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Las Manuelitas Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Pedro Alcantara Vigil, for himself and nineteen other persons who found themselves lacking sufficient lands to support their families, petitioned the Governor of New Mexico through the Departmental Assembly for the grant of a tract of land on the northeast frontier between the towns of Las Vegas and Mora at the place known as Los Manuelitas. The tract was described in the petition as being bounded: 

On the north, by the headwaters of the Sapello River; on the east, by the boundaries of the town of Mora; on the south, by the Monton del Alamos, and on the west, by the boundaries, of the new town of Las Vegas.

Felipe Sena, President of the Departmental Assembly, on April 9, 1845, asked the Governor to direct the Prefects of the First and Second Districts of New Mexico to investigate the request and give a complete report on the merits of the petition. Governor Mariano Martinez wrote, “Fulfill the above decree of the Departmental Assembly” on the bottom of the request. Upon receipt of the decree the Prefects in turn ordered the Alcaldes of Las Vegas and Mora to investigate the matter and report to them. Thomas Bonito Lalanda, Alcalde of Mora, reported on April 26, 1845, that he had called eight of the original settlers of the colony before him and read the petitioners’ request to them. After fully discussing the matter, the group decided that the issuance of the grant would not adversely affect the colony if the new settlement was attached to the town of Mora for jurisdictional purposes. The Alcalde of Las Vegas, Ylaris Gonzales, however, on May 19, 1845, protested the issuance of the grant on the grounds that it conflicted with a portion of the lands previously granted to Las Vegas and, therefore, would be detrimental to the interest and welfare of the colony. The reports were forwarded to the Departmental Assembly, which, notwithstanding the protest filed by the town of Las Vegas, on July 2, 1845, granted the land to the petitioners upon the condition that all lands within the grant which were not cultivated were to be reserved for “public use as it is now.”[1]

The claim was never presented to the Surveyor General’s office for investigation. However, on the final day upon which suits could be filed in the Court of Private Land Claims, March 3, 1893, the owners of the grant instituted such a proceeding.[2] The plat which the plaintiffs filed indicated that the grant covered approximately 200,000 acres.

When the case came up for trial on July 5, 1898, the plaintiffs failed to appear. Whereupon, the Court entered a decree[3] rejecting the claim and dismissing the plaintiffs’ petition. The decision of the Court on March 25, 1896, in connection with the Maria Antonio Montoya Grant,[4] which held that the Departmental Assembly had no power or authority to grant lands probably caused the plaintiffs to realize there was little prospect of securing a favorable decision in their case.

[1] Vigil v. United States, No. 242 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[2] lbid.

[3] 4 Journal 12 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[4] Chavez v. United States, No. 20 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.). This decision was subsequently affirmed by the United States Supreme Court. 175 U.S. 552 (1899).