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Rio Tesuque Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Fifty-five inhabitants of precinct two in Santa Fe County wrote the Commissioner of the General Land Office on April 7, 1871, stating that they were the occupants of a tract of land located in the Tesuque River Valley and situated about six miles from Santa Fe upon which their ancestors had settled more than a century previously under the laws and customs of Spain. They called attention to the fact that the valley had been surveyed and requested information on how to protect their lands from being appropriated by speculators. The letter was re­ferred to Surveyor General T Rush Spencer for investigation under Section 8 of the Act of July 22, 1854.[1] Since the petitioners had filed no muniments of title in support of their claim, Spencer took no action upon the request.[2]

Following the creation of the Court of Private Land Claims, the Rio Tesuque Grant was presented to that august body for adjudication, Manuel Romero y Domingo, for himself and the other heirs, and legal representatives of Juan Benavides, filed suit[3] on February 23, 1893, against the United States for the confirmation of the grant which he alleged had been made to Benavides in 1745. Romero accounted for his failure to produce the grant papers by alleging that they had been lost or destroyed. On April 1, 1893, he filed an amended petition in which he claimed that the grant had been made by Governor Joaquin Cadallos y Rabal to Benavides in 1745, and he had been placed in possession on May 15, 1747, by Alcalde Antonio Ulibarri. A second amended petition was filed on November 9, 1896, in which Romero alleged that the tract had been granted sometime prior to 1744 to Pedro Vigil, who had sold it to Salvador Montoya, whose brother and executor, Antonio Montoya, had, in turn, sold the premises to Juan de Benavides on November 25, 1744, for 240 pesos.[4]

The deed described the grant as being “a tract of land which is above the Pueblo of San Diego de Tesuque” and bounded:

 On the north, by the brow of the mountains; on the east, by a high that descends to the confluence of the two rivers; on the south, by the ridge of hills which divides said town; and on the west, by the Pueblo Quemado.

Benavides’ brother, Antonio, accepted possession of the tract, during Juan’s absence on military service, from Alcalde Ulibarri on May 15, 1747. As further support for his claim, Romero called attention to the fact that the description of the Juan de Gabaldon Grant called for its western boundary to he located along the “boundaries of Squadron corporal Juan Benavides.”[5] He estimated that the grant contained 7,300 acres. The government filed a general answer putting in issue the allegations contained in Romero’s second amended petition.

The case came up for trial on May 12, 1897, at which time Romero offered his documentary evidence and oral testimony showing that so thirty families were residing on the grant and claiming the individual tracts which they and their ancestors had possessed for several generations. However, the evidence tending to connect the claimants with Juan Benavides was, at best, weak. On May 25, 1897, the court announced its decision confirming the grant on the ground that the claimants’ long possession of the premises raised a resumption that a valid grant had been made.[6]

As a result of the United States Supreme Court’s decision on May 24, 1897, in the Sandoval case,[7] which held that neither the settlers nor a town had any right to the unallotted lands within the exterior boundaries of a community grant, the government requested and was granted a rehearing. By decision dated. February 15, 1898,[8] the court vacated its previous decision on the ground that even if a valid grant had been made in 1744, the plaintiffs, who only held derivative titles to their undivided tracts and not to the entire grant, could invoke the court’s jurisdiction only to the extent of their tracts. Since Romero had sought the confirmation of the entire grant and the numerous individual tracts had not been described, the Court had no alternative but to reject the grant and dismiss the petition. However, it noted that the plaintiffs’ equitable titles to small tracts based upon use and possession were protected under Sections 16 and 17 of the Act of March 3, 1891.[9]

Meanwhile, Archbishop Juan B. Salpointe had filed a suit[10]  in the Court of Private Land Claims in an effort to secure the recognition of a 600 acre tract of land which his predecessor John B. Lamy had purchased in 1853. The tract was apparently an allotment made under the Rio Tesuque Grant and was situated just west of and adjoining the Juan de Gabaldon Grant. When the case came up for trial on August 7, 1900, Salpointe announced that he had received a patent to a 152.80 acre small holding tract under Sections 16 and 17 of the Act of March 3, 1891,[11] and, therefore, no longer wished to prosecute his claim. As a result of this announcement, the court entered a de­cree dismissing the plaintiff’s petition and rejecting the claim.[12]


[1] 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).

[2] The Rio Tesuque Grant, No. F‑98 (Mss, Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[3] Romero v. United States, No. 123 (Mss., Records Of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[4] Archive No. 93 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[5] Archive No. 352 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[6] 3 Journal 224 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[7] United States v. Sandoval, 167 U.S. 278 (1897).

[8] 3 Journal 363 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

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

[10] Salpointe v. United States, No. 215 (Mss, Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[11] Court of Private Land Claims Act, Chap. 539, Secs. 16 and 17, 26 Stat. 854 (1891).

[12] 4 Journal 179 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).