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Jose Leandro Perea Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Pedro Jose Perea, a resident of the Pueblo of Sandia, petitioned the Territorial Deputation of New Mexico, on November 30, 1824, for a grant covering a tract of land on the Pecos River known as Los Esteros which he had been occupying and farming since 1815. He described the tract as extending one league in each of the cardinal directions from a central point located at the junction of the Arroyo de los Esteros and the Rio Pecos. In support of his request, Perea stressed the equitable nature of his claim to the land and pointed out that a number of grants recently had been made in the vicinity. He, therefore, asked that a grant be made to him on the same terms as the Ojo del Agua Negra Grant, which had been issued to Antonio Sandoval on November 19, 1824. Twenty days later, the Territorial Deputation referred the petition to Bartolome Baca, the Governor of New Mexico, and requested him to report on the expediency of complying with the petitioner’s request. On February 25, 1825, Baca, in a lengthy report, stated that in view of the issuance of the Antonio Sandoval Grant, the petitioner naturally had the right to expect to receive a similar concession. The report set forth the conditions then existing in the territory and the advantages to be derived from reducing the public domain to private property, but cautioned against increasing the size of grants in the area between the Rio Grande and Pecos Rivers. He concluded by recommending that the grant be made. After considering Baca’s report, the Territorial Deputation on March 3, 1825, decided to issue the grant. Perea was then directed to appear before the Alcalde of San Miguel del Bado, Juan Esteban Pino, in order that possession of the grant could be legally delivered to him. While there is no evidence that possession was formally delivered to Perea, it is known that he took immediate possession of the grant and continuously occupied it thereafter whenever the Indian situation would permit the reasonably peaceful utilization of the land. The tract was used primarily as a rancho or pasturage for Perea’s extensive herds. On December 15, 1856, Perea, by a Gift Deed, conveyed the grant to his son, Jose Leandro Perea.

Jose Leandro Perea petitioned Surveyor General William Pelham on May 15, 1857, seeking the recognition of his claim. Surveyor General Pelham in his decision dated September 15, 1857, found the grant to be absolute and unconditional and, therefore, recommended its confirmation by Congress.[1] The grant was confirmed by the Act approved June 21, 1860.2]

Deputy Surveyor William W. Griffin was directed to survey the grant. After conducting a preliminary investigation into the boundaries, he advised the Surveyor General that the northern 5,000 acres of the grant conflicted with the Preston Beck, Jr. Grant. Griffin was instructed to give the interested parties notice of his plans to survey the Perea Grant and see if they could not agree upon the location of their common boundary. Upon receipt of notice, the owners of the Preston Beck, Jr. Grant protested the conducting of any survey which would cloud their title. Since the Preston Beck, Jr. Grant was older and its survey had been approved by the Surveyor General, it has been generally believed to be the senior grant. Notwithstanding the fact that as a general rule, junior surveys must yield to senior surveys, Griffin surveyed the grant in 1871 for the full four leagues or 17,712 acres described in the grant papers. A patent was issued to the owners of the grant on March 20, 1877 in accordance with Griffin’s survey.3]

In an effort to remove the cloud cast upon their title by the patenting of the Jose Leandro Perea Grant, the owners of the Preston Beck, Jr. Grant filed suit against the proprietors of the Jose Leandro Perea Grant in the District Court of San Miguel County, New Mexico. The trial court held that the land in conflict rightfully belonged to the Preston Beck, Jr. Grant. From this decree, the owners of the Jose Leandro Perea Grant appealed. The Supreme Court of New Mexico held that both the Preston Beck, Jr. and the Jose Leandro Perea Grants were not only imperfect, but were void grants prior to the passage of the confirmatory Act of June 21, 1860.[4] The Preston Beck, Jr. Grant was void because it had been made in the interim period between the suspension of the Iturbide Colonization Law of 1823[5] and the passage of the National Colonization Law of 1824.[6] During this period there was no valid law in effect under which the public domain could be legally granted. The Jose Leandro Perea Grant was void because there was no evidence that legal possession of the grant had been delivered as required under Mexican law. Therefore, the Act of June 21, 1860,[7] gave each grant an equal undivided moiety of the lands within the area of conflict.[8] The reasoning of this decision is indeed difficult to understand since paragraph 4 of the Act of June 21, 1860,[9] provided that the act was to be construed only as a quit claim on the part of the United States and was not to affect the adverse rights of any other person. It is obvious that Congress did not intend thereby to confirm title for the same land to the grantees of both grants as a moiety. One must prevail over the other. Therefore, the owners of the Preston Beck, Jr. Grant appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which found that the Preston Beck, Jr. Grant, in all of its steps, preceded the Jose Leandro Perea Grant, and the confirmation of the Preston Beck, Jr. Grant related to the date on which its senior equities arose.[10] Based on this reasoning, it was clear that the area in conflict was unquestionably part of the Preston Beck, Jr. Grant.

[1] H. R. Report No. 321; 36th Cong., 1st Sess., 260-268 (1860).

[2] An Act to confirm certain private Land Claims in the Territory of New Mexico, Chap. 167, 12 Stat. 71 (1860).

[3] The Jose Leandro Perea Grant, No. 16 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[4] Supra., note 2.

[5] 1Gammel, The Laws of Texas 27‑30 (1895).

[6] Ibid., 97‑98.

[7] Supra., note 2.

[8] Stoneroad v. Beck, 16 N.M. 754, 120 P. 898 (1912).

[9] Supra., note 2.

[10] Jones v. St. Louis Land & Cattle Company, 232 U.S. 355 (1914).