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San Antonito Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Juan Jose Garcia, Gaspar Atencio and twenty five associates petitioned the Prefect of the District of Bernalillo, Antonio Sandoval, on March 16, 1840, seeking a grant covering the tract of vacant agricultural land known as San Antonito, which is located east of the Sandia Mountains in the canon of the San Antonito River. The petitioners called Sandoval’s attention to the fact that while the tract formerly was owned by Cristobal Jaramillo,[1] it had been abandoned for more than fifteen years. They also alleged that they were poor and needed the land in order to support their families. Sandoval referred the petition to the Alcalde of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque for a report covering both the nature of the land and the merits of the request. In compliance therewith, Alcalde Jose Trujillo on March 22, 1840, advised Sandoval that the requested land was tillable, all of the applicants, except three who had a small amount of land were deeply in debt and could not count on it for a livelihood. Two days later Sandoval issued a decree in which, after noting that one of the most commendable and beneficial things a government could do for its people was the promotion of agriculture, he granted the land to the applicants for the purpose of cultivation only and subject to the express reservation of the pastures and watering places as a commons. The granting decree closed with an order directing Trujillo to place the grantees in legal possession of the land. Trujillo, in accordance with such directions, went to the grant on March 29, 1840, and formally delivered possession of the grant to the grantees. The Act of Possession describes the grant as being bounded:
On the north, by a little ridge near a cedar thicket with a natural girdle upon it; on the east, by twin pines and the little pass of the Huerteros; on the south, by the summit of the Jospe Ridge; and on the west, by the source of the water.
Next, Trujillo allotted each of the grantees, except Garcia and Atencio, a one hundred vara wide strip of land extending from the northern to the southern boundaries of the grant. Garcia and Atencio were each given a one hundred fifty vara wide strip.

On August 12, 1892 Manuel Crespín, for himself and in behalf of the other heirs and legal representatives of the original grantees, filed suit[2] in the Court of Private Land Claims, seeking the confirmation of the grant, which he alleged contained approximately 32,000 acres of land. Crespín pointed out that, although the original copy of the grant papers, which had been deposited in the prefecture, had been lost or destroyed, and in support of the claim, he filed a certified copy of the grant which had been made by Rumaldo Chaves, a clerk in Alcalde Trujillo’s office, for his own use sometime prior to 1846 and while the expediente was still in the prefect’s office. The certified copy was subsequently assigned to Atencio and remained in his possession up to the date of filing of the suit. Crespín further alleged that it was his understanding and belief that the grant had been confirmed by both Governor Manuel Armijo and the Provincial Assembly and, by virtue thereof, an allotment was made in severalty to each of the grantees. The government filed a general answer putting the allegations contained in the petition in issue.
The case came up for trial on December 8, 1892, at which time Crespín introduced the certified copy of the grant, a minute of the record of the grant from the Prefecture, and oral testimony showing that a large number of persons occupied the land under grant. Crespín also called attention to the fact that the San Pedro, Town of Torreon, Town of Tejon and San Antonio del Rio Colorado Grants had been made by a prefect under the laws, customs and. usage of Spanish and Mexican law and that the first three had been confirmed by Congress. The government conceded that the documentary evidence was genuine and the bona fides of the possession under the grant by its inhabitants had been clearly shown. However, it asserted that a prefect had no authority to make a valid grant, and mere possession subsequent to 1840 created no rights against either in the Mexican government in the United States. The court, by decree[3] dated March 10, 1893, rejected the grant on the ground that a prefect did not have the power to dispose of public land, and there was no evidence that the grant ever had been sanctioned or approved by the governor, who, acting with the consent of the Provincial Assembly, had the sole authority to make grants covering public lands in New Mexico in 1840. In connection with Crespín’s contention that the inhabitants of the grant had acquired an interest by prescription, the court found that, in order for it to confirm the claim, it must be shown, under Section 13 of the Act of March 31, 1891,[4] that the grant was lawfully and regularly derived from the government of Spain or Mexico and one which, if not complete and perfect at the date of the acquisition of the property by the United States, the claimants would have had a lawful right to make perfect had the territory not been acquired by the United States. It noted that a prescriptive title would have had to ripen prior to the date of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and there was no evidence of possession of the land for more than six or eight years prior to that date, and under Spanish and Mexican law nothing less than a possession of forty years could be deemed or respected as creating title by adverse possession. Crespín appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court, which by decree[5] dated November 15, 1897, affirmed the decision and gave Crespín the following admonishment:
If there be any hardship to the petitioners in the rejection of this grant, they must apply for relief to another department of the government. We are bound by the language of the act creating the court of private land claims.


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[1] James L. Hubbell, who purchased the interest of the heirs of Cristobal Jaramillo, petitioned Surveyor General Alexander P. Wilbar, on December 30, 1860 asking him to investigate and recommend the Cristobal Jaramillo Grant confirmation by Congress. In support of the claim, he filed the testimonio of the grant, which showed that Jaramillo had petitioned Governor Antonio Narbona on February 26, 1826 stating that he was landless, and therefore needed a grant to support his large family. He pointed out that the tracts of land known as San Antonito and Canoncito de Nuanes were both vacant, and requested the governor to grant him one or the other. The petition was referred to the Ayuntamiento of Albuquerque for a report by the Secretary of the Territorial Deputation. The Ayuntamiento advised the Territorial Deputation that both tracts were vacant, and that the people of San Antonito had asked for the land from the Cuestecula to San Antonito, but that there was not enough water on that tract to support so many people. On April 12, 1826 the Secretary of the Territorial Deputation directed the Governor to grant Jaramillo one of the tracts. Since there was no documentary evidence that a grant had been made by Narbona, no action was taken on the claim, and it was withdrawn by Hubbell on June 12, 1862. The Cristobal Jaramillo Grant, No. F 77 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).
[2] Crespin v. United States, No. 27 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).
[3] 1 Journal 119 120 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).
[4] Court of Private Land Claims Act, Chap. 539, Sec. 13, 26 Stat. 854 (1891).
[5] Crespín v. United States, 163 U.S. 208 (1897).