot of the mountains.

Deputy Surveyor Albert F. Easley was awarded a contract on April 29, 1895, to survey the grant pursuant to the tenth article of the Act of March 3, 1891.[8] Easley’s Survey depicted the grant as a long narrow strip of land containing 1,863.40 acres. The United States protested the approval of this survey on the grounds that it located the western boundary too far west. The Government’s attorney contended that the grant should be only 10 miles long instead of 17. He called the Court’s attention to the fact that at Station 29, which was located about 10 miles west of the southeast corner of the grant, the valley narrowed to a width of 50 feet as the river ran through a long deep canyon which cut through a range of high rugged mesas. The Court, in its decision[9] of October 5, 1897, rejected the survey and ordered the west boundary of the grant to be re‑surveyed as a north-south line running through Easley’s station number 29. Pursuant to this decision, Deputy Surveyor John H. Walker re‑surveyed the west line on May 15, 1900. His survey showed that the grant contained only 490.62 acres. The survey was approved and a patent based thereon was issued on November 15, 1909.[10]

[1] S. Exec. Doc. No. 26, 49th, Cong., 2d Sess., 6‑32 (1887). Caveat: Concha did not assume his duties as governor until sometime after August 10, 1789. 1 Coan, A History of New Mexico 252 (1925).

[2] The Cañada of Santa Clara Grant, No. 138 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[3] Ibid.

[4] S. Exec. Doc. No. 26, 49th Cong., 2d Sess., 2 (1887).

[5] Ibid. 2‑6, 33-34.

[6] Pueblo of Santa Clara  v. United States,  No. 17 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[7] Note missing in original document.

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

[9] 3 Journal 299 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[10] The Cañada de Santa Clara Grant, No. 138 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).