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Pueblo of Nambe Grant

by J. J. Bowden

While the Pueblo of Nambe undoubtedly existed long before, it was not until after the Villa of Santa Fe had been established that it was mentioned in the history books of New Mexico. It was a Tewa Pueblo and was located on Nambe Creek, an upper branch of Pojoaque Creek, about fifteen miles north of the capitol. Fray Isidro Ordonez was in Nambe in 1613, supervising the construction of its church. Governor Pedro de Peralta was building the Governor’s Palace at this same time. When Peralta sent soldiers to Nambe to gather its quota of Indians to work on the Palacio, Ordonez directed the soldiers to return empty handed. This precipitated a serious dispute between the civil and ecclesiastical leaders of the province over the exploitation of the Pueblo Indians, which was one of the causes which brought about the Pueblo Revolt.[1]

 On August 10, 1680, the Nambe Indians rose up, killed Friar Tomas de Torres, who was the resident missionary for the Mission of San Francisco de Nambe, destroyed the church, and then hurried to join the other Pueblos in siege of Santa Fe, When Governor Diego de Vargas returned to Nambe in 1692, during the reconquest of New Mexico, he expected to find the Indians hostile, but for some unexplained reason they received him with open arms. A new mission was built at Nambe in 1696. The number of converts soon had increased to the point that Governor Juan Domingo de Bustamante erected a great church at his own expense which withstood the ravages of time until 1909. However, the great smallpox epidemic of 1780‑1781 reduced Nambe’s population to a point where it would no longer support a mission. It became a vista of Pojoaque in 1782.[2]

Shortly after General Stephen Watts Kearny marched into Santa Fe in 1846, a delegation of Pueblo Indians appeared before him and took the oath of allegiance. This action was undoubtedly prompted by the promise, which Kearny made when he took possession of New Mexico, that all persons who surrendered their arms and took the oath of allegiance to the United States would be protected in their person, lives, religion, and property.[3] After New Mexico was formally made a Territory in 1850, James S. Calhoun was appointed as its first civil governor. Since he formerly had served as Indian Agent of New Mexico, he frequently called Congress’ attention to the urgent need for legislation to protect the land claims of the Pueblo Indians. As a consequence, the Act of July 22, 1854,[4] was passed creating the office of Surveyor General of New Mexico. Section 8 of that Act directed the Surveyor General to:

 ... make a report in regard to all pueblos existing in the Territory, showing the extent and locality of each, stating the number of inhabitants on the said pueblos, respectively, and the nature of their titles to the land. Such report to be made according to the forms which may be published by the Secretary of the Interior, which report shall be laid before Congress for such action thereon as may be deemed just and proper, with a view to confirm bona fide grants and give full effect to the treaty of eighteen hundred and forty‑eight between the United States and Mexico.[5]

The instructions which William Pelham, the first Surveyor General of New Mexico, received from the Commissioner John Wilson upon his appointment, ordered Pelham to investigate and make a report upon each of the pueblos. These instruc­tions closed with the statement that the United States was obligated to deal with the Pueblo land titles “precisely as Mexico would have done had sovereignty not changed ... This is the principle which you will bear in mind in acting upon these important concerns.”[6]

Pursuant to these instructions Pelham held a hearing on September 29, 1856, at which time the Indian officials of the Pueblo of Nambe presented the Indians’ claim for the four square leagues of land surrounding their church. The claimants presented no documentary evidence but a number of witnesses testified that the grant papers had been delivered to the acting governor of the Territory in connection with a case against some Mexican trespassers and had never been heard of or seen again. As a result of his investigation, Pelham concluded that the claim was one which Mexico would have recognized. Therefore, he recommended its confirmation by Congress.[7] Congress, having no means to make an independent investigation of the claims, relied heavily, if not solely, upon Pelham’s recommendation. A bill for its confirmation was presented to Congress, and since there was no opposi­tion, the bill was passed on December 22, 1858.[8] The grant was surveyed in 1859 by Deputy Surveyor John W. Garretson for 13,586.33 acres. A patent for such lands was issued on November 1, 1864. The grant was resurveyed in 1903 for a little over 13,590 acres.[9]


[1] Stanley, The Nambe New Mexico Story, 3‑4 (1966)

[2]Forrest, Missions and Pueblos of the Old Southwest, 60‑61 (1962).

[3] Clark, Stephen Watts Kearney, Soldier of the West, 143‑147 (1961).

[4] An Act to establish the Office of the Surveyor General of New Mexico, Kansas and Nebraska, to grant donations to actual settlers therein and for other purposes, Chap. 103, 10 Stat. 308 (1854).

[5] Ibid.

[6] S. Misc. Doc. No. 12, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., 6‑7 (1868).

[7] H.R. Exec. Doc. No. 36, 34th Cong., 3d Sess., 5‑6 (1857).

[8] An Act to confirm the Lands of Certain Pueblos and Towns in the Territory of New Mexico, Chap. 5, 11 Stat. 374 (1858).

[9] The Pueblo of Nambe Grant, No. R (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).