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Cuyamungue Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Bernardino de Serna, Tomas de Serna, and Luis Lopez petitioned Governor Juan Domingo de Bustamante for a grant covering the surplus lands at the abandoned Pueblo of Cuyamungue[1]for ranching purposes. They described the requested tract as being located on both sides of the Tesuque River and extending from the bluffs of the Pueblo of Cuyamungue to the hills of the Nambe Road. Bustamante, after carefully considering the matter, granted the applicants’ request on January 2, 1731. In the granting decree, Bustamante also directed the Alcalde of Santa Cruz to notify the Indians of the Pueblo of Tesuque, the heirs of Juan de Mestos, Lazaro Trujillo and all other adjoining landowners of the grant, and, if there were no objections, designate the boundaries of the premises and place the grantee in royal possession of the lands embraced therein. In obedience to this order, Domingo Montes Vigil, the lieutenant alcalde of Santa Cruz, assembled the interested parties at the Pueblo of Tesuque on January 22, 1731, read them the grant, and made it clear that if they had any objections whatsoever they should voice them for “they would be heard in justice.” Upon being assured by the adjoining landowners that they had no objections to the issuance of the grant and that it would in no way be prejudicial to their rights, Vigil put the grantees in juridical possession of the grant, which:

...reached on the north to in front of a house of Lazaro Trujillo; on the east some hills and the road that leads to the Pueblo of San Francisco de Nambe; on the south by an arroyo where there is a cottonwood tree and two mounds of blue stone, one on each side of the arroyo; and on the west some hills and forests on the other side of the Cuyamungue River.[2]

A number of the descendants and assignees of the original grantees were still residing upon and claiming the grant when the United States acquired New Mexico.

On August 11, 1871, John W. Conway, who had acquired an interest in the grant, petitioned[3] Surveyor General T. Rush Spencer for the confirmation of the grant, which he estimated to contain 5,000 acres of land. In support of his claim, Conway filed the original grant papers. A hearing was held by Spencer at which time two witnesses offered oral testimony showing that the claimant and his predecessors had held peaceful possession of the grant, which covered a tract of land measuring about ten miles from east to west and two and a half miles from north to south, for more than half a century. Spencer, by decision[4] dated November 15, 1871, found the grant papers to be genuine. Since there was no opposition to the approval of the concession, he recommended its confirmation by Congress to the legal representatives of the three original grantees with the limits set forth in the Act of Possession. A preliminary survey of the grant was made by Deputy Surveyors Griffin & McMullen in October 1877. Their survey depicted the grant as covering a 1,086.30 acre tract of land, all but about 100 acres of which conflicted with the Pueblos of Pojoaque and Nambe Grants.[5]

Since the grant was never acted upon by Congress, Conway’s widow, Maria de la Paz Valdez de Conway, and twenty-one other claimants filed a suit[6] in the Court of Private Land Claims on February 21, 1893, in an effort to secure its recognition, The government did not file an answer, but when the case came up for trial on October 9, 1895, the court proceeded to hear the cause upon the petition and proofs under the last clause of Section 6 of the Act of March 3, 1891,[7] notwithstanding the government’s failure to answer. The plaintiffs produced a number of witnesses who testified to the effect that portions of the land granted had been occupied and cultivated by persons claiming under the original grantees; while the government showed that the Indians of the Pueblos of Pojoaque and Nambe had for many years prior to the institution of the proceedings before the Surveyor General’s office claimed and occupied major portions of the grant. Upon motion made by the government during the trial it was ordered that the pueblos he made parties defendant and that the plaintiffs’ petition be deemed amended accordingly. However, it does not appear that they were served, appeared, or waived service. On October 24, 1895, the court entered a decree[8] against the United States confirming the entire grant; provided, however, such confirmation was in no wise to be deemed to affect the rights of the pueblos.

Subsequently the Indians of the Pueblos of Pojoaque and Nambe entered their appearances and stated that the lands confirmed to the plaintiffs were almost entirely within the limits of their respective pueblo leagues, both of which previously had been confirmed by Congress[9] and patented to them. Continuing, they stated while they were parties defendants in the suit, they had never been served or given an opportunity of making a defense. Therefore, they moved the court to vacate the decree of confirmation and allow them to be heard in opposition to the plaintiffs’ claim. This motion was denied on December 2, 1896, whereupon the United States appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

By decision dated October, 30, 1899,[10] the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Private Land Claims on the ground that the previously confirmed Indian titles were just and unextinguished titles under Section 13 (2) of the Act of March 3, 1891,[11] and they also were claims which previously had been acted upon or decided by Congress under Section 13(1)(4) of said act,[12] and, therefore, the court had no authority to confirm the Cuyamungue Grant insofar as it conflicted with the pueblo leagues. Thus, it held that the Court of Private Land Claims’ decision should have excepted the pueblo lands.[13] The court also held that while the government had no interest in the lands, it was a proper and necessary party to the original suit, and therefore, could follow the litigation to a final conclusion.[14]

Upon receipt of the Supreme Court’s mandate, the Court of Private Land Claims set aside its previous decision and confirmed the portion of the grant lying outside of the limits of the two pueblos. It described the confirmed portion of the grant as follows:

Beginning at a point on the west side of the old road from Santa Fe to Nambe where it crosses the north boundary line of the Pueblo of Tesuque; thence north along the west side of the road to its intersection with the south boundary line of the Pueblo of Nambe; thence west along the south boundary line to the southwest corner of the Pueblo of Pojoaque Grant to the west bank of the Cuyamungue or Tesuque River; thence in a southerly direction along the west bank of the river to the north boundary line of the Pueblo of Tesuque Grant to the point of beginning.[15]

The grant as finally confirmed was surveyed in May, 1901, by Deputy Surveyor Jay Turley for 604.27 acres. The grant was patented on November 15, 1909.[16]


[1] The Pueblo of Cuyamungue, a Tewa village on the Tesuque Creek, was abandoned in 1696, and its inhabitants moved to the adjoining pueblos. A small tract of agricultural lands located near the pueblo had been granted to Alfonso Rael de Aguilar in 1699. 1 Hodge, Handbook of American Indians 374 (1960).                                                                                                                       

[2] H.R. Misc. Doc. No. 181, 42d.Cong., 2d Sess., 40‑41 (1872).

[3] The Cuyamungue Grant, No. 54 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[4] H.R. Misc. Doc. No. 181, 42d Cong., 2d Sess., 42-44 (1872).

[5] The Cuyamungue Grant, No. 54 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[6] Conway v. United States, No. 112 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[7] Court of Private Land Claims Act, Chap. 535, Sec. 6, 26 Stat. 854 (1891).

[8] 2 Journal 408 (Mss., Records of the Ct Pvt. L. Cl.).

[9] An Act to confirm the land claims of certain pueblos and towns in the Territory of New Mexico, Chap. 5, 11 Stat. 374 (1858).

[10] Conway v. United States, 175 U.s. 60 (1899).

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

[12] Ibid.

[13] Conway v. United States, l75 U.S. 60 (1899).

[14] Ibid.

[15] 4 Journal 205 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[16] The Cuyamungue Grant, No. 54 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).