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Sitio de Juana Lopez Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Beatriz Perea de Armijo filed a suit[1] in the Court of Private Land Claims on February 11, 1893, seeking the confirmation of the Sitio de Juana Lopez Grant, which was bounded:

On the north, by the lands of the Sitio de Cienega; on the east, by the Sitio de los Cerrillos; on the south, by the skirts of the woods; and on the west, by a small willow and the slope of the Mesilla de Juana Lopez.

In her petition she pointed out that while there was no record evidence of the grant prior to December 30, 1762, she possessed a number of ancient documents showing that Bartolome Fernandez conveyed the grant to Jose de Alire on December 30, 1762; Alire sold it to Felipe Romero on July 9, 1770, who, in turn, conveyed it to Bernardo de Sena Martin on June 21, 1779. While there is a break in her chain of title at this point, she contended that Sena apparently conveyed the premises to Pedro Bautista Pino sometime prior to January 21, 1788, for the Act of Possession in the Sitio de Cerrillos Grant mentioned Pino as being that grant’s adjoining landowner on the west Next, she set forth a chain of title connecting herself with Pino. She also alleged that, based upon such facts, her title to the grant was complete and perfect at the date of the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Continuing, she asserted that there were no persons claiming an adverse interest in the property other than John Gwynn and Robert B. Willison, who had purchased certain lands within its boundaries under the public land laws, but if ever valid, they had long since been lost and barred. She further noted that the claim had never been presented to the Surveyor General’s office for examination nor had it been surveyed. The government filed a general answer putting the allegations contained in the petition as issue and Gwynn and Willison filed answers setting forth their claims under purchases from the United States.

The case came up for trial on September 10, 1894, at which time the plaintiff introduced her title papers, which were acknowledged to be genuine, and introduced oral testimony tending to prove that she and her predecessors had been in possession of the grant for about one hundred years. The government, in turn, introduced the title papers in the Los Serrillos Grant in an effort to show that in 1750 the Spanish government had refused to make a grant in the immediate vicinity of the Sitio de Juana Lopez Grant because the land was being used as a pasture for the horses of the royal garrison at Santa Fe.[2]  It also argued that this document barred the presumption that a valid grant had been made sometime prior to 1762. Perea, in an effort to offset this argument, introduced an incomplete instrument from the Archive relating to a dispute between the owners of the Sitio de Juana Lopez and the Sitio de los Serrillos over water rights. The document indicated that the Sitio de los Serrillos grant was the junior grant and had been made subject to the rights of third parties. Therefore, the owners of the Sitio de los Serrillos were ordered to rebuild certain water tanks.[3] Gwynn and Willison called the court’s attention to the fact that it had no authority to confirm the grant insofar as it covered lands which the United States previously had acted upon or disposed.

By decision dated September 29, 1894, the court held that the plaintiff and her predecessors had acquired title to the grant and confirmed it in accordance with the boundaries set forth in the petition, except for those portions which previously had been disposed of by the United States.[4] Since none of the parties were aggrieved by the decision, no appeal was taken. The grant was surveyed by Deputy Surveyor Walter C, Marmon in 1896, for 1,108.61 acres A patent was issued on December 17, 1897.[5]

[1] Perea v. United. States, No. 82 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[2] H.R. Misc. Doc. No. 181, 42nd Cong., 2nd Sess., 111 112 (1872).

[3] Archive No. 1326 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[4] 2 Journal 234 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[5] The Sitio de Juana Lopez Grant, No. F 230 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).