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San Antonio de las Huertas Grant

by J. J. Bowden

In 1765 Juan Gutiérrez appeared before Governor Tomes Vélez Cachupin, for himself and on behalf of eight other families, registered a tract of vacant land situated at the foot of the Sandia Mountains, which was commonly known as Las Huertas. As justification for their request, Gutiérrez advised the governor he once had owned a rancho at the Pueblo of Santa Ana but was forced to sell it in order to pay his debts. Since then he had no place to raise the food necessary for the support of his large family or to pasture his animals. The sale of his rancho also had left the other eight families, who were his tenants, without a place to support their equally large families and livestock. He assured Cachupin that the tract had sufficient agricultural land and water to support the petitioners since “in former times” it had sustained at least that number of persons. The requested tract was more fully described as being bounded:

On the north, by the brow or edge of the Casa Colorado Mountain; on the east, by the brow of the mountain on the San Pedro Road; on the south, by some red hills; and on the west, by some high hills; near Las Huertas.

Cachupin, on September 28, 1765, ordered the Alcalde of Santo Domingo, Bartolome Fernandez, to investigate and report on whether the granting of the tract to the petitioners would prejudice the natives of any Pueblo. In obedience to such order, Fernandez went to the grant and, after fully investigating into the matter, reported that there was no impediment to the issuance of the concession. Owing to the death of Cachupin, no official action was taken on the petition. However, the petitioners settled upon the grant and commenced using and developing the premises.

 Following the appointment of Pedro Fermin de Mendinueta as governor, Antonio Aragon and the twenty other families, who then were residing upon the grant, requested him, to proceed with the granting of the land to them. On December 31, 1767, Mendinueta, after reviewing the prior proceedings granted the land to the inhabitants of the Town of San Antonio de Las Huertas and directed Fernandez to deliver royal possession of the land to the grantees; designate the boundaries of the grant, and allocate the agricultural lands amongst its residents. The governor noted that the amount of vacant land available for the new settlement was somewhat limited on the north, south, and west by the Pueblo of San Felipe, Town of Bernalillo and Pueblo of Santa Ana. Therefore, he instructed Fernandez to extend the eastern boundary of concession so there would be a sufficient quantity of land available for the present settlers, subsequent settlers, and their increase. Pursuant to such instructions, Fernandez went to the town thirteen days later and examined the surrounding land.

Finding the lands to be well watered by six springs he allotted the settlers the individual fields which they had opened and ordered them to proceed with their cultivation. He also designated a town site and gave each settler a lot for the construction of a home. At the conclusion of his visit, he designated the boundaries of the grant and performed the customary ceremonies necessary to place the grantees in royal possession of their property. The boundaries were established as being located at the following natural objects:

On the north, the ridge close to the town which runs to the crest of the hill near the watering hole called Una del Gatos; on the east, the place commonly called [the name of this natural object has been torn from the instrument]; on the south, the red hills which end in a ridge which is at the point of the Sandia Mountains; and on the west, the high hills near Las Placitos.[1]

The Town of San Antonio de Las Huertas steadily grew. At one time, it had a population of about 500 families but, due to a serious drought, many of its inhabitants moved to Algodones or Socorro. At the time the United States acquired New Mexico, there were approximately 200 persons living on the grant. While the original grant papers were filed in the Surveyor General’s office on January 10, 1862, the owners of the grant did not request its investigation and confirmation for nearly twenty years.

On May 12, 1881 the heir and legal representatives of the twenty-one original grantees petitioned [2]Surveyor General Henry M. Atkinson seeking its recognition. Atkinson, in connection with his investigation of the claim, took the testimony of three of the interested parties Lucas Gurule, Jose Aragon, and Antonio Jose Gallegos. Gurule testified that shortly after New Mexico had gained its independence an Inspector General was sent to New Mexico to investigate the validity of grants made by the Spanish Government. When the Inspector General came to the grant its alcalde ordered him to go with the Inspector General to Santa Fe in order to examine the expediente of the grant. Gurule stated that he saw the expediente which was on stamped paper, had a large seal, and had two distinguishing marks. Continuing, he stated that as a result of his investigation, the Inspector General recognized the grant. In an effort to explain the absence of any evidence of the grant in the Archives, Gurule stated that a dispute had arisen between the, inhabitants and a tribe of hostile Indians who claimed a portion of the grant was their hunting ground. The inhabitants of the grant withdrew their expediente from the Archives to show it to the Indians and thereby establish their right to the land. Gurule stated he had seen the expediente on two subsequent occasions. The first time was in 1856 at the home of Jose Leandro Perea. In 1862, he saw it in the possession of Jose Serafin Ramirez just prior to his filing it in the Surveyor General’s office. In connection with the boundaries, Gurule stated they wore located:

On the north, at the top of the ridge of the Chupaderos; on the east, the Ojo del Oso and the Canon del Aqua; on the south, at the boundary of San Pedro and a high ridge; and on the west, by the little Canon del Agua.

Aragon testified that its boundaries were located:

On the north, at the Cuchilla del Espinoso; On the east, at the Ojo del Oso or Real de Dolores; on the south, at the Vado de San Pedro; and on the west, at the high hill called Cerro Colorado.

Gallegos described the boundaries as being situated:

On the north, at the Mesa Blanca del Tunque; on the east, at the Ojo del Oso; on the south, at the Vado de San Pedro; and on the west, at the high mesas of the Huertas.

Since the grant had not been passed upon by either Atkinson or his successor, Clarence Pullen, Surveyor General George W. Julian, upon entering office, wrote the claimants’ attorney and asked if he wished to submit any further evidence in connection with the case. In answer to this letter, the attorney advised him that he had withdrawn from the case and intimated that the case could not be made out owing to defects in the proof as to the boundaries. Therefore, Julian proceeded to examine the merits of the claim based on the record before him and, on December 24, 1885, rendered a lengthy unfavorable opinion.[3] First, he noted that the instructions which had been issued by the Commissioner of the General Land Office on August 21, 1854,[4] as a guide to Surveyor General William Pelham for the examination of private land claims, directed him to require the claimants to set forth their names. He pointed out that in this case the claimants had not been named but merely had been identified as the heirs and legal representatives of the original grantees. Next, he noted that even a cursory examination of the grant papers showed that it was not the document described by Gurule for it had no large seal, no identifying marks, and was not written on stamped paper. However, in fairness to the claimants, he mentioned that a comparison of the signatures on the grant papers with those on contemporary papers in the Archives which were known to be genuine “showed a very strong similarity.” Next, he called attention to the great variance in the documentary and oral evidence pertaining to the location of the boundaries of the grant. He especially noted that the boundaries which had been described by the witnesses would cause the grant to embrace the Town of Tejon Grant which had previously been confirmed and Patented. Therefore, he held: 

In view of the unsatisfactory n roof as to the existence and where‑abouts of the original title papers as shown by the testimony of the witness Gurule; the fact that such papers were not found in the Archives received from Mexico, and the want of satisfactory evidence that they ever constituted a portion of such Archives; the very great variance and discrepancy in the description of the lands in the petition to the governor, the certification of the Alcalde executed on delivery of possession and on the testimony of the witnesses in the case, and the further fact that 12,801.46 acres of land shown to be within the boundaries claimed by, the petitioners have been confirmed and patented to the inhabitants of the Town of Tejon under a grant claimed to have been made by the Spanish Government, I do not feel justified in recommending the confirmation of this claim by Congress. It is certainly not established under the recognized rule of law that if rights claimed under the Government are set up against it they must be so clearly defined that there can be no question as to its purpose to confer them. I, therefore, recommend the rejection of the claim.

Since Congress had not acted upon the claim prior to the creation of the land court, Jose H. Gurule, notwithstanding Julian’s unfavorable report, filed suit[5] against the United States asking for the recognition of the grant pursuant to Section 81 of the Act of March 3, 1891.[6] He alleged that the grant covered the lands which had been described on the Act of possession and, although the description of the eastern boundary of the grant had been torn out, he would be able to prove its location by competent testimony. He also stated that he had acquired his interest in the grant by inheritance. A large number of other parties claiming similar interests intervened as parties plaintiff. They claimed that the eastern boundary of the grant was notoriously well known. They especially called attention to the fact that Aragon and the other inhabitants of the grant had requested the governor to extend the grant on all four sides but, due to the proximity of other settlements on the north, south and west, he had authorized the requested extension only on the east side in order to locate that boundary along the brow of the mountain on the San Pedro Road.

Antonio Jose Gallegos instituted a similar suit[7] on March 3, 1893. On the motion[8] of the United States, the two cases were consolidated. The government, then, filed a general answer putting in issue the allegations contained in the two petitions.

The consolidated case came up for trial on May 18, 1897 at which time the plaintiffs tendered their grant papers and the court received them over the objections of the government. Gurule offered oral evidence in an effort to show that the east boundary of the grant was located at the old road from the Pueblo of Santo Domingo to San Pedro, which ran along the Arroyo Una del Gato. It also tended to show that the red hills which fixed the south boundary of the grant were located on the north side of the Sandia Mountains. Gallegos, in turn, offered oral evidence indicating that the San Pedro Road in question was one located fifteen to twenty miles further east and ran between the Real de las Dolores and San Pedro, and that the red hills were the ones located on the south side of the Sandia Mountains. This would cause the grant to contain approximately 130,000 acres and conflict with the Pueblo of San Felipe, Town of Tejon, San Pedro, Ortiz Mine, Real de los Dolores, Canon del Agua, and Mesita de Juana Lopez Grants. As a result of this variance, Gallegos requested and the court set the consolidation of the cases aside.[9] Thereafter, the trial of Gurule’s case proceeded and was submitted on May 20, 1897, but not decided by the court during that session. On October 2, 1897 Gallegos submitted his cause to the court after a full argument on its merits. The Court decided to reconsolidate the two cases, and on October 5, 1897, confirmed the grant according to the boundaries contended­ for by Gurule. However, the entry of a decree was delayed for nearly two years as a result of a difference which arose between counsel for plaintiffs and government over whether the confirmation included the lands covered by the previously confirmed Town of Tejon Grant. To solve this problem, Gurule, the intervenors, and government stipulated that the Town of Tejon Grant was an allotment under the San Antonio de Las Huertas Grant and the confirmation of the Town of Tejon Grant deprived the court of jurisdiction to approve that portion of the grant. Based on this agreement, the court entered a decree[10] on August 24, 1899, confirming the grant and ordering that it be surveyed as follows:

The north boundary to be an east and west line through a point due north of the old plaza of Las Huertas, on the crest of the ridge known as the Casa Colorado, said boundary continuing east and west until the same intersects the east and west boundaries of such grant as hereinafter described:

The east boundary of said grant to follow and conform to the west boundary line of the patented survey of the Tejon Grant and to be that portion of said west boundary line lying between the intersection with. said boundary of the north boundary hereinbefore described and the south boundary hereinafter described.

The south boundary to be an east and west line through the center of the most northern of the group of red. hills lying southwest of the plaza of Las Huertas, which group are connected by a ridge with the northern end of the Sandia Mountains. The west boundary to be a line following the crest or highest point of the first range of high hills to the west of the said town of Las Huertas or Las Placitas, commonly known as the Lomas Altas, said line extending due north and south from the extremities of said high hills to its intersection with the north and south boundary lines as hereinbefore described.

Gallegos appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court, but failed to have his appeal filed and docketed. Therefore, the Supreme Court, on March 19, 1900, dismissed[11] the proceedings. After the Supreme Court’s mandate had been returned to the Court of Private Land Claims and the decree became final, an official survey of the grant, as confirmed, was made by Deputy Surveyor Levi S. Preston between December 21, 1900, and January 8, 1901 for 4,763.35 acres. A patent for grant was issued on June 28, 1907.[12]

[1] The San Antonio de Las Huertas Grant, No. 144 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] S. Misc. Doc. No. 12, 42nd Cong., 1st Sess., 4 (1871).

[5] Gurule v. United States, No. 90 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[6] Court of Private Land Claims Act, Chap. 539, Sec. 8, 26 Stat. 854 (1891)

[7] Gallegos v. United States, No. 269 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[8] 2 Journal 70 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[9] 3 Journal 217 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[10] 4 Journal 98 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[11] Gurule v. United States, 20 S. Ct. 1027, 44 L. Ed. 1221 (1900) (mem.).

[12] The San Antonio de Las Huertas Grant. No. 144 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).