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Pueblo of San Juan Grant

by J. J. Bowden


When Don Juan de Oñate entered the Rio Arriba area of New Mexico in July, 1598, he discovered a group of Tewa Indians living in two pueblos near the junction of the Chama and Rio Grande rivers. The first was the Pueblo of Kaypa, which Onate renamed San Juan de los Caballeros, and the other was the Pueblo of Yugeuingge, which was located a mile away on the west bank of the Rio Grande. The Tewas were friendly and the inhabitants of Yugeuingge voluntarily moved to San Juan when Oñate established his headquarters at Yugeuingge, which he renamed San Gabriel. Thus, the area became the center of the oldest European civilization in the United States.[1]

In 1609 the Spanish headquarters were moved from San Gabriel to Santa Fe. Between 1609 and 1680, history makes no mention of the Pueblo of San Juan, but in the later years it once again becomes prominent in the history of New Mexico for it was the home of Pope, the leader of the Pueblo Revolt. In all history there is no rebellion to equal that of the Pueblo Indians of upper New Mexico in 1680 for secrecy and success. For four years Pope had quietly spread the seeds

of revolution among the Pueblo Indians and in all that time there was no leak or traitors until just five days before the date set for the simultaneous massacre of every white person in New Mexico. The first knowledge the Spaniards received of the plot was on August 9, 1680 when Governor Antonio de Otermin learned of the scheme from several different sources. Once the element of surprise was lost, Pope quickly sent word to the leaders of all the Pueblo tribes, except the Piros in southern New Mexico, to strike the fatal blow on the following day. How this feat was accomplished, has never been fully explained but on August 10, 1680 the Pueblo Indians from the Pueblo of Pecos on the east to the Pueblo of Oraybi far to the west in Arizona arose in unison and massacred some four hundred Spaniards. All that saved Santa Fe and a majority of the Spaniards from destruction and death was the advance warning received the previous day. Realizing the gravity of the situation and that it would be impossible to indefinitely withstand the siege at Santa Fe, Otermin, on August 21, 1680, led the survivors in a torturous retreat to El Paso del Norte. It was thirteen years before the Spaniards could gather enough strength to reoccupy New Mexico.[2] After the re­conquest conquest of New Mexico by Governor Diego de Vargas in 1693, the Pueblo of San Juan became one of the most prosperous and progressive of the upper Rio Grande pueblos.

The Pueblo Indians created a serious problem for the United States after it acquired New Mexico. Since its inception, the United States had consistently treated all Indians as wards of the government and, up to 1846, it had a policy of settling Indians upon reservations in which they had no vested rights. These reservations were subject to relocation whenever the press of civilization warranted their being moved further westward. However, under Mexican law, the Pueblo Indians were recognized as citizens and Article VIII of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo[3] provided that the rights of Mexicans were to be “inviolably respected.” Thus, the rights of the sedentary Pueblo Indians to the extensive land areas which they claimed warranted prompt in­vestigation. One of the duties imposed upon the Surveyor 4 General by Congress under the Act of July 22, 1854,[4] was the reporting:

… in regard to all pueblos existing in the territory, showing the extent and locality of each, stating the number of inhabitants in the said pueblos respectively, and the nature of their title to the land; such report to be made according to the form which may be furnished to the Secretary of Interior; which report shall be laid before Congress for such action therein as may be deemed just and proper, with a view to confirm bona fide grants, and give full effect to the Treaty of 1848, between the United States and Mexico.

In accordance with these instructions, Surveyor General William Pelham made a thorough investigation of the New Mexico pueblos. He found that there were twenty-two pueblos with a total population of 8,000 Indians. In his Annual Report[5] dated September 30, 1856, he recommended the speedy confirmation of thirteen pueblo claims, which included the claim of the Pueblo of San Juan. The report was accompanied with copies of the Spanish grants to thirteen of the pueblos. The grant to the Pueblo of San Juan was dated September 25, 1639 and was issued by Domingo Jirónza Petroz de Cruzate, Governor of New Mexico at El Paso del Norte and certified by Don Pedro Ladron de Guitara, Secretary of Government and War. The testimonio of the grant,[6] which had been filed in the Surveyor Generals office on August 18, 1855, recited that after being assured that notwithstanding the inhabitants of Pueblo of San Juan participation in the Pueblo Revolt, “it was impossible for them to fail in giving in their allegiance. Based upon this assurance, Cruzate granted the pueblo the lands located within the following described boundaries:

On the north, the Rio Bravo del Norte, completing, one league on both sides of the river, measuring from the northeast corner of the temple of said pueblo on the east and on the west one league and on the south one league.

By Act approved December 22, 1858,[7] Congress affirmed title to seventeen pueblo grants, including the grant to the Pueblo of San Juan. A survey of the grant made in July, 1859 showed that the grant contained 17,544.77 acres of land. The grant was patented on November 1, 1864.[8]


[1] Forrest, Missions and Pueblos of the Old Southwest 77 (1962).

[2] 1 Hackett, Revolt of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico 3‑19 (1942).

[3] 5 Miller, Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America 217‑218 (1937).

[4]  An Act to establish the office of Surveyor General of New Mexico, Kansas and Nebraska, to grant donations actual settlers therein, and for other purposes, Chap. 103, Sec. 8, 10 Stat. 308 (1854).

[5] H. R. Exec. Doc. No. 1, 34th Cong., 3d Sess., 493‑518 (1856).

[6] Ibid., 500; and The Pueblo of San Juan Grant, No. C (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.). The grant to the Pueblo of San Juan was believed genuine until Will M. Tipton, an investigator for the Court of Private Land Claim conclusively proved it to be spurious.

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

[8] Report of the Secretary of Interior, 290 (1887).