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Santa Barbara Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Valentin Martin, Eusebio Martin and Juan Olgin, for themselves and thirty-eight associates, petitioned Governor Fernando Chacon for permission to resettle the abandoned Town of Santa Barbara[1] and grant them the lands formerly belonging to that settlement. In a decision dated January 11, 1796 Chacon noted that the former inhabitants had forfeited their rights by abandoning the Town of Santa Barbara and authorized the petitioners to proceed with the re‑establishment of that settlement, provided at least fifty persons joined the project. He also granted them the lands they solicited and ordered the Chief Alcalde of Santa Cruz to place them in royal possession of the premises. In compliance with the governor’s instruction, Alcalde Manuel Garcia, on April 3, 1796, met the interested parties, who by that time numbered 77, at the grant. He set aside an area 3,400 varas in length in the valley of the river and another area 3,300 varas in length on the plain and directed them to occupy the abandoned towns adjacent to the two areas. Next, he allotted each of the settlers a tract of farm land 100 varas in length in either one or the other of said areas. Following the allocation of the farm lands, Garcia placed the grantees in royal possession of the grant, which he described as having the same boundaries as the first settlement of Santa Barbara, which were:

From east to west from the boundaries of the Pueblo of Picuris; on the south, a timbered hill which extends to the foot of the mountain Lo de Mora; on the north, the river which descends towards said pueblo.

The original grantees and their heirs and assigns held peaceful possession of the grant continuously after the delivery of possession. At the time the United States acquired jurisdiction over New Mexico there were three towns on the grant: Santa Barbara, El Llano, and El Llano Largo—and had a total population of about 200 families.[2]

On May 14, 1878 a petition[3] was filed in the Surveyor General’s office by Concepcion Leyva, Prudencio Martinez and Jose Domingo Abeyta, for themselves and their associates, asking for the confirmation of the grant. After taking the testimony of four witnesses, who were intimately familiar with the grant’s background, and considering a supporting brief filed by the claimants’ attorney, Surveyor General Henry M. Atkinson, in an opinion[4] dated March 12, 1879, held that while there was no evidence among the Spanish Archives that the grant was ever made, the muniments of title, which formed the basis of the claim, appeared to be genuine notwithstanding the fact that they were found in the possession of interested parties. In commenting upon the description of the grant contained in the testimonio, Atkinson stated that while the boundaries were not designated in either the petition or the governor’s decree, Garcia apparently described the boundaries of the abandoned tract and redesignated the same as the boundaries of the Town of Santa Barbara Grant. Although Garcia omitted the call for the eastern boundary of the grant in the Act of Possession, Surveyor General Atkinson found that the testimony of the witnesses “fixed the eastern boundary of the tract as the Narrow Pass of the Horse (Angostura del Caballo ...)”. In conclusion, he recommended the confirmation of the claim to the heirs and successors of the original grantees with the boundaries given in the Act of Possession as supplemented by the testimony of the witnesses in the case. Atkinson ordered Deputy Surveyor John Shaw to make a preliminary survey of the grant. He ran the survey in September, 1879, and it shows that the grant contained 18,489.23 acres.[5]

Since Congress failed to take any action on the claim the owners of the grant decided to present the matter to the Court of Private Land Claims for adjudication.[6] When the case came up for trial, the plaintiffs introduced the documentary evidence, which had been filed in the Surveyor Generals office, and oral evidence showing that they and their predecessors had held peaceful and undisturbed possession of the grant since its issuance. The United States presented no special defenses and, therefore, the Court had no alternative but to recognize the validity of the grant. In its opinion[7] dated September 29, 1894, the Court confirmed the concession to the heirs and descendants of the original grantees.

The grant was resurveyed in 1895 by Deputy Surveyor Albert F. Easley pursuant to Section 10 of the Act of March 3, 1891.[8] The Easley Survey showed that the grant contained 30,638.28 acres. Thus, the Santa Barbara was one of the few grants to be confirmed with a larger area than con­firmed in its preliminary survey. The grant was patented on May 5, 1905.[9]

[1] It is not known when the Town of Santa Barbara was originally founded or abandoned, however, it was mentioned as an existing settlement in 1751, in the grant papers of the Town of Las Trampas Grant.

[2] S. Exec. Doc. No. 63, 46th Cong., 3d Sess., 28‑37 (1881).

[3] The Santa Barbara Grant, No. 114 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Martinez v. United States, No, 96 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[7] 2 Journal 245‑247 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

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

[9] The Santa Barbara Grant, No. 114 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).