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Town of Chilili Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Santiago Padilla for himself and on behalf of twenty-six other persons, all of whom were heads of families and were without sufficient land to meet their obligations, appeared before Governor Manuel Armijo on March 8, 1841 and registered a tract of vacant land at the site of the abandoned Town of Chilili.[1] They described the requested tract as extending:

... from the upper springs called the springs of Los Casos, which are towards the west, to the brow of the Cibolo, on the east, and from west to south the summit of the sharp‑edged hills of the Canon of Chilili. . . .

On March 20, 1841, Armijo issued a decree in which he granted the petitioners’ request in consideration of their “well known poverty”. He also directed Antonio Sandoval, Judge of the First Instance of the Third District, to place them in possession of the grant, subject to the conditions that they “remain there without disposing of the land for four years, as required by law”. Nine days later Sandoval issued an order delegating to Antonio N. Ruis authority to place the colonists in possession of the grant and to allot each an individual piece of land according to his means for cultivation. Sandoval reminded Ruis to caution the grantees that they must protect the springs and streams located within the grant from becoming polluted by their sheep. Ruis was also directed to return the expediente of the proceedings to Sandoval in order that they might be filed in the archives.[2]

Shortly thereafter the grantees moved to the grant and proceeded to develop its lands. The town was in existence at the time the United States acquired New Mexico.

Ynes Armenta, for himself and the other inhabitants of the grant, petitioned Surveyor General William Pelham on January 3, 1857, seeking the confirmation of the grant. A certified copy of a certified copy of the grant papers[3] obtained from the Registor’s office for the County of Bernalillo was filed in support of their claim. Two witnesses appeared before Pelham on March 16, 1857 and gave a limited amount of testimony in support of Armenta’s claim. One of the witnesses, J. Serafin Remirez, stated that a written grant had been made to the town and that he had seen it. Continuing, he stated, “It has been searched for in the archives of the county but could not be found, and I believe it to have been lost in the frequent changes made of the accountable officers of that county.” [4]

By decision dated September 1, 1857, Pelham found that the grant had been made in conformity with the laws, usages and customs of the Government of Mexico, that the loss of the expediente had been duly accounted for, and that the claimants and their predecessors had been in continuous possession of the land from the date of the inception of the grant. He also called Congress’ attention to the instructions he had received which provided that whenever it was shown that a town was in existence when the United States took possession of New Mexico, he was to receive such proof as prima facie evidence of a grant to such corporation or to the individuals under whom the lot holders claimed. Therefore, based on the evidence before him, he recommended that Congress confirm the grant to the Town of Chilili.[5]

The grant was among the first group of New Mexico grants to be acted upon by Congress and was confirmed by an Act approved December 22, 1858.[6] It was surveyed in 1860 by Deputy Surveyor R. E. Clements. His survey depicted the grant as a rectangular tract of land containing 38,435.14 acres. The survey commenced at the Ojo de los Casos and ran thence in a northeasterly direction a distance of about eight miles; thence east six and one‑half miles to the Cibolo Hills; thence in a southwesterly direction to the Alta de Cuchilla; and thence in a northwesterly direction about seven miles to the point of beginning. The Chilili Arroyo ran through the grant from its northeast corner to its southwest corner. This survey was rejected on February 12, 1875 by Commissioner S. S. Burdett on the ground that it did not correctly locate the boundaries of the grant. He pointed out that while Mexican law gave pueblos four square leagues of land, Congress had confirmed the grant in accordance with the description set forth in the Act of Possession. Continuing, he contended that the Act of Possession described a triangular tract of land with its northwestern boundary being a straight line running between the brow of the Cibolo on the east to the Casos Springs on the west. He ended his decision by ordering a resurvey of the grant. The claimants appealed the decision to the Secretary of Interior’s office. The Acting Secretary of Interior, in an opinion dated September 7, 1875, affirmed Burdett’s opinion but stated, if the resurvey excluded the Town of Chilili it should be modified to include the town. Pursuant to these instructions, a new survey was made in February, 1877 by Deputy Surveyors Sawyer & White. Their survey showed the grant as covering a 23,626.22 acre triangular tract with the town located about half a mile south of the northwest boundary line. The inhabitants of the Town of Chilili protested the approval of this survey on August 30, 1880, on the ground that it deprived them of a major portion of their agricultural lands. They also pointed out that the description of the grant set forth in the translation of the grant papers had been incorrectly made and it should read:

. . . . from the upper springs called the springs of Los Casos, which are towards the west, to the brow of the Cibolo, on the east and from north to south the summit of the sharp hills of the Canon of Chilili.

By decision dated July 28, 1881, Secretary S. J. Kirkwood rejected the Sawyer & White Survey and ordered the Surveyor General to resurvey the grant as an irregular oval and including all of the valley lands between the brow of the Cibolo hills and the Casos Springs. The northwestern and southeastern boundaries were to be drawn along the summit of the sharp‑edged hills bordering the Arroyo. Pursuant to these instructions, the grant was resurveyed in August, 1882 by Deputy Surveyor William Mailand for 41,481.00 acres.

A patent, based upon the Mailand Survey, was issued on January 18, 1909, to the Town of Chilili Grant.[7]


[1] The Town of Chilili, an ancient Tiqua Pueblo, was located on the west side of the Arroyo de Chilili and about thirty miles southeast of Albuquerque. In 1630 it was referred to as a mission with a church dedicated to Nuestra Senora de Navidad. The village was abandoned some time between 1669 and 1676 on account of the persistent hostility of the Apaches. Most of its inhabitants resettled in the Tiqua Pueblos along the Rio Grande, but a few joined the Mansos in the El Paso area. 1 Hodge, Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico, 267 (1962).

[2] H. R. Report No. 457, 35th Cong., 1st Sess., 184-185 (1858).

[3] A Deed Records 207 (Mss., Records of County Clerk’s Office, Albuquerque, New Mexico).

[4] H. R. Report, No. 321, 36th Cong., 1st Sess., 189, (1860).

[5] Ibid, 190.

[6] An Act to Confirm the Land Claims of Certain Pueblos and Towns in the Territory of New Mexico, Chap. 5, 11 Stat. 374 (1858).

[7] The Town of Chilili Grant, No. 11 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).