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Sangre de Cristo Grant

by J. J. Bowden

The history of one of the largest and most interesting New Mexican Grants commences two days after Christmas in the year 1843, with the filing of a petition by a small boy and one of the most important men of Taos, New Mexico, in which they asked for a grant covering the lands situated in the valleys of the Costilla, Culebra, Trinchera Rivers The boy was Narciso Beaubien, the thirteen year old son of Charles Beaubien, and the man was Stephen Luis Lee, a naturalized citizen of Mexico. Beaubien and Lee advised Governor Manuel Armijo that the requested lands were ideally suited for cultivation and ranching purposes, and contained an abundance of water and all that was required for colonization and settlement.

The petition was referred by Armijo to Juan Andres Archuleta, the Prefect of Rio Arriba on December 30, 1843, with instructions to place the grantees in legal possession of the land. This order was countersigned by Donaciano Vigil, Acting Secretary of the Departmental Assembly. Archuleta, in turns, referred the matter to the Alcalde of Taos, Jose Miguel Sanchez in whose jurisdiction the grant was located and directed him to carry out the Governor’s decree provided the grant did not adversely affect the rights of any third party. On January 12, 1844, Sanchez went to the grant and made the following survey of its lands:

Commencing on the east side of the Rio Grande, a mound was erected at one league distance from its junction with the Costilla River, thence following up the river, on the same eastern bank to one league above the junction of the Trinchera River where another mound was erected, and continuing from west to northeast, following up the current of Trinchera River to the summit of the mountain, where another mound was established and following the summit of the mountain to the boundary of the lands of Miranda and Beaubien, the fourth mound was established, and continuing on the summit of the Sierra Madre and following the boundary of the aforementioned lands to opposite the first mound erected, on the Rio Grande where the fifth and last mound was erected, from thence in a direct line to the place of beginning.

After completing the survey, Sanchez performed the customary ceremony of delivering legal possession of the grant to the grantees.[1]

In 1845 the grantees attempted to establish a colony on the grant but the Utes drove the settlers back to Taos. It does not appear that the grantees made any further attempt to colonize the land prior to the acquisition of the territory by the United States, but livestock was apparently pastured on the grant whenever the Indian situation would permit. Both of the grantees were slain during the Taos Massacre on January 19, 1847. Charles Beaubien inherited his son’s interest in the grant. Lee’s personal effects proved insufficient to pay the numerous claims which were presented against his estate. Therefore, his administrator, Joseph Pley, with the approval of the Probate Court sold Lees undivided one-half interest in the grant to his father-in-law, Charles Beaubien, for one hundred dollars. Agricultural settlements were established by Beaubien on the Costilla and Culebra Rivers in 1849 and 1851, Thereafter, population on the grant rapidly increased. [2]

One of the first petitions[3] presented to Surveyor General William Pelham upon his arrival at Santa Fe was Charles Beaubien’s seeking the confirmation of the Sangre de Cristo Grant. In his report dated December 30, 1856, Surveyor General Pelham found the grant to have been made by a competent authority without any conditions, He therefore recommended that Congress confirm Beaubien’s title to all the lands described in his petition. Congress, on June 21, 1860, passed an act[4] validating Beaubien’s title to the grant as recommended for confirmation by the Surveyor General.

It then became important to determine the mean­ing of the term “as recommended for confirmation by the Surveyor General.” John G. Tameling attempted to homestead a 160‑acre tract of land located within the boundaries of the grant. He claimed that since the colonization law of August 18, 1824 limited the maximum amount of land which could be granted to an individual to eleven leagues, that the grant insofar as it covered more than twenty-two leagues was void. He insisted that inasmuch as the Surveyor Generals Report stated that Lee and Beaubien were the legal owners in fee of said claim and since they could not be the legal owners of more than twenty-two leagues, it must follow that the recommendation was for only the maximum amount of land which the grantees could legally receive under the Mexican Law. The United States Freehold Land and Emigration Company, which, in the meantime had purchased the portion of the grant known as the Costilla Estate from Beaubien filed an ejectment suit against Tameling in the District Court of Pueblo County, Colorado. The case was tried upon an agreed statement of facts. Judgment was for the plaintiff in the trial court and the case was appealed to the Supreme Court of the Territory of Colorado. The Colorado Supreme Court stated:

We must regard it as a valid confirmation for the entire tract, or treat the act of Congress as void, and conferring no rights on Lee and Beaubien, for it nowhere points out the location of a less quantity than the whole.[5]

The Court concluded its opinion by holding that the unconditional confirmation of the grant by Congress amounted to a grant de novo to the whole claim without regard to the question of whether or not the claim was originally valid. This decision subsequently was affirmed by the United States Supreme Court.[6]

The Secretary of Interior on March 16, 1877, advised the Commissioner of the General Land office that the decision of the Supreme Court in the Tameling case[7] must be taken as the true construction of the act of June 21, 1860,[8] and patent should be issued to Beaubien for all of the lands described in the testimonio notwithstanding the fact that the grant covered more than twenty­-two leagues.[9] Pursuant to the decision, a contract was entered into with Deputy Surveyor E. H. Kellog to survey the grant. Kellogs survey was made in 1877 and showed the grant as containing 998,780.46 acres, Patent based on this survey was issued on December 20, 1880.[10]

For the next ten years, the validity o the Sangre de Cristo Grant was universally recognized. However, on May 9, 1890, O. P. McMains who represented certain homesteaders who had unsuccessfully attempted to settle within the grant urged the Commissioner of the General Land Office to cause a suit to be instituted to set aside the patent on the grounds that in 1843 the lands covered by the grant were in Texas. If this were true, then Governor Armijo, of course, had no authority to make an extra‑territorial grant. Secretary of Interior John N. Noble, in a decision dated August 22, 1890, declined to recommend such a suit. He pointed out that even if the land had been located within the Republic of Texas on the date the grant had been made, Texas had sold the land in question to the United States under the Compromise of 1850[11] and therefore, they unquestionably belonged to the government when the grant was confirmed. Under the decision of the Tameling case, it would make no difference if the grant was valid or not, since the act of June 21, 1860[12] quit claimed all of its interest in the lands to Beaubien.[13]

The turbulent history of the subsequent exploitation of the grant by speculators both foreign and domestic, while extremely interesting, need not be pursued in this brief account of the grant.[14]     

[1] H. R. Report No. 457. 35th Cong., 1st Sess., 4‑6 (1858).                                                                                                          

[2] H. R. Report No. 321, 36th Cong., 1st Sess., 7‑15 (1860).

[3] The Sangre de Cristo Grant: No. 14 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[4] An act to confirm certain private land claims in the Territory of New Mexico, Chap. 167, 12 Stat. 71 (1860).

[5] Tameling v. United States Freehold & Emigration Co., 2 Colo. 411 (1874).

[6] Tameling v. United States Freehold & Emigration Co., 3 Otto (93 U.S.) 644 (1877).

[7] Ibid

[8] An act to confirm certain private land claims in the Territory of New Mexico Chap, 167, 12 Stat. 71 (1860).

[9] The Sangre de Cristo Grant, No. 14 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[10] Ibid

[11] Compromise of 1850 (Texas and New Mexico), Chap,. 49, 9 Stat. 446 (1850).

[12] An act to confirm certain private land claims in the Territory of New Mexico, Chap, 167, 12 Stat. 71 (1860). This question was finally settled by the New Mexico Supreme Court which held, “It is urged upon us by Counsel for the plaintiffs that the Las Vegas Grant is not within the portion of New Mexico protected by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo being originally a part of the State or Republic of Texas. The trial court properly rejected this contention,” Cartwright v. Public Service Company of New Mexico, 66 N.M. 64 343 P. 2d 654 (1959).

[13] Sangre de Cristo Grant, 11 L.D. 203 (1890).

[14] A number of writers have written on the Sangre de Cristo Grant. These include Hafen, “Mexican Land Grants in Colorado,” 4 Colorado Magazine, 83‑86 (1927) Carr, “Private Land Claims in Colorado,” 25 Colorado Magazine 15‑18 (1951); Carr, “The Sangre de Cristo Grant,” The Westerners Brand Book, 1947 61‑83 (1949) Herstrom, “Sangre de Cristo Grant,” The Westerners Brand Book, 1960; 73‑103 (1961); and Brayer, William Blackmore: The Spanish and Mexican Land Grants of New Mexico and Colorado, 59‑125 (1949).