More to Explore

Ojo Caliente Land Grant

by Malcolm Ebright

The Ojo Caliente area is the site of several prehistoric pueblos and hot springs from which the area derives its name. These springs were sacred to ancient Pueblo people who abandoned their pueblos in the early 1500s. The prehistoric pueblo closest to and most connected to the hot springs was Posi-ouinge, said to be the pueblo where the mythical culture hero Poseyemu lived. The main hot spring, known to the Tewa as Posipopi, or the green springs/greenness pool because of the emerald algae that grew on the surrounding rocks, was revered by the Tewa and other pueblos in the region. According to Tewa myths, Poseyemu's grandmother was said to live in this spring, and he came to visit her regularly. This sacred green-edged pool was changed and obscured when a bath house operated by Antonio Joseph in conjunction with his hotel, was built over the pool. Joseph's attempt to control the hot springs was a prelude to his acquisition of much of the land in the Ojo Caliente region.

Although its remote location and raids by the Utes, Comanches and other tribes made it difficult to permanently settle, Spanish settlement at Ojo Caliente began in the early 1700s. Though there is little direct evidence of early land grants to Spaniards, a lawsuit in 1735 reveals that Antonio Martín received a grant at Ojo Caliente around 1730. The grantees gradually settled on farms and ranches at Ojo Caliente until they were suddenly dislodged and forced to temporarily abandon their holdings due to a devastating Ute and Comanche raid on Abiquiú and surrounding settlements in August of 1747. The Ute and Comanche raiders took twenty-three women and children captive. Governor Codallos y Rabal's troops were not able to catch the Indians though a settlers' militia did pick up their trail. It did not find the raiding party itself, only the dead bodies of three women and a newborn baby. This deadly scene, together with others, was enough to convince the settlers in the communities surrounding Abiquiú to leave their homes and landholdings.

In 1749 a new governor succeeded Codallos y Rabal, bringing with him a radically different approach to the difficult task of settling Hispanos in northern New Mexico on the Ute, Comanche, Navajo, and Jicarilla Apache frontier. Tomás Vélez Cachupín took quite seriously the Indian threat and the chilling effect of raids on peripheral Spanish settlements. In the spring of 1750, the governor was ordered to resettle the communities of Abiquiú, Embudo, and Ojo Caliente. In March 1751 Vélez Cachupín's lieutenant governor, Bernardo Antonio Bustamante y Tagle, who had recently completed the resettlement of Sandia Pueblo, ordered the Ojo Caliente settlers to "reoccupy their homes and cultivate their lands within the term of two months" or lose their land. Lieutenant Governor Bustamante ordered the alcalde to ask each of the settlers if they would return to Ojo Caliente and then record their answers. Five settlers asked for two more months to resettle because the houses and church were in a tumble-down condition and because they lacked oxen for plowing. Bustamante gave them until October 1751, but when that deadline came and went, Governor Vélez Cachupín ordered them to resettle by the spring of 1752 or lose their land and be subject to a twenty-five peso fine. Francisco Duran complied with the order and moved to Ojo Caliente with his family, but by February 1752 no other Spaniard had moved. Duran, in fear for his life and property, asked Governor Vélez Cachupín to assign an escort of soldiers to protect him and his family. Instead, Vélez Cachupín ordered the noncompliant settlers to resettle by March 30, 1752. On that date nine more families returned to the vulnerable outpost of Ojo Caliente, in spite of the certainty of continued Ute and Comanche attacks.

In 1766 Alcalde Manuel García Pareja notified Governor Vélez Cachupín that some Ojo Caliente settlers "have gone to settle some other places out of their fear of the enemies [the Ute and Comanche] . . . and have left their tracts of land to the care and protection of the few vecinos who are in said site." The remaining Ojo Caliente settlers asked the governor to order the resettlement of Ojo Caliente "with families who have firearms and gear for riding horseback," and not those who would use the land only for grazing. Their argument was that the livestock herders who would be living at Ojo Caliente, would be more trouble than they were worth as defenders of the community because they lacked weapons. Accordingly, Vélez Cachupín ordered that the land of settlers who did not return be declared public land available to other settlers who might apply for it, as long as they had adequate firearms to defend the settlement.

Vélez Cachupín was not able, in mid-1766, to follow up on whether the Ojo Caliente settlement was re-populated, but his successor, Governor Pedro Fermín de Mendinueta, found that the same situation prevailed in December of 1767: vacant houses and abandoned land. Mendinueta referred to the Vélez Cachupín order of resettlement of February 1766 and gave the affected parties fifteen days to reclaim their lands. When none of the original Spanish settlers appeared during that period, Mendinueta ordered that Hispano vecinos and Genízaros who had stayed at Ojo Caliente be assigned the lands declared public domain by Vélez Cachupín. There were over a dozen Genízaros who had stayed at Ojo Caliente and had been completely overlooked by the authorities. As in other settlements, the Genízaros were typically not given title to the land on which they were living, so Mendinueta's actions were somewhat revolutionary. He ordered that both the Hispano vecinos and the Genízaros be given deeds to the lands they were farming or to previously abandoned irrigable lands.

A year after the allotment of land to the Ojo Caliente Genízaros in 1768, the Spanish settlers, who were originally granted land there, still had not returned. Governor Mendinueta's frustration at not being able to accomplish the resettlement of Ojo Caliente boiled over in late March 1769 when he ordered the Spaniards who had left their homes because of Comanche depredations, to return within four days of notification of his decree. Those who failed to obey would be fined 200 pesos and brought to Santa Fe as prisoners to be jailed until they agreed to resettle Ojo Caliente. Although some of the settlers initially responded that they would resettle, upon reflection most answered defiantly that they lacked the supplies necessary to make the resettlement and would not be able to return within the short span of four days. The governor ordered Alcalde Ortiz to gather the Spanish settlers together and ask them one more time if they would resettle. If they refused, Alcalde Ortiz was to apply the penalties previously ordered. Yet again the settlers reiterated their stories of trials and tribulations on the frontier at Ojo Caliente in the face of Indian attacks. Most of the settlers were saying indirectly what Francisco Marquez said directly and succinctly: He would not take his family to Ojo Caliente until all of the families went together.

When Governor Mendinueta received the declarations of the reluctant settlers, he decided to go to Ojo Caliente and see for himself why it was so difficult to defend the community from attacking Ute and Comanche raiding parties. He discovered that the main plaza was dominated on the east by a ridge of hills, the arroyos of which allowed the enemies to get near the plaza without being seen and attack the settlement. There was a similar ridge of hills toward the south and west which in the governor's view made the entire area difficult to defend. Mendinueta told the settlers to wall up their houses and the church, and wait until measures were "taken to provide greater protection for the Ojo Caliente settlement." Now understanding the difficulty of the situation in Ojo Caliente, Mendinueta allowed most of the settlers to escape the punishment he had outlined in his earlier order. He did however single out Miguel Abeyta and Ignacio Alarid for punishment. Governor Mendinueta found their protests concerning the impossibility of retaliation against the Ute and Comanche to be “false, frivolous, denigrating, insolent, and full of malice." He sentenced Abeyta and Alarid to serve "one whole month with the militia detachment personally, besides the time they are obliged to serve like the others," noting that the community had always been provided with an adequate militia to provide for its safety.

However, Ojo Caliente remained unoccupied by Spaniards for two more decades during the 1770s and 1780s due to Indian raids. During the administration of Governor Juan Bautista de Anza (1778-88), peace was achieved with the Comanches and Utes after the famous defeat in 1779 of the clever and talented Comanche leader Cuerno Verde. On their expedition to defeat Cuerno Verde and his Comanche band, Governor Anza and his soldiers camped at Ojo Caliente. He described the area as "abandoned on account of the hostilities of the enemy," but upon further inspection he found “twenty-five or thirty families scattered over more than four leagues (10 1/2 miles), their houses unfortified.” Anza surmised that: “For this reason, it is not strange that there were such attacks, as this disorder [in the settlement pattern] brought upon them the loss of their poor fields." As in other New Mexico communities, Ojo Caliente settlers preferred living apart from each other in ranchos scattered along the source of irrigation water rather than in centralized fortified communities. Governor Mendinueta, in an earlier report, described the settlers and their preference of a dispersed settlement pattern as these “churlish types of settlers” who are “accustomed to live apart from each other, as neither fathers nor sons associate with each other."

By September 1790, the Comanche and Ute peace had made settlement at Ojo Caliente feasible for the first time in decades. José Manuel Velarde and eighteen petitioners asked Governor Fernando de la Concha (1778-1794) for permission to resettle Ojo Caliente. Velarde must have been familiar with the policy favoring compact defensible communities; for he told the governor that he wanted to establish a walled settlement at Ojo Caliente. Governor Concha knew the history of the attempts to settle Ojo Caliente, and notified Velarde that he would approve the petition only if the settlers formed “a well-aligned and regular settlement at the place where there was one, years ago, which today is called the [Pueblo] Viejo at the outskirts of the Cañada de los Comanches." Governor Concha believed that this site was the most suitable because of “the ease of digging an acequia [to irrigate] their fields, which can run along the foot of said settlement for their subsistence and for raising livestock in all the surrounding area.” When notified of Governor Concha’s decree, the settlers, who now numbered thirty-two, replied that they would not settle the Cañada de los Comanches at the Pueblo Viejo because "the old pueblo is a long way from the water when the acequia is not running in the winter." They wanted to settle at the old plaza near the chapel where they had settled before. Governor Concha’s reply said that "in no way do I agree to the formation of a settlement in the place proposed by the founders, since experience has proven that nobody can last there in time of war on account of its unfortunate location." Settlement at Ojo Caliente was again stalemated.

Three years after the standoff between Governor Concha and the hopeful settlers, a new group of fifty-three petitioners, some of whom were already in possession of land at Ojo Caliente, petitioned Governor Concha for a formal grant. After all the earlier attempts to settle at Ojo Caliente under Governors Vélez Cachupín and Mendinueta, and all the reports of loss of property and deaths of livestock and family members, this routine request for a land grant at Ojo Caliente was anticlimactic. Governor Concha made the grant on 11 September, 1793 to the community of fifty-three heads of families, giving them the land they had requested. Since the petition by Antonio José Espinosa, Juan Zamora, and Salvador Maese did not specify the boundaries requested, Governor Concha left it to the alcalde to delineate the boundaries of the grant. As was often the case with the designation of imprecise boundaries, this situation led to great confusion later on when the United States government tried to adjudicate the Ojo Caliente grant.

Governor Concha provided that "the watering places on the Ojo Caliente River [were] common between [the grantees] and the balance of the citizens of Rio Arriba," with the condition that the neighboring stockmen cause no damage to the fields of the Ojo Caliente settlers as their cattle approached the Ojo Caliente River to slake their thirst. When Alcalde Manuel García de la Mora placed the grantees in possession of the land at Ojo Caliente, he specified the boundaries as: north, the Cañada de los Comanches; south, a landmark "of stone and mortar with a holy cross made of cedar placed in the center;" east, the foothills; and west, the foothills on the other side of the river. The southern landmark containing a cross of cedar was undoubtedly connected to the official name for the mission at Ojo Caliente: Santa Cruz de Ojo Caliente. It is not clear which foothills García de la Mora intended, however, but it seems clear that Ojo Caliente was intended to be a community grant with common grazing lands.

Alcalde García de la Mora placed the fifty-three grantees (many of whom were already living on and farming their land), in possession of tracts of land each 150 varas wide along the Rio del Ojo Caliente from the Cañada de los Comanches to the torreon of the deceased José Baca; providing that the pastures and watering places remain for the benefit of the grantees and the citizens of Rio Arriba. At the conclusion of the act of possession, García de la Mora conducted the traditional ritual the Spanish performed when they received a land grant: "each individual walked over the land assigned to him, and they jumped and leaped about and plucked up weeds with their hands, and expressed their thanks to the King and to the Colonel [Governor Concha], who made them the grant in the name of His Majesty."

The 1793 settlement of Ojo Caliente was on tracts of land that had been previously cultivated, planted, and irrigated by settlers who had repeatedly tried to establish a permanent settlement at Ojo Caliente more than six decades earlier. While many family names of earlier Ojo Caliente Hispano settlers were missing from the 1793 list, so too were the names of many of the loyal Genízaros who had stayed at Ojo Caliente when all the Spaniards had left. The vagueness of the boundaries of the Ojo Caliente Grant, the lack of clarity about the location of the common lands, and the failure to name all the potential owners of the grant, sowed the seeds for future problems when the grant was acquired by Antonio Joseph and adjudicated by the Court of Private Claims.

On July 22, 1854, the United States Congress had appointed a Surveyor General of New Mexico to review the validity of the various land grant claims and to advise Congress as to how to decide these matters relative to the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. In 1873 Felix Galvez filed a petition for confirmation of the Ojo Caliente grant as a community land grant. After taking testimony from witnesses such as Dionisio Vargas, the Surveyor General recommended confirmation of the Ojo Caliente grant to the heirs and legal representatives of the fifty-three grantees under the 1793 grant. The grant was surveyed in 1877 by Deputy Surveyors Griffin and McMullen, but was not confirmed because Congress was wary of confirming grants of which it had little knowledge. In the past, Congress had bad experiences in issuing confirmation of large grants including the Maxwell Grant (1.7 million acres).

While Felix Galvez was trying to get the Ojo Caliente grant confirmed, land speculator and merchant Antonio Joseph began buying up the interests of the heirs of the fifty-three 1793 grantees. By 1878 Antonio Joseph claimed to have purchased the interests of most of the grantees of the Ojo Caliente grant and on that basis, he objected to the results of the 1877 survey. Joseph claimed that the west boundary as surveyed was about six miles too far east. In December 1878 Antonio Joseph submitted a supplemental petition claiming the entire common lands of the Ojo Caliente grant; he also claimed the grant contained 44,000 acres instead of the approximately 38,000 acres surveyed by Deputy Surveyors Griffin and McMullen in 1877.

Because Congress had failed to confirm the Ojo Caliente grant in March of 1893, Antonio Joseph filed a petition before the Court of Private Land Claims seeking confirmation of what was then called the Antonio Joseph Grant. Represented by attorney Napoleon Bonapart Laughlin, Antonio Joseph set forth the history of the 1793 grant to the fifty-three grantees, including the boundaries called for in the act of possession. Joseph had apparently submitted copies of deeds to the land as proof of his purchase of the interests of the grantees, though these documents are no longer in the Land Claims Court's files. What does remain is an elaborate chart, in Antonio Joseph's meticulous handwriting, listing the dates and other information for all of the deeds. The Joseph chart, which he called an Abstract of Title, shows that between 1873 and 1879 Antonio Joseph obtained deeds from the heirs or assigns of each of the fifty-three grantees or from the grantees themselves.

When Antonio Joseph filed his petition for confirmation of the grant in 1893, many residents were unaware that he was claiming the entire grant, but the U. S. government confirmed that it was a valid grant based on legal title papers and a long history of possession of the land. The only dissenting voice came from an heir of one of the fifty-three grantees who also claimed an ownership interest: Jesús María Olguin, descendant of Antonio Olguin. The Jesús María Olguin claim was apparently dropped when it appeared from Antonio Joseph's abstract of title that he, Antonio Joseph, had previously obtained deeds for Olguin's interest in the grant. Jesús María Olguin was the only one to object to Antonio Joseph's claim to the entire Ojo Caliente Grant and it is not likely that the other heirs were even notified of the proceedings. The Land Claims Court was not required to notify either the grantees or their heirs, even though they had a potential interest in the property.

The case was tried in April 1894. The government’s attorneys conceded that the Ojo Caliente grant was valid and had been continuously occupied since its inception in 1793, but they contended that the true eastern boundary was eight miles west of the location established by Deputy Surveyors Griffin and McMullen. This would place the eastern boundary at the foot of a low range of foothills just east of the river, drastically reducing the size of the Ojo Caliente grant. On 28 April 1894, Chief Justice Joseph R. Reed signed a decree confirming the Ojo Caliente Grant to the heirs of the fifty-three Hispano grantees, but he determined that both the eastern and the western boundaries were located at the foot of the first row of hills on each side of the Ojo Caliente River. This decision effectively eliminated the common lands from the grant. Deputy Surveyor Sherrard Coleman resurveyed the grant in September of 1894 and found that it contained approximately 2245 acres.

Because Antonio Joseph claimed to have purchased the interests of those fifty-three heirs, he became the owner of what was left of the Ojo Caliente Grant. He received the patent for the grant when it was issued on 2 November 1894, a tract of land greatly reduced in size from the 44,000 acres he had originally claimed in 1878. Antonio Joseph owned the entire Ojo Caliente grant (except for the occupied land) and the Ojo Caliente Hot Springs Resort which is still a popular health resort in northern New Mexico.


1747: Abiquiú and Ojo Caliente abandoned after Ute/Comanche raid on Abiquiú

1749: Tomás Veléz Cachupín becomes governor of New Mexico

1750: Viceroy Revilla Gigedo orders Governor Veléz Cachupín to resettle Abiquiú, Embudo, and Ojo Caliente

1751: Lieutenant Governor Berdardo Bustamante y Tagle orders Ojo Caliente settlers to reoccupy their homes

1766: Veléz Cachupín again orders Ojo Caliente resettled and asks individual settlers their reasons for not doing so. They say they will resettle when all resettle.

1769: Governor Mendinueta and Alcalde Antonio Joseacute; Ortiz offer settlers additional land if they will resettle, plus a squad of soldiers and some Indians for defence. The settlers refuse.

1776: As part of the Domínguez – Escalante expedition to Utah and beyond, Andres Muñiz was hired as a Ute interpreter and his brother came along uninvited. Both were landowners at Ojo Caliente and were described by the priests and Genízaros.

1779: Governor Juan Bautista de Anza passes through Ojo Caliente on his way to the famous battle with the Comanches under Cuerno Verde. He reported that Indian attacks continued and the “disorder [in the settlement pattern] brought upon them the loss of their poor fields.”

1790: Petition by José Manuel Velarde and eighteen others to resettle Ojo Caliente. Governor Concha orders them to resettle at the Pueblo Viejo near the Cañada de los Comanches.

1793: Governor Fernando de la Concha confers the Ojo Caliente Grant upon a group of fifty-three petitioners.

1877: Ojo Caliente Grant is surveyed by Deputy Surveyors Griffin and McMullen.

1878: Antonio Joseph claims to have purchased the interests of most of the grantees of the Ojo Caliente grant.

1894: Deputy Surveyor Sherrard Coleman resurveys the grant and finds that it contains approximately 2245 acres. Antonio Joseph owns the entire Ojo Caliente grant (except for the occupied land) and the Ojo Caliente Hot Springs.

Sources Used:

Adams and Chavez, The Missions of New Mexico. Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico Press, 1956.

Bolton, Herbert E. Pageant in the Wilderness. Salt Lake City: Spanish Historical Society, 1950.

Bowden, J. J. Private Land Claims in the Southwest. 6 vols. Master’s thesis, Southern Methodist University, 1969.

Boyd, E. “Troubles at Ojo Caliente, a Frontier Post.” El Palacio (November/December 1957); 347-360.

Ebright, Malcolm. Land Grants and Lawsuits in Northern New Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994.

Harrington, John Peabody. The Ethnogeography of the Tewa Indians. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1916.

Jenkins, Myra Ellen. Ojo Caliente Grant-1793. Unpublished manuscript, April 1979.

Simmons, Marc. “Settlement Patterns and Village Plans in Colonial New Mexico,” Journal of the West, 8 (January 1969): 12-19.

Swadesh, Frances Leon. Los Primeros Pobladores: Hispanic Americans of the Ute Frontier. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1974.

Thomas, Alfred B. “Governor Mendinueta’s Proposals for the Defense of New Mexico,” NMHR 6 (1931): 29-30.

Ojo Caliente Grant, PLC 88, Roll 43, frames 6-25.

Ojo Caliente Grant, SG 77, Roll 21, frames 6-138.

Ojo Caliente (Antonio Joseph) Grant, PLC 94, Roll 43, frames 588-617.

Spanish Archives of New Mexico (SANM I): 28, 650, 655, 656, 1098, and 1129.