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Juan de Mestas Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Juan de Mestas, a resident of Santa Cruz, appeared before Governor Pedro Rodriques Cubero and registered a tract of land which he described as:

… extending from the house erected by Captain Jacinto Pelaez towards the river‑side below the Pueblo of Pojoaque and to a bluff and a hollow formed thereby, which are the boundaries, and on the south side to the hills and on the north side the same.

Upon examining the request, Cubero found that the tract conflicted with a grant which had previously been made to Sergeant‑Major Francisco de Anaya Almazan. However, Anaya’s grant was not complete since royal possession had never been formally delivered to him. Upon being advised of the conflict, Anaya consented to the governor’s granting Mestas all of the lands which he had requested. Having resolved this problem, Cubero, by decree dated December 9, 1699, granted Mestas three fanegas of planting land “from Jacinto Pelaez’s house downward.” He also ordered Roque Madrid, the Alcalde of Santa Fe, to place Mestas and Anaya in royal possession of their respective lands. Pursuant to such instructions Madrid met Mestas at the grant on the following day and placed him in possession of the following described tract:

… from the side of a hollow, and above a house lot, and from said hillside and lot, the line running from east to west, to the river, below the Pueblo of Pojoaque, toward the Pueblo of Jacona to a bluff, within which there is given to him three fanegas of planting land; and from north to south, along said river to the hills descending from Cuyamunque, without including any of the sand lands of the said pueblo, but including the appurtenance of the Pueblo of Jacona; and, from north to south, along said Pojoaque River, where the junction of the river is from a stake which is drawn in said hollow.

Mestas, his heirs and successors, continuously occupied and used the grant. The planting land composed of a narrow strip of land on the south side of the river and varied in width from ten to two hundred varas. However, there were several points which could not be irrigated since the river flowed against the banks. Since these lands could not be farmed without irrigation, they were used for grazing purposes.[1]

Notwithstanding the proximity of the grant to Santa Fe, it was not presented to the Surveyor General’s office for examination until April 1, 1872. On that date, Jose de la Luz Roybal, for himself and as legal representative of the other inhabitants of the grant, petitioned[2] Surveyor General James K. Proudfit for its confirmation. He described the tract as measuring about four thousand varas from north to south and forty‑five hundred varas from east to west. A certified copy of the grant papers made by Special Justice Juan Jose Lobato on June 4, 1751, together with the original copy of the grant were filed in support of the claim. No oral testimony was offered or taken in connection with Proudfit’s examination of the grant. Following the completion of his examination, Proudfit, in an opinion dated February 5, 1874, recommended that the grant be confirmed by Congress according to the boundaries and description set forth in the Act of Possession. While noting that the boundaries were incoherently stated in the Act of Possession, he believed the premises could be located by a competent surveyor as to do justice to the claimants and the United States. He stated that he tract contained about 3,000 acres. Although three fanegas of corn planting land would be a 26.46 acre tract, he pointed out that “a large extent of pasture or grazing land was usually conceded in addition to the planting land in these old grants.”[3] A preliminary survey of the grant was made by Deputy Surveyors Griffin & McMullen in May, 1878, for 1,686.47 acres.[4] Their survey also disclosed that the grant was located entirely within the Pueblo of Pojoaque Grant, which had been confirmed in 1858.

As a result of Congress’ failure to act upon Proudfit’s recommendation prior to the creation of the Court of Private Land Claims, Atanacio Romero, who claimed an interest in the grant by inheritance, instituted an action in that court on March 3, 1893, for the recognition of his title.[5] Since the grant was located wholly within the boundaries of the Pueblo of Pojoaque Grant, which previously had been confirmed, it was obvious that Section 13 (2) of the Act of March 3, 1891,[6] prohibited the granting of the plaintiffs’ prayer. This section provides:

No claim shall be allowed that shall interfere with or overthrow any just and unextinguished Indian title or right to any land or place.

Therefore, when the case came up for trial on June 29, 1898, Romero announced that he no longer wished to prosecute his suit. Immediately following this announcement, the Court issued a decree rejecting the claim and dismissing the plaintiff’s petition.[7]

[1] H.R. Exec. Doc, No. 213, 43d Cong., 1st Sess. 7‑9 (1874).

[2] The Juan de Mestas Grant, No. 80 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[3] Ibid., 10.

[4] The Juan de Mestas Grant, No. 80 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[5] Romero v. United States, No. 237 (Mss., Records of the Ct, Pvt. L. Cl.).

[6] Court of Private Land Claims Act, Chap. 539, Sec. 13(2), 26 Stat. 854 (1891).

[7] 4 Journal 2 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).