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Plaza Blanca Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Manuel Bustos, a resident of Santa Cruz, petitioned Governor Gaspar Domingo de Mendoza for a grant covering a piece of unappropriated land capable of growing one and a half fanegas of corn situated on the north bank of the Chama River and west of the lands of Vicente Jirón. Bustos asserted that he needed the land in order to support his large family and animals. On July 18, 1739, Mendoza, after carefully considering the application, granted the land and ordered the alcalde or his lieutenant to deliver royal possession of the grant to Bustos, subject to all of the conditions required by law. The Acting Alcalde of the Pueblo of Santa Cruz, Diego Torres, together with his attesting witnesses, Juan Jose Lovato and Juan Jose de la Serra, went to the grant and proceeded to perform the ceremonies necessary to deliver possession of the grant to Bustos. First, the alcalde surveyed the grant, which he described as being bounded: 

On the north, by the Copper Hills; on the east, by the lands of Vicente Jirón; on the south, by the Chama River; and on the west, by the lands of Rosalia Baldes.

 Following the completion of the survey, Torres took Bustos:

… by the hand and led him over said tract, and he cast stones and plucked up grass, shouting, “Long live the King, our Sovereign, and may God preserve him!” in sign of his own proprietorship, with all the other ceremonies required by law.

Bustos promptly settled upon the grant, cultivated the valley lands and pastured his sheep and goats upon the adjoining hills. Thereafter, the grant continuously was occupied and used by Bustos or his heirs and their assigns.[1]

By mesne conveyances Jose Maria Chaves acquired title to the grant. On January 3, 1861, he filed[2] the expediente of the grant in Surveyor General Alexander P. Willard’s office. He allegedly had been permitted by the alcalde to withdraw the grant papers from the archives of the Pueblo of Abiquiu for the purpose of filing them with the Surveyor General. However, for some unexplained reason he did not seek the recognition of his title to the grant at that time. A petition[3] requesting confirmation of the grant was not filed until nearly a quarter of a century later, when, on May 4, 1885, J. M. C. Chaves petitioned Surveyor General Clarence Pullen for that purpose. Pullen was succeeded by George W. Julian before any action was taken on the claim. On April 25, 1886, Julian issued an opinion[4] in which he found the grant to be valid and recommended its approval by Congress. However, he was of the opinion that any questions relating to the extent of boundaries and the ownership of the present claimants should be determined by the courts. Notwithstanding Julian’s favorable opinion, Congress failed to act on the claim prior to the creation of the Court of Private Land Claims in 1891.

J. M. C. Chaves for himself and on behalf of the other owners of the grant instituted a suit[5] in the Court of Private Land Claims against the United States on August 24, 1892, seeking the recognition of their interests. The case came up for trial on November 17, 1893, at which time the plaintiffs introduced their title papers and supported their title with deeds and depositions. The government admitted the genuineness of the plaintiffs’ documentary evidence and did not raise any special defenses. After having the case under advisement for five months, the court on April 18, 1894, finally held[6] the grant to be good and valid and confirmed title to the lands covered thereby to the heirs and assigns of the original grantee. For obvious reasons, the United States elected not to appeal from the decision

Pursuant to Section 10 of the Act of March 1, 1801,[7] the grant was surveyed by Deputy Surveyor Sherrard Coleman. Coleman’s work disclosed that the grant contained a total of 8,955.11 acres of land. The plaintiffs protested the approval of the survey on the grounds that Coleman had located (1) the southern boundary of the grant along the northern boundary of the Chama River as it ran in 1893 instead of locating it along the northern bank of that river as it was situated in 1739, and (2) the portion of the eastern boundary of the grant north of the junction of the Arroyo Jirón and the Arroyo de la Mena ran along the latter instead of the former. By decree dated September 10, 1896, the court overruled the protest and approved the survey. A patent was finally issued covering the grant on November 27, 1914.[8]

[1] The Plaza Blanca Grant, No. 148 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Chaves v. United States, No. 32 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[6] 2 Journal 88‑90 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[7] Court of Private Land Claims Act, Chap. 539, Sec. 10, 26 Stat. 854 (1891).

[8] The Plaza Blanca Grant, No. 148 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).