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Roque Lovato Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Roque Lovato, the armorer of the Presidio of Santa Fe, petitioned Governor Juan Bautista de Anza for a grant covering a “piece of public land in the northern suburbs” of Santa Fe which he had found. As justification for his request, Lovato stated, “I am destitute of any portion of land to enable me to live and build a house, and cultivate land for the support of my family.” The requested tract is very indefinitely described in the petition, but calls to adjoin the rapids of Jose Moreno and Santiago Roybal. Anza, after considering the petition, granted Lovato’s request on September 23, 1785, and ordered Second Lieutenant Jose Maldonado to place him in possession of the grant and fix its boundaries if the concession did not prejudice the rights of any of the adjoining landowners. The granting decree closed with instructions to Maldonado ordering him to return the original copy of the proceedings so that the grant could be recorded in the Government Book By Virtue of the Governor’s command. Maldonado, on September 25, 1785, ordered Jose Pacheco, Felipe Sandoval, and Francisco Cayeta No. who owned the adjoining lands to come to his office on the following day so he could explain the terms of the grant to them. Apparently none of the interested parties protested and Maldonado placed Lovato in royal possession of the land. However, most of the Act of Possession, including the description of the grant, has been torn off the testimonio.[1]

Lovato promptly built a house and moved to the grant, which he continuously occupied up to the date of his death. On October 18, 1795, Josefa Armijo, who was Lovato’s widow, sold the grant to Jose Ribera for 150 pesos in specie to pay off certain debts which Lovato owed to “the house of Jose Ortiz.” This deed described the premises as being bounded:

On the north, the dividing ridge between the Tesuque and Santa Fe Rivers; on the east, some black hills; on the south, the road north of the rampart; and on the west, by the main road from Santa Fe towards Rio Arriba.[2]

Ribera in turn sold the grant to Gaspar Ortiz y Alarid[3] on February 12, 1852.

Ortiz filed a petition in Surveyor General T. Rush Spencer’s office on April 12, 1872, seeking the confirmation of the grant.[4]  In his petition, Ortiz asserted that a valid grant had been made to Lovato. He also stated that he firmly believed that the proceedings had been properly recorded in the Government Book as required in the granting decree, but the book had been lost from the old archives. At the same time, he filed a sketch map showing the grant as being a tract about two miles wide and three miles in length and containing approximately 3,840 acres.

In connection with his investigation of the claim, Spencer took the testimony of two disinterested witnesses. They were Antonio and Ramon Ribera, who stated that they were the sons of Jose Jesus Ribera, that they had frequently seen the testimonio when it was complete, and that the Act of Possession described the same lands which had been conveyed to Ribera. Continuing, he stated that in 1854, he had given the grant papers to his attorneys, Hugh N. Smith and Meril Ashurst:

for the purpose of deriving from said attorneys legal advice regarding trespassers then going upon said lands; that said attorneys kept in their possession said original title papers far several months and when returned by them to this deponent that portion of the said Article of Possession which is now missing from the papers was lost; that diligent search was made therefore by said attorneys, but they failed to find the same .… and that both of said attorneys have departed this life, so that their evidence in relation to the loss as stated cannot now be had.

As a result of his examination, Spencer rendered an opinion on July 8, 1871, wherein he held that the archives in his office showed that the governor of New Mexico had authority to make grants in 1785; that Anza was governor in that year, and that a comparison of the signature on the grant with others of Anza in the Archives showed it to be genuine. He also believed that Ortiz adequately had accounted for the loss of the critical portion of the Act of Possession. Therefore, he recommended that the grant be confirmed to the legal representatives of the original grantee in accordance with the boundaries set forth in the deed to Ribera. A preliminary survey of the grant was made in September, 1877, by Deputy Surveyors Griffin and McMullen for 1,619.85 acres.[5]

Congress failed to act upon the claim prior to the creation of the Court of Private Land Claims and in the meantime, Ortiz had died. To perfect her interest, Ortiz’s widow, Magdalena L. de Ortiz, filed suit in that court against the United States on March 2, 1893.[6]

When the case came up for trial on April 25, 1894, the government admitted that the title papers were genuine, but contended the deed from Josefa Armijo to Jose Ortiz was a forgery. If the deed was a forgery, the plaintiff would not own an interest in the grant and, could not invoke the jurisdiction of the court. In support of its argument, the government offered the testimony of William M. Tipton and Clarence Key, as expert handwriting witnesses. They testified that based upon a comparison of the signature of Alcalde Jose Miguel de la Pena, who certified the conveyance, with other specimens of his signature, led them to believe that the signature was not genuine. They also pointed out that the deed was written with a steel pen which was not in use in New Mexico in 1795. In an effort to offset this damaging testimony, the plaintiff offered testimony showing that the Mexican Government had a powder magazine on the grant and also introduced receipts from the Mexican commander of Santa Fe showing that it had rented a building from Rivera as a “powder storage house” between 1835 and 1845.

The court found the deed to be a forgery, dismissed the plaintiff’s petition, and rejected the claim on April 28, 1894.7 Since the grant was located within the boundaries of the Santa Fe League which had been confirmed by the Court of Private Land Claims on the same day, the Plaintiff did not appeal the decision. Local attorneys completely disregarded the grant in their examination of Santa Fe land titles; notwithstanding the fact that it is generally conceded that the grant papers are genuine.

[1] H. R. Misc. Doc. No. 121, 42d Cong. 2d Sess., 19‑20 (1872).

[2] Ibid., 21.

[3] J Deed Records 27‑29 (Mss., Records of the County Clerk’s Office, Santa Fe, New Mexico.).

[4] The Roque Lovato Grant, No. 52 (Mss., Record of the S.G.N.M.).

[5] Ibid.

[6]  Ortiz v. United States, No. 180 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.)