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Joaquín Mestas Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Joaquin Mestas appeared before Governor Pedro Fermin de Mendinueta and stated that Governor Francisco Antonio Martin del Valle had granted him a rancho at Lagunitas del Rio Puerco. However, Governor Tomas Velez Cachupin recalled the concession in 1762 and regranted it to Antonio Baca. As compensation for his loss, Cachupin promised Mestas that if he would find another tract of vacant land, he would grant it to him. Although he had located a suitable tract shortly thereafter, Cachupin only gave him permission to pasture his stock thereupon until he was able to satisfy himself that the granting of the land would not prejudice the rights of any third party. Since no further action was taken on his petition and he and his family had suffered a great deal of anxiety as a result of the continuous delay, he requested Mendinueta to investigate the matter and grant him and his two sons, Antonio and Manuel, a tract of land within the following designated boundaries:

On the north, the place called the Vadito de Piedra; on the east, the top of the Puerco Mountains; on the south, the boundaries of the Montoyas; and on the west, the top of another mountain commonly called the Seritos Colorado.

 After carefully considering the petition, Mendinueta issued a decree dated January 20, 1768 granting Mestas and his two sons:

… one Castilian league of five thousand varas each direction at the place mentioned and registered to him, it being understood that the said league of land will be measured, beginning at the close of the measurement of the land granted to Miguel and Santiago Montoya on the north thereof and which will serve the said Joaquin Mestas and his two sons as a boundary on the south, so that there be no surplusage between the adjoining tracts, and the said granted league will be completed on the other three courses in such a manner as to form a square if the land will allow it, and if it does not so permit, it shall be completed in any other shapes, but must consist of twenty thousand varas in circumference.…

 The decree gave the grantees the option of either building their houses and corrals upon or off the grant, but expressly required them, in order to acquire title in fee and dominion, to pasture their livestock upon the premises for a period of five years as prescribed by law. The grant was also made on the condition that they should not harm or injure the Apaches who lived in the vicinity but were to “treat them with love, fidelity, and kindness, endeavoring earnestly to bring them to the pale of our mother, the church, and under the vassalage of the sovereign . . . .”

Bartolome Fernandez, Alcalde of the Queres Nation, was directed to place the grantees in possession of the premises in the customary manner; provided, however, if the Apaches objected he was to suspend the proceedings pending further instructions Fernandez went to the grant on February 8, 1768 where he met with the grantees and Miguel and Santiago Montoya. Since the Montoyas had no objection to the grant and there were no other adjoining land owners or Indians living in the vicinity, he surveyed the grant, which proceeding was described as follows:

I caused measured a cordel, one hundred Castilian varas long, to be extended and I measured off for the party, from north to south, six thousand two hundred varas; and the course from east to west being very narrow could not be measured, the mountain being very rough and full of tablelands, and it being narrowed by a high tableland commonly called the Mesa de Chaca, which I designated as the boundary on the west, on the east a small projecting hill distant about five hundred varas from the river; and on the north the point of the great tableland . .

Upon completing the survey, Fernandez performed the usual ceremonies evidencing the delivery of royal possession of the grant to the grantees.[1]

The claim was presented[2] to Surveyor General James K. Proudfit for investigation by Samuel Ellison, as attorney for the heirs and legal representatives of Joaquin Mestas. After referring to the expediente of the grant which was in the Archives, the petitioners alleged that the grantees and their heirs and successors had been and remained in peaceable and quiet possession of the grant from its inception up to the date of their petition. In a short opinion[3] dated December 14, 1874, Proudfit held that the expediente was undoubtedly genuine and that the grant was valid. Therefore, he recommended its confirmation by Congress to the legal representatives of the original grantees according to the boundaries set forth in the Act of Possession. A preliminary survey of the grant was made in November, 1877, by Deputy Surveyor S. C. McElroy for 3,632.94 acres.[4]

Since Congress had not acted upon the claim, it was one of the grants re‑examined by Surveyor General George W. Julian under the instructions he received from Commissioner William A. J. Sparks. In his Supplemental Report[5] dated January 24, 1888, Julian noted that the heirs and legal representatives of Joaquin Mestas were not named in the petition nor identified by the evidence in the case, and held that he was not obligated to enter upon an investigation to establish their claim. He stated that for ought he knew there were no living heirs or legal representatives of Joaquin Mestas. He also called attention to the fact that there was no evidence that the grantees had performed the conditions contained in the granting decree. Therefore, he recommended that the grant be rejected by Congress.

No further proceedings were had in connection with the grant until after the creation of the Court of Private Land Claims. Clinton N. Cotton, who had purchased the grant, filed suit[6] in that court on July 25, 1892 seeking a juridical recognition of his title. In support of his claim, Cotton filed a schedule showing his chain of title. It showed that Joaquin, Antonio, and Manuel Mestas had sold the grant to Jose Garcia on August 15, 1792, that following Garcia’s death it passed to generation by generation until it vested in his great granddaughter and sole heir, Apolonia Lucero, that she sold it to Gavino Garcia and that he, in turn, sold it to Cotton on December 1, 1887. Cotton also introduced these three deeds into evidence. The only defense offered by the government in opposition to the recognition of the grant when the case came up for trial on February 27, 1893, was that the deed to Garcia was a forgery and, therefore, Cotton had failed to connect himself to the original grantees. The testimony on this point was similar to that in Cotton’s suit pertaining to the Bosque Grande Grant. It dealt mainly with the obvious forgery of Alcalde Antonio de Armenta’s signature and rubric on the deed and use of the word estado as meaning property. It was shown that estado was not used in New Mexico prior to the American occupation. The court sustained the government on this point and rejected the grant in its decree dated December 1, 1893.[7]

On November 10, 1899 J. Maria Mestas filed suit[8] against the United States in the Court of Private Land Claims seeking the recognition of the grant. His claims was based on the contention that the grant was complete and perfect and he was the descendant of Manuel Mestas, one of the original grantees. The government in its answer denied that the grant was complete and perfect and was, therefore, barred by the two-year statute of limitation contained in Section 12 of the Act of March 3, 1891.[9] In order to avoid any trouble from the owners of the Ojo de Espiritu Santo Grant, Mestas disclaimed all interest in any lands which conflicted with that grant. When the case came up for trial on August 14, 1900, Mestas introduced the grant papers and some oral testimony to the effect that he was a descendant of Manuel Mestas and a slight amount of evidence tending to show that the original grantees had held actual possession of the premises. The government, on the other hand, adduced evidence tending to show that the plaintiff was not connected by descent or otherwise to Manuel Mestas, but on the contrary showed that the grantees had abandoned the grant in the latter part of the eighteenth century on account of the hostility of the Indians and returned to Mexico. The Court, on August 15, 1899, confirmed the grant.[10] Justice Henry C. Sluss dissented on the ground that at best the grant was incomplete and imperfect and, thus, barred by the terms of the Act creating the Court. The government filed a motion on July 11, 1901, seeking a rehearing on the ground that the plaintiff, in his petition, had alleged that there was no one claiming an adverse interest in the grant while in truth practically all of the land covered by the grant was occupied by persons attempting to acquire title from the United States under the public land laws. The Court granted the government’s motion and directed Mestas to make all persons claiming an adverse interest in the land parties defendant within sixty days. The plaintiff refused to cite these parties and when the case came up for rehearing on April 3, 1902, he failed to pear to prosecute the suit. Therefore, the Court was not hesitant in issuing a decision[11] rejecting the grant and dismissing his petition.

[1] Archives No. 581 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[2] The Joaquin Mestas Grant, No. 97 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[3] H. R. Report No. 14, 41st Cong., 2d Sess., 21 (1870).

[4] The Joaquin Mestas Grant, No. 97(Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Cotton v. United States, No. 23 (Mss. , Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[7] 2 Journal 30 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[8] Mestas v. United States, No. 279 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[9] Court of Private Land Claims Act, Chap. 539, Sec. 12, 26 Stat. 854 (1891).

[10] 4 Journal 200 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[11] 4 Journal 293 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).