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Plaza Colorado Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Rosalia, Ignacio, and Juan Lorenzo Baldes, residents of the Pueblo of Santa Cruz, petitioned Governor Gaspar Domingo de Mendoza for a grant covering a tract of unappropriated land lying near the Post of Abiquiu and described as being bounded:

On the north, by the Copper Hills; on the east, by the lands petitioned for by Manuel de la Rosa; on the south, by the Chama River; and on the west, by a little hill opposite the Town of Abiquiu.

As justification for their request, the petitioners advised the governor that they no longer had sufficient land to support their families and animals. They explained that while they originally had an adequate tract of land at Santa Cruz, the spring freshets had gradually reduced its size by accretion notwithstanding their continuous efforts to repair the damages. The tract had finally diminished to the point where it would no longer meet their expanding needs. Thus, the petitioners had decided to move closer to the frontier. In response to their petition, Mendoza on June 20, 1739, granted them the requested tract and directed the Alcalde of Santa Cruz to place them in royal possession of the land. The grantees presented their title papers to Diego Torres, Acting Alcalde of the Pueblo of Santa Cruz, and requested him to deliver possession of the grant to them and allot each of them the portion thereof which he or she was entitled. They agreed that Rosalia should have the greater portion since she had been primarily responsible for their obtaining the grant and her two brothers had joined the venture at her invitation. Torres went to the grant and performed the customary ceremonies pertaining to the delivery of royal possession of the premises. Following the performance of those formalities, Torres measured the bottom lands along the north bank of the Chama River, which were capable of cultivation, and found that they were fifteen hundred varas wide. This he divided into quarters. The eastern half was allocated to Rosalia, the east four hundred varas of the west half were awarded to Ignacio, and the balance was given to Juan Lorenzo.[1] The grantees took immediate possession of the grant and continuously occupied and used it until their deaths. Thereafter, their descendants and their assigns held peaceful possession of the grant.

 

Meanwhile, in 1825 or 1826, Juan Domingo Valdes, the grandson and sole heir of Rosalia Baldes, conveyed the interest which Rosalia formerly had owned to Jose Maria Chaves. By that time, the testimonio of the grant had become very worn and dilapidated; therefore, the owners of the grant obtained a certified copy of such document on April 26, 1836 from Jose Maria Chaves, but such copy did not state the capacity in which he certified same. This copy together with fragments of the original grant papers were filed in the Surveyor General’s Office by Chaves on January 3, 1861. Surveyor General Alexander P. Wilbar issued a certified copy of the testimonio to Chaves for his protection.[2] It is a good thing that he did for the papers filed by Chaves were subsequently lost or destroyed.

The owners of the grant did not formally seek its confirmation until May 4, 1885, when J. M. C. Chaves, who by inheritance, had acquired his father’s interest, petitioned[3] Surveyor General Clarence Pullen on behalf of himself and the other owners of the grant for the recognition of their interests. After taking testimony in support of the grant and carefully considering the merits of the claim, Pullen’s successor, George W. Julian, announced his decision[4] recommending the confirmation of the grant on April 25, 1886. In this decision, Julian held that the certified copy of the grant was evidence of the lost instrument in the absence of anything to the contrary and that such copy when taken in conjunction with the oral testimony and the reference to the grant contained in the grant papers to the Plaza Blanca Grant, which adjoined it on the east, tended to establish the validity of the applicants’ claim. Julian stated that in his opinion the call contained in the description of the grant for it to be bounded “on the east by the lands petitioned for by Manuel de la Rosa” was an error and should have called for the “lands petitioned for by Manuel Bustos,” who shortly thereafter had received the Plaza Blanco Grant from the same authorities. A preliminary survey of the grant was not made; however, from the testimony presented before the Surveyor General, it was estimated that the grant extended nine to ten miles from north to south and was about four miles wide on the north side and narrowed to a width of two miles along the river. Thus, the grant would contain about 18,200 acres of land. Congress took no action on Julian’s recommendation and the Plaza Colorado Grant was one of the claims pending when the Court of Private Land Claims was established on March 3, 1891.

On December 1, 1891, the owners of the Plaza Colorado Grant filed suit[5] in the Court of Private Land Claims against the United States for the recognition of the grant. The petition did not list the owners of the grant, state the full particulars of the grant, nor contain a sketch map of the claim. The government filed a demurrer to the plaintiffs’ petition on the grounds that Section 6 of the Act of March 3, 1891,[6] required plaintiffs to set forth such information in their petitions. In a decision[7] dated March 4, 1892, the court held that reference to the grant was insufficient and full particulars surrounding its issuance together with a sketch map should be incorporated in or attached to the petition. It also held that while everyone owning or claiming an interest in the grant would be a proper party to the action they were not necessary parties unless their interests were adverse to the plaintiffs, and they were in possession of the grant. To cure the defects pointed out by this decree, the plaintiffs filed an amended petition on April 15, 1892. The case came up for hearing on May 8, 1893, at which time the plaintiffs introduced their title papers, the proceedings in connection with the Surveyor General’s investigation, and oral evidence supporting their claim. The preponderance o the evidence showed the grant papers to be genuine and that the plaintiffs and their predecessors had occupied the grant “as far back as the memory of man runneth.” The government offered no special defenses against the recognition of the claim. On December 4, 1893, the court entered a decree[8] confirming the Plaza Colorado Grant, according to the boundaries set forth in the Act of Possession, in the name of the original grantees, their heirs and legal representatives. Since the United States was satisfied that the grant was valid and the court’s decision was correct, it did not appeal the decision.

An official survey of the grant as confirmed was made in November, 1895, by Deputy Surveyor Sherrard Coleman. This survey showed that the grant covered a total of 7,577.92 acres. The plaintiffs protested the approval of the survey on the grounds that the west boundary had been located along the foot of the eastern side of the little hill opposite the Town of Abiquiu when, in fact, it should have been located further south or along the north hank of the Chama River as it ran in 1739 instead of along the then north bank of the Chama River.[9] By decision[10] dated September 10, 1896, the court approved Coleman’s survey as being substantially correct. A patent was accordingly issued on February 8, 1907.[11]


[1] The Plaza Colorado Grant, No. 149 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[2] Ibid.
 

[3] Ibid.
 

[4] Ibid.
 

[5] Chaves v. United States, No. 2 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[6] Court of Private Land Claims Act, Chap. 535, Sec. 6, 26 Stat. 854 (1891).

[7] 1 Journal 20 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[8] 2 Journal 35‑38 (Mss. , Records of the CL. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[9] The Plaza Colorado Grant, No. 149 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[10] 3 Journal 161 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[11] The Plaza Colorado Grant, No. 149 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).