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Rancho de Nuestra Senora de la Luz Grant

by J. J. Bowden

John Lamy, Bishop of New Mexico, petitioned Surveyor General William Pelham on April 1, 1856, seeking the confirmation of the title to a tract of land which he held in trust for the Catholic Church. In support of his claim, Lamy filed a Spanish document which showed that sometime prior to 1807 a grant was made to Diego Antonio Baca, covering a tract of land in the Canon of the Pecos River known as the Rancho de Nuestra Senora de la Luz. The grant had been given to Baca in exchange for a house and lot used as a barracks for the government troops stationed at the Presidio of Santa Fe. The grant was described as being bounded:

On the north, by the road leading from Santa Fe to Pecos, the lands of Loreiyo Marquez, deceased, and El Cerro del Divisidera; on the east, by the Canoncito de los Apaches, including the water of said Canon; on the south, by the road leading from Galisteo to its junction with the soldiers’ bridle path; and on the west, by the soldiers’ bridle path and the Cerro Colorado, including said Cerro.

Carlos de Herrera purchased the grant from Baca and stocked it with a consignment of sheep which he received under a partido contract with the Penitentes religious fraternity of Nuestra Senora de la Luz in 1818. Shortly thereafter, 500 of these sheep either strayed or were stolen by the Indians and were never recovered. To salve his conscience over the loss incurred under his stewardship, Herrera devised the grant to the Catholic Church, Francisco Ygnacio do Madariaga, Vicar and Ecclesiastical Judge at Santa Fe, appointed Domingo Fernandez as collector of tithes for the society and custodian of this property. On July 14, 1820, Fernandez petitioned Governor Facundo Melgares, requesting him to order Francisco de Herrera to give Fernandez information concerning “the farm” which his father left to the church in his will, in order that‑ Fernandez might get execution on his claim. The petition was referred to the Alcalde of Santa Fe on August 20, 1820 for a report. Alcalde Juan E. Pino, in turn, ordered Fernandez to furnish him the full details in connection with the claim, which Fernandez apparently did on August 22, 1820. However, a portion of Fernandez’s report, together with the further action taken thereon, if any, has been torn off the document and lost.

Since there was a prohibition under Spanish law against selling or devising properties to the church,[1] and in view of the fact that the proceedings to the transfer of title from the estate of Carlos Herrera to the church the incomplete, Bishop Lamy sought to clear up these questions by securing a quit claim deed covering the grant from Francisco de Herrera on February 20, 1856. Lamy alleged that the will had been lost or misplaced but did not account for his failure to file any evidence that a valid grant had been made to Baca.[2]

The claim came up for investigation on April 6, 1857, at which time Domingo Fernandez appeared and offered oral testimony concerning the background of the church’s acquisition of the property and the use of the property after the church acquired it. He stated that it was always under the charge of an overseer but “was not cultivated or used for many years after”.

He stated that Vicar Madariago took title to the land for the church, that Madariago was succeeded by Juan Tomas Jerrasas, who was succeeded by Juan Felipe Ortiz, and he, in turn, was succeeded by Bishop John Lamy. Based upon this meager evidence, Pelham on September 29, 1857, found:

The laws of Spain in force in this territory at the time the church became the holder of the property granted the right of prescription after ten years’ occupancy, if held in good faith; this law was also in force in the year 1830, not having been repealed by the Mexican Government. Therefore, the church having acquired the land in payment of a debt and by the authority and knowledge of the governor of the province, the highest granting power in the land, the claim is deemed a good and valid one and is confirmed to the legal representatives of Carlos de Herrera, the chain of title from the original grantee to the present claimant being shown only by oral testimony, and transmitted for the action of Congress in the premises.[3]

As a result of Pelham’s favorable report, Congress, by Act approved June 21, 1860,[4]confirmed the grant. The grant was surveyed in 1861 by Deputy Surveyor Thomas Means for 16,546.85 acres. A patent was issued to the legal representatives of Carlos de Herrera on July 30, 1874, and delivered to John Lamy, Trustee for the Catholic Church and only legal representative of Carlos de Herrera' “Insofar as the patent was concerned.”[5]

One wonders why “Old Malaria” (Julian) did not attach the confirmation of this grant in his tirade published in The North American Review.[6] Its confirmation was based on, at best, very skimpy evidence. Perhaps Julian was not willing to incur the wrath of the Catholic Church, which could have made his stay in Santa Fe most unpleasant.

[1] Recopilacion de Leyes de los Indios, Lib. IV, Tit 12, ‑ Ley. 10 (1841)

[2] H. R. Rep. No, 321, 36th Cong. 1st Sess. 156‑159 (1860).

[3] lbid., 162‑163; and Warner, Archbishop Lamy 155-156 (1936).

[4] An Act to Confirm Certain Private Land Claims in the Territory of New Mexico, Chap. 167, Sec. 3, 12 Stat. 71 (1860).

[5] The Rancho de Nuestra Senora de la Luz Grant, No. 10 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[6] Julian, “Land Stealing in New Mexico,” 145 The North American Review 17‑31 (1887).