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Corpos Cristos Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Benjamin Hodges, an illiterate resident of Dodge City, Kansas, caused a letter to be to Commissioner of the General Land Officer S. M, Stockslage on October 15, 1888, seeking the recognition of a grant allegedly made to his great grandfather Corpos Cristo by the King of Spain in 1678 as a stock ranch. Stockslage referred this matter to Surveyor General George, W. Julian. Thereafter, Hodges wrote numerous letters to Julian asking prompt action on the claim. The grant supposedly covered 400 square leagues or 696,960 acres of land and was described as follows: 

Commencing at a point eight (8) miles south and one and a half (1‑1/2) miles West of the City of Raton, New Mexico; thence East thirty (30) miles; thence South thirty (30) miles; then West thirty (30) miles; thence North thirty (30) miles to the place of beginning.

Hodges filed an affidavit of heirship tending to connect himself to the original grantee and alleged that the testimonio of the grant had been destroyed when his father’s house at Meir, Mexico, had been burned during the Mexican Revolution. He claimed that he had peaceful possession of the premises as a “stock ranch” 1886, when a number of homesteaders settled upon portions of the grant.

Hodges’ attorney, Levi L. Dysert of Shanes Crossing, Ohio, wrote Surveyor General E. F. Hubbard on November 2, 1889:

 … I would most respectfully ask that said Claim be entered upon the private land claim docket and that you give it your earliest consideration. I am satisfied that Mr. Hodges annoyed your predecessor, Mr. Julian, with unnecessary letters. But said Hodges is an uneducated half breed Spaniard and appears to think every thing in the matter should be accomplished in a few days. I have frequently and repeatedly told him to wait till he had the claim in proper shape for adjudication then it would be heard in its proper time. I am his legal attorney in the matter with fee contract properly signed and acknowledged, but still his pretended friends is having him write to your office in regard to the matter trying to make him believe that he is about to be sold out in the matter or that the United States government will cheat or defraud him out of his claim, his pretended friends gets about $5.00 for every letter they write to your department for him. When you want any evidence in the case please inform me and I will try to supply the same. I am satisfied there is merit in this claim and hope you may give it your early consideration. Please let me hear from you soon …

Since no action had been taken on the claim, by the Surveyor General’s Office, Hodges filed suit[1] 1 against the United States on April 9, 1892, in the Court of Private Land Claims. In his petition he stated that Corpos Cristo had been granted a thirty mile square tract of land located near the south west corner of Colorado, on June 22, 1668, by Cortez, Pizarro and Maximiliano. He further alleged that the grant had been recognized and revalidated by Governor Juan Ignacio Flores Magallon on May 31, 1715, subject to the consent of the Taos Indians, and on June 15, 1715, the Alcalde of Taos delivered possession of the grant without objection from the Indians. He also alleged that Inspector General Juan Paetez Hustedo, on November 24, 1724 examined and approved the grant. The government filed a motion on February 11, 1892, asking the court to dismiss the action on the ground that Hodges had failed to comply with Rule 2 of the Court, which required the filing in the clerk’s office, of the original grant papers or an account of the reason why they could not be produced. In response to this motion, Hodges filed a Spanish instrument and the following translation thereof as his muniment of title:

June 22, 1668                                     

Cortez Pizarro

Maximiliano. We give the grant of these 11 leagues to Corpos Cristo and his heirs from this date. We officials are witnesses from this date that we give the grant to Corpos Cristo of the land by good consent. That he may establish a ranch in order that the country may be quieted down. And for this we record the grant in Spain.

Cortez, Pizarro
Corpos Cristo

The case was set for trial during the April, 1894, term of court. When the case came up for trial, the government’s attorney pointed out that while the plaintiff had contended the grant had been made by the King of Spain, none of the granting officials lad ever been on the Spanish Throne. He also asserted that the plaintiff’s muniment of title appeared to be a forgery and that the Archive of New Mexico indicated that Juan Paez Hurtado and not Juan Paetez Hustedo had been Inspector General of New Mexico in 1724. Confronted with this evidence, counsel for the plaintiff caused the suit to be dismissed[2]Journal 64 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.) and withdrew Hodges’ title papers.

In the report[3] on the case to the Department of Justice the government’s attorney, Matthew G. Reynolds, justified his failure to bring criminal proceedings against Corpos by stating: 

Plaintiff is a very simple man and has been imposed upon by designing persons and probably “pettifogging lawyers.”

[1] Hodges v. United States, No. 8 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[2]2 Journal 64 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[3] Report of the United States Attorney dated June 8, 1894 in the Case Hodges v United States (Mss., Records of the General Services Administration, National Archives, Washington, D.C.), Record Group 60, Year File 9865‑92.