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Pueblo of San Ildefonso Grant

by J. J. Bowden

The Pueblo of San Ildefonso was first visited by the Spaniards in 1593, when Francisco Leveya de Bonilla and Antonio Gutierrez de Humana made it the principal base for their ill-fated and unauthorized expedition into the northern frontiers of New Spain. This expedition played an important role in inspiring Juan Oñate to undertake the colonization of New Mexico. While Oñate visited this Tewa pueblo in 1598, no effort was made to Christianize its inhabitants until 1617. Meanwhile, due to a scarcity of water, the pueblo was moved from the cliffs on the west of the river to its present location. At the time of the Pueblo Revolt in 1680, it had a population of about 800 souls. It joined the rebellion and killed its two missionaries. When Diego de Vargas reconquered New Mexico in 1692, the San Ildefonso Indians surrendered without a fight and pledged their allegiance to the Crown. However, following Vargas’ forceful expulsion of the Tano Indians from Santa Fe, the San Ildefonso Indians abandoned their pueblo and firmly entrenched themselves upon the top of a nearby black mesa. Since the future of New Mexico hinged upon the pacification of the Tewas on that impregnable rock, Vargas, in September, 1694, made an exerted attack on the mesa with every available soldier and a large force of Indian allies. Since he realized it would be impossible to storm the hill, he cut off their water and repelled every attempt by the savages to replenish their supply. After five days of siege the Indians capitulated and Vargas pardoned them on the condition that they would peacefully return to their pueblo. In 1696, the San Ildefonso Indians again rebelled against Vargas, killed their missionaries, and burned the church. Once again, Vargas had to tediously dislodge them from their mountain fortress. Following the suppression of this revolt, Vargas was free to complete the recolonization of New Mexico.[1]

Captain Alfonso Rael de Aguilar, Protector of the Indians, petitioned Acting Governor Juan Paez Hurtado on September 18, 1704, seeking the revocation of a grant which had been made to Captain Ignacio de Roybal. Aguilar contended that this grant had been made in violation of the royal ordinances since it was detrimental to the interests of the Indians, who ha occupied the lands in question since time immemorial. Aguilar also asked Hurtado to grant the Indians the four leagues of land which they were entitled and to compel Roybal to confine himself to the lands which he had at the Pueblo of Jacona, Santa Fe, and other places. In response to an order from Hurtado, Roybal presented his grant papers for examination, and they showed that he had received a grant from Governor Diego de Vargas on March 4, 1704, as pasturage for his livestock. The grant embraced the lands between:

The lands of the Pueblo of Santa Clara on the north; the Rio Grande on the east; the Caja del Rio on the south; and the mountains on the west.

Vargas, in making the grant, called attention to the fact that Mateo Trujillo had a grant extending from the boundary of Santa Clara down to a place where Vargas had camped during the reconquest and that Roybal’s grant should extend from that point down to the Caja del Rio. A special commission was appointed by Hurtado to look into the matter and advise him as to whether or not the Indians had ever cultivated any of the lands in question. On September 24, 1704, the Indians presented a statement to the commission at which they stated they had planted the lands in dispute before the Pueblo Revolt and that they had planned to resume its cultivation during the following year. They further stated that their old monument could be found “a little beyond a place where they had built a house and tower,” and that evidence of their old irrigation ditch and fields could still he seen even though the lands had not been farmed for ten years. The commission went upon the lands and at a point located about three quarters of a league from the Pueblo discovered what apparently was an old irrigation ditch and some fields which appeared to have been cultivated at one time. The Indians also pointed out the remains of an old monument, and stated that it marked the point which the Spanish officials had originally designated as their boundary before the Pueblo Revolt, The commission reported these findings to Hurtado on September 25, 1704, and he promptly issued a decree ordering Captain Cristobal de Arellano, Alcalde of Santa Fe, to measure one league in each direction from the Pueblo and the grant to Roybal should extend outward from the western boundary of the pueblo lands. However, if any lands owned by Matias Madrid should be located within a league of the pueblo then the pueblo boundary on that side should be fixed at the Madrid’s line. The decree concluded with the provision that if any party was dissatisfied with the decision he could appeal the question to either the new governor, once he was appointed, or to the Viceroy. On October 9, 1704, Arellano, in compliance with Hurtado’s order, went to San Ildefonso. He notified Roybal of his plans to survey the pueblo league but Roybal failed to appear at the appointed time. Whereupon, the Alcalde measured one league to the north and one half a league in each of the three other cardinal directions. His reason for not complying with the Governor’s order and surveying a full league in each direction is not clear.[2]

In 1763, a new dispute arose between the San Ildefonso Indians and the Spaniards as a result of the occupancy of certain lands lying within the Pueblo league by certain Spaniards who claimed to own them. Governor Tomas Velez Cachupin on February 4, 1763, commissioned Alcalde Carlos Fernandez to examine the conflicting claims. Thirteen days later, Fernandez inspected the grant papers of the interested parties and surveyed the premises. The latter proceedings are described as follows:

On February 17, 1763, Fernandez measured the distance from the gate of the cemetery in the pueblo, which gate faced east, to the boundary of the land claimed by the heirs of Juana Lujan, a distance of 2,200 varas, and continuing the measurement in the same direction (east) to the boundary which said heirs recognized as separating them from the lands of the heirs of Ignacio Roybal there was a further distance of 1,650 varas. This east boundary was an arroyo, the nearest one to the principal house of Juana Lujan. From the measurement it is evident that the lands claimed by the latter’s heirs were within a distance of 3,850 varas from the gate on the east side of the San Ildefonso cemetery. On the 18th, Fernandez began at the north wall of the Church in San Ildefonso and measured directly toward the house of Marcos Lucero and at a distance of 4,372 varas he came to the boundary of the lands claimed by said Lucero and other heirs of Francisco Gomez del Castillo. Thence continuing the measurement, in the same direction a distance 628 varas he arrived at a point 5,000 varas, or one Spanish league from the point of beginning. This distance took in the house and all the heirs, except 61 varas, claimed by the heirs of Gomez del Castillo. These 61 varas reached the boundary of Juan Esteban Canjuebe, a citizen of Santa Clara...

Also, on February 18, 1763, Fernandez began at the western wall of the cemetery of San Ildefonso and measured west there from a distance of 3,200 varas at which point he was north of the house of Pedro Sanchez. He then continued the measurement west 1,800 varas further to the end of the league of 5,000 varas belonging to the pueblo.[3]

The Indians argued that all the conflicting grants should be invalidated since the Spanish Law prohibited the issuance of grazing grants to Spaniards which would permit their livestock to damage the Indian’s crops.[4]  Fernandez’s report showing the results of his investigation was forwarded to the governor, who in turn referred the matter to Fernando de Torija y Leri, a Chihuahuan attorney, for an opinion on the questions raised by the report. Torija reported that the best way to settle the controversy would be to permit the Spaniards to retain their grants and give the Indians other lands to compensate them for the loss. Governor Cachupin concurred and by a decree dated April 12, 1765, granted the Indians sufficient land to the west of the pueblo and towards the mountain to pasture their livestock. These new lands included the deserted rancho formerly owned by Pedro Sanches, which was located in the Arroyo de los Guages. He also fixed the northern boundary of the grant at the house built by Marcos Lucero. On April 24, 1765, the acting Alcalde of Santa Fe, Antonio Jose Ortiz met with the Indians to deliver possession of the lands described in the governor’s decree. The Indians agreed to all of the boundaries except the northern boundary which they claimed should be fixed further north at the point designated by Hurtado. Their protest was forwarded to Cachupin, who, after a further investigation, decided that the stone monument established by Hurtado marked the northern boundary of the pueblo grant. This decree closed with an order directing Ortiz to deliver possession of the grant to the Indians. Ortiz performed his duty on May 26, 1766. His survey located the north boundary of the grant 326 varas south of the Pueblo of Santa Clara Grant.[5]

Two years later the inhabitants of the Pueblo of Santa Clara and San Ildefonso protested to Governor Juan Bautista de Anza complaining that Marcos Lucero had established a ranch in the area between their pueblos and that the ranch overlapped and conflicted with the grants of both pueblos. The matter was referred by Anza to Alcalde Jose Campo Redondo of Santa Cruz, who, on May 6, 1786, measured a distance of one league south from the cross in the country of San Ildefonso. He placed a landmark at each of the two terminal points. Next he proceeded to survey the ranch and found that it conflicted with each of the pueblo grants by 19‑3/8 varas.  Lucero objected to the survey on the ground that it had been incorrectly made. He argued that there was no conflict and in support of his proposition alleged that Redondo had not waxed the cordel and had drawn it so tight that it had broken on two occasions. He also argued that the survey north of San Ildefonso had not been commenced at the cross in the cemetery but from the southern wall of the pueblo’s garden. He contended that there were 326 varas between the southern boundary of the Pueblo of Santa Clara Grant and the landmark which originally had been erected by Governor Juan Paez Hurtado and found during the May 26, 1766 proceedings.

On May 19, 1786, after having considered all of the evidence, a re-measurement of the line by Redondo was ordered. As a result of the resurvey, he discovered that his first survey had located each of the lines 118 varas too far from its inspection beginning point and that there was a strip of land 236 varas in width lying between the two pueblo grants. Notwithstanding a protest by the ranch owner that the resurvey also had been improperly made, Anza, on June 10, 1786, held that the two pueblos were “the owners of the lands included within the leagues,” as measured by Redondo in his second survey. He further held that the grant to Lucero was limited to the strip lying between the two pueblo grants. The three interested parties were placed in possession of their respective grants on June 19, 1786, by acting Alcalde Juan Ignacio Mestos.[6]

After 1786, the Indians of San Ildefonso apparently had peaceful possession of the four square league tract of land surrounding its church. Following the appointment of William Pelham to the office of Surveyor General of New Mexico, he proceeded to examine the validity of each of the Pueblo Grants. In connection with his investigation of the Pueblo of San Ildefonso Grant, he held a hearing on June 16, 1856, at which time the Indian officials of the pueblo appeared and testified that it had received a four square league tract of land from the King of Spain but that:

The priest of the pueblo (Tagle) took it from the pueblo stating that, as it was torn and scarcely legible, he would take it to Santa Fe for the purpose of having a certified copy of it made. This took place many years ago; the priest died a long time ago. Since it was taken, it has not been returned, neither have we heard anything of it.

As a result of his examination, Pelham recommended to Congress that his grant promptly be confirmed.[7]  Relying exclusively upon this favorable report, Congress, by Act approved December 22, 1858,[8] confirmed the grant. It was surveyed in 1859 by Deputy Surveyor John W. Garrison for 17,292.64 acres. The grant was patented on November 1, 1864.[9]


[1] Hodge, Handbook of American Indians, 440 (1962).

[2] Archive No. 1339 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[3] Archive No. 1351 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[4] Recopilacion de Leyes de los Reynos de las Indios, Book IV, Title 12, Law 12 (1841).

[5] Archive No 1351 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[6] Archive No. 1354 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[7] H. R. Exec. Doc. No. 1, 34th Cong., 3d. Sess., 516‑517 (1856).

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

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