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Polvareda Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Juan Pablo Martin, a lieutenant in the militia company of the Pueblo of Abiquiu and Lieutenant Alcalde of Santa Cruz, petitioned Governor Tomas Velez Cachupin asking for a grant covering a tract of unappropriated land commonly known as the Polvareda. Martin stated there were a few patches of land on the tract fit for cultivation and that the balance was suitable only for grazing purposes. He stated that while he had a small piece of land, it was not large enough to support his large family and growing herds of livestock. He described the tract as being bounded:

On the north, by the junction of the Pedernales Mountain Creek with the Polvareda Creek; on the east, by the straight road crossing the west boundary of the Pueblo of Abiquiu and running southward, that is to say towards the Cerro Pelado; on the south, by the head of the Polvareda Creek; and on the west, by the Pedernales Mountain Creek.

On February 11, 1766, Governor Cachupin requested Martin to advise him of the kind and number of livestock which he owned and the distances between the boundaries mentioned in his petition. In compliance with the governor’s command, Martin informed Cachupin, on the same date, that he had one hundred sheep and goats. He also estimated that the grant covered area one and a half leagues from east to west and three leagues from north to south. On the following day, the governor, in view of Martin’s need for additional lands, his personal merits, and his belonging to a pioneer New Mexican family, granted him the sitio which he had solicited, upon the condition that he settle thereupon within a period of four years in order to acquire a com­plete title to the premises. Cachupin also directed the Alcalde of the Pueblo of Santa Cruz, Manuel Garcia Parejas to place Martin in royal possession of the grant. The alcalde was cautioned to bear in mind that the grant was not to injure the rights of the Indians of the Pueblo of Abiquiu and, if it should develop that the grant was in fact detrimental to their interest, he was to suspend the proceedings concerning delivery of possession and report the matter to the governor. Parejas was also instructed to return the original copy of his actions to the governor for filing in the archives. In obedience with these instructions, Parejas summoned the inhabitants of the Pueblo of Abiquiu and Jose Martin, who were the adjoining land owners, and notified them of the grant and his intention to deliver possession of the land. Since no one protested, Parejas proceeded to perform the formal ceremonies of delivery of royal possession to Martin. The expediente was thereafter returned to Cachupin who deposited it in the Archives of New Mexico.[1]

For more than a century, Martin or his descendants continuously occupied and claimed the grant. On March 17, 1876, the heirs of Juan Pablo Martin filed[2] their claim in Surveyor General James K. Proudfit’s office. However, before he could pass upon the validity of the grant, he was asked to resign and his successor, Henry N. Atkinson, did not get around to investigating the validity of the grant for over six years. In his decision[3] dated December 22, 1882, Atkinson held that the muniments title, which were relied upon by the claimants, were to be found in the archives and were undoubtedly genuine. Thus, he concluded that the grant was good and valid and should be confirmed to the heirs, legal representatives and assigns of the original grantee according to the boundaries set forth in the grant and Act of Possession. A preliminary survey of the grant was made by Deputy Surveyor John Shaw in June, 1883, which showed that the grant contained 35,924.18 acres. J. M. C. Chaves protested the approval of the Shaw Survey on the ground it conflicted with the western portion of the Pueblo of Abiquiu Grant. This protest undoubtedly deterred prompt congressional action on the claim.

The Polvareda Grant was one of the claims to be reexamined by George W. Julian after he was appointed surveyor General. In a Supplemental Opinion[4] dated December 14, 1888, Julian stated that although he believed that the title papers were genuine, he had two objections to Surveyor General Atkinson’s action recommending the approval of the grant. First, he called attention to the fact that the petition filed by the heirs of Juan Pablo Martin did rot specifically name the claimants. He was of the opinion that petition should have set forth the names of the individual claimants as it was not the duty of his office to investigate and adjudicate the titles derived under a grant subsequent to its issuance. His second objection was that the claimants had failed to show that the conditions of settlement contained in the grant had been performed. As a result of these two imperfections, he recommended the rejection of the claim. Julian’s adverse report undoubtedly caused Congress to be even more reluctant to take action on the complex problems presented by the claim. Therefore, it is not surprising to find that the grant was still pending in Congress on the date of the establishment of the Court of Private Land Claims.

 On October 27, 1892, Frank Perew for himself and the heirs and legal representatives of Juan Pablo Martin filed suit[5] seeking the confirmation of the grant. Perew based his claim to an interest in the grant on mesne conveyances from Martin’s descendants. Gregoria Velarde and Felix Garcia, who had also purchased certain interests in the grant, intervened as party plaintiffs on June 7, 1893. Amelia F. Salazar, as next of friend of his wife and minor children who owned certain interests in the grant as remote descendants of the original grantee, also intervened as party plaintiffs. The government filed a motion to dismiss the petitions of the intervenors on the grounds that they had been filed after March 3, 1893, which was the deadline established by the Act of March 3, 1891.[6] It filed another motion to strike the allegation made by Perew that he was bringing the suit “on behalf of heirs and legal representatives of Juan Pablo Martin,” because the act did not authorize a plaintiff to assert a claim to any land derived from Spain or Mexico on behalf of anyone save himself, unless he was a trustee, agent, attorney‑in‑fact, guardian, or curator and no such authority had been shown or alleged by Perew. It also contended that the act did not contemplate nor authorize the court to confirm grants in the abstract in the names of the original grantee but only permitted the confirmation of the titles of party plaintiffs and then only to the extent of their individual interests.

The case came up for trial on August 1, 1893, at which time the court overruled the government’s motions and ordered the plaintiffs to proceed with the presentation of their case. The plaintiffs introduced their title papers and supported their claim in the oral evidence showing that grant had been occupied “as far back as the memory of man runneth naught.” The government in turn reiterated its position that the court had no authority to confirm the grant in the abstract. After fully considering the pleadings and proof, the court in its decision[7] dated August 9, 1893, found the grant to be good and valid to the extent of the boundaries set forth in the expediente and, therefore, ordered its confirmation to the heirs, legal representatives and assigns of Juan Pablo Martin. The government appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court, however, for some unexplained reason sought and secured the dismissal of the action on February 1, 1897.[8]

 After the dismissal of the appeal, a survey of the grant as ordered by the Surveyor general pursuant to Section 10 of the Act of March 3, 1891.[9] The survey was made by Deputy Surveyor Clayton G. Coleman. His survey disclosed that the grant contained a total of 35,761.14 acres and conflicted with the Juan Jose Lovato and Pueblo of Abiquiu Grants to the extent of approximately 5,000 acres. Notwithstanding this conflict, the survey was approved and a patent based thereon was issued on September 20, 1900.[10]

[1] Archive No. 568 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.)

[2] The Polvareda Grant, No. 131 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid

[5] Perew v. United States, No 43 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[6] Court of Private Land Claims Act, Chap. 539, Sec. 12, 26 Stat. 854 (1891).

[7] 1 Journal 176‑179 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[8] United States v. Perew, 17 S. Ct. 1001; 41 L. Ed. 1185 (1897) (mem.).

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

[10] The Polvareda Grant, No. 31 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).