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Rancho el Rito Grant

by J. J. Bowden

In or about the year 1760 the Governor of New Mexico granted and caused Mateo Pino to be placed in royal possession of a tract of land known as the Rancho El Rito. Pino occupied the rancho for some thirty years before the incursions of the Apaches prompted the Spanish Government to move Pino from the grant to a place of safety. Pino’s son and sole heir, Joaquin Pino, returned and resumed possession of the grant in 1813. Fearing that his father’s temporary abandonment of the land may have caused the forfeiture of the concession, Joaquin petitioned Governor Pedro Maria de Allande in 1816 asking for its revalidation. After carefully studying this matter, Allande regranted the land to Joaquin, and placed him in royal possession as sole and absolute owner and regrantee of the premises. Joaquin continuously resided upon and occupied the grant up to the time of his death in 1835. He was survived by his widow, Luz Chaves y Pino, and ten children.[1] Jose Antonio Pino, one of Joaquin’s children, conveyed his undivided interest in the grant to the Pueblo of Laguna On August 23, 1843 for a total consideration of 75 sheep, 100 skins, and 6 horned animals.[2]


The Lagunans petitioned[3] Surveyor General William Pelham on June 29, 1859 seeking the confirmation of the Rancho El Rito,[4] which it claimed by virtue of the original grant to them, the recognition of its ownership by Governor Antonio Narbona in 1826, and the purchase of the pretended right or title of Mateo Pino. In support of their claim, the Indians filed four Spanish documents. The first document was an instrument dated September 25, 1689, wherein Governor Domingo Jironza Petriz de Cruzate interrogated the captured Zia Indian, Bartolome de Ojeda, concerning conditions at the Pueblo of Laguna. Ojeda stated that the inhabitants of the pueblo were very much intimated by Cruzate’s victorious entrada and, although they were a very haughty and rebellious people, he was sure that they had learned their lesson and undoubtedly would give him their allegiance upon his return. In connection with the boundaries of the pueblo’s land, Ojeda stated that it was bounded:

On the north, the Ojo del Agua Frio and the Ojo de Paguate; on the east, the Mesita Colorado and the Mesita de Armolar; on the south, a pool of water under a rock; and on the west, the Canada Ancha, which empties towards the north when it rains.


This instrument closed with a recitation that the “grant” had been read and explained to Ojeda. The second document[5] was a statement setting out the rights of the Lagunans, which had been given to them by Jose Manuel Aragon, Alcalde of Acoma, Laguna and Cebolleta, on March 25, 1813, in order to avoid the confusion and misunder­standings which arose each time there was a change in their minister or alcalde. Among other things, Aragon stated, In regard to the land toward the east, they have been allowed to plant on the rancho known as El Rito.…” Continuing, he stated: 

… As far as the alcalde is concerned, who is to reside in this pueblo, he is forbidden by superior orders from availing himself of the labor of the Indians for any purpose except by paying them the just value of their labor; neither can he compel them to serve as escorts for private individuals unless required by the government to treat upon subjects connected with the royal service. As far as the officiating minister is concerned, he is placed upon the same terms as the alcalde, without any authority to tax the pueblo or any Indian with their services excepting a sexton to ring the bell and the feed of a horse, which is to be furnished by the pueblo in case it should be necessary for him to hear a confession. This is the method established by the government for the good government of these pueblos.


Governor Antonio Narbona approved this statement as being legal and formal in its contents, so far as the government was concerned. The third document[6] was a statement by Ensebio Aragon and approved by Governor Narbona on August 28, 1826 in which Aragon stated that he was a witness to the proceedings in 1820 by Ignacio Sanches Vergara, Protector General of the Indians, wherein Vergara noted that the growth of the Pueblo of Laguna was restricted as a result of the claim asserted by Joaquin Pino to the tract known as Rancho del Rito. Aragon especially pointed out that Pino’s claim was based on the “right to it held by his late father”; and, although the tract had been abandoned for more than thirty years, his title was recognized. The final document was the deed by Jose Antonio Pino dated August 23, 1843[7] conveying his undivided interest in the grant to the Lagunans. The testimony of three witnesses was also taken by Pelham. They stated that the Rancho El Rito had belonged to the Lagunans before the Pinos usurped it and that they had purchased what actually belonged to them in 1842. However, none of the witnesses knew the boundaries of the tract. Based on this meager evidence, Pelham issued a Report[8] on July 10, 1859 in which he held that the Rancho El Rito had been severed from the public domain and, therefore, recommended its confirmation by Congress to the Indians of the Pueblo of Laguna. By Act[9]  approved June 21, 1860, Congress confirmed the grant. The grant was surveyed, together with the Rancho de San Juan and Rancho de Gigante Grants, by Deputy Surveyors Sawyer & McElroy in March, 1877 as a single tract for 25,233.18 acres. It is estimated that the grant covers 11,000 acres. The grant was one of the five Laguna purchased tracts which were patented to the Pueblo of Laguna on September 22, 1884.[10]


Following the creation of the Court of Private Land Claims, three separate suits were filed by the persons claiming to be heirs of Joaquin Pino seeking the confirma­tion of the Rancho El Rito, which was also known as the Rito Colorado Grant. The first suit[11] was filed by Anatacia Pino de Castillo on February 23, 1893, the second suit[12] was filed by Ambrosio Pino on March 2, 1893, and the third suit,[13] which was also instituted by Ambrosia Pino, was filed on the following day. The claim of the plaintiffs in the first and third cases was that as lineal descendant of Joaquin Pino he was entitled to the confirma­tion of the complete and perfect grant which had been granted to Joaquin Pino in 1816. The plaintiff’s claim in the second case was based upon the contention that he was entitled to the confirmation of the grant made to Mateo Pino in 1760 as a direct heir of the original grantee. Each of the petitioners sought a tract of land covering about 510,000 acres and bounded:

On the north, the south boundary of the Pueblo of Laguna League, the south boundary of the Rancho de Paguate Grant, and the south boundary of the Canada de Los Apaches Grant; on the east, by the west boundary of the Canada de Los Apaches Grant and the Rio Puerco; on the south, by the Balita de Oro, which is situated south of the head of the Arroyo Colorado; and on the west, by the east boundary of the Pueblos of Acoma and Laguna and the west boundary of the Rancho El Rito.

By order dated September 5, 1896,[14] the three cases were consolidated and. proceeded to trial under cause number 136.

The case came up for trial on September 22, 1897, at which time the plaintiffs asserted that the original papers evidencing the grant and delivery of possession were not in their possession and apparently had been lost or destroyed. However, in support of their claim that a complete and perfect grant had been made to Mateo Pino in 1760 and regranted to his son, Joaquin Pino.


In 1816, they introduced oral testimony which tended to prove that Joaquin Pino resided on the grant at the town of Plaza El Rito from 1816 up until his death in 1835 and thereafter his widow, Luz Chaves, and their ten children and their descendants had been in continuous peaceable possession of this land, except at times when they were temporarily molested by the incursions of hostile Indians, who at different times massacred children and grandchildren of Joaquin Pino, to the number of over thirty, upon or in the neighborhood of the grant. The plaintiffs also introduced archive and documentary evidence, which they claimed established a grant to both Mateo and Joaquin Pino. The first of these was a grant[15] made in 1769 to Antonio Sedillo covering the Canada de Los Apaches Grant which called for its southern boundary to be “the boundary of Mateo Pino.”


Archives 216 and 217[16] were also introduced. These archives are quite voluminous and contained the pleadings in a controversy between Joaquin Pino and Ursula Chaves in regard to Pino’s taking of certain sheep belonging to Chavez which were found grazing in his lambing pasture. The recitals in a paper signed by Joaquin Pino in 1821 indicate that at that time he was claiming a tract of land known as the Rancho El Rito, but this allegation does not seem to have received any official or judicial sanction. Archive No. 1373[17] and a copy of the proceedings before the Surveyor General’s office in Reported Claim Number 30,[18] pertaining to the Pueblo of Laguna’s claim for the confirmation of its purchased tract known as Rancho El Rito, were also introduced by the plaintiffs to show that Joaquin Pino owned the grant and one of his sons had sold his undivided interest to the Indians. The government, in turn, introduced considerable oral evidence to show that the land in question, from time immemorial, had been used and recognized as a common pasture ground, the public surveys had been extended over the grant, and patents had been issued under the Public Land Laws to a large number of persons ‑ some of them being members of the Pino family ‑ for lands located within the confines of the grant. This testimony also showed that the only land cultivated by the Pino family, out of the vast tract of over a half million acres, was about a hundred acres of patented land near the Town of Plaza El Rito. The government laid great stress upon the fact that Jose Antonio Pino, one of Joaquin’s children, had sold his interest in the grant to the Indians in 1834. It asserted that since none of the documents introduced by the plaintiffs set forth the boundaries. Of the grant, it should be presumed that the entire grant had been confirmed and patented to the Indians. If this were true, the grant covered only about 11,000 acres, and, under Section 13(4)[19] of the Act of March 3, 1891, the court had no juris­diction to confirm the plaintiffs’ claim. The government in its closing argument was careful to point out that the testimony as to the loss of the grant was vague, the testimony insofar as it pertained to the contents of the grant and the authorities by whom it was made, was uncertain, every witness who testified as to the boundaries of the grant described them differently, and with such a conflict in the evidence, there was no reliable basis upon which the court could base a decree of confirmation.


On October 4, 1897, the court announced its decision[20] rejecting the claim and dismissing the petition. The court noted that the entire claim, as shown by the testimony reads, “more like a romance than a bona fide claim for property.” The plaintiffs elected not to appeal the decision and the government’s attorney, in his report, described the case as being:

… one of the most important recently tried by the court and the decision relieves a very large section of the country from the shadow of a claim that has been urged with some persistency.



[1] Pino v. United States, No. 136 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[2] H. R. Exec. Doc. No. 14, 36th Cong., 1st 162‑163 (1860).

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

[4] H. R. Exec. Doc. No. 14, 36th Cong., 1st Sess., 168‑170 (1860).

[5] Ibid., 156‑157.

[6] Ibid., 159‑160.

[7] Ibid., 162‑163.

[8] Ibid., 165‑167.

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

[10] The Pueblo of Laguna Tracts, No. 30 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.). In connection with the survey of the grant, Deputy Surveyor Sawyer took a large amount of testimony in an effort to establish the boundaries of the Rancho El Rito Grant. This testimony showed that the tract was bounded on the north, by the Rancho de San Juan and the Rancho de Gigante; on the east, by the Mesita Colorado and the Mestia de Piedra de Amolar; on the south, by the Rancho Viejo; and on the west, by the Rancho Colorado at the foot of Mesa Blanca.

[11] Pino v. United States, No. 136 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[12] Pino v. United States, No. 196 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[13] Pino v. United States, No. 210 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[14] 3 Journal 100 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[15] 3 Journal 100 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[16] Archives No. 216 and 217 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

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

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

[19] Court of Private Land Claims Act, Chap. 539, Sec. 13(4), 26 Stat. 854 (1891).

[20] 4 Journal 55 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).