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Pueblo of Isleta Grant

by J. J. Bowden

The Pueblo of Isleta, an ancient Tigua settlement, is located on the west bank of the Rio Grande, about twelve miles south of Albuquerque. While the pueblo was mentioned as early as 1540, a mission was not established there until about 1629. Thereafter, it became a popular waystation on the Camino Real, which linked Santa Fe with Mexico. Sometime before 1680 a small Presidio was established at Isleta, and was placed under the command of the Lieutenant Governor of New Mexico. The protection afforded by this fort prompted a number of Spaniards to settle in the area. It also prevented the Isletans from immediately joining the Pueblo Revolt in 1680, thus saving a majority of the non-Indians living in the Rio Abajo Area. After Lieutenant Governor Alonso Garcia withdrew from Isleta the Indians joined the rebels. Governor Antonio de Otermin, during his first entrada into New Mexico in the winter of 1681, caught the Isletans by surprise and captured the pueblo. Most of its inhabitants agreed to accompany him back to El Paso del Norte, where they formed a settlement at Ysleta, Texas. To prevent the hostile Indians from occupying the buildings, he burned them on January 1, 1682. The pueblo was not reestablished until some time between 1709 and 1718. It has continued in existence as a flourishing and prosperous settlement since that time.[1] While there is an indication in the Archives of New Mexico[2] that the pueblo of Isleta had received a grant covering a “pueblo league” or a tract of one league in each direction from the door of its church, the inhabitants of the Pueblo of Isleta presented their claim[3] to Surveyor General William Pelham on November 8, 1856, seeking the confirmation of a much larger tract lying on both sides of the Rio Grande. The Indians presented no documentary evidence in support of their claim, but Ambrosio Abeytia, the governor of the pueblo; Jesus Maria Abeytia, its secretary; Pedro Apodaca and Jose Chirino, “principals,” appeared and jointly answered the following questions[4] asked by Pelham:


Q. Do you know if the Pueblo of Isleta received a grant to the lands embraced within the limits of the pueblo from the government of Spain?
A. The pueblo received a grant from the King of Spain; so we have a tradition in the pueblo.


Q. Do you know where the grant is now?
A. We do not.

 Q. Do you know how the pueblo was deprived of its possession?
A. The old men of the pueblo say it was deposited in the archives of the territory. Miguel Antonio Lobato informed us that he had the grant of the pueblo in his hands not long since; that it was in the possession of a man at Polvadera or Socorro. We have been informed by others also that it was there.


Q. Does your pueblo claim the same land as was granted to the other pueblos?
A. We received one league to the north and one league to the south, on the west to the Puerco River, and on the east “El Espinazo de la Sierra.”


Q. Do you know how long the pueblo has been in existence, and was the oldest inhabitant born in the pueblo?
A. We do not know how long the pueblo has been in existence; our grandfathers were born there. The oldest inhabitant of the pueblo, now one hundred years old, more or less, was born there also.


Q. Do you live entirely by agricultural pursuits, and do you raise enough to support you comfortably?
A. We live entirely from the products of the soil and raise enough to support us comfortably; indeed, some of our men are wealthy.

Based on the brief testimony taken at this hearing, Pelham approved the claim and transmitted it to the General Land office for presentation to Congress. Commissioner Thomas A. Hendricks forwarded the claim to the Secretary of the Interior, Robert McClelland, who, in turn, presented it to the Speaker of the House, for its action.[5] Congress con­firmed the grant by Act[6] approved December 22, 1858. The tract was surveyed by Deputy Surveyor John N, Garretson in October, 1859, and found to contain 110,080.31 acres. A patent for such land was issued to the pueblo on November 1, 1864.[7]


On July 11, 1910, the Isletans filed a protest in the Surveyor General’s office contending that Garretson had erroneously located the eastern boundary of the grant. They pointed out that the line had been surveyed along the base of the Manzano Mountains but should have been fixed at the espinosa or backbone of the mountain. The Surveyor General concurred, and on July 11, 1918, a resurvey was ordered which located it along the summit of the mountains and, thus, added 21,414,99 acres to the grant. A supplemental patent was issued on October 7, 1933.[8]


The Pueblo of Isleta filed a claim[9] before the Indians Claims Commission seeking compensation for the loss of the 2,582.78 acres covered by the Bosque de los Pinos Tract and the 14,710.85 acres covered by the Town of Peralta Tract. The Isletans claimed they had lost the tracts as a result of the government’s failure to protect their interests. They asserted that the Bosque de los Pinos Tract had been lost as a result of the Court Of Private Land Claims erroneous decision in the Chaves cases[10] and that the Town of Peralta Tract had been lost as a result of the government’s failure to protect them in the Sanchez case.[11] The Commission, in its decision[12] dated June 5, 1959, held that both tracts were privately owned prior to the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and, therefore, under the doctrine of the Pueblo of Cochiti case,[13] an aboriginal title could not attach since the lands never became a part of the public domain. Continuing, it held the pueblo had not acquired an interest by purchase in the Bosque de los Pinos Tract and the payment made by the United States in 1933 fully compensated the pueblo for any claim it might have had in the Town of Peralta Tract. It expressly found that the government had not exerted any unfair influence in obtaining the Indians acceptance of the 1933 settlement. The Isletans appealed to the Court of Claims, which affirmed the Commission’s decision.[14]



[1] Hackett, Revolt of the Pueblo Indians XLIX-CXXXV (1942); and 1 Hodge, Handbook of American Indians, 622‑623 (1960) Archive No. 1381 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[2] Archive No. 1381 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[3] The Pueblo of Isleta Grant, No. Q (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[4] H. R. Exec. Dec. No. 36, 34th Cong., 3d Sess., 20 (1857).

[5] Ibid., 1.

[6] An Act to Confirm the Land Claims of Certain Pueblos and Towns, Chap. 5, 11 Stat. 374 (1858).

[7] The Pueblo of Isleta, No. Q (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M,).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Pueblo of Isleta v. United States, No. 211 (Mss., Records of the Ind. Cl. Comm.).

[10] Chaves v. United States, No. 274 and 275 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[11] Sanchez v. Pueblo of Isleta, No. 1715 (Mss. Records of the District Clerks Office, Los Lunas, New Mexico).

[12] Pueblo of Isleta v. United States, 7 Ind. Cl. Comm. 619 (1959).

[13] Pueblo of Cochiti v. United States, 7 Ind. Cl. Comm. 422 (1959).

[14] Pueblo of Isleta v. United States, 152 Ct. Cl. 866 (1961).