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Town of Cebolleta Grant

by J. J. Bowden

The only serious attempt by Spain or Mexico to Christianize the Navajo Indians was made in 1746 by Padre Juan Menchero. He induced several hundred Navajos to settle at the place known as Cebolleta, which was located on the Pojuate River about eleven miles north of Laguna. A mission was established there three years later but in 1750 its inhabitants grew tired of their sedentary way of life and abandoned the pueblo.[1]

Fifty years later Francisco Aragon and twenty-nine other residents of Albuquerque petitioned Governor Fernando Chacon requesting permission to establish a new settlement at Cebolleta and for a grant surrounding the proposed town site. Chacon granted the request on January 23, 1800 and ordered the Alcalde of the Pueblo of Laguna to deliver royal possession of the premises to the grantees. On March 16, 1800 Alcalde Jose Manuel Aragon went to Cebolleta and after examining the surrounding lands, which he found to be “very suitable for the formation of a settlement owing to its good cultivable lands, water for its due irrigation, and excellent pastures and watering places,” he placed the thirty colonists in possession of the grant which was described as being bounded:

On the north, by the San Mateo Mountains; on the east, by the Zia road and Pedro Padilla Valley; on the south, by the Mesa del Gabilan, which adjoins the Paquate ranch; and on the west, by the San Mateo Mountains.

The alcalde also distributed the “best cultivable lands” amongst the colonists, each of whom received 83 varas in the canon and 55 varas on the prairie. The grantees were reminded that the grant had been made on the condition that they form a regular settlement and it not be abandoned under any pretext.[2]

 

During the following year, the Navajos, after failing to secure the recognition of their claim to the premises, went on the warpath and finally compelled the colonists to leave the grant. They moved to Chihuahua, but in 1803 were brought back to Cebolleta under military escort and solemnly warned to remain there under penalty of death. Since the grantees voluntarily had abandoned these premises, a cloud was cast upon their title. To finally settle all questions concerning the validity of the concession, Alcalde Jose Manuel Aragon requested Governor Joaquin del Real Alencaster to revalidate the colonists’ title. By decree dated January 16, 1807, Alencaster approved this request.[3]

 

In 1805 the Navajos again attacked the village and would have massacred its inhabitants except for the assistance of the Laguna Indians, who rushed to their rescue. In return for this favor, the inhabitants of the Town of Cebolleta recognized the pueblo’s claim to a strip of land lying south of the Town of Cebolleta Grant, which was known as the Rancho de Paquate. The strip had been occupied by a number of inhabitants from the Town of Cebolleta. In order to avoid future difficulties, the Laguna Indians purchased the improvements of these settlers and on August 28, 1826 obtained a grant covering the rancho from Governor Antonio Narbona.[4]

 

After the United States conquered New Mexico, it established a small military post at the Town of Cebolleta for the purpose of maintaining order amongst its inhabitants and protecting them from the incursions of the hostile Indians.[5] This post was occupied until 1862, when it was moved to El Gallo and renamed Fort Wingate. Meanwhile, the inhabitants of the Town of Cebolleta, as the heirs, legal representatives and assigns of the original grantees, on August 15, 1859 petitioned Surveyor General William Pelham seeking the confirmation of the grant. In support of their petition, the testimony of two reputable witnesses, were offered. The first, Juan Bautista Vigil Alavid, stated he personally knew Chacon, who was governor in 1800, Alencaster, who was governor in 1807, and Jose Manual Aragon, who was the Alcalde of Laguna in 1800, and that their signatures on the petitioners’ muniments of title were genuine. The second, Simon Ailgado, stated that the Town of Cebolleta was in existence for many years before the acquisition of New Mexico by the United States. In a decision dated October 5, 1861, Pelham held:

The papers[6] constituting this claim were, on the organization of this office, in 1855, found among the archives deposited in the State Department of this Territory, and were then transferred thence to the land claim branch of this office . . . . The genuineness of the grant having been established, and the town having been in existence at the time of the acquisition of New Mexico by the United States on the 18th day of August, 1846, it is presumed there can be no question of the validity of the claim. It is therefore the opinion of this office that the grant made to the inhabitants of the Town of Cebolleta, . . is good and valid, and it is recommended that the Congress of the United States confirm the same.[7]

 

The outbreak of the Civil War caused temporary delay in the recognition of the claim. However, by act approved March 3 1869, Congress confirmed the grant.[8] Section 2 of the act which required the Commissioner of the General Land Office to cause the grant to be surveyed “without unreasonable delay” and issue a patent upon the filing of said survey. In response thereto, Deputy Surveyors Sawyer & McBroom surveyed the grant in August, 1876 for 199,567.92 acres. A patent based on their field notes finally was issued to the inhabitants of the Town of Cebolleta on January 27, 1882.[9]

 

 

 


[1] Ayer, The Memorial of Fray Alonso de Benevides, 268 (1916).

[2] H. R. Exec. Doc. No. 112, 37th Cong., 2d Sess., 16‑17 (1862).

[3] Ibid., 18.

[4] 1 Anderson, History of New Mexico, 365 (1907); and H. R. Exec. Doc. No. 14, 36th Cong., 1st Sess., 156‑157 (1860).

[5] Frazer, Mansfield on the Conditions of the Western Forts XVI (1963).

[6] Archive Nos. 205, 206 and 207 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[7] The Town of Cebolleta Grant, No. 46 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[8] An Act to Confirm Certain Private Land Claims in the Territory of New Mexico, Chap. 152, 15 Stat. 342 (1869).

[9] The Town of Cebolleta Grant, No. 46 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).