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Pedro Armendaris Grant

by J. J. Bowden

On November 22, 1819, Pedro Ascue de Armendaris, the then Collector of Tithes and formerly First Lieutenant of the Garrison of San Elizario, petitioned the Governor of New Mexico for a grant covering a tract of land at Valverde for the purpose of cultivation and as a pasturage for his livestock. The tract Armendaris requested was described as follows:

Beginning at a point on the east bank of the Rio Grande del Norte in the Ancon de Valverde and opposite the point where the Arrayo de San Pascual empties in the river; thence southward down the east bank of the river to a peak or knoll located on the southern edge of the Mesilla del Contadero which is the boundary or terminus of the Valverde Valley and which is at the Fray Cristobal Paraje; thence in a southeasterly direction to the little spring called Analla; thence in a northerly direction to a small isolated hill near the Little San Pascual Mountain; and thence in a northwesterly direction to the place of beginning.

Armendaris was careful to point out that the tract was located on the Camino Real approximately nine leagues south of Socorro and that a new settlement at Valverde would be very beneficial to travelers. Governor Facundo Melgares referred the petition to the Alcalde of Belen with instructions to investigate the request. Alcalde Manuel Ruvo de Celis reported on November 28, 1819, that the land in question was vacant and rec­ommended that the concession be made. Based on this favorable report, Melgares granted the land to Armendaris on December 4, 1819, in consideration of the benefit which would result to the province. However, the grant was made subject to the express conditions that Armendaris promptly commence constructing houses and corrals on the grant, enclosing of the fields and stocking the pastures; keeping all his men well armed; and furnishing water and pasturage free to all travelers and their animals. This tract became known as the Valverde Grant.

Shortly thereafter, Armendaris took possession of the Valverde Grant and built a large hacienda and a number of out buildings and corrals at Valverde. However, there is no evidence that Armendaris had ever been placed in legal possession of the grant. The tillable lands in the Valley were placed under cultivation, and the hills or pasture lands were stocked with a large number of sheep, cattle, and horses. Armendaris’ farming and ranching enterprises proved so successful that on May 15, 1820, he petitioned Governor Melgares for an additional grant covering the lands lying south of the Valverde Grant in order to further expand his operations. He described the requested lands as follows:

Beginning at a peak or knoll on the east bank of the Rio Grande on the southern edge of the Mesilla del Contadero and which is at the Fray Cristobal Paraje; thence in a southerly direction along the east bank of the Rio Grande to the point where the Fray Cristobal Peak strikes the river; thence in a straight line south over the summit of the mountains to a point two leagues north of Ojo del Muerto; thence west two leagues; thence south four leagues; thence east four leagues; thence in a northeasterly direction to a point two leagues due south of Analla Springs; thence east three leagues; thence northwesterly to a small isolated hill near the Little San Pascual Mountain; thence south to Analla Springs; and thence in a northwesterly direction to the place of beginning.

Armendaris called the Governor’s attention to the fact that the lands covered by this request were primarily wastelands located in the Jornada del Muerto and, with the exception of Ojo del Muerto and Analla Springs, were completely waterless. He also pointed to his successful utilization of the lands previously granted to him and expressed his intentions to continue to assist travelers crossing the infamous desert and enlarge his settlement at Valverde. Melgares granted the request on June 1, 1820, subject to the same conditions as those imposed upon the Valverde Grant. Formal possession of the grant was delivered to Armendaris by Manuel Rubi, Alcalde of Belen[1] This second grant is commonly referred to as the Fray Cristobal Grant.

Armendaris continuously resided at Valverde and greatly improved his irrigated farms and ranching facilities until 1825 or 1826, when the incessant incursions of the hostile Indians finally compelled him to abandon his numerous projects, vacate the lands covered by the two grants, and seek refuge at Chihuahua. Thereafter, the grants remained unoccupied until after the United States acquired jurisdiction over the area. Meanwhile, the buildings at Valverde were reduced to ruins by the Indians and elements. The heirs of Pedro Armendaris petitioned the Surveyor General on September 6, 1859, requesting the confirmation of their claim to the Valverde and Fray Cristobal Grants. Surveyor General William Pelham investigated the consolidated claim and on July 10, 1859, reported:

The above grants were made according to the well established usages and customs of the country at the time, The grantee has held possession from the time the grant was made up to the present day, and no one having appeared showing a better title thereto, the original and subsequent additional grant are believed to be good and valid; they are therefore approved to the legal representatives of Pedro Armendaris, and ordered to be transmitted to Congress for its action in the premises.[2]

A transcript of the proceedings before the Surveyor General in nineteen private land claims was transmitted to Congress on February 3, 1860, by the Secretary of the Interior for its final action pursuant to the eighth section of the Act of July 22, 1854.[3] The consolidated claim by the heirs of Pedro Armendaris to the Valverde and Fray Cristobal Grants was designated as claim number 33. [4]

 By Act approved June 21, 1860, Congress confirmed the Valverde and Fray Cristobal Grants, This act provided:

That the private land claims in the Territory of New Mexico, as recommended for confirmation by said Surveyor General in his reports and abstract marked Exhibit “A”, as communicated to Congress by the Secretary of Interior in his letter dated the third of February eighteen hundred and sixty, and numbered from twenty to thirty‑eight, both inclusive, be, and the same are hereby, confirmed, with the exception of the claim numbered twenty‑six .… [5]

The lands covered by the consolidated grants were surveyed in November, 1872, by Deputy Surveyor J. Howe Watts. His survey showed that the two grants embraced a total of 397,235 acres. William A. Bell protested the survey on the grounds that the east line of the grant had been incorrectly located. As a result of Bell’s protest, the east line of this survey was reformed on May 26, 1877, in order to exclude approximately 45,000 acres. The amended survey was finally approved on December 8, 1877, and a patent was issued to the legal representatives of Pedro Armendaris on January 4, 1878, for a total of 352,504.5 acres of land.

In 1882, L. S. Dixon requested the Attorney General to file suit to have this patent set aside on the grounds that, through fraud or mistakes, the west boundary of the Fray Cristobal Grant had been located approximately two and a half miles too far west. By decision dated September 21, 1893, Secretary of Interior, Hoke Smith, declined to recommend the institution of such a suit because, in his opinion, there was no evidence that the west boundary of the grant had been mislocated. [6]

Once title to the consolidated grant had been confirmed and its boundary questions settled, the Spanish and Mexican aspect of the history of the grant was concluded.


[1] Archive No, 1217 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[2] H.R. Exec, Doc. No. 14, 36th Cong., 1st Sess., 193‑220 (1860).

[3] An Act to Establish the office of Surveyor General of New Mexico, Kansas, and Nebraska, to grant donations to actual settlers therein, and for other purposes, Chap. 103, Sec. 8, 10 Stat. 308 (1854).

[4] H. R. Exec. Doc No. 14, 36th Cong., 1st Sess., 1‑2 (1860).

[5] An Act to Confirm Certain Private Land Claims in the Territory of New Mexico, Chap. 167, 12 Stat. 71 (1860) in view of the fact that there is no documentary evidence that juridical possession of the grant had been delivered to Arrnendaris, the decision of the Supreme Court in Graham v, United States, 4 Wall, (71 U.S.) 259 (1866), should be kept in mind. In the Graham Case, the Supreme Court stated “The Mexican law, as well as the common law, made formal delivery of possession, or livery of seizen of the property, essential after the execution of the grant, for the investiture of title,” This principle is again repeated in Van Reynegan v. Bolton, 95 U.S. 35 (1877) ; and Boudin v. Phelps, 30 F. 547 (9th Cir., 1887)

[6] The Pedro Armendaris Grant, No 33 (Mss, Records of the S.G.N.M.).