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Talaya Hill Grant

by J. J. Bowden

In or about the year 1731, the Governor of New Mexico granted a tract of land near Talaya Hill to Manuel Trujillo and ordered the Alcalde of Santa Fe to place the grantee in royal possession of his lands. In obedience to the governor’s order, Alcalde Diego Arias de Quiros, together with his attending witnesses and Trujillo proceeded to the premises sometime in April, 1731. Upon arriving at the grant, Quiros proceeded to designate the following natural objects as the boundaries of the property:

On the north, up the river from where Acequia has been taken out, which is in front of a penasco on the margin of said river at the first arroyo; on the east, with the mountain called Talaya; on the south, a deep arroyo; and on the west, a deep arroyo which is in front of the furnace together with the upper Acequia Madre, which also serves as the boundary.

Following the completion of the survey of the grant, Quiros had Trujillo perform the usual ceremony connected with the delivery of possession, such as “plucking up grass, casting stones, and shouting in testimony of his possession”.]

Following Trujillo’s death, the grant was partitioned between his two daughters, Maria Francisca and Antonio Mercela.[2] Antonio Mercela Trujillo conveyed her interest in the grant to Philipe Sandoval and Fernandez de la Pedrera in 1758,[3] and Francisca sold her interest to Maria Guadalupe de Archibeque on September 14, 1767.[4] A number of other in­struments in the archives make reference to the grant.5]

The claim was presented on January 16, 1874, to Surveyor General James K. Proudfit for investigation by the “heirs and legal representatives of Manuel Trujillo”, In their petition, the claimants stated they had been in uninterrupted and peaceable possession and enjoyment of the grant since 1731, and that they knew of no conflicting claims for the land. In support of their claim, they filed the testimonio of the Act of Possession. They requested an early hearing on their claim in order that they might present testimony “to prove the validity of their grant”. On March 24, 1874, Proudfit took the testimony of Mateas Uriosti, who stated he was familiar with the Talaya Hill Grant and knew that a grant had been made to Manuel Trujillo, for he had seen the testimonio of the grant. He had seen the grant papers in about 1834, and at that time they were in the possession of Blaz Ortiz, one of the owners of the grant. In connection with the occupation and use of the land, he stated:

The land has always been continuously occupied and cultivated since I have known it by said Blaz Ortiz, till his death about two years ago at the age of more than eighty years, and since then by those holding under him.

Only two questions were asked by the Surveyor General. The first was, “Do you know of any mines or minerals upon the Talaya Grant…?” To which Uriosti answered, “I have never seen anything of the kind upon the tract, though I have heard there was once a mine of some kind of metals worked at the foot of the Talaya Mountains, and I know that at the place before mentioned as the Fundacion there were metals smelted, though I never saw the operation.” The second was, “Have you any interest in the lands or in this claim for the same?” Answer: “I have none whatever.” In an effort to clear up the question of the missing grant papers, Luis Gold filed an affidavit in the Surveyor General’s Office, in which he stated that he had diligently searched for the documents but was unable to find any trace thereof. Continuing, he stated:

I bring a party interested by purchase in said land, and having a great desire to obtain said document of concession and file it with my claim for said land at the United States Surveyor General’s Office, and I do verily believe that the same has been lost or destroyed, so that there is no probability of finding or obtaining the same.

Based upon the petition, the Act of Possession which the claimants had filed, the testimony of one witness and Gold’s affidavit, Proudfit, in a brief opinion dated April 13, 1874, found that the lands had been granted to Trujillo on or before 1731 by a competent authority in the usual manner. Therefore, he recommended that the claim be confirmed to Trujillo’s legal representatives according to the boundaries set forth in the Act of Possession.[6] A preliminary survey of the grant was made by Deputy Surveyor Robert G, Marmon in October, 1878, for 1003.55 acres. The claimants never accepted this survey and contended that the eastern boundary should be located along the crest of Talaya Hill instead of its base. No further action was taken on the claim by any representative of the government until after the creation of the Court of Private Land Claims.[7]

Jacob Gold, who had acquired an interest in the grant by purchase, filed a suit in the Court of Private Land Claims on February 23, 1893, seeking the recognition of the interest held by the heirs and assigns of Manuel Trujillo to the alleged 2,000 acres of land covered by the grant.[8] When the case came up for hearing, Gold filed a transcript of the proceedings held in the Surveyor General’s office, together with copies of a number of documents from the archives which referred to the grant. He also introduced oral testimony and documentary evidence tending to establish a chain of title back to their original grantee, showing that he and his co‑owners and their predecessors had continuously occupied and used the grant since 1731, and that there were no adverse claims to their grant. While the government’s attorney concluded that the Act of Possession was probably genuine and that there was probably sufficient documentary evidence in the Archives to establish the fact that a grant had been made in favor of Trujillo[9] he pointed out that a major portion of the grant conflicted with the tract which the City of Santa Fe claimed by “operation of law”.

In a decision dated May 31, 1895, the court found the grant valid insofar as it did not conflict with the Santa Fe League, which the court had previously found to have been created by operation of law and, therefore, was presumed to have been made prior to the grant.[10] Gold appealed to the Supreme Court on the ground that he was “aggrieved” by the decision because it excepted from the confirmation the portion of the grant within the boundaries of the “Santa Fe League”. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal on October 17, 1898 because Gold failed to have the cause docketed in conformity with the rules of the Court.[11] In the meantime, the Supreme Court had reversed the Court of Private Land Claims’ decision confirming the City of Santa Fe’s claim to a four square league tract of land.[12] This raised a serious question as to the effect of the provision excepting from the confirmation the portion of the Talaya Grant lying within the Santa Fe League. In response to an inquiry from the Commissioner of the General Land Office, Chief Justice Joseph R. Reed, on June 15, 1898, stated:

… the opinion of this court is in no manner affected by the judgment of the Supreme Court in the “Santa Fe Case”, and the boundaries of the said “Talaya Hill' grant should be located as ordered in the decree.

Therefore, once the decision became final, the Surveyor General entered into a contract with Deputy Surveyor George H. Pradt for the surveying of the grant. Pradt surveyed the grant between September 30 and October 3, 1858. His work showed that the grant contained a total of 1,241.72 acres of land, of which 922.52 acres were within the Santa Fe League. Thus, the grant as confirmed contained 319.20 net acres. A patent for such land was issued on January 16, 1914.[13]

[1] S. Exec. Doc. No. 56, 43d Cong., 1st Sess., 37 (1874).

[2] Archive No. 970 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.)

[3] Ibid., No. 859.

[4] Ibid., No, 50.

[5] Ibid, Nos. 35, 344, and 858.

[6] S. Exec. Doc. No. 56, 43d Cong. 1st Sess., 40 (1874).

[7] The Talaya Hill Grant, No. 89 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.)

[8] Gold v. United States, No. 116 (Mss., Records of the Ct, Pvt. L. Cl.).

[9] It is interesting to note in this connection that the Act of Possession does not mention, the day of the month on which Quiros delivered possession or the name of the governor who allegedly made the grant. History shows that Governor Juan Domingo de Bustamonte was dismissed in 1731, after having been found guilty on a charge of illegal trade. He was succeeded by Governor Gervacio Cruzat y Gongora. It was also brought out during the trial that Matias Urisoti, the claimant’s only witness in the proceedings before the Surveyor General, was a professional begger. Ibid.

[10] 2 Journal 237‑239. The United States Supreme Court in United States v. Conway, 175 U.S. 60 (1899), stated “Nothing can be plainer from the language of the Private Land Claims Act than that lands that shall have been disposed of by the United States shall be excepted from the decree of confirmation (Sec. 8).…”

[11] Gold v. United States, 19 S. Ct. 887; 43 L. Ed. 1179 (1898) (mem.).

[12] United States v. Santa Fe, 165 U.S. 675 (1897).

[13] The Talaya Grant, No. 89 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).