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Pueblo of Santa Clara Grant

by J. J. Bowden

In prehistoric times, a tribe of Tewa Indians dwelt in a cluster of artificial grottos excavated in the cliffs located west of the Rio Grande and about thirty miles above Santa Fe. This pueblo was called Caypa when Juan de Oñate visited the settlement on July 11, 1598. However, by 1601, the pueblo had been renamed Santa Clara. A church was completed by 1617, and in 1629 Fray Alonso de Benavides established a monastery at the pueblo. For some unknown reason, the monastery had been abandoned prior to 1680, and Santa Clara was only a vista of the Pueblo of San Ildefonso. Thus, Santa Clara did not have a priest when its 300 inhabitants joined the Pueblo Rebellion and destroyed their church. After the reconquest, a new church was built at Santa Clara, but it frequently was without a priest. During such times it became of vista of the Mission of San Ildefonso. In 1782 the Pueblo of Santa Clara was stricken with an epidemic of small pox which carried off a large portion of its population. It never fully recovered from the loss and in 1850, it had a total population of only 279.[1]

The provision of the eighth section of the Act of July 22, 1854[2] charged the Surveyor General with:

Making a report in regard to all pueblos existing in the Territory, showing the extent and locality of each, stating the number of inhabitants in said pueblos, respectively, and the nature of their titles to the land.

Pursuant to this mandate, Surveyor General William Pelham held a hearing on June 16, 1856, to gather the required information concerning the Pueblo of Santa Clara. At this hearing, the three leading officials of the pueblo testified as follows:

Question: Did the pueblo of Santa Clara receive a grant from the Government of Spain, and was it understood by tradition in the pueblo that such a grant was ever in their possession?
Answer: The old men of the pueblo say that they had a grant from the King; but, as we are young men, we never saw it, the document having been lost before we arrived at years of discretion.

Question: Are the lands of the pueblo considered to extend one league from the church to the four cardinal points of the compass?
Answer: The grant made to all the pueblos called for the same amount of land, and we claim the same amount that the other pueblos contain.

Question: Have you any tradition in your pueblo of the length of time it has been in existence, and the oldest man among you born in the pueblo?
Answer: We do not know how long the pueblo has been in existence. The oldest man was born in the pueblo. We do not know the number of generations that have passed since the pueblo was occupied.

Question: Do you raise corn, wheat, fruit, and stock in the pueblo, and do you subsist entirely by agricultural pursuits?
Answer: We do raise corn and wheat and a little fruit, and a few head of stock. Our support is derived entirely from the products of the soil. When our crops are not good, we suffer for the necessaries of life.

Donaciano Vigil, the former Secretary of the Territory of New Mexico, gave a certificate in which he stated that there were no title deeds to the Indian Pueblos of New Mexico in the archives while they were under his charge from 1840 to 1856, and that as Secretary he was also recorder of public documents. He stated that in such capacity he had occasion to examine the archives very often and would have known it if such a document were among the archives. Continuing, he stated that the lands had been held and occupied by the Pueblo of Santa Clara since time immemorial and always had been recognized as belonging to its inhabitants by virtue of a grant made to them towards the close of the seventeenth century by the proper Spanish authorities. The Indians also introduced a copy of the Royal Decree of October 15, 1713, which directed the Governors of New Spain to remedy the numerous abuses which were being practiced upon the Indians and to grant each Indian pueblo sufficient land, water, timber, entrances and exits for cultivation and a commons of one league, where they could pasture their cattle.[3]

Based upon this meager evidence, Pelham, in his annual report[4] dated September 30, 1856, found that the Pueblo of Santa Clara had lost its original title papers to its grant, but the testimony taken by his office showed that such title papers had existed and their loss had been partially accounted for. In conclusion, he recommended the speedy confirmation and survey of the grant in order to protect the inhabitants of the grant from encroachment by non Indians.
The Pueblo of Santa Clara Grant was among the first group of land claims recognized by Congress. By Act approved December 22, 1858,[5] Congress confirmed the grant and directed the Commissioner of the General Land. Office to survey and patent the lands covered thereby. In response thereto, the grant was surveyed in July, 1859, by Deputy Surveyor John W. Garretson, for 17,368.52 acres. A patent based on the survey was issued on July 1, 1864.[6]
[1] Ayer, The Memorial of Fray Alonso de Benavides, 238 239 (1916), and 2 Hodge, Handbook of American Indians 456 457 (1960).
[2] An Act to establish the offices of Surveyor General of New Mexico, Kansas, and Nebraska, to grant donations to actual settlers therein, and for other purposes, Chap. 103, Sec. 8, 10 Stat. 308 (1854).
[3] H.R. Exec. Doc.. No. 1, 34th Cong., 3d. Sess., 514, 518 520 (1856).
[4] Ibid., 411 412.
[5] An act to confirm the land claim of certain pueblos and towns in the Territory of New Mexico, Chap. 5, 11 Stat. 374 (1858).
[6] The Pueblo of Santa Clara Grant, No. K (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.)