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Francisco Montes Vigil Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Noting that his herds were gradually diminishing due to inadequate pasturage, Francisco Montes Vigil, a resident of the Villa of Santa Cruz, commenced looking for a more suitable site for his ranching activities. Upon finding an attractive piece of vacant land situated on the north bank of the Truchas River between the settlements of Nuestra Senora del Rosario, San Fernando y Santiago and Santo Tomas del Rio de las Trampas, he decided to seek a royal grant covering that tract. Sometime during the latter part of April, 1754, Vigil petitioned Governor Tomas Velez Cachupin for a grant covering those premises, which he described as being bounded:

On the north, by the Cuchilla del Ojo Sarco; on the east, by the Cienega Grande: on the south, by the Truchas River; and on the west, by the road leading to the Town of Picuris.

In response to the petition, Cachupin, on April 27, 1754, directed the Alcalde of Santa Cruz to report to him concerning the merits of the petition. He particularly requested information on the nature of the land, the location of the natural objects referred to in Vigil’s description of the tract, the distances between such objects, whether or not the land was a portion of the royal domain, and if the issuance of the requested grant would be prejudicial to the new settlement of Nuestra Señora del Rosario, San Fernando y Santiago. Two days later, Alcalde Juan Jose Lovato advised the governor that the tract consisted primarily of grazing land but there a few pieces of agricultural land within its boundaries which would be sufficient to support Vigil and his herders. He stated that the tract was unoccupied and the issuance of the proposed grant would not prejudice the rights of either of the adjacent settlements or any third party. In closing his report, Lovato recommended that the grant be made. No mention was made pertaining to the size of the tract or the distances between the boundaries. Attentive to the King’s wishes that the royal domain on the frontiers be settled, Cachupin, on May 16, 1754, granted Vigil’s request and directed Lovato to place him in royal possession of the concession. Acting upon the governor’s decree, Lovato met Vigil and representatives from the adjoining settlements at Cienega Grande and proceeded to survey the grant. To the surprise of everyone, it was discovered that the grant, which was thought to be square was approximately triangular. Since the boundaries of the adjoining grants restricted the length of the eastern boundary to approximately 500 varas instead of 5,000 varas, the northern and southern boundaries were extended to compensate therefore some 2,000 varas, or a total distance of 7,000 varas to a point on the eastern edge of the Cienega Grande. Following the completion of the survey, legal possession of the grant was given to Vigil without protest from any of the adjoining landowners.[1]

Vigil, together with his family, servants, and herders, moved to the grant where he built a fine residence and a number of outbuildings in a beautiful valley near its center. He opened a number of fields near his home and pastured his herds and flocks on the surrounding hills. His descendants and successors were still occupying and using the land when the United States acquired New Mexico in 1848. On September 24, 1881, the owners of the grant petitioned[2] the Surveyor General, seeking the confirmation of their title to the grant. In an opinion[3] dated May 6, 1882, Surveyor General Henry M. Atkinson found that the grant papers, which were found among the archives turned over to the United States following the conquest of the territory, were undoubtedly genuine and Cachupin had the power and authority to issue the concession. He further noted that there was no question of the bona fides of the peaceful occupation by the claimants and their predecessors. Based on these findings, Atkinson recommended that the grant be confirmed in favor of the heirs and assigns of the original grantee in accordance with the boundaries set forth in the Act of Possession. The grant was re‑examined on September 22, 1886, by Surveyor General George W. Julian and was again recommended for confirmation.[4]

Meanwhile, a preliminary survey o the grant was made on July, 1882, by Deputy Surveyor John Shaw which showed that the grant covered 10,314.65 acres. The claimants protested the approval of the survey on the grounds the eastern boundary had been located too far west, and thus, failed to include all of the Cienega Grande and the southern boundary was located too far north, since it should have been located along the north bank of the Truchas River. They contended that the grant actually contained about 35,000 acres. The owners of the Town of Las Trampas Grant also protested on the grounds that the north line of the survey overlapped their grant, creating a conflict measuring 1,300 varas wide and about three miles long.

The claim was never acted upon by Congress and was still pending when the Court of Private Land Claims was established in 1891. Salvador Romero and four other claimants, for themselves and the other owners of the grant, filed suit[5] on June 11, 1892, in that court in order to secure the recognition of the claim. The United States offered no special defenses at the trial of the case and merely put the plaintiff’s allegations into issue. By decision[6] dated Auqust 30, 1892, the court held that the plaintiffs were entitled to other relief sought and, therefore, confirmed the grant. The grant was resurveyed in 1894 by Deputy Surveyor Sherrard Coleman and his survey showed that the grant contained only 8,253.74 acres. A patent for that amount of land was issued on May 2, 1899, to Francisco Montes vigil, his heirs, assigns and successors in interest.[7]

[1] Archive No. 1053 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[2] The Francisco Montes Vigil Grant, No. 128 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Romero v. United States, No. 14 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[6] 1 Journal 52‑53 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[7] The Francisco Montes Vigil Grant, No. 128 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).