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Ojo del Espiritu Santo Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Luis Maria Baca, a resident of the town of Pena Blanca, petitioned Governor Alberto Maynez on May 23, 1815 asking for a grant covering a tract of land surrounding the Ojo del Espiritu Santo which was situated about six leagues west of the Pueblo of Jemez. Baca stated that he needed the land in order to support his large family of fifteen children and as a pasturage for his herds. He further advised the governor that it was essential that he promptly move his animals in order to avoid difficulties with the Quintarsas Indians and. that the requested tract contained sufficient land to maintain his livestock and also a few patches of cultivable land, which would be sufficient to raise the food necessary to feed his family. The tract was described as being bounded:

On the north, by the table land commonly called “La Ventana”; on the east, by the summit of the Jemez Mountains; on the south, by the Canon de la Querencia and the boundary of the farm owned by Antonio Armenta; and on the west, by the Puerco River and the point of the mesa Prieto.
Baca also called the governor’s attention to the fact that the tract had been granted about twenty years previously to Antonio Ortiz by Governor Fernando de la Concha but ha had forfeited his rights due to his failure to occupy it within the time prescribed by law. Upon investigating the matter, Maynez found that Ortiz had abandoned the tract and, therefore, the land had reverted to the royal domain Believing Baca’s request to be meritorious, Maynez granted the land to him on May 24, 1815 and directed the alcalde of the Pueblo of Jemez to “supervise the arrangements for the settlement and preservation of order.” By virtue of the governor’s decree, Alcalde Ignacio Sanchez Vergara, together with his attending witnesses and Luis Maria Baca and his family proceed to the grant on June 14, 1815 where Vergara placed Baca and his fifteen children in royal possession of the lands described in the petition. The Act of Possession stated that possession of the land was delivered to the sixteen interested parties “in equal parts, without showing any preference, in accordance with the royal laws of the Recopilación de los Indies which refer to settlements, grants, and donations.…” Baca, his family and peons promptly moved to the grant arid continuously occupied it for about fifteen years. During this time a house and corrals were built upon the premises. All of the land which was suitable for agricultural purposes was placed under cultivation and approximately eight hundred head of horses and cattle were pastured on the balance of the grant. Following Baca’s death in 1830, his children were compelled to vacate the property on account of the intense hostility of the Navajo Indians. Notwithstanding the frequent efforts of Baca’s children to permanently resettle the grant, they were never able to do so on account of the depredations of the Indians.[1]

The heirs of Luis Maria Baca petitioned[2] Surveyor General William Pelham seeking the confirmation of the grant on October 17, 1856. A hearing was held by Surveyor General Alexander P. Wilbar on October 23, 1860 in connection with his investigation of the grant, at which time a considerable amount of oral testimony in support of the grant was given. After fully considering the matter, Wilbar, in an opinion[3] dated December 12, 1860 held:

In the case of the United States vs. Aredondo and others (6 Peters’ Reports) the Supreme Court declares that Congress “have adopted as the basis of all their acts the principle that the law of the province in which the land is situated is the law which gives efficacy to the grant, and by which, it is to be tested whether it was property at the time the treaties took effect.” Now, it is clear that these lands were public domain at the time of granting; that said lands were granted by the proper officer in due form and custom of law, as is shown by, the grant itself; that these lands were occupied by the grantee for a great number of years, until forced to leave from the hostility of the savages; and that this grant was respected as property at the time of the treaty between the United States and Mexico of 1848.

The testimony heard in this case proves the authenticity of the grant itself, the occupancy of the lands by the grantee and his children, the circumstances attending their difficulty with the savages, and the identity of the present claimants. Therefore, in view of the entire merit of this claim, this office regards it as a perfect claim, and recommends its final confirmation by the Congress of the United States to the heirs of said Luis Maria Cabeza de Baca, who are the present claimants. The problem raised by the Civil War and Reconstruction delayed Congressional action upon the claim for more than eight years. However, by Act approved March 3, 1869,[4] Congress confirmed the grant.

The grant was surveyed by Deputy Surveyors Sawyer & McBroom n June and July, 1876 for 127,875.86 acres. By decision dated June 14, 1884 Commissioner N. C. McFarland rejected[5] the survey and ordered a resurvey of the western boundary of the grant. The western boundary of the grant as surveyed by Sawyer & McBroom commenced at the point of Mesa Prieto, which point fixed the southwest corner of the grant. The western boundary ran thence up the river to the northwest corner. McFarland noted that the river, after making a sweeping westerly bend just north of the southwest corner ran almost due east for a distance of 3 1/2 miles before making a short northeasterly turn at a point almost due north of the point of the hill. McFarland held that the western boundary should not follow the river but should run due north from the point of the hill to the point where the line intersected the river and thence up the river to the northwest corner. McFarland placed particular emphasis upon the fact that under his interpretation of the location of the western boundary of the grant, a conflict with the Chaca Mesa Grant would be eliminated. This modification was made by Deputy Surveyor Jacob F. Laderer in April, 1885. The Laderer Survey showed that the grant contained 113,141.15 acres. A patent for such land was issued on October 12, 1916.[6]

[1] H. R. Exec. Doc. No. 58, 36th Cong., 2d Sess., 4 12 (1861).
[2] The Ojo del Espiritu Santo Grant, No. 44 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).
[3] Ibid.
[4] An Act to Confirm Certain Private Land Claims in the Territory of New Mexico, Chap. 152, 15 Stat. 342 (1869).
[5] Ojo del Espiritu Santo Grant, 2 L. D. 425 (1884).
[6] The Ojo del Espiritu Santo Grant, No. 44 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).