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Pueblo of Zuni Grant

by J. J. Bowden

The Pueblo of Zuni assumed an important role in the early history of New Mexico, for it was one of the Seven Cities of Cebola discovered by Fray Marcos de Niza in 1539 and conquered by Francisco Vasquez Coronado in the following year. During the next half century, it was visited by a number of the early Conquistadors. Governor Juan de Onate formally accepted its vows of obedience and vassalage on November 9, 1598. Shortly thereafter, Frays Andres Corchado and Juan Claros were assigned to the mission district, which included Zuni. However, a mission was probably not established at Zuni until the summer of 1629. Between 1629 and 1680, the Zunians revolted a number of times and killed several missionaries stationed at the pueblo. On August 10, 1680 they joined the Pueblo Revolt, killed their missionary, Fray Juan de Bal, and fled to their ancient stronghold on Taaiyalone Mesa, where they remained until Governor Diego de Vargas reconquered New Mexico twelve years later.[1]

Meanwhile, a number of entradas were made into New Mexico in an effort to subdue the rebellion. In 1689 Governor Domingo Jironza Petriz Cruzate led a small force northward from El Paso del Norte. He was able to penetrate as far north as the Pueblo of Zia before meeting any organized resistance. However, at Zia, he was confronted by the combined Tewa and Queres nations. Nevertheless, he attacked and inflicted a bloody defeat upon the Pueblo Indians. Notwithstanding this success, he realized that it would be too risky to spend the winter isolated deep in the heart of New Mexico. Therefore, he reluctantly re­turned to El Paso del Norte.[2]

During the battle at Zia, Cruzate captured Bartolome de Ojeda, a highly educated Indian, who had distinguished himself for bravery during the height of the fray. Although Ojeda was seriously wounded, Cruzate questioned him in detail at El Paso del Norte concerning the attitude of the Indians of the various pueblos. Ojeda advised Cruzate that as a result of their defeat, Cruzate undoubtedly would find the inhabitants of Zuni to be peaceful and obedient when he returned on the entrada which he planned for the following year. To dispel any fears that the Zunians might have and also to further insure their allegiance, Cruzate granted the pueblo a four square league tract of land to be measured one league in each of the cardinal directions from the four corners of its church.[3]

Vargas visited the Zuni Indians following his successful reconquest of New Mexico and found the Indians living in a new pueblo which they had built on top of Taaiyalone Mesa. On November 11, 1692, they submitted to Spanish authority, and moved back and rebuilt their old pueblo, which in the meantime had fallen into ruins. The next two centuries was a period marked with hardship and violence for the inhabitants of this frontier pueblo.[4]

On July 3, 1875 Pueblo Indian Agent B. M. Thomas deposited the “Cruzate Grant in the Surveyor General’s office. The general instructions[5] dated August 21, 1854 directed the Surveyor General 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 such a manner as will do justice to all concerned … and make a report 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 titles to the land.” Pursuant to these instructions, Surveyor General Henry N. Atkinson examined the claim, and, by decision[6] dated September 25, 1879, found that the grant papers were genuine, and the Indians still cultivated portions of the grant, although their pueblo was three or four miles southeast of the old pueblo on the mesa. The decision closed with a recommendation that the grant be confirmed to the extent of one league in each direction of the four corners of the pueblo proper. A preliminary survey of the grant was made by Deputy Surveyor Robert G. Marmon in April, 1880 for 17,581.25 acres. His survey commenced at the ruins of the old church on the mesa, and extended therefrom one league in each of the cardinal directions.[7]

By this time Congress refused to confirm any further grants, even a pueblo grant. Meanwhile, President R. B. Hayes, on March 16, 1877, set aside a 31.8 by 12 mile tract of land adjacent to the New Mexico Arizona boundary as a reservation[8] for the use and benefit of the Zuni Indians. The description of the reservation was amended slightly by Executive Order[9] on May 1, 1883 to clarify the boundaries. Executive Order[10] dated March 3, 1885 released certain lands from the reservation which previously had been alienated by the government under the homestead laws and added certain lands to compensate the Indians for such loss. A further amendment of the boundaries of the Zuni Reservation was made by Proclamation[11] dated November 30, 1917. The reason for the establishment of the reservation is found in a letter[12] from the Indian office to the Secretary of Interior dated March 13, 1887. 

These poor but industrious Indians have a land grant from the Spanish government of 2 leagues square, but it is nearly worthless for agricultural or grazing purposes. Therefore, these Indians have supported themselves by cultivating detached and scattered patches of land along the Zuni River lying outside the limits of their grant. Now that white settlements are rapidly approaching that locality, it is important to secure these Indians on indisputable title to these lands, which will serve as a barrier to any inroads upon their improvements by white settlers.

As a result of the creation of the Zuni Reservation, which included most of the lands covered by the “Cruzate Grant,” there was no reason to present the pueblo’s land claim to the Court of Private Land Claims.



[1] Ayer, The Memorial Fray Alonso de Benavides, 252‑255 (1916).

[2] Hallenbeck, Land of the Conquistadores, 177 (1950).

[3] The Pueblo of Zuni Grant, No. V (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.). This grant was later proven to he spurious.

[4] 1 Coan, A History of New Mexico, 119 (1925).

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

[6] The Pueblo of Zuni Grant, No. V (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Royce, Indian Land Cessions in the United States 890 (1900)

[9] Ibid., 910.

[10] Ibid., 918.

[11] Hearings before the Committee on Indian Affairs, House of Representatives, 67thCong., 4th Sess on H. R. 13674, 384‑385 (1923).

[12] Ibid., 385‑386.