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Juan Jose Lovato Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Captain Cristobal Torres was granted a tract of land on the Chama River by Governor Juan Domingo de Bustamante on June 6, 1724. The tract was described as being bounded:

On the north, by the Sierra de las Grullas; on the east, by the Pueblo de Chama; on the south, by the Sierra Santa Cruz; and on the west, by the hill called Piedra Lumbre.

Torres was placed in royal possession of the premises three days later by Lieutenant General Juan Páez Hurtado. However, before Torres could settle upon the grant, he died. The grant was “upon due proceedings first had” revoked on October 24, 1733, by Governor Gervacio Cruzat y Góngora and the lands listed as realengos or crown lands.[1] Later the tract was granted by Governor Gaspar Domingo de Mendoza to Juan Jose Lovato and Diego de Torres, the son of Cristobal de Torres. This second grant was subsequently denounced as forfeited and the lands annotated as part of the royal domain when Lovato, in ignorance of the prohibitions contained in the royal land, sold his interest in the grant. Finding himself in a destitute position, Lovato humbly petitioned Mendoza for a new grant covering the same tract and promised this time to comply with the royal laws. On August 24, 1740, Mendoza issued a decree regranting the solicited tract to Lovato and directing the Alcalde of Santa Cruz, Juan Garcia de Mora, to place him in royal possession of the premises. Possession was accordingly delivered on September 11, 1740.

Alcalde Jose Romo de Verga, who had been appointed by Governor Joaquin Codallos y Rabal to affect a distribution of the lands owned by the Estate of Juan de Mastes, ordered Lovato on May 30, 1744, to vacate the grant within a few months under penalty of a one hundred peso fine. It seems that Mastes, sometime prior to 1724, had received a grant covering a portion of the land contained within the Juan Jose Lovato Grant. A suit had been instituted in 1725 by Cristobal Torres against Mastes to clear his title. At the trial of this cause, it was shown that at the time Hurtado delivered possession of the grant to Torres, Mastes had consented to and raised no objections to the delivery of possession of the entire tract to Torres.[2] Lovato promptly protested the action taken by Roma and requested the governor to set the eviction order aside on the ground that the 1725 litigation had extinguished Mastes’ title to the lands covered by the Juan Jose Lovato Grant. On June 15, 1744, Governor Codallas decided that the grant to Lovato by Governor Mendoza on August 24, 1740, was a valid, subsisting and permanent grant and he was entitled to be protected. Thereafter, Lovato and his heirs and assigns occupied and claimed most of the lands covered by the grant.[3]

A petition[4] seeking the confirmation of the grant was filed in Surveyor General H. M. Atkinson’s office on March 31, 1884. Surveyor General Atkinson considered the claim on April 3, 1884, and decided[5] that it was valid and so reported to Congress. However, Congress took no action upon Atkinson’s recommendation.

After the Court of Private Land Claims was established, the owner of the grant turned to that forum for assistance. On February 28, 1893, Jose Isabel Martinez and forty-seven other heirs of Juan Jose Lovato filed suit[6] against the United States seeking the confirmation of their title to the 100,000 acres of land which they estimated were covered by the grant. The only defense which the government offered against the recognition of the Juan Jose Lovato Grant was that it conflicted with three previously confirmed grants. The court in its opinion[7] dated July 9, 1894, found the plaintiffs’ title to be good and valid, and conferred the grant to all of the lands within the boundaries except for the portion thereof which conflicted with the Town of Abiquiu, Plaza Blanco, and Plaza Colorado Grants.

To the surprise of everyone, the official survey of the grant which was made by Deputy Surveyor Sherrand Coleman on October 15, 1895, showed that the grant contained 205,615.72 acres. A patent, based on this survey, was issued on January 15, 1902.[8]

The Coleman Survey also showed that thirteen patented homestead entries aggregating 1,856.73 acres were located within the grant. On April 23, 1900, the owners of the grant filed supplemental petition[9] in the Court Private Land Claims under Section 14 of the Act of March 3, 1891,[10] seeking a judgment for the value of the lands covering said homestead entries which the government allegedly had disposed of in violation of the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. This was the first suit for a money judgment against the United States under this act. The government in its answers contended that the plaintiffs, in their original petition, had asserted that there were no conflicting or adverse claims and therefore, had waived their right to proceed under Section 14 of the act. In its decision[11] dated May 11, 1900, the court found for the plaintiffs and awarded them damages in the amount of $2,320.91. The government promptly appealed the decision. The Supreme Court, on April 3, 1902, reversed[12] the decision of the Court of Private Land Claims on the ground that the unexplained delay of the plaintiffs in instituting their action for more than four years after the discovery of the homestead entries amounted to an abandonment of their claim.

The Juan Jose Lovato Grant was the second largest grant conferred by the Court of Private Land Claims and was one of the two grants which was conferred for more than 100,000 acres. Had the Court of Private Land Claims realized that there were so many other conflicting grants located within its boundaries, it is doubtful that it would have confirmed the Juan Jose Lovato Grant.

[1] Archive No. 943 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[2] Archive No. 944 (Mss. , Records of the A.N.M.).

[3] The Juan Jose Lovato Grant, No. 198 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Martinez v. United States, No. 140 (Mss., Records of the Pvt. L. Cl.). Meanwhile, Juan and Jesus Torres had filed suit in the Court of Private Land Claims seeking confirmation of their claim to the same tract of land based upon the June 6, 1724, grant by Governor Bustamante to Cristobal Torres. (Torres v. Unites States, No. 250 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.)). The government contested recognition of the Torres claim on the ground that the grant had been revoked by Governor Cruzate. When this case came up for trial the plaintiffs announced that they no longer desired to prosecute their claim and the case was dismissed on June 15, 1898. 3 Journal 404 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[7] 2 Journal 45‑48 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[8] The Juan Jose Lovato Grant, No. 198 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[9] Martinez v. United States, No. 140 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[10] Court of Private Land Claims Act, Chap. 539, Sec. 14, 26 Stat. 854 (1891).

[11] 4 Journal 171 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[12] United States v. Martinez, 184 U.S. 441 (1902).