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Town of Alameda Grant

by J. J. Bowden
 

Francisco Montes Vigil, a resident of Santa Fe, petitioned Governor Jose Chacon Medina Salazar y Villaseñor asking for a grant covering the tract of land known as Alameda.[1] In support of his request, he reminded Chacon that he was among the settlers who emigrated to New Mexico from Zacatecas in 1695 and since that time, he had participated in all of the efforts to pacify the Indians. Continuing, he pointed out that, since he was retiring from the army and had acquired a small start of cattle, he needed the tract in order to maintain his family, which was large, and also as a pasturage for his animals. On January 2, 1710 Chacon granted the requested lands to Vigil as a “special title in consideration of his faithful service and as an accommodation to his family. The granting decree closed with instructions to the Alcalde of Albuquerque to place Vigil in royal possession of the grant. In obedience thereto, Alcalde Martin Hurtado, on January 27, 1710, went to the grant and performed the usual and customary ceremonies required to deliver possession of the land to Vigil, He also designated the following natural objects as its boundaries:

On the north, the ruins of an old pueblo, such ruins being the more northerly of the two in the area; on the east, the Rio Grande; on the south, a small hill which forms the boundary of the lands of Luis Garcia; and on the west, the prairies and hills for entrance and exits.[2]

A small settlement had developed on the grant about seven miles north of Albuquerque, by the time the United States acquired New Mexico. In September, 1853 Judge Kirby Benedict passed through Alameda, which, at that time, con­sisted of “a church, some houses near by, and ranches and settlements in the valley surrounding.”[3]

 

Antonio Lerma, for himself and as legal representative of the inhabitants of the Town of Alameda and its surrounding settlements, petitioned[4] Surveyor General T. Rush Spencer on March 1, 1872 seeking the confirmation of the grant. In regard to the eastern boundary of the grant, Lerma stated that in 1710 the Rio Grande had run at the base of the foothills on the east side of the valley, as evidenced by a recital in the Pueblo of Sandia Grant, stating that the river flowed within 240 varas of the pueblo. However, in 1872 the river made a sudden and aversive westward change, leaving the town on the east side of the river. Therefore, he claimed that the eastern boundary of the grant should be located along the base of such foothills. He also contended that the western boundary of the grant was located at the ceja, or main dividing ridge between the waters of the Rio Grande and Rio Puerco. Judge Kirby Benedict appeared as a witness on behalf of the claimants, and testified that the Town of Alameda was in existence in 1853, when he first came to New Mexico. David J. Miller, the Spanish translator in the Surveyor General’s office, testified that a comparison of the signatures on the grant papers with other documents in the archives indicated that such signatures were genuine. Surveyor General James K. Proudfit, in an Opinion dated June 3, 1874,[5] found the grant papers were genuine, and a valid grant had been made to Vigil in 1710. Continuing, he pointed out that the land had been occupied by a large number of people under the grant for a long period prior to the conquest of New Mexico by the Americans. Therefore, he recommended its confirmation by Congress to Vigil’s legal repre­sentatives, in accordance with the boundaries set forth in the Act of Possession. In closing, he noted that during the spring freshet of 1874 the Rio Grande had made one of its frequent changes in course, and was once again flowing along the base of the foothills, which he found to be the course of the river as it ran in 1710. A preliminary survey of the grant was made in September, 1873 by Deputy Surveyor Robert G. Marmon for 106,274.87 acres.[6]

 

The charges that the government had been despoiled of millions of acres of choice land as a result of the confirmation of fraudulent and excessive Spanish and Mexican land grants, coupled with a desire to further President Grover Cleveland’s program of land reform, prompted Commissioner William A. J. Sparks to instruct[7] Surveyor General George W. Julian on December 11, 1885, to reexamine all the grants which were pending before Congress. The Town of Alameda Grant was one of the claims reconsidered by Julian. By Supplemental Report dated October 29, 1886,[8] he conceded that the grant papers were genuine but noted that the evidence failed to show that Vigil had occupied the land as required by Spanish law or that Lerma claimed title directly or indirectly under the grant. He also pointed out that, if the grant was confirmed to Vigil’s legal representatives, it might lead to the dispossession of the inhabitants of the Town of Alameda, since there was no evidence that they had any connection with Vigil. Therefore, he recommended the rejection of the claim by Congress.

 

Julian’s unfavorable report on many of the pending grants only further complicated and confused a most difficult situation. It was obvious that a more efficient method of evaluating such claims was needed if the land grant problem of the Southwest was ever to be solved. Therefore, Congress, on March 3, 1891, approved an act[9] which created a special five judge tribunal to adjudicate their validity. On April 27, 1892, Alejandro Sandoval, for himself and on behalf of the other heirs and legal representatives of Francisco Mantes Vigil filed suit[10] in the Court of Private Land Claims seeking the confirmation of the grant. Sandoval alleged that the land had been granted and possession delivered to Vigil, who, in turn, conveyed[11] the tract to Juan Gonzales on July 18, 1712 for two hundred pesos. Continuing, he pointed out that the conveyance had been approved and the grant ratified[12] by Governor Juan Ignacio Flores Mogallon on September 18, 1713. The government filed an answer putting in issue tile allegations contained in Sandoval’s petition and alleging that the grant, if valid, was an imperfect grant, and, therefore, under Section 6 of the Act of March 3, 1891,[13] could not be confirmed for more than eleven square leagues.

 

The case came up for trial on December 6, 1092 at which time Sandoval offered Archives numbered 1029 and 302 together with testimony by a number of elderly witnesses showing that the inhabitants of the grant and those under whom they claimed had been in the actual occupation of the premises under the grant for a period out of the memory of the witnesses. The government conceded that the grant papers were genuine and that the bona fides of the claim had been fully established; however, since neither the original grant nor its ratification had received the approval of the king or the viceroy as required by the laws of Spain, it was not complete and perfect. In connection with the location of the western boundaries of the grant, the government contended that it should not be located at the ceja as contended by Sandoval but at the “prairies and hills” which were located only one mile west of it on the south. This would limit the grant to twenty-five or thirty thousand acres or an area substantially less than eleven square leagues.

 

The Court, by decision dated December 16, 1892[14] found that, although there was no evidence that the grant had been approved as required by Spanish law, under the Law of Prescription such approval would be assumed. Therefore, it held the grant to be perfect and confirmed it to the legal representatives of Francisco Montes Vigil and Juan Gonzales in accordance with the boundaries set forth in the Act of Possession.

 

The government’s attorney, in his report to the Attorney General[15] under Section 9 of the Act of March 13, 1891[16] stated:

I do not believe this right reserved by the king can be prescribed by lapse of time under any condition. I should recommend an appeal in this case upon that question alone, if I believed a decision or it in favor of my contention would affect the amount of land included in the decree when properly surveyed. I prefer that so important a question when presented to the Supreme Court shall not have all the equities of the case against the government, and shall also be necessary to a determination of the validity of the actual grant as contained in the title papers … When the plat of the survey is returned for its approval as provided in Section 10 of the Act creating this Court, if it should fix the western boundary at any other point than the point marked on the plat attached hereto as “prairies and hills,” I shall object and try the question and have no fears as to the results.

The grant was surveyed by Deputy Surveyor George H. Pradt under a contract dated October 26, 1893. Pradt’s survey was based on the boundaries pointed out to him by persons who allegedly knew their location for many years. Pradt’s survey covered approximately the same lands as contained in Marmon’s preliminary survey of the grant. The owners of the Elena Gallegos Grant protested the approval of the survey on the ground that the south boundary was located approximately six miles to the far south and, thus, erroneously caused the grant to overlap onto their property. They contended that the south boundary should he located at a large granite stone, which marked the north boundary of Luis Garcia’s land. The Court approved[17] the survey on February 14, 1895, insofar as it pertained to the northern, eastern, and western boundaries, but ordered a resurvey of the south line. Pradt resurveyed the south line from the sixth to the fifteenth of April, 1895. The resurvey showed that the grant contained 89,346.00 acres. When the resurvey was presented to the Court of Private Land Claims, the Pueblo of Sandia protested on the ground that the portion of the grant lying east of the Rio Grande conflicted with their patented grant. They contended that the east boundary should have been fixed along the then course of the Rio Grande which in the meantime had moved westward. The Sandians alleged that the river had changed its course from time to time since 1710 by accretion and therefore the common boundary between the two grants should follow the course of the river. Continuing, they asserted that the reason why the law of accretion was so well recognized in New Mexico was on account of the necessity of river frontage for irrigation. They pointed out that agricultural grants were always made with river frontage for without it such grants would be utterly without value for cultivation. The Court approved the survey[18] on October 19, 1895, but ordered the lands in conflict with the Pueblo of Sandia be excepted from the patent. The grant was patented on July 29, 1920.[19]

 


[1] The tract was the site of a Tigua Indian Pueblo prior to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. 1 Hodge, Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico 35 (1960).              

[2] Archive No. 1029 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[3] H. R. Exec. Doc. No. 280, 43d Cong., 1st Seas., 8 (1874). In discussing the area between Sandia and Albuquerque, Hughes, in 1846, states: “…the houses and villages and ranches are scattered thickly up and down the Great River of the North…” Connelley, Doniphan’s Expedition 67 (1907). One of the reasons why the Town of Alameda was not specifically mentioned by the early American journalists was that up until 1872 it was located on the west side of the Rio Grande, and therefore, off the Camino Real, which ran along the east side of the river in that area.

[4] The Town of Alameda Grant, No. 91 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] S. Exec. Doc. No. 113, 49th Cong., 2d Sess., 2 (1887).

[8] S. Exec. Doc. No. 9, 50th Cong., 1st Sess., 2 (1887).

[9] Court of Private Land Claims Act, Chap. 539, 26 Stat. 854 (1891).

[10] Sandoval v. United States, No. 11 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[11] Archive No. 302 Mss., Records of the A.N.M. This deed indicates that Vigil had not retired and in the meantime, had been promoted from Squadron corporal to Ensign. Since Vigil had not timely settled the land, Gonzales sought the ratification of the concession by Governor Mogollon.

[12] Book of the Cabildos of Santa Fe, 11‑12 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.)

[13] Court of Private Land Claims Act, Chap. 539, Sec. 6, 26 Stat. 854 (1891).

[14] 1 Journal 95‑98 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[15] Report of the United States Attorney dated March 15, 1893 in Sandoval v. United States (Mss., Records of the General Services Administration, National Archives, Washington, D.C.), Record Group 60, Year File 9865‑92.

[16] Court of Private Land Claims Act, Chap. 539, Sec. 9, 26 Stat. 854 (1891).

[17] 2 Journal 295‑296 (Mss., Records of the CL. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[18] 2 Journal 400‑402 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[19] The Town of Alameda Grant, No. 91 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).