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Rancho de Paguate Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Since tillable land within the Pueblo of Laguna league was limited, its increase was forced to seek land outside the grant for the support of their families. Juan Paguate and his brothers settled on an arroyo located just south of the Mesa del Gabilán. Sometime prior to 1769, Pascual Pajarito received a grant from Governor Tomas Velez Cachupin[1] for house and farm. Shortly thereafter, Pajarito attempted to drive the Paguates off their rancho and Alcalde Antonio Sedillo was called upon to settle the controversy. On May 15, 1769 Sedillo, after studying the grant and act of possession, held[2] that Pajarito’s title was limited to the lands that he actually occupied, and that the pasture and wood lands, which he had claimed as his, were declared to be common to all. Thereafter, the inhabitants of both the Pueblo of Laguna and the Town of Cebolleta commenced using the commons as a pasturage for their respective livestock.

The Navajos attacked the Town of Cebolleta in 1805, and would have annihilated the community except for the prompt aid given them by the Laguna Indians. In return for their assistance, the Town of Cebolleta relinquished its claim to use the strip of land lying between the two settlements. As did the pueblo’s population increase, so did its need for additional tillable lands. Therefore, it purchased the strip, which was then called the Rancho de Paguate, from the Paguate and Pajarito heirs, Antonio Paguate, Pascual Pajarito, Vicente Pajarito and Miguel Majnino. Since the pueblo had not received a deed covering the strip, and Manuel Aragon, Alcalde of Laguna, had announced his plans to resign, the Lagunans requested, and he gave them, a certificate[3] on March 25, 1813, evidencing their ownership of the tract; however, this instrument did not contain a legal description of the land. Not satisfied with this certificate, the Indians presented their claim to Ignacio Maria Sanchez, Protector General of the Indians, on June 1, 1820. Sanchez issued a memorandum,[4] in which he noted that the Lagunans had acquired a “just title” to the Rancho de Paguate with its “ancient boundaries.” The document closes with a statement that the Rancho de Paguate was the only valuable land left to the Indians, and that he was issuing the memorandum for their protection.

The scarcity of good agricultural land in the vicinity of the Town of Cebolleta prompted the Ayuntamiento of the Town of Cebolleta to repudiate the 1805 agreement. Thereafter, it allocated portions of the Rancho de Paguate amongst its inhabitants, On June 15, 1827 the Indians petitioned[5] the Territorial Deputation, asking for relief from this encroachment by the non-Indians. Their petition described the Rancho de Paguate as being bounded: 

On the north by the southern boundary of the Town of Cebolleta Grant, which is located at the Mesa del Gabilan; on the east by the Serrito del Cojo; on the south by the north boundary of the Pueblo of Laguna league; and on the west by the limits of the Pueblo of Acoma Grant.  

The petition was forwarded, on June 25, 1827, by the Provincial Deputation to Governor Antonio Narbona “in order that the proper steps to the doing of justice might be taken.” Narbona, by decree[6] dated August 28, 1826, approved the sale of the rancho by Antonio Paguate, Pascual Pajarito, Vincente Pajarito and Miguel Magnino to the Pueblo of Laguna.

The Rancho de Paguate was one of the purchased tracts which were presented[7] to Surveyor General William Pelham on June 29, 1859 by the Pueblo of Laguna for investigation and confirmation under Section[8] of the Act of July 22, 1854.8 The testimony of three witnesses taken, which showed that the Rancho de Paguate had never been occupied by anyone other than the Indians of Laguna. On July 10, 1859 Pelham issued a Report[9] in which he found that Narbona’s approval of the conveyance of the Rancho de Paguate to the Lagunans was:

 … equivalent to a grant made to said Indians; and, although it is not in exact accordance with the usage and customs of the time, it is believed that the Indians have a good and equitable claim to the land, which is sustained by the fact of their having been in the uninterrupted possession of it for the period of forty years as well as the fact of the boundary of Cebolleta, the site of which was granted in 1800, being the same as the one claimed by the Indians, showing conclusively that their claim was recognized as good by he government at that time.  

Based upon these findings, he approved the claim and held that the Rancho de Paguate had been severed from the public domain, and transmitted it to Congress for its action in the premises. By Act[10] approved June 21, 1860, Congress confirmed the pueblo’s claim to the Rancho de Paguate. The rancho was surveyed[11] in March, 1877 by Deputy Surveyors Sawyer & McElroy for 75,406.27 acres, and a Patent[12] for the land was issued to the pueblo on September 22, 1884.

In the meantime the Town of Cebolleta Grant had been surveyed, and its southern boundary also was fixed at the Mesa de Gabilan. The Cebolletans were not satisfied with the survey, and contended that the “true” Mesa de Gabilan was located two miles further south. In an effort to end the continuous friction between the Indians and whites over the disputed area, which covered approximately 25,314.69 acres, Francis C. Wilson, Special Attorney for the Pueblo Indians, filed a suit[13]  on February 17, 1910 in the District Court for Valencia County, to quiet Laguna’s title to the land. On September 28, 1914[14] the court held for the Town of Cebolleta, and fixed the common boundary about two miles south of the point established in the official surveys of the two grants. This case also adjudicated the conflict between the Rancho de Paguate and the Cubero Grants, which involved 10,138.40 acres and the overlap between the Rancho de Paguate and the Baltazar Baca Grants, which covered an additional 6,380.02 acres. The court also held against the Indians in these two disputes. The decision,[15]which is called the “Mechem Decision,” cost the Indians 41,833.11 acres of the patented Rancho de Paguate Grant. While the Indians requested a rehearing, they failed to appear when the final decree was entered, and, therefore, did not appeal the decision. The Indians filed a suit in the United States District Court for New Mexico on March 17, 1916 in an effort to set aside the Mechem Decision on the grounds that a state court had no power to set aside the official survey of a confirmed grant. The United States District Court for New Mexico upheld[16] the Mechem Decision in 1920, and stated that further proceedings were barred by the doctrine of res adjudicata. This decision was appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which dismissed the suit in a memorandum decision “for want of jurisdiction.” In 1922 the United States brought a suit[17]  in the United States District Court for New Mexico as guardian for the Laguna Indians, in an effort to recover the lands located within the Rancho de Paguate Grant which had been lost as a result of the Mechem Decision. In this suit the United States contended that since it had not been a party to the previous litigation, it was not bound by the decision. The court dismissed this suit on August 30, 1923 stating that the original case had been prosecuted by a Special Attorney for the Pueblo Indians, and hence the United States was bound by the decision just as though it had been a party. The United States appealed the decision to the Circuit Court of Appeals, which certified two questions to the United States Supreme Court. The first question asked whether the United States was a necessary party to litigation concerning pueblo lands. The second asked whether a decision by a State Court, which disregarded a federal survey, could be used as a bar against the United States. The Supreme Court, in a decision[18] dated June 1, 1926, held that the United States, as guardian of the Pueblo Indians, ordinarily would not be bound by a decision against the Indians unless it were a party; however, since the Indians were represented by an attorney employed by the United States to look after the interests of the Indians, it was barred. It also held that the State Courts had jurisdiction over disputes between the Pueblo Indians and other claimants of land located within its boundaries, and the State Court’s disregard of a federal survey had no effect on the court’s jurisdiction or the binding effect of its decree, but merely presented a question of error in the course of the proceedings. Based upon these answers, the Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed[19] the District Court’s decision.

The conflicts between the Rancho de Paguate, Town of Cebolleta and Baltazar Baca Grants were presented[20] to the Pueblo Lands Board, which, in direct opposition to the court decisions, issued a Report[21] on October 9, 1929 that awarded the entire disputed area to the Indians. Although the Attorney General’s office believed that the Mechem Decision was wrong, it was reluctant to file a suit for recovery of the land under Section 3 of the Pueblo Lands Board Act.[22] Therefore, compromises were reached, whereby the Indians received 14,615.76 acres covered by the conflict with the Town of Cebolleta Grant, and 3,853.63 acres in the overlap with the Baltazar Baca Grant. These compromises were sanctioned in an agreed judgment[23] in a suit filed in the United States District Court of New Mexico after the compromise had been effected. The 10,689.93 acres involved in the conflict, which were awarded to the inhabitants of the Town of Cebolleta Grant were appraised at $24,591.89, and the 2,527.29 acres awarded to the owners of the Baltazar Baca Grant were valued at $8,974.58.[24] Pur­suant to the recommendations contained in the Pueblo Lands Board’s Supplemental Report of December 5, 1931, the Indians purchased the 2,527.29 acres awarded to the owners of the Baltazar Baca Grant for $9,000.00. They also bought the portion of the Baltazar Baca Grant which encroached upon the Town of Cebolleta Grant. The Indians acquired the western portion of the Rancho de Paguate Grant which had been awarded to the Town of Cebolleta. So far, the Indians have been unsuccessful in their attempts to purchase the balance of the Rancho de Paguate, which was awarded to the Town of Cebolleta.[25]


[1] Cachupin was Governor of New Mexico from 1749 to 1754 and from 1762 to 1767.

[2] Archive No. 1373 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[3] H. R. Exec. Doc. No. 14, 36th Cong., 1st Sess., 156‑157 (1860).

[4] Archive No. 1374 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[5] Ibid.

[6] H. R. Exec. Doc. No. 14, 36th Cong., 1st Sess., 157 (1860).

[7] The Pueblo of Laguna Tracts, No. 30 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[8] 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. 308 (1854).

[9] H. R. Exec. Doc. No. 14, 36th Cong., 1st Sess., 166‑167 (1860).

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

[11] The Pueblo of Laguna Tracts, No. 30 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[12] Ibid.

[13] Pueblo of Laguna v. Candelaria, No. 1693 (Mss., Records of the District Clerk’s Office, Los Lunas, New Mexico.).

[14] Ibid. This decision establishes the important proposition that a state court had authority to revise an approved federal survey.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Pueblo of Laguna v. Candelaria, 257 U. S. 623 (1921) (mem.).

[17] United States v. Candelaria, No. 902 (Mss., Records of the United States District Clerk’s Office, Santa Fe, New Mexico).

[18] United States v. Candelaria, 271 U. S. 432 (1926).

[19] United States v. Candelaria, 16 F. 2d, 559 (8th Cir., 1926).

[20] The Pueblo of Laguna Grant (Mss., Records of the Pueblo Lands Board, General Services Administration, National Archives, Washington, D. C.).

[21] Ibid.

[22] An Act to Quiet Title to Lands Within Pueblo Land Grants, and For Other Purposes. Chap. 331, Sec. 3, 43 Stat. 636 (1924).

[23] United States as Gdn. for the Indians of the Laguna v. Armijo, No. 2080 (Mss., Records of the United States District Clerk’s Office, Albuquerque, New Mexico).

[24] Brayer, Pueblo Indian Land Grants of the Rio Abajo, New Mexico 42 (1938).

[25] Jenkins, “The Baltazar Baca ‘Grant’ History of an Encroachment,” 68 El Palacio 105 (1961).