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Jose Maria Sanchez Baca Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Jose Manuel Sanchez Baca was one of the wealthy patriotic New Mexicans who elected to retain his Mexican citizenship after the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. At his own expense, he transported his family, peons, and some 6,000 sheep from New Mexico to Chihuahua. Baca temporarily moved to San Ignacio which was located about twenty miles down the Rio Grande from El Paso del Norte. In December, 1852, he moved to the new colony of Santo Tomas de Yturbide. He petitioned the Commissioner of Emigration, Ramon Ortiz, for a land grant in accordance with Article 3 of the Act of January 15, 1849. This article authorized the Commissioner to grant immigrating livestock owners a square league of vacant public grazing land as pasture land for their animals. Ortiz designated the limits of the proposed grant and authorized Baca to occupy and use the premises pending the formal issuance of a grant to him Baca immediately occupied the land, constructed corrals for his livestock and jacals for his peons, and commenced using it as pastures for his animals. Ortiz was removed as Commissioner of Emigration before he was able to complete the grant to Baca. Guadalupe Miranda was appointed as Ortiz’s successor with instructions to complete all of the unfinished business in connection with the Colonies of La Mesilla, Santo Tomas de Yturbide, Refugio, Guadalupe, San Ignacio and San Joaquin. Guadalupe Miranda as Commissioner General for Emigration of the Supreme Government and the State of Chihuahua on June 5, 1853, granted Jose Manuel Sanchez Baca a sitio de granada mayor.

The grant commenced at the southeast corner of the Santo Tomas de Yturbide Colony Grant and ran south 5,000 varas along the west bank of the river to a large rock; thence west 5,000 varas to a mesa in front of two mountain peaks in the prairie; thence north 5,000 varas to the point of a black mesa; and thence east along the south line of the Santo Tomas de Yturbide Colony Grant 5,000 varas to the place of beginning. The concession was given in consideration of Baca’s having migrated to Chihuahua at great personal expense.

The grant was made subject to the conditions that he could not sell or encumber the lands for a period of four years, that he occupy and build upon it, and that he cultivate all of its tillable portions. Miranda personally surveyed the grant and placed Baca in legal possession of the premises. He also issued a testimonio evidencing Baca’s title to the grant, and filed the expediente in the Archives of the Ayuntamiento of El Paso del Norte.

Baca and his family resided at Santo Tomas since the constant threat of Indian attacks made it impossible for them to live upon the grant. However, Baca constructed a small log cabin near the northwest corner of the grant in which he lived whenever possible and continuously grazed a large herd of sheep upon the property. In 1852, he began cultivating a 200‑acre tract which was located in the northeastern portion of the grant. In order to irrigate his crops, he constructed an acequia which commenced on the river north of the grant at a point near the Arroyo de Agua and extended southward to his farm.[1]

On March 24, 1856, Baca petitioned Surveyor General William Pelham requesting permission to prove the validity of his grant. Before Pelham could investigate the claim, a protest was filed against the confirmation of the grant by William Claude Jones, United States Attorney for New Mexico. It seems that between 1850 and 1856 the population of the Mesilla Civil Colony and the Santo Tomas de Yturbide Colony had greatly increased and that many of the new colonists found they could not obtain any land within the limits of the colonies. During January of 1857, a meeting was held at Mesilla to discuss the plight of the landless colonists. After this meeting, approximately 300 men proceeded to establish the new settlement known as La Mesa upon the then vacant public domain lying between the Jose Manuel Sanchez Baca Grant and the Refugio Civil Colony Grant. In order to irrigate the newly appropriated lands, the La Mesa settlers commenced constructing an acequia from Mesilla down to the lands upon which they had settled. When the acequia reached Baca’s Grant, he denied the La Mesa settlers permission to construct their ditch across his land. The colonists offered to purchase the grant, but Baca refused to sell. Knowing that the grant was valid, they maliciously requested Jones to file a protest against the confirmation of the grant. In response to their request, Jones, on January 25, 1857, addressed such a protest to the Surveyor General alleging that the grant should be rejected on the grounds that (1) the grant was antedated, (2) Miranda had never qualified as Commissioner and, therefore, had no authority to issue such a grant, and (3) the conditions specified in the grant had never been fulfilled. In conclusion, Jones stated that the grounds upon which the protest was based were incontrovertible, and that he was thoroughly convinced that Baca’s claim to one of the best tracts of land in Dona Ana County was invalid. [2]

When Baca learned of the protest, he decided to accede to the unjust demands of the La Mesa settlers. On April 20, 1857, he conveyed all of the grant, except for his 200‑acre farm tract, which was known as Los Chubs, to William Claude Jones, Eugenio Leonart, Marcial Padilbo, and Pablo Albillar, Trustees for the Town of La Mesa, in consideration[3] of 3,000 sacks of corn. After the La Mesa residents purchased the grant, Jones withdrew his protest, stating that he was unable to sustain the allegations mentioned therein.

Shortly thereafter, the La Mesa acequia was completed, and the La Mesa colonists proceeded to distribute the land which they had purchased, together with the vacant lands that they had appropriated among themselves. The Commissioners of La Mesa issued deeds to the colonists for their individual allotments. The colonists, who had been allotted land within the Jose Manuel Sanchez Baca Grant, moved to the grant and proceeded to establish a new town which is known as San Miguel, for their mutual convenience and protection.

In order to cure the title defect which resulted from Baca’s violating the condition of the grant which prohibited him from selling it for a period of four years, Eugenio Moreno and the other settlers who had acquired portions of the premises obtained a new deed from Baca on November 28, 1857, covering all of Baca’s interest except for the Los Chubs tract.[4] Baca in turn was given the right to use water from the La Mesa acequia for the irrigation of his land.

After the establishment of the settlement of San Miguel, Baca moved to the Los Chubs tract and farmed it until the date of his death in about 1860 or 1861. He died at Valverde, New Mexico, while enroute to Santa Fe for medical treatment. By verbal will, Baca bequeathed the Los Chubs tract to his brother, Cristobal Sanchez Baca. Cristobal Sanchez Baca and Lajara Baca, widow of Jose Manuel Sanchez Baca, sold the Los Chubs tract to Nester Telles on January 6, 1868 for $2,000.[5]

Due to the death of the grantee, no further steps were taken to secure the confirmation of the grant until January 25, 1882. On that date W. L. Rynerson, attorney for the claimants of the grant, petitioned the Surveyor General requesting the lands be segregated from the public domain, and the claimants be permitted to prove the validity of their claim to the lands upon which they had resided for more than a quarter of a century.

At a hearing held on April 7, 1882, by Surveyor General Henry M. Atkinson, a number of witnesses were examined who testified that Jones had filed his protest to force Baca to sell his grant. Miranda also appeared and stated that the grant had been duly made and testified in a general way that the expediente was in the respective archives of the Mexican government.

By opinion dated May 20, 1882, Atkinson, the Surveyor General, held that the grant had been properly made by Commissioner Guadalupe Miranda under the Acts of August 19, 1848, January 15, 1849, and May 22, 1851; that the conditions contained in the grant had been fulfilled, and that the grant had been duly filed in the Mexican Archives. He advised Congress that in his opinion the grant was valid and title thereto should be confirmed unto the heirs, assigns, and legal representatives of Jose Manuel Sanchez Baca. The Surveyor General expressly excepted from his approval all minerals on the grounds that they had been reserved by the Mexican government by operation of law. [6]

The grant was surveyed in April, 1888, by John Shaw, United States Deputy Surveyor. His survey showed that the grant contained a total of 3,601.19 acres of land.[7]

Anticipating an early approval of their claim, the owners of the grant formed a corporation which was known as the Corporation of the Jose Manuel Sanchez Baca Grant. Such a corporation would be necessary in order to settle the numerous legal problems which undoubtedly would arise once the grant was confirmed. Francisco Rivera, Melquiades Telles, and Jose Marie Romeres were appointed Commissioners of the Corporation.

On December 29, 1890, the Commissioner of the General Land Office, Lewis A. Groff, re‑examined the record in the claim and found that evidence could not support a finding that the expediente had been filed in the Mexican Archives. He stated:

This grant purports to have been made less than four months before the date referred to in this article of the treaty, the intention of which was evidently to protect the United States from a flood of grants that might or could have been made when it became known that such treaty was being negotiated. The plain language is, that no grants made after September 25, 1853, in the territory acquired by this treaty, will be considered valid, and any grants made previous to that date will not be respected or considered obligatory on the United States unless they have been duly recorded in the Archives of Mexico.

 In view of the fact that the claim was presented to the surveyor‑general of New Mexico for investigation by the original grantee, and upon remonstrance being filed by the United States Attorney, alleging that the grant was antedated, etc., it should lie without further effort on the part of claimants to have an investigation for more than twenty‑five years, and long after the death of the original grantee, it is suggested that the simple statement of a witness that the original copy of this grant was “in the respective archives of the Mexican Government” does not seem to fully satisfy the requirement of this article of the treaty. 

The grant must be recorded to entitle it to any standing, and if recorded in the respective archives of the Mexican Government, in what place are these archives kept, and in what book and upon what page is this grant found recorded, would seem to be inquiries pertinent to the case. No further action was taken on the recognition of the grant until after the Court of Private Land Claims was established.[8]

On February 28, 1898, the Corporation of the Grant of Jose Manuel Sanchez Baca filed suit in that Court seeking the recognition of the grant.[9] The plaintiff alleged that the grant had been duly and properly made by Miranda under the laws of both the Mexican Government and the State of Chihuahua, in consideration for the patriotic services rendered by Baca to the Republic of Mexico. It also alleged that all the conditions contained in the grant had been satisfied, that the claimants had derived their title therein through the original grantee, and that the testimonio of the grant had been properly filed in the Archives of Mexico. The petition closed with a prayer that the title to the grant be investigated and confirmed.

The cause came up for hearing on March 21, 1896, but was postponed until July 5, 1898. When the hearing was resumed, a large amount of oral and documentary evidence was introduced by the plaintiff tending to substantiate the allegations set forth in its petition. The Government offered evidence in contradiction to that presented by the plaintiff. In its argument, the Government contended that Miranda was not authorized to issue the concession, and that the expediente of the grant had not been duly filed in the Archives of Mexico as required by the Gadsden Treaty. 

In a preliminary opinion dated September 4, 1899, the Court, through Justice William N. Murray, overruled the Governments contentions and confirmed the grant. The Court held that Miranda was authorized under Article 3 of the Act of January 15, 1849, to grant a sitio de ganada mayor to an individual stockraiser who had emigrated to Mexico from the territory which had been ceded to the United States under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.[10]

The difficulties previously encountered by surveyors in locating the Rio Grande river bed of 1848‑1853, prompted the Justice Department to send Special Agent Clayton G. Coleman to the premises for purposes of investigating the boundaries and extent of the lands which had been confirmed by the Court. Clayton reported that the grant:  

Commenced at a point on the west boundary of the Hugh Stephenson Grant directly east of the most prominent point of a black mesa (which point of mesa is a mile or more northwest of the Plaza of San Miguel and is mentioned as a southern limit of the Santo Tomas de Yturbide Grant) and running thence for the east boundary of the Hugh Stephenson Grant to a point which is 2 miles 48.33‑1/3 chains by a direct line from the beginning; thence for the south boundary west 2 miles 48.33‑1/3 chains; thence for the west boundary by a line parallel to a direct line between the northeast and southeast corners 2 miles 48.33‑1/3 chains; and thence for the north boundary by a direct line to the beginning. The Court of Private Land Claims entered its final decision in the case on May 2, 1900. [11]

This decision formally confirmed the title to the grant in the Corporation of the Jose Manuel Sanchez Baca Grant in trust for its 102 claimants. The Court, in describing the lands which it had confirmed, adopted the boundaries designated by Coleman in his report.[12] In his report on the case to the United States Attorney General, the Government’s attorney pointed out that in this case the plaintiff had very strong equities in its favor. He noted that many of the claimants or their ancestors had held peaceful possession of their undivided tracts of land for approximately fifty years. Continuing, he stated that while he had some doubts as to the correctness of the Court’s decision, he was not so confident of his position as to feel justified in recommending an appeal of the case.[13]

Once the decree became final, the grant was surveyed by Deputy Surveyor Jay Turley. His survey showed that the grant contained 3,530.6 acres of land. The United States’ attorney protested the approval of the survey on the grounds that it included lands in excess of and beyond those contemplated by the Court in its decree of confirmation. The Surveyor General appointed Thomas M. Hurlbert as a Special Examiner to investigate the merits of the Government’s protest. Hurlbert reported that Turley had executed his survey in an accurate manner, and he knew of no reason why the survey should not be accepted. The Court of Private Land Claims overruled the Government’s protest and approved Turley’s survey[14] of the grant on April 8, 1902.

The years of persistent and tireless effort to secure the recognition of the Jose Manuel Sanchez Baca Grant were culminated in victory on March 19, 1906. On that date, Theodore Roosevelt, as President of the United States, executed the long coveted patent for the 3,530.6 acres of land covered by the grant. The patent was issued to the Corporation of the Jose Manuel Sanchez Baca Grant in trust for the heirs and assigns of the original grantee. [15]

[1] The Jose Manuel Sanchez Baca Grant, No. 129 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.). 

[2] Ibid. 

[3] The Deed from Jose Manuel Sanchez Baca to William Claude Jones was dated April 20, 1857. It was not recorded in Dona Ana County, New Mexico, but the original deed was filed in the Surveyor General’s office. 

[4] Deed Records 27 (Mss., Records of the County Clerk’s Office, Las Cruces, New Mexico).               

[5] Deed Records 380‑384 (Mss., Records of the County Clerk’s Office, Las Cruces, New Mexico). 

[6] Land Claims Records 767‑768 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.). 

[7] The Jose Manuel Sanchez Baca Grant, No. 129 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.). 

[8] S. Exec. Doc. No. 30, 51st Cong. 2d Sess., 1‑3 (1891). 

[9] The Corporation of the Jose Manuel Sanchez Baca Grant v. United States, No. 138 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.). 

[10] Ibid. 

[11] The Jose Manuel Sanchez Baca Grant, No. 129 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.). 

[12] 4 Journal 151‑153 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.). 

[13] Report of the United States Attorney dated June 20, 1900 in the Case of The Corporation of the Grant of Jose Manuel Sanchez Baca v United States (Mss., Records of file General Services Administration, National Archives, Washington, D.C.), Records Group 60, Year File 9365‑92. 

[14] The Jose Manuel Sanchez Baca Grant No. 129 (Mss. Records of the S.G.N.11.).  

[15] 29 Deed Records 398 (Mss., Records of the County Clerk’s Office, Las Cruces, New Mexico).