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Santa Cruz Grant

by J. J. Bowden



During his successful entrada into New Mexico in the fall of 1692, Governor Diego de Vargas subdued twenty-three Indian pueblos and restored the capitol at Santa Fe to the Spanish Empire. Following his return to El Paso del Norte, Vargas quickly formulated plans for the recolonization of New Mexico. While most of the New Mexicans who had been driven out in 1680 expressed a willingness to return to their former homes, they were in such a destitute condition that it was obvious they could not make the move without assistance. Therefore, the Royal Treasury advanced Vargas forty thousand pesos to finance the enlistment of one hundred soldiers to staff the presidio, which was to be reestablished at Santa Fe, and to gather, transport and purchase supplies of the colonists who agreed to join Vargas in the reoccupation of Santa Fe. The Viceroy, Condi de Galve, also agreed to send Vargas a number of families from Mexico City who had volunteered to join in the refounding of the Northern Province.

After several months of preparations, the colonization expedition was ready to start. It consisted of one hundred soldiers, seventy families, some widows, single persons and servants, and seventeen Franciscan friars, in all, over 800 persons. Of the seventy families, twenty-seven were Negroes and mestizos, rounded up by Vargas at Zacatecas, Sombrerete and Fresnillo. The balance were full-blooded Spaniards, most of whom were former residents of New Mexico. On October 4, 1693, the main body of the expedition pulled out of El Paso del Norte amid great pomp and ceremony. After a difficult trip and minor skirmishes at a number of the pueblos, the expedition finally arrived at Santa Fe, which was retaken on December 30, 1693, following a two-week siege. With the recapture of Santa Fe, the Spaniards regained a tenuous foothold in New Mexico. Only four of the twenty three pueblos fulfilled the promises they had made in 1692.[1]

The success or failure of the recolonization of New Mexico hinged upon the colony’s success in enduring the terrific hardships which it faced on the isolated frontier. The continuing hostility of most of the pueblo Indians prevented the colonists from planting their fields and they were forced to live off the grain seized from the enemy. Early in June, 1693, Vargas sent the Viceroy a report in which he called attention to the destitute condition of the colonists at Santa Fe. They did not have a single head of livestock and had only 500 horses. Since they were constantly on guard duty, they had little or no opportunity to plant a spring crop or in any way provide for their self-support. Therefore, Vargas requested additional supplies. The immediate economic plight of the city was increased with the arrival, on June 23, 1694, of the sixty-six and a half families consisting of 234 persons who had been sent to Santa Fe from Mexico City by the Viceroy. While the arrival of these reinforcements insured the military success of the reconquest, the additional mouths severely taxed Vargas’ dwindling resources. Conditions would undoubtedly worsen before they improved for at this very time more immigrants were being recruited in Mexico by Captain Juan Paez Hurtado.

Realizing that the continual supplying of Santa Fe from Mexico would be unreliable and expensive, Vargas decided to risk an immediate offensive campaign to crush the Indians’ resistance before winter arrived. After a short, but humane campaign, all of the pueblos, except Picuris and Taos, were pacified. However, once peace was restored, the Spaniards could no longer seize the Indians’ grain. Thereafter, the colonists were temporarily totally dependent on Mexico for food supplies. To alleviate this dangerous situation, Vargas decided to reoccupy the ruined and abandoned Spanish haciendas in valleys surrounding Santa Fe, where both land and water were limited, but would also provide a buffer zone between the capitol and Apaches.[2]

On March 18, 1695, Vargas ordered Lieutenant Governor Luis Granillo, Sergeant Juan Ruiz de Casares, and Alcalde Matias Lujan to reconnoiter the Santa Cruz River Valley for a suitable place to settle the immigrants from Mexico City. They found the lands in the vicinity of the Pueblos of San Cristobal and San Lazaro to be ideal.[3] Since the lands upon which these two pueblos were located formerly had belonged to Spaniards, Vargas had no compunction against ordering their inhabitants to vacate the lands and improvements in order that the Mexico City colonists might settle in the comfortable quarters offered by the pueblos. He directed the inhabitants of San Lazaro to return to San Juan and those of San Cristobal to move to the Canada de Chimayo. While the Indians raised no objections to Vargas’ decree directing them to move, they requested permission to plant and harvest their annual crops of maize before they were required to vacate the premises. On March 20, 1695, Vargas, after carefully reconsidering the matter, held that the inhabitants of San Lazaro could either return to San Juan or join the inhabitants of San Cristobal. However, the prompt surrender of the lands at San Lazaro was essential in order to give the Mexico City immigrants an opportunity to plant crops that year and thereby become self-sufficient. Since the immigrants being raised by Hurtado, who were to be settled at San Cristobal, would not arrive in time to plant a crop, Vargas saw no reason why the removal of the San Cristobal Indians could not be postponed until after harvest time. Therefore, he granted their request to that extent.[4]

On April 19, 1695, Governor Vargas, after having been advised that the Indians had vacated the pueblo of San Lazaro, proceeded with the resettlement of all of the Mexico City immigrants at that San Lazaro in order that they might:

… be together without the intrusion of any others, in view of their union, and in order that they may be contented, they having come from one place and country .... (and he designated) the said pueblo, its dwelling houses, its cleared agricultural lands, drains, irrigation ditches, and dam or dams which the said native Indians had and did have for irrigation and for the security of raising their crops...[5]

In connection therewith, Vargas granted the new settlers:

… the woods, pastures and valleys which the said natives had and enjoyed, without prejudice to the farms and ranches which lie within the limits and district, and all of that which it covers and may contain as far as the pueblos of Nambe, Pojoaque Jacona, San Ildefonso, Santa Clara and San Juan de los Caballeros, giving these as the boundaries of the tract which the settlement may enjoy, hold and have, and which I make a seat and town, and also possession of the houses which may be given or assigned to them in person; and furthermore, the honorary title of “Villa Nueva de Santa Cruz de Espanoles Mexicanos del Rey Nuestro Senor Carlos Segundo,” which in the name of His Majesty, I give to said settlement, and I constitute and grade it as the first new settlement, and as such it shall enjoy priority of settlement, with the understanding that this city of Santa Fe is the first, and in it only shall be held the election of the members of the illustrious council, but each shall have its civil authority, which shall be composed of an alcalde mayor and war captain and lieutenant, with the title of captain of militia, Alferez, and sergeant, the said settlement being limited to four squad corporals and Alguazil de Guerra who shall go out on scouting expeditions with the said captain of militia and other officers alternating every month, and they shall have this type and form of government because of being on the frontier... Since I have given them cleared and broken land and of known fertility, with their drains and irrigation ditches and dams in good condition and with the irrigation secured, and also new houses, because the said pueblo is new, and they have nothing to do but to go and live in them and make use of the lands …[6]

In addition to their grant and ready made homes, it was also agreed that the colonists were to be transported to the grant at government expense and each family would be furnished with beef, half a fanega of seed corn, farm tools and implements with firearms. What more could a colonist ask in order to begin a new life? However, it should be remembered that these families were all of “good character” and had been advised by the Viceroy that they were “noble settlers” and would be rewarded with the honors which belonged to them as colonizers.[7]

The Mexico City families left Santa Fe at nine o'clock on the morning of April 21, 1695, and arrived at Santa Cruz on the following day, whereupon Vargas performed the formal ceremony of placing the settlers in possession of the grant without prejudice to the boundaries of the land belonging to the adjoining pueblos. At this time, he also granted the settlers “all the minerals which might be found on the Chimayo Mountain range.”[8]  At this point, Governor Vargas had to return to Santa Fe to attend to certain business which required his personal presence, but he directed Lieutenant Governor Granillo to allot and distribute a separate farm tract to each family “sufficient for the planting of one-half a fanega of maize.” On the way back to Santa Fe, Vargas stopped at the Pueblo of San Cristobal and reconfirmed the permission he had given the Indians to plant and harvest their chops before moving. However, he ordered them to immediately commence the construction of a new pueblo at the Cañada de Chimayo in order to have it ready for occupancy during the month of October of that year.[9]

Captain Hurtado arrived at Santa Fe on May 9, 1695, with forty‑four families which he had induced to migrate from Zacatecas to New Mexico. They were temporarily lodged in the quarters vacated by the Mexico City colonists since they could not be settled at San Cristobal at that time.[10]  It would appear that sometime prior to the first of December, 1695, the Indians were moved out of San Cristobal and the Hurtado colonists replaced them. It also seems that instead of settling the Indians in their new pueblo in the Cañada of Chimayo, which apparently was also called San Cristobal, Vargas changed his mind and ordered them to move to Galisteo. Whereupon, the Indians rebelled and fled to the Chimayo Mountains with their belongings.[11] Vargas was not able to pacify these Indians until 1697, at which time he forced them to temporarily settle at Galisteo.[12]  However, due to the adverse conditions at Galisteo, they were permitted to move back to the upper Santa Cruz Valley a few years later.

On July 2, 1697, Pedro Rodriguez Cubero succeeded Vargas as Governor. During the next six years, there was little progress in New Mexico, It was a period noted for the political bickering between Vargas and Cubero. Much to the dismay of Vargas, Cubero encouraged the settlers at the Villa of Santa Cruz, which by this time included the Spanish settlements at both San Lazaro and the original pueblo of San Cristobal, to scatter into the outlying sections, thereby causing the virtual abandonment of this strategic bulwark for the defense of the northern frontier of New Mexico. Vargas succeeded Cubero and took over the duties of Governor on November 30, 1703.[13]

Less than a month later the remnants of the Villa of Santa Cruz petitioned Vargas seeking the confirmation of their grant which they described as being bounded:

On the north, by the lands of the Indians of San Juan; on the east, by the lands of the Indians of San Cristobal; on the south, by the Mesilla de San Ildefonso; and on the west, by the Rio Grande.

They stated that Cubero had refused to recognize the grant on the grounds that there was “no instrument to show that the land had been granted to them.”[14] Vargas notified the petitioners on December 1, 1703, that they should present their petition to the Judge of the Court of Inquiry when he arrived. On February 9, 1704, the inhabitants of Santa Cruz again petitioned Vargas stating that the Judge of the Court of Inquiry had not arrived and requesting prompt action on their petition; because they feared that if the grant was not confirmed by planting time, the Indians from the adjoining pueblos would attempt to appropriate the lands. Vargas advised the Alcalde of Santa Cruz to inform all of the interested parties that he would investigate the matter during his next general visit to Santa Cruz. Vargas arrived at the Villa of Santa Cruz on February 13, 1704, and found it depopulated except for six families. However, there were sixteen families living on ranches in the area who had received grants from Cubero. Thirty-eight other persons petitioned the Governor for the recognition of their separate titles to a number of individual farm tracts which had been purchased or inherited from some of the original grantees. After investigating the merits of the petition, Vargas granted the land to the petitioners in accordance with their petition of December 1, 1703, but without prejudice to the new settlers. However, he prohibited the Alcalde of Santa Cruz under penalty of loss of office from authorizing sales made in violation of the law forbidding the alienation of the individual allotments for a period of four years from the date of the grant.[15] Shortly thereafter, Santa Cruz developed into one of the most populace and important cities in New Mexico. At the time the United States acquired New Mexico, it was known as one of the “wildest” towns in the southwest. Joseph Miller states that before railroad times, it was a “holy terror” and that the “only decent folks in it were the French Padre... and a German named Becker,” who had the government forage station.[16]

Thus, it is not surprising to find Frank Becker filing suit[17] for himself and on behalf of the other heirs and legal representatives of the original grantees against the United States in the Court of Private Land Claims on March 2, 1893, for the confirmation of the Santa Cruz Grant. Becker asserted that the grant contained approximately 64,000 acres and was bounded:

On the north, by the league of the San Juan Pueblo Indians; on the east, by and including the lands of the ruined Pueblo of San Cristobal and the upper and lower Cañadas; on the south, by the leagues of the San Ildefonso, Pojoaque and Nambe Pueblo Indians; and on the west, by the Rio Grande.

The case came up for trial on November 28, 1896. The plaintiff tendered as evidence their title papers, the genuineness of which was beyond dispute and oral testimony showing that the grant had been occupied and used since time immemorial. The government, in turn, offered oral testimony tending to show that the claim extended no further east than the Cañada de Chimayo. Becker rejoined by arguing that its eastern boundary was located along the ridge of the Chimayo Mountains which were also known as Sierra Mosca. In its closing argument, the government contended that while a grant had been made at an early date, the 1704 proceedings showed that the original settlement had been abandoned and that a large number of persons applied for and received confirmation of only their individual strips of land. In the alternative, the government argued that the grant was a community grant and, therefore, under the Supreme Court’s decision on the San Miguel del Vado Grant,[18] any confirmation should be limited to the lands held by the residents of the grant in severalty. Continuing, the government argued that if either of these contentions were correct the claim should be rejected since the plaintiff had failed to allege and prove the extent of such claims or connect themselves with the original grantees.

On September, 5, 1899, the Court announced its opinion confirming the grant[19] as a community grant to the extent of the agricultural or valley lands lying in the valley of the Santa Cruz River as far east as Chimayo and also the lands on the east bank of the Rio Grande lying between the patented lands of the Pueblos of San Juan and Santa Clara. Thus, the Court sustained the government’s arguments concerning the character of the grant papers and the extent of the claim, but overruled its contentions that the claim should be rejected due to the plaintiff’s failure to connect themselves to the original grantees and delineate each of the individual allotments. In its formal decision dated December 11, 1900, the Court confirmed the grant to the plaintiff for the use and benefit of all settlers owning and holding any specific piece or parcel of land within the following described tract of land:

Beginning on the south boundary of the San Juan Pueblo league as surveyed and patented at its intersection with the east bank of the Rio Grande, thence east along the south boundary of the San Juan Pueblo league to the brow of the elevation first east of the Rio Grande; thence along said brow to the brow of the elevation first north of the Santa Cruz River; thence in an easterly direction along said brow last mentioned to a point due north of the junction of the Quemado and Santa Cruz Rivers; then due south through said junction to the brow of the elevation next south of Santa Cruz River; thence westerly along the brow of said elevation to the east boundary of the Santa Clara Pueblo league; thence north along said east boundary to the north boundary of the Santa Clara Pueblo league; thence west along said north boundary to the east bank of the Rio Grande, and thence north along said east bank to the point of beginning.[20]

The government’s attorney in his report on the case to the Attorney General stated that while the decision probably was not technically correct, he did not feel that an appeal would be successful and even if successful, the holders of the lands in question could still secure title under the small holdings section of the Act. As a result of this report, the government did not appeal the decision.[21]

The grant was surveyed by Deputy Surveyor Joseph F. Thomas in May and June, 1901, for 4,567,60 acres. The grant was patented on July 7, 1910.[22]


[1] Espinosa, Crusaders of the Rio Grande 35‑162 (1942).

[2] Ibid., 176‑224.

[3] Many of the inhabitants of San Lazaro had lived at the Pueblo of San Juan but had formed a new pueblo at that site after 1680. The San Cristobal was located about four leagues southeast of San Juan and one league from San Lazaro. It was inhabited by a tribe of Tano Indians who, before the Pueblo Revolt, had lived southwest of Santa Fe, but had moved to the Santa Cruz Valley due to the hostility of the Pecos Indians, Ibid., 78.

[4] Archive No. 882 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Espinosa, Crusaders of the Rio Grande 113 (1942).

[8] Archive No. 882 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Espinosa, Crusader of the Rio Grande 233 (1942). One can certainly understand the Indians not wanting to move to the uninviting Galisteo area. They undoubtedly were resentful over this change in plans for they had agreed to vacate San Lazaro and San Cristobal only in consideration of Vargas’ promise to grant them the lands in the Cañada de Chimayo. 2 Twitchell, Spanish Archives of New Mexico 246 (1914).           

[12] Espinosa, Crusaders of the Rio Grande 303 (1942).

[13] Ibid., 311‑354.

[14] It is difficult to understand this statement for Archive No. 882 was undoubtedly in the Archives at Santa Fe. Perhaps it has reference to the fact that Vargas had not made a separate grant to 44 colonists who had been settled at San Cristobal or to the fact that the grant covering the lands of San Lazaro did not specify the location of its eastern boundary.

[15] Becker v. United States, No. 194 (Mss., Records of Ct. Pvt. L, Cl.). A copy of these proceedings were discovered in the National Archives at Mexico City.

[16] Miller, New Mexico A Guide to the Colorful State 296 (1962)

[17] Becker v. United States, No. 194 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.). Thomas Cabeza de Baca petitioned Surveyor General T. Rush Spencer on April 2, 1872, for the recognition of his claim to a tract of land known as the Rancho de Santa Cruz Grant which he had acquired by inheritance from his great grandfather, Luis Maria Cabeza de Baca. This tract was described as being bounded:

On the north, ____________________: on the cast, the top of the Ceja between the Santa Fe River and the Rio Grande; on the south, a point near the north line of the Cochiti Indian Reserve; and on the west, the Rio Grande.

The tract was described as extending 12 miles from east to west and 8 miles from north to south. No documentary evidence accompanied the petition other than Luis Maria Cabeza de Baca’s will. Baca stated that he believed that a grant had been made by authority of the Spanish crown to his great grandfather sometime prior to 1824, and the original title papers had been lost. The Surveyor General’s office took no action on the claim. The Rancho Santa Cruz Grant, No. F103 (Mss,, Records of the S.G.N.M.). It would appear that this claim was either an allotment under the Santa Cruz Grant or out of the individual grant made by Governor Cubero. Baca tiled suit for the confirmation of his claim in the Court of Private Land Claims on March 2, 1893. Baca v. United States, No. 181 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.). He alleged that his claim covered approximately 60,000 acres. On May 14, 1898, the government filed a demur in which it pointed out that the plaintiff’s petition did not set forth sufficient facts to show that a complete and perfect grant had been made by Spain or Mexico. Baca filed a motion on July 6, 1898, announcing that he no longer wished to prosecute his claim. Whereupon, the court dismissed his petition and rejected the claim, 4 Journal 16 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.). Francisco A. Romero filed suit in the Court of Private Land Claims on March 3, 1893, seeking the confirmation of a grant which allegedly had been made to Francisco Xavier Romero by Governor Felix Martinez on October 17, 1716. Romero v. United States, No. 262 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.). The grant was described as being bounded:

On the north, by the river; on the east, by the lands of Antonio Silva; on the south, by the hills; and on the west, by the ditch of the Mexican river families.

The claim was supported by Archive No. 741 which showed that Romero had petitioned Martinez asking for the revalidation of a grant of one fanega of corn planting land and a half fanega of wheat planting land which had been granted to him by Governor Pedro Rodriguez Cubero in 1696. The revalidation was requested since the original grant paper was badly “mouse eaten”. Martinez found that justice was on the side of petitioners and granted the request. He also directed the Alcalde of Santa Fe to place him in possession of the premises. When the case came up for trial on December 11, 1900, the government pointed out that the grant was apparently merely an allotment since it was located within the Santa Cruz Grant, which had just been confirmed by the Court on that very same day. Whereupon, the plaintiff announced that he no longer wished to prosecute his suit. As a result of his action, the Court dismissed his petition and rejected the grant without prejudice to his rights, if any, under the Santa Cruz Grant. 4 Journal 230 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[18] United States v. Sandoval, 167 U.S. 278 (1897).

[19] 4 Journal 231 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[20] Ibid.

[21] Report of the United States Attorney dated January 15, 1901, in the case Becker v United States (Mss., Records of the General Series Administration, National Archives, Washington, D.C.), Record Group 60, Year File 9865‑92.

[22] The Santa Cruz Grant, No. C.D. 194 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).