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Pueblo of Santo Domingo and San Felipe Grant

by J. J. Bowden

In the year 1770 a joint petition was presented to Governor Pedro Fermin de Mendinueta by the tribal leaders of the Pueblos of Santo Domingo and San Felipe asking for a grant covering the “surplus lands” of the two pueblos which were situated on the east side of the Rio Grande and bounded:

On the north, by the lands of La de Basquez; On the east, by the ancient Pueblo of Tunque; on the south, by a small spring of water called the Ojo del Oso; and on the west, by the Rio Grande.

As justification for their request the petitioners pointed out that they needed the tract, which measured three quarters of a league from north to south, as a pasturage for their livestock. Mendinueta, in a decree dated September 10, 1770, granted the petitioners the land they asked for:

... so that one league being measured from the Pueblo of Santo Domingo to the south and another from San Felipe to the north in the center of the space of cultivable lands which may remain a permanent landmark shall be placed so that each pueblo may recognize its appurtenance, and as the other lands of pasturage and wood they shall be common to both of the aforesaid pueblos in equality and without any preference.

In compliance with this decree and by order of Governor Mendinueta; Bartolome Fernandez, Alcalde of the Queres Nation, gave the petitioners, on September 20, 1770, juridical possession of the grant. Fernandez, in the Act of Possession, stated:

Having measured the league which belongs to each of the two pueblos, I divided between them in equal parts the grain growing lands in the manner above commanded and I directed them to correct landmarks in order that each one might recognize what belongs t it and having designated watering places to be common to the one and the other pueblo without any preference... [1]

On December 4, 1884, Pedro Sanchez, the agent of the Pueblo Indians, petitioned[2] Surveyor General Clarence Pullen seeking the confirmation of the grant. No action was taken on the matter until Pullen’s successor, George W. Julian, took office. After carefully investigating the claim, Julian, in a lengthy opinion dated November 23, 1885, found that the grant papers were genuine and that Governor Mendinueta had authority to make the concession. However, he had a serious question concerning the extent of the grant. The petitioners were claiming that the grant covered a tract of land about 15 miles from north to south and 8 miles from east to west or approximately 76,800 acres. Julian noted that the original grantees had requested and received the surplus lands situated between the two pueblo leagues[3] which was estimated to be three quarters of a league in length and lying between the river and a north south line drawn through the Pueblo of Tunque. Therefore, he recommended[4] that the grant be confirmed to the extent of the above described tract, which he estimated to contain 1,145 acres.

Since Congress continuously had failed to act upon the claim between 1879 and the date of the creation of the Court of Private Land Claims, the Santo Domingo and San Felipe Indians turned to that forum for relief. In their suit[5] which was filed on February 27, 1893 the two pueblos in their corporate capacities, sued the United States for the recognition of their title to the grant which they alleged to contain about 40,000 acres. On March 2, 1893, the Pueblo of San Felipe filed[6] a separate suit seeking the confirmation of its interest in the grant. The Pueblo of Santo Domingo filed another suit[7] on the same day praying for the confirmation of its interest in the grant as well as its claim to the Diego Gallego Grant[8] which had been purchased in the 1760s by the inhabitants of the Pueblo of Santo Domingo. In an amended petition, the inhabitants of the Pueblo of Santo Domingo omitted their request for the confirmation of the Diego Gallego Grant since they did not have any direct evidence of the issuance of the grant. The three cases were consolidated by the court[9] for purposes of trial under Cause No. 134 and the consolidated case came up for trial on June 22, 1898. The plaintiffs presented their muniments of title, which unquestionably were genuine and oral evidence showing that the inhabitants of the two communities had pastured their stock upon and drawn their firewood from the lands bounded by the natural objects described in the grant papers for at least a hundred and twenty years. The testimony also showed that the Ojo de Oso was located about 15 miles south of the north boundary of the grant and not merely 3/4 of a league or about two miles as asserted by Julian. They also pointed out that the small tract recommended for confirmation by Julian was primarily agricultural land which contained neither pasturage nor wood. They did not deny that there was some confusion as to the distance between the natural objects named as boundary calls but attempted to explain the “three quarter league call” by showing that the original petitioners were ignorant Indians who knew little of distances.

The government conceded that the grant was valid but contested the plaintiffs’ contention that the southern boundary of the grant was located at Ojo de Oso. In support of its theory, the government introduced a document[10] from the Archives which showed that on February 14, 1824 Baca and Santiago Abreu petitioned for Governor Bartolome Baa asking for a grant covering the lands lying between the pueblos of Santo Domingo and San Felipe. The petition was referred to Provincial Deputation for its further action. It considered the matter upon February 16, 1824, end appointed a special committee to inspect the premises and report on the merits of the request. On March 12, 1824, the committee reported that the natives of Santo Domingo and San Felipe had been granted the three quarter league tract lying between the two pueblos. In response to this report, the Provincial Deputation recommended that the lands occupied by the Indians be distributed and the surplus land be disposed. The government argued that this instrument conclusively showed that the southern boundary of the grant was only three quarters of a league south of its northern boundary. On July 5, 1898, the Court in its majority decision[11] confirmed the grant and fixed its boundaries as follows:

On the north, a point one league south of the Pueblo of Santo Domingo; on the east, a north south line drawn through the Pueblo of Tunque: on the south, the north boundary of the Pueblo of San Felipe Grant; and on the west, the Rio Grande as it ran in 1770.

Chief Justice Joseph R. Reed and Justice Wilbur F. Stone wrote a dissenting opinion in which they pointed out that the grant had been made for grazing purposes and that the approximately 1,100 acres of land covered by the grant, as confirmed by the majority decision, would support only one small goat. Therefore, they believed that the southern boundary should be located at least as far south as the Pueblo of Tunque.[12] The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court but failed to appear and prosecute their appeal when it came up for a hearing. Therefore, the court dismissed the appeal on November 14, 1900, and remanded the case to the Court of Private Land Claims.[13] Once the decision became final, a survey of the grant was made by Deputy Surveyor Joseph F. Thomas. The survey was run in August, 1901, and showed the grant as containing a total of 1,070.68 acres. It also showed that 644.16 acres of the grant conflicted with the Pueblo of Santo Domingo Grant and 70.52 acres with the Pueblo of San Felipe Grant. The grant was patented on May 5, 1905.[14]

 


[1] The Santo Domingo and San Felipe Grant, No. 142 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Since the Cruzate Grants to the Pueblos of Santo Domingo and San Felipe have been proven spurious, the proceedings in this grant would indicate that the Pueblo of Santo Domingo and Pueblo of San Felipe Grants, if any, actually covered only four square leagues of 17,361 acres.

[4] The Santo Domingo and San Felipe Grant, No. 142 (Mss. Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[5] The Pueblos of Santo Domingo and San Felipe v. United States, No. 134 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[6] The Pueblo of San Felipe v. United States, No. 185 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[7] The Pueblo of Santo Domingo v. United States, No. 184 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[8] In its petition, the Pueblo of Santo Domingo alleged that its inhabitants had purchased a 3,000 acre tract of land from Diego Gallegos, which had been granted to him on January 13, 1730, by Governor Juan Domingo de Bustamante. This tract was described as being bounded on the north by the Canada de Cochiti Grant; on the east by the lands of the Pueblo of Cochiti; and on the south, by the lands of the Pueblo of Santo Domingo; and on the west, by the Ojo de Barrego Grant. Archive No. 1037 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[9] 3 Journal 418 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[10] Archive No. 134 (Mss., Records of the A.M.M.).

[11] 4 Journal 248 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. CI.).

[12] The Pueblo of Santo Domingo and San Felipe Grant, No. 134 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[13] Pueblos of Santo Domingo and San Felipe, 21 S. Ct. 915; 45 L. Ed. 1256 (1900) (mem.).

[14] The Pueblo of Santo Domingo and San Felipe Grant, No. 142 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).