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Pueblo of Picuris Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Picuris is an ancient Tigua pueblo located about forty miles north of Santa Fe and eighteen miles southwest of Taos. The pueblo stands on the north side of Pueblo Creek about a mile above its confluence with Penasco Creek. Although Picuris was visited by Coronado in 1540 or 1541, the Spaniards had no further contact with the pueblo until organized mission work was commenced in 1598 and it was placed under the charge of Fray Francisco de Zamora to instruct and preach among the Indians. However, by 1609, the Spaniards had lost the goodwill of the Picuris Indians, who had joined the Apaches in a scheme to exterminate the Europeans. This insurrection was swiftly crushed and many of the inhabitants of Picuris were converted to Christianity. The Mission of San Lorenzo was established by Fray Martin de Arvide, who went to New Mexico upon taking his vows in 1612. By 1680 it had become one of the most important pueblos of New Mexico; however, its 3,000 inhabitants were seriously abused and exploited by the Spaniards under the encomienda system. This led the Picuris Indians to become extremely defiant to Spanish rule and strong supporters of Pope, the leader of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Pope, in turn, was especially dependent upon the Pueblo of Picuris for both warriors and leaders. After killing their pastor and five missionaries, who were living at the pueblo, the Picuris braves, under the leadership of Luis Tupatu, joined the siege upon Santa Fe on August 10, 1680. Following Pope’s death, Tupatu was chosen as his successor. However, he readily submitted to Governor Diego de Vargas when he entered Picuris on October 5, 1692, following his reconquest of New Mexico. Fray Francisco Covera and his two assistants absolved the pueblo for its participation in the Pueblo Revolt. However, the Picuris Indians rose in open rebellion against the Spaniards in 1694 and again in 1696. De Vargas decided it was time to chastise them for their actions, but, upon arriving at Picuris, he found it deserted. The Indians had fled eastward into the Apache country. After overtaking and capturing a group of 84 women and children he decided to give up the chase since winter was fast approaching. The prisoners were distributed among the soldiers as servants. This action together with the severity of the winter caused the Indians to return to their pueblo and sue for peace. In 1704 the Indians, due to some superstition arising in connection with their practice of witchcraft, abandoned their pueblo, moved to a site on the plains located 350 miles north of Santa Fe called Quartelejo. Here they remained until 1706, when they were induced to return by Sargent‑Major Juan de Ulibarri. Thereafter, the Indians lived quiet and peaceful lives in their secluded pueblo.[1]

To sedentary people, the security of their land titles is of paramount importance. On the second day after General Stephen W. Kearny took formal possession of New Mexico, a delegation of Pueblo Indians appeared before him seeking assurances that their titles would be respected. Thereafter, they continuously pressed their claims but were unable to secure any relief until Congress passed the Act of July 22, 1854,[2] which created the office of Surveyor General. Section 8 of this Act requires the Surveyor General, among other things, to investigate and report regarding “all pueblos existing in the territory … and the nature of their titles to the land.”

On June 2, 1856, the inhabitants of the Pueblo of Picuris caused the following instrument to be filed[3] in the Surveyor General’s office in support of their claim for four square leagues of land:

1689 ‑ In the town of our Lady of Guadalupe del Paso del Rio del Norte, on the twenty-fifth day of the month of September, in the year one thousand six hundred and eighty-nine, his Excellency Don Domingo Jeronza Petroz de Cruzate, Governor and Captain General, stated that, whereas, in overtaking the Queras Indians, and the Apostates and the Thequas, and those of the Thanos Nation, in the Kingdom of New Mexico, and having fought with all the Indians of all the other pueblos, an Indian named Bartolome de Ojea, of the pueblo of Zia, one of those who were most conspicuous in the battle, lending his aid every­ where, being wounded by a ball and an arrow, surrendered; and as previously stated, I ordered to declare, under oath, the conditions of the pueblo of Picuris (very rebellious Indians) who apostatized and took part in the wars of that Kingdom of New Mexico.

Being interrogated, if this pueblo would rebel again at any future time, as it was customary for them to do, the deponent answered no; that, although it was true they were connected with those of Zia in what had taken place in the year previous, he judged it was impossible for them to fail in giving in their allegiance.

Therefore, his Excellency Don Domingo Jironza Petroz de Cruzate, Governor and Captain General, granted the boundaries herein set forth:

On the north, one league, on the east, one league, on the south, one league, and on the west, one league; these four lines to be measured from the four corners of the temple situated on the western side of the pueblo, and his Excellency so provided, ordered, and signed before me, the present secretary of government and war, to which I certify.


                                                 Don Domingo Jironza

                                                Petroz Cruzate

Before me,

                        Don Pedro Landron de Guitara

                        Secretary of Government and War.[4]

Surveyor General William Pelham, in his Annual Report dated September 30, 1856, reported and recommended the prompt confirmation of thirteen of New Mexico's pueblo grants, including the Pueblo of Picuris Grant.[5] By Act approved December 22, 1858, Congress confirmed the grant.[6]

The grant was surveyed in July, 1859, by Deputy Surveyor John Garretson for 17,460.69 acres. The grant was patented on November 1, 1864.[7] However, since the confirmation and patent merely relinquished the title of the United States and in no way were to be construed as adversely affecting the vested rights of third parties, the Indians lost 2,507.30 acres to non‑Indians who had settled within the boundaries of the grant and perfected valid titles.[8]

[1] Ayer, The Memorial of Fray Alonso de Benavides, 245-246 (1916); and Stanley, The Picuris Story, 3‑9 (1962).

[2] An Act to establish the office of 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).

[3] H. R. Exec. Doc. No. 1, 34th Cong., 3d Sess., 502 (1856).

[4] An investigation conducted by Will Tipton, Special Investigator for the Department of Justice, revealed that this instrument was spurious. 1 Twitchell, The Spanish Archives of New Mexico 478 (1914).

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

[6] An act to confirm the land claims of certain pueblos and towns in the Territory of New Mexico, Chap. 5, 11 Stat. 374 (1858).

[7] The Pueblo of Picuris Grant No. D (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[8] Stanley, The Picuris Story, 14 (1962).