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The Romulo Barela Grant

by J. J. Bowden                      

Romulo Barela, an influential citizen of El Paso del Norte, petitioned Commissioner of Emigration, Guadalupe Miranda, for a league of land lying west of the Rio Grande River between the Miranda and Santa Teresa Grants. Barela stated that he desired to plant an orchard on such lands. Commissioner Miranda found that the lands requested by Barela consisted only of sand hills and marshes, and that they were, therefore, not suitable for colonization. He further found that the occupation of such land by Barela would be in the interest of the general public welfare. Therefore, on June 26, 1853, Commissioner Miranda granted Romulo Barela the following described tract of land which was located on the west bank of the Rio Grande River about five miles northwest of El Paso del Norte:

Beginning at a point a little above the ford or crossing on the Rio Grande River known as Muleros ford; thence north along the west bank of the river 4,000 varas to Piedras Paradas; thence west 5,000 varas to a mound on the top of a sand hill; thence south 5,000 varas to the lands of Guadalupe Miranda; thence east 5,000 varas along the north line of the Guadalupe Miranda Grant to the place of beginning. The concession to Barela was purportedly made in conformity with the third article of the Colonization Law of January 15, 1849, and article eighteen of the Colonization Regulations of May 22, 1851.

Immediately after the grant was issued, Romulo Barela attempted to plant some fruit trees on the grant, but the enterprise failed. Thereafter, Barela occasionally used the lands as a pasture for his livestock and irregularly cut and gathered fire wood off of the land. Romula Barela died in 1870, and was survived by his son, Romulo E. Barela, and Guadalupe Bermudez, Juan M. Bermudez, and Ygnacia Bermudez, the children and heirs of Guadalupe Barela de Bermudez, deceased, who was the daughter of Romulo Barela. Sometime after Romulo E. Barela’s death, his son found a copy of the grant among his father’s papers. After Romulo Barela’s death, the lands were used by Romulo E. Barela’s tenants, Maria Ruidos and Jose Marujo. They pastured a small herd of cattle on the land until 1876. Apparently no further use was made of the grant by the claimants after 1876.

On April 1, 1902, Romulo E. Barela and his co‑heirs filed suit in the Court of Private Land Claims for the confirmation of their claim.[1] A representative of the government, upon making an on‑the‑ground examination of the premises covered by the Barela Grant, found that there were a number of persons asserting adverse claims to a portion of the lands covered by the Barela Grant. The government filed a motion requesting that all interested parties be brought into the case. On May 14, 1902, the Court issued an order requiring the claimants to make all the adverse claimants parties defendants.

The case was set for hearing on June 24, 1903. At the trial, the plaintiffs offered into evidence their muniments of title together with oral testimony and certain depositions taken in El Paso, Texas, on May 16, 1903. Such testimony and depositions were offered in support of the allegations contained in the plaintiff’s petition. In its cross‑examination of the witnesses, the government brought out the fact that Romulo Barela was not a member of any colony, but was in fact actually a resident of El Paso del Norte on the date that the grant was issued to him. The government was also able to prove that the lands embraced within the grant had never been permanently occupied or improved.

The Court issued its decision in the case on June 26, 1903, the same day that it decided the Sanchez case. The issues involved in the Barela and Sanchez cases were practically identical. The Court held that it was apparent from the title papers in the case that the Barela Grant was not within the boundaries of any civil colony, that it was not made as a distribution of colony land, but that it was an individual grant made wholly independent of the founding or administration of any colony. The Court, therefore, found that Commissioner Miranda had no authority to make such an individual grant. Based on its decision in the Sanchez case, the Court ordered the rejection of the grant and the dismissal of the claimant’s petition.[2]

Although the claimants gave notice of their intention of appealing the decision to the United States Supreme Court, they did not perfect such an appeal. By failing to appeal the decision, their claim was finally rejected and the lands covered by the Barela Grant were returned to the vacant public domain.

The Barela case was the final case tried before the Court of Private Land Claims. The Court continued in existence for almost a year after the decision in the Barela case but it only conducted routine business and approved grant surveys.

[1] Barela v. United States, No. 281 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[2] Barela v. United States, No. 282, Ct. Pvt. L. Cl. (1903).