More to Explore

Town of Mora Grant

by J. J. Bowden

On September 28, 1835, Albino Perez, Governor of New Mexico, ordered the Alcalde of Las Trampas, Manuel Antonio Sanchez, to distribute the lands in the Santa Gertrudis and San Antonio Valleys which had been granted to the inhabitants of the Colony of Mora. In compliance therewith, Sanchez went to Mora on October 20, 1835, and proceeded to survey the grant which was described as being bounded: 

On the north, by the Rio de Ocate; on the east, by the Aguage de la Yegua; on the south, by the mouth of the Sapeyo River, where it empties into the Rio de Mora; and on the west, by the Estillero.

Following the completion of the survey, Sanchez established a town site in each valley and allotted individual farm tracts along the river which ran down each of the valleys to the seventy‑five adult male inhabitants of the colony. The allotments ranged in width from 100 to 500 varas.[1]

Since they were far from any military assistance, the residents of the grant were left to their own devices for the protection of their homes, families and crops. Somehow they managed to overcome all the adversities of the frontier. This isolation may account for the fierce individualism and consuming interest in politics which developed at Mora. Therefore, it is not surprising to find that a number of the citizens of Mora took part in the Rebellion of 1837 which led to the beheading of Governor Perez and the overthrow of his government less than two years after he had issued the grant to them.[2] Mora was a flourishing loyal Mexican community on August 18, 1846, when Brigadier General Stephen Watts Kearny, in command of the Army of the West, conquered New Mexico. A number of the northern communities, including Mora, refused to recognize the newly established American rule and participated in the Taos Revolt in which Governor Charles Bent and several other territorial officials were killed. Eight Americans were ruthlessly murdered at Mora, and Captain I. R. Hendley rushed there to quell the insurrection. During the ensuing battle which lasted several hours Captain Hendley was killed, and the American forces were compelled to withdraw. On January 29, 1847, Captain Morin with a greatly reinforced force returned to Mora. Upon his approach, the insurgents fled, leaving the settlement to the mercy of the Americans, who inflicted a great deal of damage upon the town and burned its public archives.­[3]

Jose Maria Valdez and Vincento Romero on behalf of themselves and all other inhabitants of the Town of Mora Grant petitioned[4] the Surveyor General, William Pelham, on June 20, 1859, requesting the confirmation of the grant. The petitioners expressly relinquished any claim they might have to the portion of the grant that conflicted with the John Scolly Grant which previously had been approved by Pelham. In support of their claim, the petitioners filed the testimonio of the Act of Possession which recited that the proceedings had been made pursuant to an order issued by Perez on September 28, 1835. The United States District Attorney, R. H. Tompkins, protested the approval of the claim on the grounds that there was no documentary evidence that a grant actually had been made by Governor Perez to the inhabitants of the Town of Mora or that Perez had ordered a partitioning and distribution of the farm tracts. Pelham recognized that the failure of the petitioners to explain why documentary evidence of the grant could not be found in the Archives at Santa Fe tended to show that a grant had not been made; however, he presumed that Sanchez would not have distributed the land unless he was instructed to do so by a duly constituted authority. In support of this contention, Pelham pointed out that the inhabitants of the colony would not have remained on the grant in light of the hardship which confronted them or expended the large sums of money and effort improving the lands unless they were satisfied that a valid grant had been made to them. Several witnesses testified that they had seen a copy of the grant in the Archives at Mora prior to their destruction in 1847, and one even produced a receipt dated in 1836 for a copy of the grant signed by the Alcalde of Mora. Pelham, in his decision[5] dated July 9, 1859, held: 

It is not to be presumed that the government would allow the richest and most fertile portion of its territory to be usurped and taken up by a party of men without the color or shadow of law. Such was not the policy of the Mexican Government at the time. There certainly was a grant, or they would rot have been allowed to remain unmolested from 1835 to 1846, when the United States took possession of the territory. The instructions to this office provide that when the existence of a town is proven at the time the United States took possession of the country, it is to be considered as prima facie evidence of the existence of grant to said town or to the persons under whom they claim.

In conclusion, Pelham found the grant to be good and valid and recommended to Congress that it be confirmed to the original grantees and those claiming under them to the full extent set forth in the metes and bounds description contained in the Act of Possession except for the portion which conflicted with the John Scolly Grant. Congress by an act[6] approved June 21, 1860 confirmed the grant as recommended by Pelham in his report.

Deputy Surveyor Thomas Means was awarded a con­tract on July 4, 1861, to survey the Town of Mora Grant. He surveyed the grant during the months of July and August, 1861, and did certain corrective work in the field in November, 1861. His survey excluded the portion of the twenty-five league tract referred to as the John Scolly Grant, which conflicted with the Town of Mora Grant. The survey embraced a total of 827,621.1 acres of land and was approved by the Surveyor General on August 5, 1871. A patent was issued to Jose Tapia and the other grantees on August 15, 1876, subject to a stipulation which recognized the rights the United States to the Fort Union Military Reservation.[7]

After the owners of the John Scolly Grant had selected the five leagues out of the twenty-five league tract which they were entitled to receive under the act of June 21, 1860,[8] the owners of the Town of Mora Grant petition the General Land Office requesting that the patent to the Town of  Mora Grant be amended to include the portion of the twenty-five league tract which conflicted with the Town of Mora Grant but had been released upon the selection of the five league tract by the owners of the John Scolly Grant. By decision dated October 14, 1895, Acting Commissioner E. F. Best held that the exception of the conflicting portion of the John Scolly Grant applied only to the confirmed and patented portions of the John Scolly Grant. Thus, the portions of the twenty-five league tract which conflicted with the Town of Mora Grant and had not been selected by the owners of the John Scolly Grant were covered by the original patent and, therefore, were not public lands.[9] This decision had the effect of increasing the size of the Town of Mora Grant to approximately 890,000 acres of land.


[1] H. R. Exec. Doc. No. 14, 36th Cong., 1st Sess., 184‑185 (1860).

[2] Twitchell, Old Santa Fe 200 (1963).

[3] Stanley, The Mora Story, 8 (1963)

[4] The Town of Mora Grant, No. 32 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.). Juan Francisco Pinard petitioned Pelham, asking for the confirmation of two tracts on September 8, 1856, which he had purchased from Juan Trujillo Bernadt. Bernadt, in turn, had purchased one of the tracts from Carlos Salazar and the other from Juan Bautista Llora. Salazar had received the land as an allotment from Alcalde Juan Antonio Garcia on Septemer 18, 1838. Llora received his from Alcalde Juan Francisco Sandoval on December 20, 1845. Both were allegedly made pursuant to Perez’s order of September 28, 1835. The Juan Francisco Pinard Grant, No. F‑35 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.). Jose Manuel Cordova filed a petition on October 7, 1856, seeking the confirmation of a tract which he had purchased from Estancilado Sandoval, who had received it as an allotment on October 31, 1842. The Jose Manuel Codova Grant, No. F‑35 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.). Since both of these claims were located within the Town of Mora Grant, no action was taken thereon by the Surveyor General’s Office.

[5] The Town of Mora Grant, No. 32 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[6] An act to confirm certain private land claims in the Territory of New Mexico, Chap. 167, Sec. 31, 12 Stat. 71 (1860).

[7] The Town of Mora Grant, No. 32 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[8] An act to confirm certain private land claims in the Territory of New Mexico, Chap. 167, Sec. 1, 12 Stat. 71 (1860).

[9] The Town of Mora Grant, No. 32 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).