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Casa Colorado Grant

by J. J. Bowden

An increase in Indian hostilities prompted the Provincial Deputation of New Mexico to order the inhabitants living in the outlying haciendas along the frontiers to consolidate and form new towns for their mutual benefit and protection. In compliance with this decree, Jose Maria Perea and forty‑one other persons from the Town of Manzano formed a new settlement which they called Casa Colorada and petitioned the Ayuntamiento of Tome on July 12, 1823, for a grant covering the lands they were occupying. This tract was located between the southern boundary of the Tome Grant and the ruins of the old settlement of Las Nutrias. The requested lands were granted to the petitioners by Ayuntamiento on July 15, 1823, and a copy of the expediente was forwarded to the Provincial Deputation for its “customary approval”. The Provincial Deputation formally approved the Ayuntamiento’s action on July 30, 1823.[1] While there is no evidence that the grantees were placed in legal possession of the grant, it is well known that the premises have been continuously occupied since 1823, and the town of Casa Colorada was in existence at the time the United States took possession of New Mexico in 1846.

Efforts to secure the recognition of the Casa Colorada Grant were commenced at an early date. In the fall of 1856, the Town of Casa Colorada presented its title papers to Surveyor‑General William Pelham and requested the confirmation of the grant. Pelham, after a brief and cursory investigation, found the signatures of the granting officials to be valid and genuine and, on December 24, 1856, recommended the approval of the grant. Pelham’s opinion was based upon the testimony of only one witness and a comparison of the signatures on the title papers with the signatures of the granting officials contained on documents found in the Archives which had been turned over to Colonel Stephen W. Kearny following the conquest of New Mexico.[2] The Casa Colorada Grant was confirmed by Congress on December 22, 1858, as a community or town grant to the Town of Casa Colorada.[3] This was the same act which confirmed the Belen Grant.

The grant was officially surveyed February and March of 1877, by Deputy Surveyors’ Sawyer and McElroy Their survey showed that the grant contained 131,779.37 acres; however, all but a narrow strip of land containing 21,689.6 acres and located along the east side of the grant conflicted with the Belen Grant. A patent was issued to the Town of Casa Colorada on July 26, 1909, covering all of the lands embraced within the grant as surveyed by Sawyer & McElroy.[4]

In order to clear its title to the land involved in this conflict, the Board of Trustees of the Belen Grant filed suit in the District Court of Valencia County against the Board of Trustees of the Town of Casa Colorada Grant.[5] On January 6, 1912, the court held that the Town of Belen was the lawful owner of the lands in question and quieted its title thereto.[6]

Title to the land located in the area of conflict between the Casa Colorada and Belen Grants was litigated a second time in 1923.[7] In this case it was alleged that thirty families from the Town of Tome had settled on the portion of the Belen Grant located east of the Rio Grande in 1764. This settlement was called Las Nutrias. The new settlers petitioned the Governor of New Mexico, Tomas Vélez Cachupín, for a grant covering the lands which they were occupying and using. The petition was referred to the Alcalde of Albuquerque, who on February 7, 1764, reported that all of the inhabitants of Belen, except five who were absent, agreed that the requested grant should be made to the inhabitants of Las Nutrias. Following this favorable report, Vélez Cachupín, on February 17, 1764, issued the grant subject to conditions that the grantees “build the settlement united with the town and not extend the settlement into ranches.” [8] On March 27, 1771, Governor Pedro Fermin de Mendinueta revoked the grant on the ground that the grantees had failed to comply with these conditions.[9] The owners of the Casa Colorada Grant therefore contended that if the portion of the Belen Grant lying east of the river had been relinquished by its owners at the time the conditional grant was made to the inhabitants of Las Nutrias, then, upon the revocation of the Las Nutrias Grant, the land covered thereby would revert to the public domain and could be regranted to them.

The court found that the only title the owners of the Belen Grant had in the lands in controversy was that given by Congress under the Act of December 22, 1858, which confirmed the grant, not to the individual claimants, but to the Town of Belen. In connection with the Casa Colorada Grant, the court found that since the granting officials had issued the grant in contemplation of the settlement of a town with commons for pasturage and other common purposes and provided that all persons admitted to the settlement who built housing and moved on the grant might acquire title to their individual lots and anyone Who failed to move to the grant would forfeit his rights; it therefore was a town or community grant and not a grant to the individual petitioners. However, the court hold that since the Casa Colorada Grant had been made during the period between the suspension of the Colonization Law of January 4, 1823, Reynolds, Spanish and Mexican Land Law, 100 (1895)[10] and the enactment of the Colonization Law of August 18, 1824,[11] the grant was invalid for want of authority in the granting officials. Thus, the sole basis for the owners of the Casa Colorada Grant title was the congressional confirmation of their imperfect grant as a community grant. Once it was decided that both grants were community grants based on the same confirmation grant, it was obvious that the previous judgment in the case of Board of Trustees of the Belen Grant v. Board of Trustees of the Casa Colorada Grant[12] had vested good title to the land in controversy in the Town of Belen.[13]

As a result of these decisions the Casa Colorada Grant became a mere pigmy when compared with its one time grandeur.


[1] H. R, Report No. 321, 36th Cong., 1st Sess., 18‑20 (1860).

[2] The Town of Casa Colorada Grant, No. 5 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.)

[3] An Act to Confirm the Land Claims of Certain Pueblos and Towns in the Territory of New Mexico, Chap. 5, 11 Stat. 374 (1858).

[4] The Town of Casa Colorada Grant, No. 5 (Mss,, Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[5] Board of Trustees of the Belen Grant v. Board of Trustees of the Town of Casa Colorada Grant, No. 1766 (Mss, Records of the District Clerk’s Office, Socorro, New Mexico).

[6] 77 Deed Records 60 (Mss., Records of the County Clerk’s Office, Socorro, New Mexico).

[7] Yeast v. Pru, 292 F. 598 (D.C.N.M., 1923).

[8] Archive No. 780 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M,)

[9] Archive No. 645 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[10] Reynolds, Spanish and Mexican Land Law, 100 (1895)

[11] Ibid., 121.

[12] Board of Trustees of the Belen Grant v. Board of Trustees of the Casa Colorada Grant, No. 1766 (Mss., Records of the District Clerk's Office, Socorro, New Mexico)

[13] Yeast v. Pru, 292 F. 598 (D.C.N.M., 1923).