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Joaquín Sedillo and Antonio Gutiérrez Grant

by J. J. Bowden

As a result of the Court of Private Land Claims dismissal of J. Francisco Chavez’s suit[1] in connection with the San Clemente Grant on the ground that the grant did not cover any land north of the Town of Los Lentes, he filed two additional suits in the Court of Private Land claims[2] under Section 8 of the Act of March 3, 1891, seeking the confirmation of two grants situated between the Pueblo of Isleta and San Clemente Grants. In the first suit,[3] he sought the recognition of the Antonio Gutierrez Grant and, in support of his claim, filed a copy of expediente[4] of the grant. This instrument showed that Gutierrez had petitioned Governor Felix Martinez or a grant covering a tract of vacant land, which formerly had been owned by Cristobal de Tafia, for the support of his family and livestock. The requested tract was described as being bounded:

On the north, by an arroyo with some cottonwood trees that comes down from the hills; on the east, by the Rio Grande; on the south, by the Pueblo of San Clemente; and on the west, by the hills of the Rio Puerco.

Martinez granted the premises to Chavez on November 5, 1716, and directed Baltasar Romero to place Chavez in royal possession of the grant. While the instrument does not contain an Act of Possession, Chavez alleged that this vital function was performed and that Gutierrez and his heirs and legal representatives thereafter had held peaceable possession of the property. He estimated that the grant contained between fifteen and twenty thousand acres. In the second suit[5] Chavez sought the confirmation of the Joaquin Sedillo Grant, which allegedly had been granted to Sedillo sometime in the early part of the eighteenth century by the proper authorities of the Spanish Government lie described the grant as being bounded:

On the north, by the south line of the Pueblo of Isleta League; on the east, by the Rio Grande; on the south, by a twin Alamo called by some the Alamo de la Culebra; and on the west, by the Ceja of the Rio Puerco.

Chavez asserted that, notwithstanding the fact that the grant papers had been lost or destroyed, there was written evidence in the archives[6] to show that such a grant actually had been issued. Continuing, he stated that Sedillo and his lawful successors in title had been in continuous peaceable and uninterrupted possession of the grant down to the date of the institution of the suit. He estimated that the grant covered from ten to fifteen thousand acres of land. On November 13, 1896, the Pueblo of Isleta filed a petition alleging an interest in the grant and praying to be allowed to intervene as co‑plaintiffs, which petition the court granted and allowed.

Both causes came on for trial on May 5, 1897, and were heard together. In support of their claims, the plaintiffs introduced the expediente of the Antonio Gutierrez Grant and tendered in evidence Archive No. 178, which showed that Gutierrez had convoyed his grant to Diego Padilla, that Padilla conveyed it to Diego Borrego on January 7, 1734, that Antonio Sedillo, the forced heir of Joaquin Sedillo, conveyed the Joaquin Sedillo Grant to Borrego on January 11, 1734, and that Borrego, in turn, sold both grants to Nicolas de Chavez on August 16, 1736. The plaintiffs averred that the common boundary between the Joaquin Sedillo and Antonio Gutierrez Grants could not be identified, probably owing to changes on the earth surface which had denuded the arroyo of its trees and obliterated the arroyo itself, but that the inability to locate the common boundary presented no obstacle since the two tracts had been united in a common ownership in 1734. Next, the plaintiffs tendered in evidence Archive No. 371, being an inventory of the estate of Clemente Gutierrez made in 1785, from which it appeared that at the time of his death Gutierrez owned the grants. J. Francisco Chavez introduced documentary evidence showing that he was a grandson and an heir of Francisco Xavier Chavez, who had purchased the Bosque del Pinos from the heirs of Clemente Gutierrez. This tract was located in the eastern portion of the grants and was situated between the old bed of the Rio Grande as it ran in about 1716 and the Rio Grande as it existed in 1596. The Pueblo of Isleta introduced documentary evidence showing that the Indians had acquired the area west of the new bed of the Rio Grande by purchase from the heirs of Clemente Gutierrez. The government called the courts attention to the fact that (1) there was no Act of Possession in connection with the Antonio Gutierrez Grant and that the only evidence of a grant to Joaquin Sedillo was the recital in the deed to Diego Borrego; (2) neither of these instruments satisfactorily set forth the boundaries of the grant and there was no oral proof establishing their location; (3) the plaintiffs candidly admitted their inability to establish the location of the natural objects which marked the south boundary of the Joaquin Sedillo Grant and the north boundary of the Antonio Gutierrez Grant; (4) there was no evidence showing a connection between Nicolas de Chavez and Clemente Gutierrez. These facts being uncontroverted, it was argued by the government that there was not sufficient proof of boundaries to enable the Court to enter a confirmation decree, that the claimants had not connected themselves with the Spanish or Mexican government by showing a chain of title from the sovereignty into themselves, that the Court had no jurisdiction over the claims, since it had not been proved that the claims had been ‘”lawfully and regularly derived from the Government of Spain or Mexico” as required by Section 13(1) of the Act of March 3, 1891,[7] and that the claims were not complete and perfect; and, therefore, since they had not been filed by March 3, 1893, they were barred under Section 12 of said Act.[8] On May 25, 1897, the Court handed down its majority opinion[9] confirming the two grants as one tract of land, but confirming the tract known as the Bosque de los Pinos to Chavez and the balance to the Pueblo of Isleta. The Court found that Clemente Gutierrez and those deriving title under him had held continuous peaceable possession of the two grants for some time prior to the dis­tribution of his estate in 1785; and, therefore, under[10] Spanish and Mexican law this would be sufficient to establish a perfect title by prescription, in summing up its rule in the case, n majority of the court held that “forty years’ possession proceeding upon a title held by inheritance is sufficient evidence of a perfect title to the whole tract so possessed as against both Spain and Mexico; and sufficient to show a connection of such possessors with the original grant.” Justice W. M. Murray; dissented.

The government’s attorney in his report[11] on the case to the Attorney General stated:

In view of the important questions involved, among them the jurisdiction of the court to confirm a claim based on prescription and its jurisdiction to confirm a claim where claimant fails to connect himself with a Spanish and Mexican grant, I am of the opinion that the case should be appealed, and I so recommend.

Based on this recommendation, the government appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court. By decision[12] dated December 18, 1899, the Supreme Court affirmed the opinion of the Court of Private Land Claims, holding that, in the absence of rebutting circumstances, long and uninterrupted possession of land beginning long prior to the transfer of sovereignty to the United States and continuing after the transfer raises presumptions in favor of the possessor which are sufficient for legal judgment. The two grants were surveyed as a single tract in February, 1901 by Deputy Surveyor Levi S. Preston for 22,636.92 acres. A patent for such lands was issued on November 15, 1909.[13


[1] Chavez v. United States, No. 64 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[2] Court of Private Land Claims Act. Chap. 539, Sec. 8, 26 Stat. 854 (1891).

[3] Chavez v. United States, No. 274 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[4] Archive No. 315 (Mss., Records of the A. N. M.)

[5] Chavez v. United States, No. 275 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[6] Archive No. 371 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.)

[7] Court of Private Land Claims Act, Chap. 539, Sec. 13, 26 Stat, 854 (1891).

[8] Ibid,, Sec. 12.

[9] 3 Journal 251 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl,).

[10] Recopilacion de los leyes de los Indios Law 1, Book 4, Title 15 (1843); and New Orleans v, United States, 10 Peters (35 U,S.) 662 (1836).

[11] Report of the United States Attorney dated July 3 1897, in Chavez v United States Nos. 274 and 275 (Mss., Records of the General Services Administration, National Archives, Washington, D.C.), Record Group 60, Year File 9865‑92.

[12] United States v. Chavez, 175 U.S. 509 (1899).

[13] The Antonio Gutierrez and Joaquin Sedillo Grants, No. F‑243 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).