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La Majada Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Benigno Ortiz y Sandoval instituted suit[1] in the Court of Private Land Claims on February 14, 1893, against the United Stats for the confirmation of the grant known as the La Majada Grant. In his petition, Ortiz alleged that on February 10, 1695, Governor Diego de Vargas granted a tract of land originally called El Ojito but subsequently known as La Majada, to Jacinto Pelaez as compensation for the services he had rendered as a solider during the reconquest of New Mexico. The boundaries of the grant were described as:

On the north, by a line running from east to west one league north of the spring on said tract known as the Ojito de la Leguna de Tio Mes; on the east, by the Bocas de Senetu; on the south, by the north boundary lines of the Indian pueblo of Santo Domingo; and on the west, by the Rio Grande.

Royal possession of the premises was not delivered to Pelaez; therefore, some three years later Pelaez petitioned Governor Pedro Rodriguez Cubero seeking a revalidation of the original concession. On December 13, 1698, Cubero revalidated the grant and ordered the Alcalde of Bernalillo to place Pelaez in royal possession of the property. Pelaez died shortly thereafter and before possession of the grant had been formally delivered to him.

Portions of the tract subsequently were regranted to Jacinto Sanchez and Nicolas Ortiz. On January 10, 1710, Ensign Ygnacio de Roibal, Guardian of Pelaez’s minor daughter, Maria, petitioned Governor Jose Chacon asking that the concessions which had been made to Sanchez and Ortiz be set aside and the La Majada Grant be revalidated in favor of Maria Pelaez.

The next reference to the grant is contained in a protest dated August 17, 1728, by Juan Fernandez de la Pedrera, husband of Maria Pelaez and father of Maria Fernandez de la Pedrera, minor heir of Maria Pelaez, complaining that the Indians of the Pueblo of Cochiti were trespassing on the grant. On the same day, Governor Juan Domingo de Bustamante directed Alcalde Andres Montoya to place Maria Fernandez de la Pedrera in possession of the grant. A week later Montoya complied with such order.

The next instrument in the chain of title is a petition wherein Bartolome Fernandez, who stated that his father, Juan Fernandez de la Pedrera, had given him possession of the premises, asked the governor’s permission to sell his interest. By decree dated July 17, 1744, Governor Joaquin Codallos y Rabal granted the request and pursuant thereto Fernandez sold his interest to Pauline Montoya.

In support of the allegations set forth in his peti­tion, Ortiz filed a certified copy of the various proceedings described above, which was made by Lino Maria Baca, Civil and Military Lieutenant of the jurisdiction of the Queres nation, Cienega, Cieneguilla and Majada on July 5, 1791. The certified copy allegedly had been obtained to protect the interests of the other heirs of the original grantee since the “originals” would be given to Pauline Montoya. The plaintiff, as corroborative evidence of the grant, also filed a certified copy of two instruments from the Surveyor General’s office. The first was an instrument whereby Bartolome Fernandez, Jr., conveyed his interest in the grant to Manuel Ortiz on November 28, 1785,[2] and the second was a conveyance dated July 31, 1786, by Juan de Abrege, husband of Juana Fernandez, who was the daughter of Bartolome Fernandez, Jr. to Manuel Ortiz covering his interests in the premises. He also pointed out that the archives contained a judical partition of the La Majada Grant by Francisco Montoya dated February 10, 1804, and approved February 17, 1805, by Governor Fernando Chacon. As a result of the partition, the grant was divided into four tracts which were owned in severalty by Pauline Montoya, Miguel Otero, Pedro Gonzales and Juan Jose Silva. Ortiz claimed an interest in the grant, which he estimated to contain 20,000 acres, as one of the legal representatives of the original grantee. He contended that he and his predecessors had held peaceable and undisturbed possession of the grant since 1695. A formal answer putting in issue the allegations of this petition was filed by the United States.

When the case came up for trial on September 10, 1894, Ortiz sought to introduce the certified copy of the grant papers. However, the government objected to its introduction on the ground that it had not been made by the proper officer and, therefore, was not entitled to be introduced into evidence. The court overruled the objection. The plaintiff then introduced the documentary evidence from the Surveyor General’s office and oral testimony showing the continuous and undisturbed possession of the tract by the plaintiff and his predecessors under the grant and also connecting himself to the original grantee. The United States had no special defense but introduced the files from the Surveyor General’s office pertaining to the Pena Blanca Grant showing that, in 1765, the same Bartolome Fernandez de la Pedrera, who filed the petition in 1745 seeking permission to sell a portion of the La Majada Grant, had, as Alcalde, placed the grantees of the Pena Blanca Grant in possession of their concession and that the Pena Blanca Grant conflicted with a portion of the La Majada Grant. It also introduced in evidence the files from the Surveyor General’s office in connection with the Pueblo of Cochiti grant in order to show that it conflicted with the western portion of the La Majada Grant.[3]

By decision dated September 24, 1894, the court confirmed the grant to the plaintiff and all other heirs, assigns, and legal representatives of Jacinto and Maria Pelaez, “free and discharged from any and all claims and de­mands for or against the same on the part of the United States; always excepting from this, confirmation any part of said land that may have been disposed of by the United States ...”[4]

The grant was surveyed by Deputy Surveyor Albert J. Easley in October, 1895, for 54,404.10 acres. A patent covering lands embraced within the grant was issued on October 26, 1908.[5]

Since the La Majada Grant conflicted with portions of the Caja del Rio, Pueblo of Cochiti and Santo Domingo Grants, its confirmation cast a cloud on the title of the parties owning lands under the other grants in the area of conflict. A suit was brouqht in 1903 in the Santa Fe District Court by the owners of the Caja del Rio Grant in order to clear their title. The Cochiti Indians promptly intervened to protect their interests. The court held for the owners of the Caja del Rio Grant insofar as their land conflicted with the La Majada Grant, but against them insofar as their lands overlapped onto the Pueblo of Cochiti Grant.[6] When the Pueblo Land Board considered the problem in 1930, the owners of the La Majada Grant entered a dis­claimer and the Indians’ title to almost all the lands under their grant which were involved in the conflict were recognized.[7] However, the owners of the La Majada Grant were more successful in connection with their conflict with the Santo Domingo Grant. The Pueblo Land Board in 1927 held that the Indians’ title to the 4,592.61 acres covered by that conflict had been extinguished.[8]

[1] Ortiz v. United States, No. 89 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[2] Archive No. 663 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[3] Ortiz v. United States, No. 89 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[4] 2 Journal 231 (Mss., Record of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[5] The La Majada Grant, No. F‑224 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[6] Abeytia v. Spiegelberg, No. 1430 (Mss., Records of the District Clerk’s Office, Santa Fe, New Mexico).

[7] United States v. Aragon, No. 2133 in Equity (Mss., Records of the United States District Clerk’s Office, Santa Fe, New Mexico).

[8] Santo Domingo Pueblo, Report No. 1 (Mss., Records of the Pueblo Land Board)