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Pueblo of Pojoaque Grant

by J. J. Bowden

The Pueblo of Pojoaque was the smallest pueblo occupied by the Tewa Indians and is situated on the north bank of the Pojoaque Creek about eighteen miles northwest of Santa Fe. It became the seat of the Spanish mission of San Francisco early in the seventeenth century but was abandoned during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The pueblo remained vacant until five Indian families were resettled by Governor Francisco Cuerva y Valdez.[1] A new mission named Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe was founded shortly thereafter. While the lands surrounding were fairly fertile, the Pueblo never flourished. When the United States acquired New Mexico, it was in existence but had a total population of less than 79 persons.[2]

By instructions dated August 21, 1854, Surveyor General William Pelham was obligated to:

… collect data from the records and other authentic sources relative to the pueblos, so that you will enable Congress to understand the matter fully and legislate in a manner as will do justice to all concerned .... It is obligatory on the Government of the United States to deal with the private land titles and the “Pueblos” precisely as Mexico would have done had the sovereignty not changed. We are bound to recognize all titles, as they would have done, to go that far, and no further. This is the principle which you will bear in mind in acting upon these important concerns.[3]

Pursuant to these instructions Pelham called a hearing on June 28, 1856, in order to obtain information concerning the Pueblo of Pojoaque Grant, Jose de Jesus Montoya, Governor of the Pueblo, and several other Pueblo officials appeared and testified that the Pueblo had received a grant from the King of Spain covering a tract of land one league square measured from the church. In an effort to explain the claimants’ failure to produce any documentary evidence of the grant, he stated that the pueblo became involved in certain litigation concerning its lands in about 1816, and the testimonio had been presented to the Alcalde of Chimayo, Juan Bautista Vigil, and had not been returned. Donaciano Vigil, custodian of the archives of the territory of New Mexico also appeared and testified that while there was no documentary evidence of their title in the archives there was a tradition that the Pueblo of Pojoaque had received a grant from the Spanish authorities towards the close of the seventeenth century, and that from time immemorial, its inhabitants had occupied their land without any question being raised as to their legal right to the property. As authority for the alleged grant, a decree over the signature of Viceroy Fernando de Alancaster was introduced. This decree transmitted to the Governor of New Mexico a cedula by King Felipe V who interpreted the Laws of the Indies and especially Law 8, Title 3, Book 6 of the Recopilación as granting each Indian pueblo a league of land.[4]

By letter dated September 30, 1856, Pelham advised the Commissioner of the General Land Office that he had examined and approved the Pueblo of Pojoaque Grant. He pointed out that while the original grant papers had not been presented, the claimants had satisfactorily accounted for their loss. In conclusion, he recommended that the claim be confirmed by Congress as speedily as possible to protect the Indians’ lands from encroachment by the Mexicans.5]

In response to Pelham’s fervent plea, Congress confirmed the grant by Act approved on December 22, 1858.[6] The grant was surveyed by Deputy Surveyor John W. Garretson in 1859 for 13,520.38 acres. The grant was patented on November 1, 1864.[7]

[1] 3 Hackett, Historical Documents Relating to New Mexico Nueva Vizcaya and Approaches Thereto to 1773, 380 (1937).


[2] Ayer, The Memorial of Fray Alonso de Benavides 240 (1916). 240 (1916).


[3] S. Misc. Doc. No. 12, 42d Cong., 1st Sess. 6‑7 (1871).


[4] H. R. Exec. Doc No. 1, 34th Cong., 3d Sess.517-520 (1856).


[5] Ibid., 411.


[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 Pojoaque Grant, No. N (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).