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Town of Albuquerque Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Diego Trujillo was transferred to the Presidio of Santa Fe as a soldier in His Majesty’s Army in or about the year 1632. During the next thirty years he steadily advanced in both the military and civil service. He held numerous political offices and was one of the most powerful and influential men in New Mexico. In 1662 he had been living on a large estancia known as the Paraje de Huertos, which was located about four leagues from the Pueblo of Sandia. Due to his advanced age, he turned the operation of his rancho over to his daughter-in-law, Doña Lucia Montoya. Trujillo survived the Pueblo Revolt, but died two years later at Casas Grandes. His family apparently never returned to New Mexico following the conquest to claim their lands.[1]

Francisco Fernandez de la Cueva Enríquez, Duke of Albuquerque, and thirty-fourth Viceroy of New Spain, arrived at Mexico City on December 8, 1702. He appointed a distant relative, Francisco Cuervo y Valdes, as Governor of New Mexico on May 29, 1704 to succeed Diego de Vargas, who died on the fourth of the previous month. However, Cuervo was not able to go to Santa Fe and take control of the government for nearly a year. Upon arriving, he found that the Apaches were threatening the existence of the settlements in the Rio Abajo area.[2] To alleviate this problem, Cuervo called for volunteer families from the province to settle at the Bosque de Dona Luisa, which he described as being situated on the banks of the Rio Grande about twenty-two leagues south of Santa Fe. The surprisingly favorable response to this call, coupled with the urgent need for a strong Spanish settlement, prompted Cuervo to immediately proceed with his plans to found a new villa without the approval of the Viceroy. Juan de Ulibarri, Attorney General of New Mexico, was ordered to inspect the area, in order to determine its suitability as a townsite. Upon receipt of his report, which stated that the bosque was a very good site, Cuervo ordered the immediate establishment of the new villa. He provided the thirty-five families, who had agreed to settle at the bosque, an escort of a squad of ten men, and appointed its captain as justicia mayor captain de guerra of the area. On February 23, 1706 the Cabildo of Santa Fe reported[3] the founding of the Villa of Albuquerque to the Council of the Indies. The formation of the new villa was formally certified by Fray Juan Alvarez, Commissary of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, Custodian and Ecclesiastical Judge Ordinary of the Province, in a letter to the Viceroy on April 16, 1706. In a letter to the Viceroy dated April 24, 1706[4] Cuervo reported:

I founded a villa on the margin and meadows of the Rio del Norte in a goodly place of fields, waters, pasturage, and timber, distant from this Villa of Santa Fe about twenty-two leagues, giving to it as titular patron the most glorious apostle of the Indies San Francisco Xavier, calling it and naming it the Villa of Albuquerque. (I located it) in a good site, keeping in mind what is proscribed by His Majesty in his Royal Laws of the Recopilación, Book IV, Title VII, and there are now thirty-five families settled there, comprising 252 persons, large and small. The Church (is already) completed, capacious and appropriate, with part of the dwelling for the Religious Minister, the Royal Houses (are) begun, and the other houses of the settlers finished, with their corrals, acequias ditched and running, fields (already) sowed ‑‑ all well arranged and without any expense to the Royal Treasury ....  

Cuervo sent a larger and more formal report to the Viceroy[5] concerning the founding of the Villa of Albuquerque on April 26, 1706, in which he gave the following account:

And so, enjoying this peace and the happy time offered by the truces, as well as (enjoying) the experience which I have acquired in this kingdom, wishing that it be more extended, I ordered that one of the best sites of the Rio del Norte be peopled, below the posts of Bernalillo and Alameda. This (place) was inspected by the said General Juan de Ulibarri, Sargeant Major Procurador General and Rexedor of this Kingdom. He found it to be the most fitting and convenient (of all places) for the establishment of people and a new villa. Having publicized it, many families of the other jurisdictions offered themselves to go (there), carrying at least some large and small cattle. For their security, I decided that a group of ten soldiers of this presidio should go in a squad (with their families) to escort and guard them, because (the place) is the main frontier of the barbarous nations of the Chilmos, Jilas and said faraones. The command of the troop was given to a commander with full military experience. I do not doubt, very Excellent Lord, that in a short time this will be the most prosperous Villa for its growth of cattle and abundance of grains, because of its great fertility and for having given to it, the spiritual and temporal things, the patron saints that I have chosen, namely the very glorious apostle of the Indies, San Francisco Xavier, and Your Excellency, with those names the town has been entitled Villa of Albuquerque de San Francisco Xavier del bosque. The Villa was sworn, taking into account the things ordered by His Majesty in his royal laws of the seventh title, fourth book of the Recopilación. There have been settled thirty-five families and within them two hundred and fifty-two persons. The church has been finished and is quite large. Also, part of the dwelling of the religious minister (has been finished), and also the other houses of the inhabitants, with their corrals and irrigation ditches flowing. Everything has been done with good will end to the liking, relief and convenience of the said inhabitants.

Upon learning of the establishment of the villa, the Cueva forwarded the various reports to his attorney, Jose Antonio de Espinosa, who returned the following comments to the Viceroy in a report dated July 25, 1706:[6]

… and likewise he says he founded a villa which he called Albuquerque, which lacks a bell, ornament, chalice, vinegar cruets and albas. And, although before founding it, he should have consulted Your Excellency, however, since it is already founded, and since it is evident from the autos that he has been successful in the government, (his action) can be permitted and order can be given so that he may he helped with the ornaments and other things which the royal law grants once to the new towns, and orders the said governor not to build any other town.

On July 30, 1706, the Royal Audiencia in Mexico City approved the founding of the Villa of Albuquerque and resolved to aid it. Inasmuch as there was before the Royal Audiencia a royal decree ordering that a villa be founded in the name of San Felipe, the patron saint of King Philip V, the Audiencia ordered that the Villa of Albuquerque be renamed in compliance with the royal decree. As a conse­quence, the villa was renamed San Felipe de Albuquerque.[7] The Resolution of the Audiencia states:

On the fourth point in which the said Governor refers to having ... founded a Villa which he called Albuquerque, and that it has no bell, altar furniture, chalice, nor vessels: It was unanimously resolved that as it is already founded it shall be aided as a favor, and that there shall be sent to it on the first opportunity the bell, altar furniture, chalice and vessels as asked for, this assignment being in accordance with the royal law for new settlements, and he being ordered not to make others without informing His Excellency, and consulting with him in regard to his reasons for the same, in order that he may send him orders as to what he shall do, His Excellency adding that as he has a royal order that a villa shall be founded with the name of San Felipe in memory of his royal Majesty, the said Governor is ordered to call it so for the future and that this resolution be recorded in the archives of the Villa of Santa Fe.

A. Wislizenus, who passed through Albuquerque on July 12, 1846 or just a little more than a month prior to Stephen Watts Kearny’s conquest of New Mexico, described it[8] as follows:

Albuquerque is a town as large as Santa Fe, stretched for several miles along the left bank of the Rio del Norte, and if not a handsomer, is at least not a worse looking place than the capital .… The country around Albuquerque appears to be well cultivated. Though the soil is sandy, and apparently not fertile, by irrigation they produce abundant crops, often twice a year .... The fields are without fences. A canal by which water from the river is led into the plain, provides by its ramifications the whole cultivated ground with the means of irrigation.


In April, 1881, the New Mexico and Southern Pacific Railroad, a subsidiary of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, reached its division point in the E/2 of Section 20, Township 10 North, Range 3 East, N.M.P.M., which was located about a mile and a half southeast of the original Town of Albuquerque. A new settlement began to develop around its shops, which soon became the business district of the present City of Albuquerque. Soon the demands for clear land titles prompted Ambrosio Armijo and nine others, who were designated as President and Commissioners of the City, for themselves and on behalf of the divers other persons who occupied certain lots and plots of land lying within a four league tract of land located one league in each direction from the flag pole situated in the center of the plaza at Old Town, to petition[9] Surveyor General Henry M. Atkinson for the confirmation of the concession, which commonly was known as the Town of Albuquerque Grant, to the heirs, successors, and legal representatives of its original inhabitants. In this petition, which was dated July 25, 1881, it was alleged that, while the petitioners were unable to locate the instrumento de fundicion[10] of the villa, it was well known historically, and conceded by all persons, to have been in existence for at least one hundred and seventy-five years. However, they filed a number of documents from Archives[11] which made references to such a grant. They also showed that Albuquerque was one of the most populous and politically important settlements in New Mexico,[12] and, therefore, it could be presumed that it had received a grant by operation of law, under Book IV, Title 5, Law 6 of the Recopilación de Los Leyes de los Indias. [13] Oral testimony also was introduced showing that the town was in existence prior to and at the time the United States acquired jurisdiction over New Mexico. By Opinion[14] 14 dated September 5, 1882, Atkinson stated:

I have no doubt that a grant originally existed to this town, as the numerous documents on file in this office, a portion of which are referred to in the petition of claimants, bear evidence of the fact in their reference to the same, and the records of the office as well as the testimony taken in the case clearly establish the fact that the town was in existence in 1846 and 1854.

The instructions of the Commissioner of the General Land Office to the Surveyor General of August 21, 1854, set forth in substance that, where proof is made of the existence of a town at the period when the United States took possession it may be considered prima facie evidence of the existence of a grant to such town and to the individuals under whom the lot-holders claim.

In view of all the facts, I am of the opinion that the inhabitants of the town of Albuquerque have a just and lawful claim for the land petitioned for, and I approve to the inhabitants of said town the claim for four square leagues having the center of the flagstaff and adobe monument surrounding the same in the middle of the main plaza or square about the center of the old town of Albuquerque as the center of said tract, unless it may be subsequently shown that the mutual point is elsewhere, and having as its exterior boundaries north and south and east and west lines through the respective termini of lines one Spanish league in each direction north, south, east and west, from the central point.

 The prayer of the petitioners that the grant be approved to the heirs, successors, and legal representatives of the original settlers or grantees cannot be granted, as no evidence of title appears in any specific individuals, but the inhabitants of the town are by operations of the laws and instructions cited entitled to the grant.

The claim is hereby approved and recommended for confirmation by Congress to the inhabitants of the Town of Albuquerque.


In the meantime, De Witte Stearns and Thomas G. Douglas, who were honorably discharged soldiers, each attempted to locate a soldier’s homestead upon a vacant portion of the grant. These applications respectively covered the NE/4 of Section 20, Township 10 North, Range 3 East, N.M.P.M. Upon the rejection of their entries on the ground that the land had been withdrawn during the pendency of the adjudication of the Town of Albuquerque Grant, they petitioned[15] for a rehearing on December 8, 1882, in which they pointed out that the lands in question were sandy, sterile, and had not been used by the inhabitants of Albuquerque prior to the coming of the railroad. Continuing, they alleged that, since there never had been an actual grant to the town and there could he no grant by operation of law insofar as the lands in question were concerned, since such lands were within five leagues of the Town of Pajarito, which was older than Albuquerque, such lands were vacant and should not have been withdrawn from entry. Atkinson rejected their petition on December 15, 1882, stating[16] that Spanish law[17] authorized a four league grant to towns, and, under the instructions[18] to his office dated August 21, 1854, he was directed to take the existence of a town prior to the acquisition of New Mexico as prima facie evidence of a grant to it In connection with their allegation that the existence of an older town within a distance of five leagues of Albuquerque overcame this presumption, Atkinson held that, since the Town of Pajarito had not presented a claim, he could not take cognizance of its grant. In closing, he noted that the last clause of Section 8 of the Act of July 22, 1854[19] reserved all lands covered by a pending claim from sale or other disposal by the government until final action on the claim was taken by Congress. Therefore, he denied their request to reopen the case. This decision was appealed to the Commissioner of the General Land Office, N. C. McFarland, who, by decision[20] dated July 10, 1883, dismissed the appeal on the ground that there was no provision under law for a direct appeal from a report of the Surveyor General to Congress on a private land claim.


A preliminary survey of the grant was made in May, 1883 by Deputy Surveyor John Shaw. His survey showed that the grant covered 17,361.06 acres of land, a portion of which was located on the west side of the river.[21]


Since Congress had not acted upon the claim prior to the creation of the Court of Private Land Claims, the City of Albuquerque, a municipal corporation and successors in interest to the Villa of Albuquerque, filed suit[22] against the United States in that forum on March 8, 1892, seeking the confirmation of a four square league tract of land which its predecessor, the Villa of Albuquerque, allegedly had acquired by operation of law. The government, in its answer, denied the existence of an implied grant on the ground that Spanish law did not authorize the granting of land to a town or villa which was within four leagues of another town. It noted that there were a number of older towns and a pueblo within that distance. On April 25, 1892, the case came up for trial, and the court, on the same day, confirmed[23] the claim to the city in trust for the use and benefit of its owners on the ground that the city was entitled to a four square league tract as a matter of law. However, the decree expressly provided that the confirmation was not to prejudice the rights of the Town of Atrisco to any lands within the grant lying west of the river. The government appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court, which, by Decision[24] dated October 17, 1898, reversed the Court of Private Land Claims’ decision on authority of its decision in the Santa Fe case [25]and remanded the claim for further proceedings. The Supreme Court in the Santa Fe case rejected the theory that Spanish law proprio vigore conferred upon every Spanish villa or town a grant of four square leagues of land.


Following the reversal of the decision of the Court of Private Land Claims, further proceedings were initiated in that Court assuring that a grant had been made to the Villa in 1705 by Governor Cuervo covering a tract bounded:

On the north, by the lands of Diego Montoya; on the east, by the Sandia Mountains; on the south, by the tract of land known as Las Lagunitas; and on the west by the Rio Grande.

The city asserted that the grant papers had been lost or destroyed, and, in an effort to account for their loss, noted that in 1727 Martin Hurtado, Alcalde of the Villa of Albuquerque, could not produce the instrument when Governor Juan Domingo de Bustamante asked to see it in connection with an investigation he was conducting in connection with certain charges against Hurtado that he had allegedly made three local land grants within the Town of Albuquerque Grant without consulting the Villa.[26] However, before any further action was taken in the suit, Congress, on February 18, 1901, confirmed[27] the grant in trust to the City of Albuquerque. The proceedings before the Court of Private Land Claims were dismissed[28] on July 9, 1901.


[1] Chavez, Origins of New Mexico Families 107‑108 (1954).

[2] 1 Coan, A History of New Mexico 225‑226 (1925).

[3] (Stet.)

[4] Bloom, “Albuquerque and Galisteo Certificate of Their Founding, 1706,” X New Mexico Historical Review, 48-49 (1935).

[5] Appeliee’s Answer Brief in City of Albuquerque V. Reynolds, No. 7013, 39‑40 (Mss., Records of the Clerk of the Supreme Court of New Mexico, Santa Fe, New Mexico).

[6] Ibid., 40.

[7] Ibid., 41.

[8] S. Misc. Doc. No. 26, 30th Cong., 1st Sess., 33­-34 (1848).

[9] The Town of Albuquerque Grant, No. 130 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[10] Researchers have diligently searched for this instrument in the United States, Mexico and Spain for years. Lansing B. Bloom has stated that it “seems to be lost beyond any hope of recovery.” Bloom, “Albuquerque and Galisteo, Certificate of Their Founding, 1706,” X New Mexico Historical Review 49 (1935).

[11] Archives Nos. 53, 156, 172, 238, 306, 314, 516, 751, 843, and 1051 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.). Those in­struments are deeds conveying lands situated within the boundaries of the grant, partition deeds of lands within the grant, revalidation grants ratifying an occupant’s title to tracts within the grant and a grant and Act of Possession covering a tract within the grant.

[12] The Journal of the Departmental Assembly showed that on January 4, 1823, Albuquerque was made the capital of one of the four partidos of New Mexico. A census taken in 1808 showed it had a population of 4,051. These instruments were also contained among the archives of New Mexico.

[13] The law authorized the granting to settlements of not less than thirty white persons four square leagues of land, provided the same be not less than five leagues from any other such settlement and be not in prejudice to the interest of any Indian Pueblo. The seventh law of this book provided that, when it was proposed to form a settlement or community of not less than ten white persons, the necessary extent of territory should be granted them. 2 Recopilación de los Leyes de las Indias 15‑16 (1840).

[14] S. Exec. Doc. No. 56, 48th Cong., 1st Sess., 19 (1884).

[15] Ibid., 20‑21.

[16] Ibid., 22‑24

[17] 2 Recopilación de los Leyes de las Indias 16 (1840).

[18] S. Misc. Doc. No. 12, 42nd Cong., 1st Sess., 1‑7 (1886).

[19] An Act to Establish the Offices of Surveyor General of New Mexico, Kansas, and Nebraska, to grant donations to actual settlers therein, and for other purposes, Chap. 103, Sec. 8, 10 Stat. 308 (1854).

[20] Town of Albuquerque, 2 L.D . 413 (1883).

[21] The Town of Albuquerque Grant, No. 130 (Mss., Records of the S. G. N. M.).

[22] The City of Albuquerque v. United States, No. 8 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[23] 1 Journal 25‑26 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[24] United States v. City of Albuquerque, 171 U. S. 685 (1898) (mem.).

[25] United States v. City of Santa Fe, 165 U.S. 681 (1897).

[26] Bloom “Albuquerque and Galisteo, Certificate of Their Founding, 1706,” X New Mexico Historical Review 50 (1935).

[27] An Act to confirm in trust to the City of Albuquerque, in the Territory of New Mexico, the Town of Albuquerque Grant, and for other purposes, Chap. 380, 31 Stat. 796 (1901).

[28] 4 Journal 241 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).