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Piedre Lumbre Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Lieutenant Pedro Martin Serrano petitioned the Governor of New Mexico asking for a grant covering a tract of land in the valley known as Piedra Lumbre, in order that he might build a home thereon for his large family and a pasturage for “his extensive herds of cattle, sheep and horses.” He stated that the lands he solicited were located about three or four leagues west of the Pueblo of Abiquiu and had originally belonged to Jose de Riano. It seems that Governor Gervacio Cruzat y Góngora had granted Riano a league of land at Piedra Lumbre and possession thereof had been delivered to him by Lieutenant Governor Juan Púez Hurtado. Antonio Montoya, who in the meantime had traded Riano a house at Santa Fe for the grant, discovered that the rancho covered much more land than the recited one square league. Title to the grant was later acquired by Lieutenant Domingo de Luna, who in about the year 1760 authorized Serrano to use it as pasture for his stock. Early in 1766, Luna sold his interest in the grant to Serrano. Since none of its prior owners had settled upon the grant and, under Spanish law, it might have been abandoned, and in order to avoid any future confusion as a result of the grant containing so much excess land, Serrano requested a grant de novo covering all of the land within the following boundaries:

On the north, some red bluffs; on the east, a stony hill; on the south, Pedernal Hill; and on the west, the mesa adjoining the Canon de la Piedra Lumbre.

On February 11, 1766, Governor Thomas Velez Cachupin requested Serrano to advise him of the number of livestock he possessed and the distance between the boundaries set forth in his petition. In response to this request, Serrano, on the same day, advised the governor that he had 480 head of cattle, 164 horses and mules, and 2,700 sheep. He also stated that the grant was three leagues from east to west and about the same distance from north to south. After fully considering the matter, Cachupin, on February 12, 1766, granted Serrano the requested tract and ordered the Alcalde of Santa Cruz, Manuel Garcia Paraja to deliver royal possession thereof to the new grantee. Paraja met with the adjoining land owner, Geronimo Martin, the officials of the Pueblo of Abiquiu and the grantee on February 18, 1766, and since no one objected to the issuance of the concession, he proceeded to survey and place Serrano possession of the premises.[1]

The grant papers were filed for record in the Kearny Land Register after the United States acquired jurisdiction over New Mexico.[2] After the office of the Surveyor General was created, the owners of the grant requested[3] that their claim be inquired into and confirmed. On February 3, 1873, Surveyor General James K. Proudfit issued a decision[4] wherein he held that the testimonio which had been filed in the case by the petitioners was genuine beyond doubt and, therefore, he approved the grant and recommended its confirmation by Congress. A preliminary survey of the grant was made in November, 1877, by Deputy Surveyor Charles H. Fitch for 48,336.12 acres. The claim was still pending before Congress when the Court of Private Land Claims was established.[5]

On August 19, 1892, Aniceto Martin and fifteen other parties claiming to be the heirs of Mariano Martin filed suit[6] in the Court of Private Land Claims against the United States, seeking the confirmation of the Piedra Lumbre Grant. In support of their claim, the plaintiffs filed a testimonio which showed that Mariano Martin for himself and the other heirs of Pedro Martin Serrano, who was sometimes known as Pedro Martin, petitioned the governor of New Mexico, Joaquin Alencaster, seeking the re‑validation of the grant which had been given to their grandfather in 1766. Such a re‑validation was necessary because the hostility of the Navajos had forced the owners of the grant to abandon the grant for a number of years prior to 1806. On July 15, 1806, the governor directed the Alcalde of Santa Cruz to report on the merits of the petition. Alcalde Manuel de la Mora on July 16, 1806, reported that all of the allegations contained in the petition were true. On August 10, 1806, Alencaster issued a decree re‑validating the grant and ordering the alcalde to give the petitioners possession of all of the tillable lands which they had under cultivation and belonged to them as a result of their ancient rights. In compliance with the governor’s order, the Alcalde of Santa Cruz, Manuel Garcia, delivered possession of the grant to the petitioners. A number of persons claiming interests in the grant under the 1766 concession intervened as cross‑defendants. The government in its answer contended that the 1766 grant undoubtedly had been forfeited and that the 1806 grant was limited to the land which was under cultivation in 1806.

The case came up for hearing on August 25, 1893 at which time a considerable amount of evidence was introduced. Five days later, the court handed down its decision[7] which held both the original grant in 1766 and the proceedings held in 1806 were genuine; that, if the original grant had been forfeited, the 1806 proceedings revalidated the entire grant; and that such revalidation inured to the benefit of the heirs of Pedro Martin Serrano. The government appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court. Matthew C. Reynolds, the government’s attorney, among other things contended that the court had erred in confirming the grant to the heirs of Pedro Martin Serrano. He believed that if the grant was to be confirmed, it should be confirmed “only to the plaintiffs for the interests which they might prove they held in the property.” He pointed out that the evidence of ownership in this case was vague, indefinite, and depended on a mass of verbal testimony pertaining to the geneology of a large number of persons whose names were the same. He asserted that the Act of March 3, 1891,[8] which created the court, did not contemplate abstract confirmations. He felt that if the court’s practice of confirming grants to the original grantee and his heirs and legal representatives was continued:

… then where old papers can be found in possession of private individuals, or among the archives, although the grantee may never have taken possession of the property, may have abandoned it a century and a half ago, yet if some irresponsible Mexican can be found to swear he is the great‑grandson of the original grantee named in the papers the Court will confirm a grant to an unlimited quantity in the abstract on the original grantee, his heirs and legal representatives. The danger of perpetration of frauds upon the government under the present construction of the act is very much greater than it ever has been from the forgery and the manufacturing of title papers and deeds.[9]

For some unexplained reason, the government decided not to further prosecute its appeal and it was dismissed on February 1, 1897.[10]

The grant was surveyed by Deputy Surveyor George H. Pradt between the 14th and 28th days November, 1897. The survey covered 49,747.89 acres. The grant was patented on July 21, 1902.[11]

[1] S. Exec. Doc. No. 50, 42d  Cong., 3d Sess., 4‑7 (1873).

[2] B. Record of Land Titles 160‑162 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[3] The Piedra Lumbre Grant, No. 73 (Mss., Records of. the S.G.N.M.).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Martinez v. United States, No. 30 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[7] 1 Journal 208 (Mss. , Records the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[8] Court of Private Land Claims Act, Chap. 539, 26 Stat. 854 (1891).

[9] Report of the United States Attorney dated October 9, 1893 in Martinez v United States (Mss., Records of the General Services Administration, National Archives, Washington, D.C.), Record Group 60, Year file 9865‑92.

[10] Martinez v. United States, 17 S.Ct. 1001, 41 L. Ed. 1185 (1897) (mem.).

[11] The Piedra Lumbre Grant, No. 73 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).