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San Clemente Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Ana de Sandoval y Manzanares petitioned Governor Felix Martinez asking for a grant covering the tract of land known as San Clemente, which was bounded:

On the north, by the lands of Cristobal de Tapia; on the east, by the Rio Grande; on the south, by the lands and walls of the house of Tome Dominguez; and on the west, by the Rio Puerco.

In support of her request, she called the governor’s attention to the fact that her father, Mateo de Sandoval y Manzanares, owned the tract prior to the expulsion of the Spaniards from New Mexico during the Pueblo Revolt of 1600, and that Governor Diego de Vargas had promised to regrant all native New Mexicans who returned with him in 1692, the lands which they had held prior to the insurrection. Continuing, she stated that after her return to New Mexico she had suffered a great many hardships and, being a poor widow burdened with many children, she felt justified in seeking a regrant of the tract, which she had inherited from her father. Martinez recognized the justness of the request and granted the tract to her on July 13, 1716 subject to the conditions that the grant would not prejudice the rights of any third person and that she settle upon the premises within six months. He also directed the Alcalde of the Villa of Albuquerque, Antonio Gutierrez, to place her in royal possession of the land. Ten days later, Gutierrez in compliance with the governor’s decree went to the grant and delivered possession of the property to Felix de la Candelaria in the name of his mother in accordance with the accustomed ceremonies prescribed by the Spanish law. Gutierrez designated the following natural objects as boundaries of the grant:

On the north, by a ruin that is a little above the Pueblo of San Clemente; on the east, by the Rio Grande; on the south, by the house of Tome Dominguez; and on the west, by the Rio Puerco.[1]

Ana de Sandoval y Manzanares settled upon the grant within six months and, thereafter, she or her heirs and assigns occupied and used the land and ware in peaceable possession thereof at the time the United States acquired jurisdiction over New Mexico.

Ana’s heirs filed[2] the grant papers in the Surveyor General’s office on May 30, 1855 and it was placed on his docket, but, for some unknown reason, was not acted upon as was the general rule in connection with the early claims. On December 8, 1870, J. Bonifacio Chaves, for himself as one of Mariano Chaves’ heirs and also as attorney for his other heirs and the residents of the towns of Los Lunas, Los Lentes, Peralta and Valencia, petitioned[3] Surveyor General T. Rush Spencer seeking the confirmation of the grant to Ana’s legal representatives. Chaves alleged that the eastern boundary of the grant was the “old bed of the Rio Grande which was from 3‑1/2 to 4 miles east of its 1872 location. He estimated that the grant contained 90,060 acres. No evidence was introduced to sustain his allegations that the grant had been timely settled and continuously occupied or connecting the claimants to the original grantee. By decision[4] dated November 18, 1871 Spencer found that the grant appeared to be genuine and complete. Continuing, he stated:

The only condition it imposes is believed to have been fulfilled in the execution of the Act of Possession within the six months prescribed and required, whereby the title in the grantee became unconditional and absolute.

 It is a well known fact that this tract has been occupied and extensively cultivated from an early period in the history of the territory. A number of small towns have existed upon it for very many years, and it is believed that there are at least three thousand inhabitants upon the grant.… The grant in this case being held by this office to have been made by competent authority, and to he absolute and complete, the same is hereby approved to the legal representatives of Ana de Sandoval y Manzanares, as a good and valid grant under the laws, usages of Spain and Mexico, … and the case is hereby transmitted far the action of Congress in the premises.

The inhabitants of the Town of Los Lunas filed an amended petition[5] on January 6, 1872 in which they advised Spencer that the petition and map which they had filed in the case was erroneous as to the tracts and boundaries of the grant in that:

 (1) the north boundary was too far north and thus included the Antonio Gutierrez Grant; (2) the south boundary was too far south and thus included the Nicolas Duran de Chaves Grant; and (3) the east boundary was erroneous in that it covered lands east of the river.

They asserted that the grant was only four miles from north to south and sixteen miles from east to west. In closing, they requested leave to correct and amend their petition accordingly. Notwithstanding the amendment of the petition by a portion of the claimants, a preliminary survey of the grant was made by Deputy Surveyors Sawyer & White in the spring of 1878 for 89,403.40 acres.[6] Their survey included the tract of land lying east of the river known as the Bosque de Pines and the Joaquin Sedillo and Antonio Gutierrez Grants. The inhabitants of the Pueblo of Isleta protested the approval of the survey on the ground that it included all of the Antonio Gutierrez Grant under which they claimed the greater portion. Surveyor General Henry M. Atkinson disregarded the amendment and protest and approved the survey­ on August 7, 1878.[7]

 A bill providing for the confirmation of the San Clemente Grant was introduced in the House of Representatives during the first session of the 47th Congress. The bill was referred to the House’s Committee on Private Land Claims which recommended its passage on June 20, 1882.[8] A similar recommendation was made by the same Committee on a like bill on January 27, 1886.[9] Notwithstanding the Committee’s favorable reports, no action was taken thereon by Congress.

Since the claim was still pending before Congress when he took office, it was one of the grants which was re-examined by Surveyor General George W. Julian pursuant to Commissioner William A. J. Sparks’ instructions[10] dated December 11, 1885. By Supplemental Opinion[11] dated November 5, 1886, Julian held that, although he believed that the grant papers were genuine, there were other considerations in the case. Continuing, he pointed out:

 There is no evidence of any right or title in the claimants to the tract described. They show no chain of title through which they derive any authority to ask the confirmation of the grant, and their unsupported averment of ownership cannot be received. The claim could only be confirmed by Congress to the heirs and legal representatives of the grantee, and as there are some thousands of residents end occupants of the tract they might thus be dispossessed of rights which otherwise they would be able to assert by occupancy and prescript on or under the laws of the United States. But if the title of the present claimants had been shown, I could not recommend the confirmation of the claim, because the grant was made on the express condition that the grantee should settle the land within six months. There is no evidence that this was done. The delivery of juridical possession does not prove a compliance with this condition, and it is not to be presumed in the absence of proof. For the reasons stated, I recommend the rejection of this claim by Congress. The inhabitants of the several towns named on the petition and the alleged representatives of the grantee are not without their remedy under their long continued and peaceable possession of the lands actually occupied by them; but that remedy cannot properly be sought through this office as founded on this grant and the facts shown in connection therewith. I therefore recommend the rejection of the claim by Congress.

Under the Act of March 3, 1891,[12] Congress established a Court of Private Land Claims, a judicial tribunal with jurisdiction over the adjustment and, confirmation of perfect and imperfect grants issued by the governments of Spain and Mexico situated in the Southwest and which previously had not been acted upon by Congress or other lawful authority. On January 21, 1893 J. Francisco Chaves, one of the legal representatives of the original grantee, filed a petition[13] in that court seeking the confirmation of the San Clemente Grant. Since the grant papers were genuine and the grant being indisputable, the trial of the cause was directed to the ascertainment of the north boundary, the other boundaries being well established objects whose locations afforded no ground for controversy. Chavez contended that the north boundary was at or near the south extremity of the Pueblo of Isleta Grant while the government asserted that it was located at the old pueblo of San Clemente, which was situated about five hundred yards south of the church at the present settlement of Los Lentes. Chavez, in his counter‑argument agreed that the line should be fixed as an east west line running through the old Pueblo of San Clemente, but argued that the old pueblo was located three or four miles further north. Thus the issue finally was joined upon the location of this pueblo. The question assumed very considerable importance from the fact that the strip of land lying between the two points included some of the richest agricultural lands in the Rio Grande Valley. A large amount of oral evidence was presented by Chavez in an effort to sustain his position. A considerable amount of documentary evidence was also presented by Chavez for the purpose of connecting himself with the original grantee and for the further purpose of showing that the parties deraigning title from the original grantee had for many years claimed and possessed land within the limits alleged by the government to be beyond the boundaries of the grant, thus raising a presumption that the government’s contention as to the northern boundary was erroneous. The government, in turn, introduced the testimony of a number of aged Indians from the Pueblo of Isleta showing that the ruins of the Pueblo of San Clemente was south‑east of the church of Los Lentes at a place abundantly marked by broken pottery, skeletons and other remains indicative of the former abode of a considerable settlement of Indians. In addition, a number of archives were introduced Showing that the Joaquin Sedillo and Antonio Gutierrez Grants were located between the old ruins of San Clemente on the south and the Pueblo of Isleta on the north; thus, clearly negativing the theory that the grant extended as far north as the Isleta lands. The government, in its closing argument of the case, contended that (1) the grant did not extend above the ruins of the Pueblo of San Clemente the location of which had been established by the preponderance of the evidence to be south of Los Lentes, and (2) the cause should be dismissed since the plaintiff had failed to connect himself with the grant, it having been shown on his cross-examination that the land in which he claimed an interest was entirely north of Los Lentes.

The Court, in an oral opinion dated August 19, 1896, sustained the government in both of its contentions and held that upon the pleadings and proof, as they then stood, the petition should be dismissed. Thereupon, Salomon Luna, who claimed an interest in the grant by inheritance, filed a petition setting up the fact that the suit was originally instituted by Chavez, not only for his own interest but for the benefit of all others interested in the grant, and praying that he be permitted to intervene as a co‑petitioner upon the understanding that the case should stand upon the proofs and arguments theretofore presented up to the Court. The Court granted the request. Luna’s interest in the grant appeared from proof of a line of ancestry running back to the original grantee. On September 4, 1896, the Court entered a decree[14] confirming the grant to the heirs and legal representatives of the original grantee but fixing the north boundary at the north limits of the settlement of Los Lentes, or about three‑quarters of a mile north of Los Lentes. The Court held that the words of the Act of Possession, “On the north, by a ruin that is a little above the Pueblo of San Clemente,” fixed the north boundary above that pueblo at the point ­where the Lands of the inhabitants of Los Lentes begins on the north.

The government’s attorney, in his report[15] to the Attorney General on the results of the case, stated:

While I am inclined to believe that under the proof, the north boundary as fixed by the decree of the Court is nearly a mile too far north, still the strip of land is thickly populated by a people who have for a century been cultivating end living upon the land. This confirmation will inure to their benefit and will simply preserve them in possession of rights which they have claimed and enjoyed for a century.

 In view of these equities end the ambiguous language of the granting papers, and in view of the further fact that the decree as entered is, * * * on the whole, a substantial victory for the government, I recommend that no appeal be taken.

Once the decision became final, a contract was awarded to Deputy Surveyor John H. Walker to survey the grant. The survey was made in November 1898, and showed that the grant, as confirmed, contained 37,099.29 acres. A patent for such land was issued on November 15, 1909.[16]

 

 


[1] H. Exec. Doc. No. 128, 42d Cong., 3d Sess., 31‑32 (1873).

[2] The San Clemente Grant, No. F‑3 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[3] The San Clemente Grant, No. 67 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[4] H. R. Exec. Doc. No. 128, 42d Cong., 3d Sess. 33 (1873).

[5] The San Cristobal Grant, No. 67 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] H.R. Report No. 1500, 47th Cong., 1st Sess.,1 (1882).

[9] H.R. Report No. 184, 49th Cong., 1st Sess., 1 (1886).

[10] S. Exec. Doc. No. 113, 49th Cong., 2d Sess.,2 (1887).

[11] S. Exec. Doc. No. 6, 50th Cong., 1st Sess., 2 (1887).

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

[13] Chavez v. United States, No. 64 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[14] 3 Journal 84 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[15] Report of the United States Attorney dated October 31, 1896 in Chavez v United States, (Mss. Records of the General Services Administration, National Archives, Washington, D.C.), Record Group 60, Year File 9865‑92.

[16] The San Clemente Grant, No. 67 (MSS., Records of the S.G.N.M.).