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Rancho de la Santisima Trinidad Grant

By J. J. Bowden

Ignacio Sanchez Vergara, the Alcalde of Jemez, petitioned the ad interim Governor of New Mexico, Jose Manrique, asking for a grant covering a “small piece” vacant land located between the Pueblo of Zia and the Town of San Isidro. As justification for his request, Vergara pointed out that he was landless and needed the premises for the support of his family and the maintenance of his livestock. He also reminded Manrique of the king’s policy of granting land to colonists in order to speedily develop the frontier. On May 13, 1809 Manrique granted the requested tract to Vergara, “on condition that he shall cultivate the same in accordance with the provisions of the royal ordinances, and also that the land is not within those belonging to the Pueblos of Zia and San Isidro or other adjacent proprietors.” He also directed Cleto de Miera y Pacheco, Alcalde of Alameda, to establish the boundaries of the concession and deliver royal possession of the property to the grantee. Miera, by virtue of such commission, went to Zia on May 26, 1809, and, after conferring with its representatives and examining the pueblo’s title papers, he found that its northern boundary was located 6,632 varas north of the church. This represented the “pueblo leagues” plus the 1,632 varas which it had purchased from Juan Galvan. Next, he examined the title papers and southern boundary of the San Isidro Grant. As a result of his investigation, he determined that there was a vacant strip of surplus land measuring 2,250 varas in width between the two settlements. Finding no impediment or objection to the consummation of the grant, he performed the customary ceremonies necessary to place Vergara in royal possession and designated the following natural objects as the boundaries of the grant:

On the north, the San Isidro Grant; on the east, the lands of Antonio Nerio Montoya, which is the Cochiti‑Jemez Road; on the south, the lands of the Rancho of Juan Galvan; and on the west, the Ojito de Zia, including the Penasco and Vega Grande. The original copy of the proceedings were returned to Manrique, who, on June 1, 1809, noted thereon his approval of Alcalde’s action.[1]

Ignacio Maria Sanchez Vergara conveyed the grant to Pablo Montoya on March 2, 1828, in exchange for the one thousand sheep which he owed Montoya. Twenty years later, Montoya’s son, Albino Montoya, sold the premises to Francisco Sandoval. Sandoval filed the testimonio in Surveyor General William Pelham’s office on January 26, 1857, and requested him to investigate the claim and approve his title[2] pursuant to the provisions of Section 8 of the Act of July 22, 1854.[3] However, no official action was taken on the petition. On March 22, 1880, Sandoval’s heirs filed a second petition in the Surveyor General’s office seeking the confirmation of the grant. Eight days later, the testimony of diverse witnesses was taken by Surveyor General Henry M. Atkinson which tended to establish the location of the boundaries of the grant and to show its long use and occupation by Francisco Sandoval and his heirs and descendants. One of the witnesses, Lucas Gurule, stated:

Ignacio Sanchez Vergara lived upon it and afterwards it was occupied by his son, Vincente aforesaid, who sold it to Pablo Montoya, whose heirs after his death sold the land to Francisco Sandoval … It has always been occupied; with the exception of the time it was owned by Pablo Montoya, who had not the means to utilize it and who died very poor.

By decision dated April 4, 1881, Atkinson found the grant papers to be genuine and the testimony proved that the premises had been occupied since prior to the time of the change of sovereignty from Spain to Mexico. Continuing, he recommended that since the deeds had been filed only for the purpose of explaining why Sandoval’s heirs were the present claimants and not to establish their chain of title to the premises the grant should be confirmed to the heirs and assigns of Ignacio Sanchez Vergara according to the boundaries set forth in the Act of Possession.[4]

A preliminary survey of the grant was made in May, 1883, by Deputy Surveyor John Shaw for 17,018.18 acres. The owners of the grant claimed that the survey was erroneous in that it failed to include the Penasco and Vega Grande, which would extend the grant about ten miles up the Rio Salado and cause it to contain about 30,000 acres. Most of this additional land was covered by the Ojo de Espiritu Santo Grant.[5]

Since the claim was still pending before Congress when Surveyor General George W. Julian took office, it was one of the grants which he examined under the instructions from the Commissioner of the General Land Office, William A. J. Sparks, dated December 11, 1885.[6] In a decision[7] dated January 31, 1888, Julian recognized that the grant was genuine but questioned the validity of the survey. He noted that although Vergara had asked for only a “small piece of land,” the survey covered approximately four square leagues and encroached into the Pueblo of Zia Grant by over a mile. Therefore, he concluded that the survey was erroneous and should be set aside.

Congress took no action on either recommendation and following the creation of the Court of Private Land Claims, the grant was presented to that forum for adjudication[8] by the heirs at law of Francisco Sandoval on February 8, 1892. The government filed a general answer putting in issue the allegations contained in the plaintiff’s petition. When the case came up for trial on December 6, 1892, the plaintiffs introduced the testimonio of the grant together with the deeds to Montoya and Sandoval. The government offered oral testimony which tended to prove that the approval of the Act of Possession by Manrique was a forgery and that Ignacio Maria Sanchez Vergara, who had conveyed the grant to Montoya, and Ignacio Sanchez Vergara, the original grantee, were not the same person. The Court, by decision[9] dated March 10, 1893, rejected the claim on the ground that the plaintiffs had failed to connect themselves to the original grantee. The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court, but it was dismissed[10] on October 12, 1897, at the request of the parties.

The heirs of Ignacio Sanchez Vergara filed[11] a suit in the Court of Private Land Claims against the government on December 9, 1902, claiming that the grant was complete and perfect. The government, in the answer, alleged that it believed that Manrique had declined to approve the delivery of possession to Vergara because it prejudiced the rights of third parties, destroyed the expediente, and notified Vergara of the revocation. It concluded that some interested party had forged the approval in hope that it would divert the government’s attention and cause it to overlook the question of the validity of the grant. It also alleged that the grant was not complete and perfect since there was no evidence that the conditions upon which it was made had been performed timely, and thus the suit was barred by the two-year statute of limitations prescribed in the Act of March 3, 1891.[12] On June 22, 1903, the plaintiff’s attorney wrote a letter in which he notified the Court that the plaintiffs no longer wished to prosecute their claim and requesting the dismissal of their petition without prejudice to their rights by reason of the institution of the suit. Two days later the court granted their request.[13]

[1] S. Exec. Doc. No. 43, 48th Cong., 1st Sees., 5‑7 (1884).

[2] The Rancho de la Santísima Trinidad Grant, No. 123 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[3] An Act to Establish the Office 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. 303 (1854).

[4] S. Exec. Doc. No. 43, 48th Cong., 1st Sess., 12‑13 (1884).

[5] The Rancho de la Santísima Trinidad Grant, No. 123 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[6] S. Exec. Doc. No. 113, 49th Cong., 2d Sess., 2 (1887).

[7] The Rancho de la Santísima Trinidad Grant, No. 123 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[8] Sandoval v. United States, No. 26 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[9] 1 Journal 119 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[10] Sandoval v. United States, 18 S. Ct. 946, 42 L. Ed. 1210 (1897) (mem.).

[11] Martin v. United States, No. 282 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[12] Court of Private Land Claims Act, Chap. 539, Sec. 12, 26 Stat. 854 (1891).

[13] 4 Journal 337 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).