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Pueblo of Laguna Grant

by J. J. Bowden

In accordance with the customary practice[1] pertaining to the presentment of pueblo land claims for investigation, the Laguna Indians filed[2] the title papers for their “pueblo grant” in the Surveyor General’s office on June 29, 1857. These papers[3] consisted of three separate Spanish instruments. The first was a typical “Cruzate Grant” dated September 25, 1689, in which Governor Domingo Jironza Petriz Cruzate interviewed the captured Zia warrior, Bartolome de Ojeda, pertaining to conditions at the Pueblo of Laguna and the location of its boundaries. Ojeda stated that the Laguna lands were bounded:

On the north, by a spring of cold water called the Ojo de Paguate; on the east, by the Mesita Colorado and the Mesita de Amolar; on the south, by the pool which is under a rock; and on the west, by the wide ravine, which empties to the north when it rains.

The interview closed with the statement that the grant had been read and explained to Ojeda. The second instrument had nothing to do with the grant but was an account of the early history of New Mexico. The third was the minutes of a meeting held on September 20, 1689, during which Ojeda gave Cruzate a great deal of information about the New Mexican pueblos. This instrument expressly mentions the Pueblo of Laguna as being one of the pueblos of the Queres nation. At the close of the meeting, Ojeda requested Cruzate to “make grants to all of the pueblos of New Mexico so that they might remain in possession and be subject to the lines to which they are entitled.” This instrument further states: “To which Señor Governor conceded that grants should be made and that a summary of their lines for each pueblo should be given for their security. And it was ordered for New Mexico, and that each pueblo should be marked out what belonged to it.” It is signed by both Ojeda and Cruzate and is attested by “Don Pedro de Guitara, Secretary.” Pelham, in his Annual Report[4] dated September 1, 1859, stated: “The grant to the Indian Pueblo of Laguna, made by the government of Spain on September 25, 1689, has been filed, examined and approved and is herewith transmitted for confirmation.”

On June 29, 1859, the Pueblo of Laguna petitioned[5] Surveyor General William Pelham, asking for the confirmation of six tracts of land which they had purchased sometime prior to 1813. After a cursory investigation of their titles to these tracts, Pelham, in a report[6] dated July 10, 1859, recommended the confirmation of all of the tracts, except the Rancho de Cubero. He described the tracts in his report, which was numbered 30, as being “in the vicinity of and adjoining the league granted to them by order of the King of Spain in 1689.” While he made no recommendation concerning the pueblo grant, he did include a copy of the September 25, 1689 “grant” in the abstract of documents which he transmitted to Congress. By Act[7] approved June 21, 1860, Congress confirmed private land claim number 30 as recommended for confirmation by Pelham in his report and abstract.

Since the pueblo grant was not mentioned specifically in either Pelham’s report of July 10, 1859 or the Act of June 21, 1860, there was a serious question as to whether it had been confirmed. Therefore, in order to remove all doubt, the Lagunans, on October 3, 1872, petitioned[8] Surveyor General James K. Proudfit seeking confirmation of their title to the lands described in the “Cruzate Grant” dated September 25, 1689. In response to their supplication, Proudfit, on November 22, 1872, issued a Decision[9] on the claim. After finding that there was no evidence in any of the confirming statutes that the grant had been contemplated or recognized, he held:

It is historically, and by common repute notorious, that this Pueblo of Laguna is, and has been, from time immemorial doubtless from a long time anterior to the tenure under which that community here claims, in existence, and its inhabitants in the possession and enjoyment of this land. And having investigated the case, I approve the claim therefore, under said grant of September 25, 1689, with the boundaries in the latter hereinbefore stated and adopted, and recommend that the Congress of the United States recognize and confirm the same to the inhabitants of the Pueblo of Laguna, and their successors and assigns ....

A preliminary survey of the grant was made in September, 1877 by Deputy Surveyors Sawyer & White for 125,225.18 acres. Their survey also showed that the grant included all of the Rancho de San Juan, Gigante and El Rito Grants and a portion of the Rancho de Paguate Grant.[10]

Since Congress had not acted upon the claim prior to the creation of the Court of Private Land Claims, the Pueblo of Laguna, a body corporate and politic, instituted a suit[11] in that court on February 27, 1893 to secure the recognition of the grant. The United States filed a general answer putting in issue the allegations contained in the pueblo’s petition and also special answers denying the genuineness of the “Cruzate Grant,” the existence of the pueblo in 1689, and asserting that as a result of the Act of June 21, 1860,[12] the Court, under Section 13(4) of the Act of March 3, 1891,[13] was without jurisdiction to confirm the claim.

The cause came up for trial on September 17, 1897, at which time the pueblo offered in evidence the tri parte document which constituted its title papers. The introduction of this document was objected to by the government on the ground that its genuineness had not been established. In support of this contention, it offered historical evidence proving that the Pueblo of Laguna was not established until 1699, or ten years after the purported execution of the alleged grant.[14]

It also pointed out that the signatures of the Cruzate, Guitara and Ojeda are in the same handwriting, that a comparison of Cruzate’s signature on the grant with his signature on Archives numbered 1 and 1124 and numerous other documents in the Library of Congress showed the signature on the grant to be spurious, and that Pedro Ladron de Guitara[15] was not Secretary of Government and war in 1689. Continuing, the government pointed out that a large portion of the second instrument had been taken bodily from Antonio Barreiro’s book Ojeada Sobre Nuevo Mexico which had been published in 1832. A comparison of the second instrument, with the pertinent portion of Barreiro’s book,[16] is as follows:


Second Instrument


A glance over New Mexico since its discovery, heading these reports: Alvarez Nunez and those who were saved from the shipwreck of Panfilo Narvaez in that Kingdom were the ones who gave notice of the Catholic religion to these natives and notice to their government so that it might undertake the conquest of New Mexico.


Also, without mentioning this likely peregrination, the monk, Lay-Friar Marcos de Niza said that he discovered this province and the Pueblo of Zuna in 1581,[17] and that at that time they were called Cibola, and it was by Cedula of Philip II direct to the Viceroy of Mexico, Zuniza Acevedo, Count of Monterrey, and afterwards [torn] Don Domingo Petriz do Cruzate brought with him sixty-five Franciscan monks, but as soon as the Indians recovered prestige and authority (missipi?) the Indians’ uprising occurred, and sixty-three Franciscan monks were killed, and only the Pueblo of Pecos let their missionaries escape, and another priest saved his life and went to Mexico, and then Domingo Petriz de Cruzate, Governor and Captain General of the Province of New Mexico, and Don Pedro Renero de Posada, General of the same Kingdom, returned and it was they who left all the pueblos very safe and in peace. . .


Ojeada Sobro Nuevo Mexico


A Glance Over New Mexico

Discovery of New Mexico


It is said that Alvarez Nunez and certain other Spaniards, saved from the shipwreck of Panfilo Narvaez in Florida, came overland even to Mexico by way of this territory, and that it was they who gave to these natives some notice of the Catholic religion, and who reported to their government so that the conquest of this country might be undertaken.


Others, without mentioning this improbable wandering, relate how the Lay “religious Fr. Marcos de Niza, son of the Province of the Holy Gospel, discovered this country in the year 1581,17 having named Zuni, but which in those times were called the Province of Cibola. However that may be, it is certain that Juan do Onate, bearing letters patent from Philip II, addressed to the Viceroy of Mexico, Zuniqa y Acevedo, County of Monterrey, entered New Mexico in the year 1595, with the first Spaniards who populated it, Franciscan religious.[18]


As soon as the Indians had recovered from the first surprise occasioned by the ar­rival of men whom they took to be gods; when also the charm had passed from the baubles with which it was sought to bedazzle them; and the instant they were persuaded that their conquerors sought only the idol of gold and were ambitious to have slaves, the pueblos of New Mexico broke out in a truly historic struggle against their fierce oppressors, and slew the governor and the religious, the only Spaniards who escaped being those who fled for refuge to the Pueblos of El Paso del Norte. This took place about in the year 1644.[19]






Thereupon, the Lagunans admitted in open court that the grant was not signed by Cruzate or his secretary, but that it was tendered in evidence as a document which had long been in their possession. It was received by the court subject to the further objection by the government that no foundation had been laid for its admission. Once its “Cruzate Grant” had been conceded to be spurious, the Indians were hard pressed to justify their claim. To overcome this objection, they asserted that they were entitled to four square leagues of land, based on Spanish custom. They called the court’s attention to the fact that in or about 1699 their ancestors had established the Pueblo of Laguna by virtue of the royal laws, usages and customs of the Crown of Spain, as found in Law 1, Title 2, Book 6, of the Recopilación de las Indias[20] which provides: “That the Indians shall be reduced to pueblos, and that they shall not live separate in the mountains, depriving themselves of all spiritual and temporal benefits.” They pointed out that prior to the time when the Pueblo of Laguna was formed the Royal Laws[21] provided, 'the sites on which pueblos and reductions must be formed shall have convenience of water, land, and wood, entrance and de­parture, and land for cultivation, and an exido of a league in length where the Indians can have their cattle without their mixing with those of the Spaniards.” They also referred to the Royal Cedula[22] of June 4, 1687, which conferred unlimited power on Viceroys to fix the amount of land to be given to Pueblo Indians. The Lagunans reasoned that these laws, coupled with nearly 200 years of peaceful occupation of the premises with the knowledge, consent and acquiescence of the Spanish, Mexican, and United States authorities, would establish a presumed grant covering all of the land within the exterior boundaries of the tract, then, in the alternative, they claimed four square leagues, measured a league in each of the cardinal directions from the center of the pueblo. In support of this contention, the Indians filed a certificate[23] by Alcalde Manuel Aragon, dated March 25, 1813, and approved by Governor Antonio Narbon in 1826, which formed the basis for the recognition of the pueblo’s five purchased tracts. This instrument makes reference to “the league allowed them by the King.…” The Lagunans also offered oral evidence, showing that they had occupied the land claimed under the grant of 1689, both by cultivation and pasturage. Upon the argument of the cause, it was contended by the government, first that since the “Cruzate Grant” was clearly spurious, it was inadmissible; second as a result of the rejection of the “Cruzate Grant,” there was no evidence to sustain the claim, except that afforded by the Indians’ lengthy possession, and the court had no jurisdiction to confirm a mere possessory title,[24] and, in the alternative, the character of possession proved by the plaintiffs was not of such a nature as to justify the confirmation, for no prescription could arise in favor of a pueblo to the extent of 125,000 acres, when the only possession shown was of isolated patches of farm land and use of the balance of the tract for pasturage; and third while, under the Spanish law, the establishment of a pueblo might carry with it the presumption of a grant, there certainly could be no presumption that a grant of 125,000 acres had been made, and even if such a presumption could be indulged in, it was fully rebutted in the recital in Aragon’s certificate that the pueblo had been granted a “league” by the king and their purchase of three tracts lying wholly within the boundaries of the claimed tracts.

The Court, on October 2, 1897, announced its[25] decision, rejecting the claim made by the Indians under the “Cruzate Grant,” and confirming to them four square leagues, with the church of the pueblo as its center. Justices Thomas C. Fuller and. William M. Murray dissented, on the ground that the confirmation should be for only one league, instead of four. Notwithstanding the dissent in this suit, the government did not appeal. The government’s[26] attorney, in his report on the case, stated that in his opinion the decision was right and proper. He noted that all of the other pueblos of New Mexico, with one exception, had received a confirmation from Congress to at least four square leagues. Continuing, he pointed out it would be incredible that the Spanish government would have established a pueblo without giving its inhabitants title to at least the land upon which the pueblo was located. In closing, he stated: “These people are poor and ignorant; the only lands capable of improvement within these four square leagues are occupied by them, and have been from time immemorial, and I do not feel justified in advising further opposition on the part of the government to their securing title to property to which they have such strong equitable claims.”

After the decision became final, Deputy Surveyor John H. Walker was awarded a contract to survey the grant, as confirmed. He made the survey in September, 1898, for 17,328.91 acres. A patent for the land was issued to the Pueblo of Laguna on November 15, 1909.[27]

The Pueblo of Laguna instituted proceedings[28] against the United States in the Indian Claims Commission, which was created under the Act of August 13, 1946,[29] for compensation for the loss of the lands covered by its aboriginal title. The area claimed by the Lagunans is as follows: 

Beginning at the northeast corner of the Bernabe Montano Grant; thence west along the north boundary of the northwest corner of said grant; thence southwesterly to the Salada creek, and the line common to Range Two (2) and Three (3), and along said creek to the Evans Ranch (Evans); thence to the Standard Parallel North at its intersection with the line between present day Sandoval and McKinley Counties; thence westerly along said line to the northwest corner of Section Three (3), Township Twelve (12), Range Seven (7); thence south to the north boundary of Paguate Purchase on the line between Section Twenty-one (21) and Twenty-two (22) in Township Eleven (11), Range Seven (7); thence westerly to the northwest corner of Paguate Purchase; thence southerly along the west line of said Purchase, and the west line of Cubero Grant to the southwest corner of said Cubero Grant; thence southwesterly along the south boundary of Cubero Grant to its intersection with the line between Township Ten (10), Ranges Six (6,) and Seven (7); thence along the boundary line between the Laguna and Acoma Pueblos as . . . established by Stipulation of the Laguna and Acoma Pueblos to a point on the line common to said Ranges Six (6) and Seven (7) at its intersection with the boundary line between Valencia and Socorro Counties in Section Thirteen (13) in Township Four (4), Range seven (7); thence easterly to the point of intersection with the line common to Ranges Four (4) and Five (5) thence northeasterly to the Rio Puerco at its intersection with the line common to Townships six (6) and Seven (7); thence along the Rio Puerco to its intersection with the east line of Bernabe Montano Grant in Township Eleven (11) West, N.M.P.M.; thence along the east line of said Bernabe Montano Grant to the place of beginning.

In order for the Lagunans to recover on their aboriginal claim, it was essential that they prove the following:

(1) Their claim was based on exclusive use, occupation and possession of such land. However, it was recognized that temporary occupation by friends or raiding by enemies would not destroy the “exclusive occupancy required for a valid and aboriginal title.”[30]

 (2) Such exclusive use and occupation must be from “time immemorial” or “for a long time.”[31]

 (3) The title must be perfected before the sovereignty of the United States attached to the lands.[32]

 (4) The Indians must not have voluntarily abandoned the lands. However, the raids of other Indian tribes is not an abandonment unless the territory is not reoccupied.[33]

 (5) There must be a taking of said lands by the United States. Such a taking could be the results of the action or inaction of the government.[34]

Both sides presented a great deal of evidence by experts in the fields of history, anthropology, archaeology, and ethnology in an effort to prove or disprove these sever­al elements. By opinion[35] dated February 28, 1967, the Commission held that, in 1848, the Lagunans had exclusive use and occupation of a tract described as follows:

Beginning at a point where Highway #6 intersects the Rio Puerco; thence, on a line westerly to the northernmost tip of the Mesa del Oro; thence, following the northern edge of the Mesa del Oro to a point where said Mesa intersects the stipulated Acoma Laguna common boundary line between Ranges Six (6) and Seven (7) West; thence, proceeding in a northerly direction following said line to a point where said line intersects the southern boundary of the Cubero Grant; thence, following the southern boundary of the Cubero Grant to the southwestern corner thereof; thence, proceeding northwardly along the west boundary of said Cubero Grant to a point where the Cubero Grant and the Cebolleta Grant meet; thence, on a line northeasterly to Marquez; thence, easterly on a line to the northeastern most corner of the Cebolleta Grant; thence, in a southerly direction following the boundary of the Cebolleta Grant to the southeast corner thereof; thence easterly on a line to where the Rio Puerco intersects the eastern boundary of the Bernabe Montano Grant at the southernmost point on said eastern boundary; thence, in a southerly direction, following the meanderings of the Rio Puerco, to the point of beginning; save and except the lands covered by certain valid Spanish and Mexican grants[36] lying within said boundaries.

It also found that the Lagunans did not voluntarily abandon use of such land, that they had lost the use of the land as a result of the government’s failure to protect their rights; and, therefore, the government was liable to the Indians for the value of such loss. The Commission then ordered that the date or dates of such loss and the value thereof would be determined at a future hearing to be held before the Commission.



[1] This practice was for the Pueblo Indians merely to file their title papers in the Surveyor General’s office without formally partitioning him to investigate their claims.

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

[3] Record of the Pueblo Grants 65‑69 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[4] S. Exec. Doc. No. 2, 36th Cong., 1st Sess., 297 (1859).

[5] The Pueblo of Laguna Tracts, No. 30 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.). These tracts were the Rancho de Paguate, Rancho de San Juan, Rancho de Gigante, Rancho El Rito, Rancho de Cubero, and Rancho de Santa Ana. The Rancho de Cubero apparently was located west of the Town of Cubero Grant in the western portion of the Rancho do Paguate Grant, and, therefore, was not mentioned in his recommendation to Congress.

[6] H.R. Exec. Doc. No. 14, 36th Cong, 1st Sess., 165‑167 (1860).

[7] An Act to confirm Certain Private Land Claims in the Territory of New Mexico, Chap. 167, Sec. 3, 12 Stat. 71 (1860).

[8] The Pueblo of Laguna Grant, No. S (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[9] H. R. Exec. Doc. No. 128, 42d Cong., 3d Sess., 36‑37 (1873).

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

[11] Pueblo of Laguna v. United States, No. 133 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[12] An Act to Confirm Certain Private Land Claims in the Territory of New Mexico, Chap. 167, Sec. 3, 12 Stat. 71 (1860).

[13] Court of Private Land Claims Act, Chap. 539, Sec. 13(4), 26 Stat. 854 (1891).

[14] The Pueblo of Laguna may have been in exist­ence in 1689. The Indian Claims Commission in its decision dated February 28, 1967, found, “After migrating from the Mesa Verde of southwestern Colorado towards the end of the 13th century during a period known as the Great Drought, the Lagunans moved by stages to the San Jose River and about 1300 A.D. settled their headquarters at Puagana on the south side of Laguna Lake. In the 1400s they moved across the lake to Old Laguna and by the process of natural increase plus some immigration, Old Laguna increased in size …. with Old Laguna as the tribal center, the Lagunans spread to outlying farms and villages and gradually expanded their farming and herding areas and lambing sites. The Pueblo of Laguna v. United States, 17 Ind. Cl. Comm. 615 (1967).

[15] Cruzate’s Secretary of Government and War for New Mexico was Pedro Ladron de Guevara. 2 Twitchell, Spanish Archives of New Mexico, 73 (1914).

[16] Bloom, Antonio Barreiro’s Ojeada Sobre Nuevo Mexico 5 (1928).

[17] The discovery occurred in 1539. Ibid., 57.

[18] Barreiro was in error, for the number of Franciscans was ten, and the entrada was in 1598.

[19] The Pueblo Revolt occurred in 1680. Ibid.

[20] Hall, The Laws of Mexico 61 (1885).

[21] Ibid., Recopilación de las Indios Law 8, Title 3, Book 6.

[22] Ibid.

[23] The Pueblo of Laguna Tracts, No. 30 (Mss., of Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[24] Sections 16, 17 and 18 of the Act of March 3, 1891 provided the vehicle for the recognition of title to land occupied for more than ten years and containing 160 acres or less. Court of Private Land Claims Act, Chap. 539, Secs. 16‑18, 26 Stat. 854 (1891).

[25] 3 Journal 291 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.). The court’s conclusion that the term “league” means four square leagues is based on certain recitals in Archive No. 1357, of which the court took judicial notice. This archive states “The league of five thousand varas measured from the cross in the cemetery in all directions, which his Majesty granted to each Indian pueblo from the beginning of its settlement, is to the end that it be preserved for the support of the natives thereof, in such manner that they have the use of it and cannot give or sell it without license of the King …”

[26] Report of the United States Attorney, dated November 20, 1897, in (Mss., Records of the General Services Administration, National Archives, Washington, D. C.), Record Group 60, Year File 9865‑92.

[27] The Pueblo of Laguna Grant, No. 5 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[28] The Pueblo of Laguna Grant v. United States, No. 227 (Mss., Records of the Ind. Cl. Comm.)

[29] Indian Claims Commission Act, Chap. 959, 60 Stat. 1049 (1946).

[30] Lummi Tribe of Indians v. United States, 5 Ind. Cl. Comm. 543 (1957).

[31] The Sac and Fox Tribe v. United States, 161 Ct. Cl. 189 (1964).

[32] Iowa Tribe v. United States, 6 Ind. Cl. Comm 464 (1958).

[33] Omaha Tribe v. United States, 4 Ind. Cl. Comm. 627 (1956)

[34] Shoshone Tribe v. United States, 299 U.S. 476 (1936)

[35] The Pueblo of Laguna v. United States, 17 Ind. Cl. Comm. 615 (1967).

[36] These are the Bernabe Manuel Montano Grant, Canada de Los Alamos Grant, Agua Salada Grant, Nuestra Sonora de la Luz de las Lagunatas Grant, Antonio Pedillo Grant, Cebolleta Grant, Baltazar Baca Grant, and Cubero Grant. The commission reasoned that all valid Spanish and Mexican land grants located within the Lagunan’s aboriginal property were private property at the time American sovereignty attached to the area in 1848. Of course, such loss would not include the five purchased tracts of the pueblo league which had been confirmed to the Lagunans nor the lands included in its 142,595.38 acre reservation.