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Rancho de San Juan

by J. J. Bowden

The inhabitants of the Pueblo of Laguna petitioned[1] surveyor General William Pelham on June 29, 1859 seeking the confirmation of the rancho commonly called San Juan. Although their title papers to the premises had been lost or destroyed, the Lagunans based their claim on actual possession of the premises and a document[2] from the Archives of New Mexico, which evidenced a meeting held on March 25, 1813 between the representatives of the Pueblo of Laguna and the Alcalde of that pueblo, Manuel Aragon. This document states that the Indians in anticipation of Aragon’s resignation and as a result of the confusion that always occurred upon the change of an alcalde or minister requested a certificate setting forth their rights. In response to the request, Aragon issued a memorandum stating that neither an alcalde nor a minister had the right to force the Indians to work unless they were paid the just value of their labor. Continuing, he noted that, as a result of scarcity of unappropriated land within the Laguna League, the Indians had purchased a number of tracts for the support of the increase both in their families and animals. One of the purchased tracts mentioned by Aragon was the Rancho do San Juan Grant, which was located east of the Pueblo and was used by the Lagunans as a pasture. At the foot of this instrument is a notation by Governor Antonio Narbona dated August 28, 1826, which states that the action taken by Aragon was “approved so far as this government is concerned, and legal and formal in its contents.” Jose Gonzales, a 40‑year-old resident of the Town of Cebolleta, answered the following question which was asked by Pelham in connection with the investigation of this claim: 

Q. Do you know the rancho called “San Juan” and who is in possession of it? 

 A. I have known it since 1833; it has always been in the possession of the Laguna Indians.

Jose Francisco Aragon also briefly testified concerning the grant. The pertinent part of his testimony is as follows:

 Q. Do you know the Rancho of San Juan? 

A. I have known it since 1840; it has been held by the Laguna Indians since that time; I do not know its boundaries.

Based on this meager amount of evidence, Pelham, in a report[3] dated July 10, 1859, held that the Rancho de San Juan had been severed from the public domain. Therefore, he approved the claim and transmitted it to Congress for its further action. By Act[4] approved June 21, 1860, Congress confirmed the grant.

Deputy Surveyors Sawyer & McElroy were awarded a contract to survey the grant. Since none of the oral or documentary evidence pertaining to the grant described its boundaries, David Sawyer took ex parte affidavits in March, 1877 from a number of “old timers” in order to establish the limits of the rancho. These affidavits described the grant as a tract bounded:

On the north, by the Rancho de Paguate Grant; on the east, by the Rancho de Gigante Grant; on the south, by the Rancho El Rito Grant and the San Juan Mesa; and on the west, by the Black Mesa.

For some unknown reason, Sawyer & McElroy surveyed the Ranchos of San Juan, Gigante, and El Rito as a single tract covering 25,233.18 acres; however, it is estimated that the Rancho de San Juan Grant covers 7,000 acres. The tract covering the three ranchos was patented to the Pueblo of Laguna on September 22, 1884.[5]



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

[2] Archive No. 688 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[3] H. R. Exec. Doc. No. 14, 36th Cong., 1st Sess., 165‑167 (1860).

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