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Town of Chamita Grant

 by J. J. Bowden

Antonio Trujillo, a resident of the Villa of Santa Cruz, petitioned Governor Juan Domingo de Bustamante, seeking the revalidation of the grant which he had previously received from Governor Juan Flores Magollón. He stated that the boundaries of this grant were:

On the north, a table land; on the east, a hill which joins the Rio Grande; on the south, the Chama River; and on the west, an angostura or narrow which forms said table land.

He further alleged that after Alcalde Sebastian Martin delivered royal possession of the grant to him, he constructed an irrigation ditch and opened a field, but had failed to settle upon the premises within time prescribed by law. Governor Bustamante considered the petition “as presented,” regranted the tract to Trujillo on June 8, 1724 “in the name of his Majesty,” and directed the Alcalde of Santa Cruz to proceed to place him in possession of the land. Ensign Cristobal Torres, the Alcalde of the Villa of Santa Cruz, redelivered possession to Trujillo on June 20, 1724, as directed by the governor. A thriving community gradually developed around the original settlement made by Trujillo and served as the trading center for the area. By the time the United States acquired New Mexico, this town, which was known as Chamita, contained at least 1,300 inhabitants.[1]

Manuel Trujillo, for himself and the other residents of the Town of Chamita, filed the testimonio in the grant and petitioned[2] Surveyor General William Pelham, on June 9, 1859, requesting the confirmation of claim. Pelham promptly proceeded to investigate the validity of the claim and on the same date he held a hearing at which two witnesses gave the following testimony:

     Question: Have you any interest in this case?
     Answer: None
     Question: Where do you reside, and what opportunity have you had of knowing the Town of Chamita?
     Answer: We are both natives and residents of Los Luceros, distant about twelve miles from Chamita; have resided there all our lives.
     Question: Was the Town of Chamita in existence when the United States took possession of the country?
     Answer: It was, and was in existence many years before.
     Question: How many inhabitants are there in the town?
     Answer: It is a large town; contains at least 300 souls.

Based on this most cursory examination, Pelham, on July 2, 1859 fund that since the grant was so old as to be beyond a period of being proven and no one had contested the claim, he considered it to be good and valid. However, since the claimants had presented no evidence linking themselves with the original grantee he recommended that Congress confirm the grant to the legal representatives of Antonio Trujillo. Congress confirmed the grant by Act approved June 21, 1860.[3] A preliminary survey of the grant was made in March, 1877 by Deputy Surveyors Sawyer & McElroy. While their survey shows that the grant contained 1636.29 acres, it also disclosed that most of the grant was situated within the boundaries of the Pueblo of San Juan Grant which was 4 senior to the Town of Chamita Grant in all respects.[4]

Early in 1920 the heirs of Antonio Trujillo requested a patent to the grant. By decision dated October 30, 1920, Commissioner Clay Tallman held that while the Act of June 21, 1860 made no provision for the issuance of patents, the practice had been to issue patents to grants confirmed under the provisions of the second section of the Act of March 3, 1869.[5] He also found that, notwithstanding the fact that the Town of Chamita Grant conflicted with the Pueblo of San Juan Grant, the patent should issue with only a notation of the problem. Thus, all questions of priority and superiority of right to the area in conflict would be left to the judicial tribunals for determination. However, before a patent was issued Commissioner William Spry, by decision dated January 22, 1923, revoked the previous decision. He held that a second patent to the same land would only add to the confusion and would in no way strengthen the effectiveness of the confirmation of the grant under the Act of June 21, 1860. He contended that the Land Department had no jurisdiction in the matter since the controversy could only be settled in the Courts.[6]

Shortly thereafter, the Pueblo Lands Board[7] was created to quiet titles of non‑Indian claims to lands within Pueblo Indian Land Grants. In its report on the San Juan Pueblo dated April 15, 1929, the Board found that the legal representatives of Antonio Trujillo had held continuous, exclusive and adverse possession of fifty-two tracts covering 838.814 acres of land within the Pueblo of San Juan Grant since March 16, 1889. Therefore, the Board extinguished the Indians’ title to such lands.[8]

[1] H.R. Exec. Doc. No. 14, 36th Cong., 1st Sess., 241‑242 (1860).

[2] The Town of Chamita Grant, No. 36 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[3] An Act to confirm certain private land claims in the Territory of New Mexico, Chap. 167, 12 Stat. 71 (1860).

[4] The Town of Chamita Grant, No. 36 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[5] Act to confirm certain private land claims in the Territory of New Mexico, Chap. 152, Sec. 2, 15 Stat. 342 (1869).

[6] The Town of Chamita Grant, No. 36 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[7] An Act to quiet the titles of lands within Pueblo Indian Land Grants, and for other purposes, Chap. 331, 43 Stat. 636 (1924).

[8] Patrick L. Wehling to J. J. Bowden, Oct. 7, 1966.