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Town of Abiquiu Grant

by J. J. Bowden

During the latter part of the first half of the Eighteenth Century the Spaniards mounted a fierce campaign against the hostile Indians who encircled the Northern frontiers of New Mexico. Following a number of successful engagements, the Spaniards secured the release of a number of half-breed Indian captives or Genízaros, who were settled in 1744 on the site of an ancient Yaqui Pueblo. This settlement was called the Pueblo of Santa Rosa de Abiquiu. On August 12, 1747, it was raided by the Utes. A number of its inhabitants were killed and the rest lost heart and moved to Santa Cruz. It was resettled soon afterwards and, in 1748, contained twenty families, hut because of further depredations by the Utes and Navajos, it was again abandoned. When the viceroy learned of the second failure of the settlement, he ordered Governor Tomas Vélez Cachupin to permanently re‑establish the pueblo in accordance with Law 8, Title 3, Book 6, of the Recopilación de Leyes de los Indios.[1] Pursuant to such instructions, Cachupin, on May 10, 1754, personally escorted the Genízaros back to Abiquiu. Upon arriving at the pueblo, Cachupin, in the presence of Fray Felix Joseph de Ordoñes y Machado and Juan Jose Lovato, Alcalde of the Pueblo of Santa Cruz, surveyed and granted to the Genízaros a tract of land described as being bounded:

On the north, by the Chama River; on the east by an arroyo; on the south, by the road of the Tiguas running to Navajo; and on the east, by Sierra Pelado looking towards the Rio de los Frijoles.

 The Commissary visitor to the Franciscan Missions of New Mexico, Fray Francisco Atanasio Dominguez, described the Pueblo of Abiquiu in 1776 as follows:

The Pueblo and Mission of Santa Rosa de Abiquiú is 9 very good leagues northwest of Santa Clara over a rough road with small hills and arroyos between them, all sandy, and with an occasional small level place. The pueblo stands on a triangular hill …. It is some 18 leagues from Santa Fe and lies to the northwest of the villa. This mission was recently founded by Don Tomas Vélez for Christian Genízaro Indians.

 He had it named the Pueblo and Mission of Santa Tomas de Abiquiu, but the settlers use the name Santa Rosa, as the lost mission was called in the old days.[2]

The Mexican officials undoubtedly recognized the validity of the Pueblo of Abiquiu Grant for its officials frequently passed on problems affecting it. In 1825 its inhabitants petitioned for and secured a distribution of individual farm tracts which they were occupying and using. This distribution was performed during the month of April, 1825, by Alcalde Juan Cristobal Quintana in obedience with a decree issued by Bartolome Baca, Governor of New Mexico. The proceedings were promptly reported to Baca, who on May 2, 1825, returned them to Quintana and requested him to clarify certain ambiguities contained in his report. On February 27, 1829, the inhabitants of the Pueblo of Abiquiu petitioned Manuel Armijo, Governor of New Mexico, seeking an official survey of the southern boundary of the grant. In response to this request, the boundary was surveyed as a straight line running from east to west through a point located on the Tigua Highway and near the edge of the Sierra Paladisa. Alcalde Miguel Quintana endorsed his approval on the report pertaining to these proceedings on March 19, 1829. Another document, which was dated October 10, 1831, pertained to the settlement of a boundary dispute between the owners of the Vallecita Grant and the inhabitants of the Pueblo of Abiquiu. In this document the south boundary of the grant was once again described as being located at an old landmark on the Tigua Highway to Navajo or 10,700 varas south of the center of the pueblo. In 1841 the Acting Alcalde of Santa Cruz, Maria Chavez, made additional allotments of land within the Pueblo of Abiquiu Grant.[3] Also a number of grants, each made subsequent to 1754, contained a call for adjoinder to the Pueblo of Abiquiu Grant or made reference to it by name. As a matter of fact, during the Spanish and Mexican regime, it was one of the best known grants in New Mexico.

Despite the constant efforts by the Mexican Government to stop the depredations of the Utes, Apaches, Navajos, and Comanches, it was never able to effectively stop them from pillaging the frontier settlements. Nor did peace come to the inhabitants of the Pueblo of Abiquiu with the assumption of jurisdiction over New Mexico by the Anglo-Americans. When General Stephen Watts Kearny marched into Santa Fe in 1846, he found that the territory had become callous to the forays of the wild savages. Even before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo bound the United States to constrain the hostile Indians, Kearny took affirmative steps to alleviate this problem. Colonel Alexander W. Doniphan with a strong detachment of troops was sent into the Navajo country to force them to seek peace. Two companies of the Army of the West were also stationed at the Pueblo of Abiquiu, which had long been recognized as a strategic barrier against the Utes and Apaches.[4]

On January 24, 1883, Jose M. C. Chaves, for himself and the other claimants of the Pueblo of Abiquiu Grant, petitioned Surveyor General Henry M. Atkinson requesting the confirmation of the concession. No action was taken on the application for nearly two years. In a long and detailed report dated October 28, 1885, Surveyor General George W. Julian advised Congress that the grant raised a number of interesting questions. First, he noted that the instrument produced and relied upon by the claimants as a testimonio of the grant had not been authenticated and, therefore, could not be considered as evidence in determining the validity of their claim. However, in fairness to the petitioners, he stated that the archives showed that the Spanish officials mentioned in the grant papers, at the time of the issuing of the concession, actually held the offices which the grant papers indicated and had authority to issue the grant or deliver possession of the premises. He also called attention to the recitation in the proceedings pertaining to the 1829 boundary dispute between the Pueblo of Abiquiu and the Town of Vallecito showed that an unsuccessful effort had been made to locate the expediente of the grant in the archives at Santa Fe and this could account for its absence from the archives which had been turned over the United States when it acquired New Mexico. Next, he turned his attention to the two documents which pertained to the distribution of farm lots among the inhabitants of the pueblo in 1825 and 1841.[5] He stated that in his opinion those two ancient documents probably were originals but the petitioners had not shown that they were genuine or when they were filed in the archives. Following this, he pointed out that in 1754 grants had to be approved by either the King, the Viceroy, or the Audiencia of Guadalajara and there was no evidence that the Pueblo of Abiquiu Grant had been approved. However, he was quick to explain that the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States applicable to similar grants had held that such confirmation could be presumed. Next, he raised the question as to whether the long continuous possession of the land by the inhabitants of the Pueblo of Abiquiu prefected a title by prescription. In answer to this issue he held that a title by prescription could not be acquired under either the laws of Spain, Mexico, or the United States. After appearing to have debunked the grant, Julian proceeded to build a case for the recognition of the claim. First, he stated that since there was no direct evidence that a valid grant had been issued, the applicants, if they were to prevail, would have to substantiate their claim with circumstantial evidence. He then stated that the only documents which could be found in the Archives of New Mexico pertained to the distribution of the individual lots and while insufficient to prove a valid grant by themselves, they did raise a presumption that the governor, Bartolome Baca, and Jose Antonio Chaves had some evidence of and were satisfied that a valid grant previously had been issued; otherwise, they would not have made the allocations. He noted that the Spanish Government had been very lenient towards the Christianized Indians and had issued numerous decrees designed to protect them and their rights, passing then to the oral testimony of the four aged witnesses who had testified that the residents of the Pueblo of Abiquiu had claimed and occupied the lands covered by the grant at all times during their memory. Their testimony also fixed its boundaries. Julian’s concluding question was, “On the basis of the documentary and oral evidence presented by the claimants, has a grant been established?” In answer thereto he stated that a careful survey of all papers and proof in the case indicated that the Spanish and Mexican Governments would probably have recognized the grant, and therefore, under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the United States was bound to confirm the petitioners’ claim which he estimated to contain 10,980 acres.[6]

Since Congress repeatedly failed to pass upon the grant, the creation of the Court of Private Land Claims afforded its claimants an opportunity to gain the recognition of their title. On December 5, 1892, Reyes Gonzales and Jose M. C. Chaves, as the owners of the undivided interests in the Pueblo of Abiquiu Grant, filed suit[7] against the United States praying for the confirmation of the grant unto them and their co‑owners. The government raised no special defenses at the trial and its attorney, in his Report[8] to the Attorney General, stated:

The title papers are all genuine and the repeated recognition of it by the Mexican Provincial Authorities under the Mexican Republic all attest to its genuineness. Repeated action was had from time to time in relation to it by the Provincial Authorities down to 1831 growing out of local disputes as to ownership of different parts thereof, all recognizing the validity of same.

After carefully considering the evidence submitted and requirements of both sides, the court issued a decree[9] confirming the grant on April 18, 1894. A survey of the grant was made by Deputy Surveyor Sherrand Coleman and showed the grant covered 16,547.20 acres. Coleman’s survey located the north boundary of the grant along the south bank of the Chama River. The claimants protested the approval of the survey on the grounds that the north boundary line should have been located along the Rio Chama as it ran in 1754. The court overruled the protest and approved the survey. A patent was finally issued by the Board of Grant Commissioners of the Abiquiu Grant on November 11, 1909.[10]


[1] This law provided, “The sites on which pueblos and reductions must be formed shall have convenience of water, land and wood, entrance and departure, and lands for cultivation, and an ejido of a league in length where the Indians can have their cattle without their mixing with those of the Spaniards.” Hall, The Laws of Mexico 61 (1885).

[2] Adams and Chavez, The Missions of New Mexico, 1776, 120 (1956). 

[3] The Town of Abiquiu Grant, No. 140 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[4] Stanley, The Abiquiu Story, 21 (n.d.); and Spencer, Cycles of Conquest, 170 (1962).

[5] Archive Nos. 61 and 65 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[6] The Town of Abiquiu Grant, No. 140 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[7] Gonzales v. United States, No. 52 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[8] Report of the United States Attorney dated February 7, 1894, in the Case of Gonzales v. United States (Mss., Records of the General Services Administration, National Archives, Washington, D. C.), Record Group 60, Year File 9865‑92.

[9] 2 Journal 86‑88 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[10] The Town of Abiquiu Grant, No. 140 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).