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Rito de los Frijoles Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Sometime prior to 1742,[1] Captain Andres Montoya received a grant covering a tract of land known as the Rito de los Frijoles. He occupied and used the land until 1780 when, due to advanced age and a lack of funds, he was no longer able to work his property. Therefore, when Governor Juan Bautista de Anza arrived during one of his general inspection tours of the area, Montoya requested permission to transfer the grant to his son-in-law, Juan Antonio Lujan. Anza authorized the conveyance and Lujan promptly occupied and used the land up to the time of his death in about 1735. Following his death, Lujan’s daughter held undisputed possession of the premises. Since she had lost all the papers evidencing her title to the grant, Lujan’s daughter requested Father Antonio Caballero to give her a certificate setting forth all he knew concerning the grant. Caballero stated that the land granted to Montoya by Governor Tomas Velez Cachupin[2] 2 had been conveyed to Lujan with Anza’s permission in 1780, and had been left to Lujan’s daughter following his death. With this information, Lujan’s son‑in-law, Jose Antonio Salas, on February 28, 1809, petitioned Governor Jose Manrique seeking a certified copy of the and deed. However, these proceedings apparently were missing from the archives for there is no indication that the requested copy was ever given.

Shortly thereafter Salas died and his wife, Antonia Rosa Lujan de Salas, took over the management of the rancho. She employed a number of vaqueros who, without her knowledge, commenced rustling cattle from the adjoining ranches. In order to stop the robberies, Manrique arrested the guilty parties and ordered Antonia to vacate the premises. On April 1, 1814, she petitioned Manrique and stated that since she was in no way implicated in the crimes there was no reason why she should be deprived of her property and requested permission to return. The governor, on the following day, appointed Antonio Ortiz as a special commissioner to investigate the merits of her request. One day later, Ortiz advised the governor that when Lujan first commenced cultivating the tract Domingo Romero and his brother, Miguel, protested to Governor Pedro Fermin de Mendinueta,[3] who at first ordered Lujan to stop on the ground that the land belonged to Montoya, but, when Lujan showed that he was married to Montoya’s daughter, Mendinueta authorized him to continue his planting on condition that he would not build a house on the land. On April 4, 1814, Mendinueta issued a decree authorizing Antonia to return to the grant and resettle it as her property. Following her return, Antonia continuously occupied the tract until she died, except for short periods when Indian hostilities rendered it too dangerous to remain on the land. Thereafter, her heirs had possession of the grant.

On October 5, 1872, Antonia’s heirs petitioned Surveyor General James K. Proudfit seeking the confirmation of the grant.[4] No action was taken on the claim until March 14, 1883, when Surveyor General Henry N. Atkinson issued an opinion[5] in which he held while the claimant’s muniments of title had come from private sources they appeared to be genuine. Therefore, he recommended its confirmation. In connection with the question of boundaries, he noted that, since the grant papers did not contain, a description of the property, he had been forced to rely upon parol evidence and the statements contained in the Ramon Vigil Grant. Based on this evidence, he was of the opinion that the grant was bounded:

On the north, the Canada Ancha at the Potrero de Pajarito; on the east, the Rio Grande; On the south, the Canada del Alamo; and on the west, the Valles Mountain.

As justification for having relied on such evidence he pointed out that the land had been occupied for a “period as back as the witnesses had any recollection,” and it was the custom of the time to make concessions of ranches by name either with or without specific boundaries. He noted that in cases where no boundaries were given, the grantees were entitled to a confirmation according to the extent of their possession and settlement. As authority for this proposition, Atkinson cited Higuera’s Heirs v. United States 5 Wall. (72 U.S.) 827 (1865). A preliminary survey of the grant was made by Deputy Surveyor John Shaw between June, 1883, and May, 1884. It showed the grant as containing 23,022.28 acres.[6]

Since Congress had not passed upon the claim prior to transferring jurisdiction over the adjudication of Spanish and Mexican Grants in the southwest to the Court of Private Land Claims, the owners of the grant turned to that tribunal for relief. George N. Fletcher, for himself and the other heirs of Antonia Rosa Lujan, filed suit[7] on October 15, 1892, against the United States seeking the confirmation of the grant. The government filed general answer putting the allegations contained in the plaintiff’s petition in issue.

The case came up for trial on September 17, 1894, at which time Fletcher offered his muniments of title and a considerable amount of oral testimony concerning the use and occupation of the grant. The government, in turn, introduced Archive No. 1352[8] which showed that Bartolome Fernandez, Alcalde of The Queres Nation, advised Governor Tomas Velez Cachupin that Domingo and Miguel Romero had settled at a place called “El Capulin,” which was the summer pasture grounds of the Indians of the Cochiti Indians, and so far as he knew they had no right to the lands. On April 11, 1765, Cachupin ordered Fernandez to eject the Romeros. Two days later Fernandez reported to the governor that when he advised them of the order they objected stating that as heirs of Andres Montoya they had a legal right to such land. In support of their claim, the Romero’s produced the testimonio of the grant which showed that it had been granted to Montoya on August 18, 1739, by Governor Domingo de Mendoza and royal possession thereof had been delivered to him on October 7, 1739 by Antonio Montoya, Alcalde of Santa Fe.

The act of possession, which was a part of the testimonio, designated the following natural objects as the boundaries of the grant:

On the north, a point one league south of the last tree of the lands of the Indians of San Ildefonso; on the east, the Rio Grande; on the south, a point one league north of the gardens of the Indians of Cochiti; and on the west, the high mountains which run from Cochiti.

This archive also showed that the Indians of the adjoining pueblos pointed out that Andres Montoya had died on June 18, 1740, and his will showed that he had never occupied the land. On April 18, 1765, Cachupin again ordered Fernandez to eject Romero’s from the land but authorized them to continue to graze their livestock on the land in common with all others. The Romero’s petitioned Governor Pedro Fermin de Mendinueta on April 22, 1767, seeking a rehearing on the matter alleging that since the grant was located 3 1/2 leagues from both pueblos, the granting of the concession had not injured the Indians and the ejectment of the 40 Spanish families would cause untold hardship. Notwithstanding this plea, Mendinueta, in a decision dated April 27, 1767, held the grant void because the adjoining land owners had not been cited when possession had been delivered to Andres Montoya. The government argued that Archive No. 1352 showed that the grant had been revoked in 1767 and the decree of April 4, 1814, was not a revalidation of the grant but merely was a license which permitted Antonia to reoccupy the land at the pleasure of the authorities or at most, during her lifetime. The court concurred with the government, and in an opinion[9] dated September 27, 1894, rejected the grant. Fletcher appealed but the decision to the United States Supreme Court but failed to have it filed and docketed in time. Therefore, the Supreme Court dismissed[10] the appeal on December 9, 1895.

[1] This date is fixed by the reference to the grant in the Ramon Vigil Grant which was made in that year.

[2] Caveat: Cachupin’s first term as governor commenced in 1749.

[3] Mendinueta was governor of New Mexico between 1767 and 1778.

[4] The Rito de los Frijoles Grant, No. 133 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Fletcher v. United States, No. 41 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[8] Archive No, 1352 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[9] 2 Journal 219 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[10] Fletcher v. United States, 163 U.S. 686 (1895) (mem.).