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Juan Jose Sanchez Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Juan Jose Sanchez, the Jefe Politico of El Paso del Norte, petitioned Guadalupe Miranda, Commissioner of Emigration, for a league of land located on the west bank of the Rio Grande River between Refugio Civil Colony and the Santa Teresa Grant. Sanchez stated that he needed the land to pasture his livestock because his lands at El Paso del Norte had been largely destroyed and washed out by the annual river floods.

Upon investigating the petition, Miranda found that the lands requested by Sanchez were rough, deeply cut by arroyos, and therefore, unsuited for colonization and farming. The Commissioner further found that the granting of the land to such an industrious individual would be in the public interest, since its occupation would help protect the colonists at Refugio and the town of El Pasodel Norte from the frequent attacks of the hostile Apache Indians. Therefore, on June 29, 1853, he granted the following described lands to Sanchez, to‑wit:

Beginning at the southeast corner of the Refugio Civil Colony Grant; thence south 5,000 varas along the west bank of the Rio Grande River to a mound near the river; thence west 5,000 varas to a mound on the top of the foothills; thence north 5,000 varas to the south line of the Refugio Civil Colony Grant; thence east 5,000 varas along the south line of the said grant to the place of beginning.

In the testimonio of the grant, Commissioner Miranda stated that the concession was made in accordance with Article 3 of the Colonization Law of January 15, 1849, and Article 18 of the Colonization Regulations of May 22, 1851. Article 3 of the Colonization Law of January 15, 1849, authorized the Commissioner of Emigration to gratuitously grant a league of pasture land to any livestock owner that emigrated to Chihuahua from the area ceded to the United States under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.[1] The Commissioner of Emigration was authorized under Article 18 of the Colonization Regulation of May 22, 1851, to make fee simple conveyances of lands granted to such emigrants. [2]

Sanchez immediately took legal possession of the lands but the frequent Indian raids prevented him from establishing his proposed ranch on the grant. Whenever the danger of such Indian attacks subsided, he would temporarily move his herds from his lands at El Paso del Norte to the grant. He also made a few trips to the grant to gather firewood. Sanchez gave Mariano Garcia, one of the Refugio colonists, permission to graze his stock on the grant, which he did between the years 1860 and 1876; however, neither Sanchez nor Garcia ever constructed any permanent improvements upon the grant. Such irregular use of the lands covered by the grant continued up until the time of Sanchez’s death in 1893. Upon his death, the grant passed to Blaza Alvarez de Sanchez, the widow of Esperedon Sanchez, and her five children: Jesus Sanchez, Guadalupe Sanchez de Martinez, Josefa Sanchez de Alvarez, Silvarino Sanchez and Jose J. Sanchez. Blaza Alvarez de Sanchez was the only child of Juan Jose Sanchez and Josefa Garcia Sanchez.

No action was taken by the owners of the grant to secure the recognition of the claim by the United States Government until April 7, 1902. On that date the heirs of Juan Jose Sanchez filed suit in the Court of Private Land Claims.[3]

In their petition, the claimants alleged that a valid grant had been made by Commissioner Miranda on June 29, 1853, in favor of Juan Jose Sanchez, that Miranda was authorized to make the grant, that the grant was recorded in the Archives of Mexico, that the grantee had improved and used the lands covered by the grant for more than 35 years prior to his death, and that the approximately 4,428 acres covered by the grant should be confirmed to the petitioners.

The case came up for trial on June 24, 1903, at which time the plaintiffs offered in evidence the testimonio oral testimony and depositions supporting their position. The government did not offer any evidence in the case, but by cross‑examining the plaintiffs’ witnesses showed that Juan Jose Sanchez was an inhabitant of El Paso del Norte at the time that the grant was issued, and he had never resided upon the grant.

In his argument, the government’s attorney contended that the claim should be rejected on the grounds that the Act of January 15, 1849, and the Regulations of May 22, 1851, authorized the Commissioner, Miranda, to grant land only to emigrants from New Mexico, and the title papers and testimony clearly showed that the grantee was a citizen of El Paso del Norte on the date that the grant was made. In the alternative, the government asserted that the grant should be rejected, because the Act and Regulations, under which the grant was allegedly made, confined the authority of the Commissioner solely to the founding of civil colonies and distributing land to the members of such colonies. The government pointed out that the title papers in the case clearly disclosed that Sanchez was not a member of any civil colony, the conveyance was not the distribution of colony land, but was an individual grant made wholly independent of the founding and administration of any colony. [4]

The Court in a unanimous opinion dated June 26, 1903, rejected the claim on the grounds that Commissioner Miranda had no authority under the Act of January 15, 1849, or the Regulations of May 22, 1851, to make a grant of land to an individual. The Court held that it was absolutely necessary that the recipient of an allotment of land under the Act of January 15, 1849, and the Regulations of May 22, 1851, be an actual settler in a colony formed by the Commissioner of Emigration. [5]

The Court did not pass on the question of whether or not a member of a colony established under the Act of January. 15, 1849, and the Regulations of May 22, 1851, had to be an emigrant from New Mexico in order to receive an allotment of the colony’s land.

Immediately after the announcement of the Court’s decree, the claimants gave notice of their intention of appealing the decision to the United States Supreme Court but failed to perfect it.[6] They apparently realized that it would be virtually impossible to convince the Supreme Court that Miranda had authority to make a valid grant to Sanchez. After the decision became final, the lands covered by the Sanchez grant were returned to the public domain. They have since been appropriated by the residents of La Union under the Act of February 3, 1911, which authorized the persons who claimed and occupied land covered by the rejected portion of the Refugio Civil Colony Grant to make an entry on such lands. [7]

[1] Alvarez v. United States, No. 280 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[2] S. Exec. Doc. No. 56, 43d Cong., 1st Sess., 21‑26 (1874).

[3] Alvarez v. United States, No. 280 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[4] Report of the United States Attorney dated August, 1903 in the Case Alvarez v United States (Mss., Records of the General Services Administration, National Archives, Washington, D.C.), Record Group 60, Year File 1865‑92.

[5] Alvarez v. United States No. 280, Ct. Pvt. L. Cl. (1903)

[6] Journal 341‑342 (Mss., Records of the Ct.Pvt,L. Cl.).

[7] An Act to quiet titles to certain land in Dona Ana County, New Mexico, Chap. 35, 36 Stat. 896 (1911)