More to Explore

Town of Vallecito de Lovato Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Jose Rafael Samora and twenty-five other residents of the Pueblo Santa Cruz petitioned the Alcalde of Abiquiu on February 23, 1824, for possession of a tract of land in the Vallecito de Lovato for agricultural purposes. The petition was referred by Alcalde Francisco Trujillo to the governor of New Mexico for his further action with a report that the lands were vacant and the petitioners did not have any lands to support themselves and their families. On February 27, 1824, an unsigned decree was allegedly issued by Acting Governor Bartolome Baca granting the request and directing Trujillo to give the petitioners immediate possession of the requested tract “in order that they may not lose time in their labor until the necessary formalities can be had, which cannot be verified at this time, the excellent deputation not being in session...” In response to this order, Trujillo, together with the interested parties, proceeded to the Vallecito de Lovato where, on September 22, 1824, he designated the following natural objects as fixing the boundaries of the tract:

On the north, the source of the Ojo Caliente River; on the east, the Mesa de la Zorita; on the south, the Vadito adjoining the lands owned by Juan Galbis; and on the west, the cúchela known as Valle de Los Caballos.

Following the completion of the survey, Trujillo allotted individual lots for use by the colonists. These lots were located on both sides of the river and ranged in size from 100 to 360 varas in length. A 150 vara lot was also set aside as a plaza and lands at the Vadito and Cuestecito were designated as common watering places. The Act of Possession closed with a notation that such proceedings were to be presented to the governor “in order that he may approve, reform, or determine that which he may deem proper,” and that those so paced in possession were not “authorized to exchange, sell or alternate the same until they shall have acquired title ...[1] It does not appear that any further action was taken on this grant; however, the town which the colonists established on the tract was a flourishing community of not less than twenty-five families when the United States conquered New Mexico in 1846.[2]

The inhabitants of the Town of Vallecito petitioned[3] Surveyor General James K. Proudfit on May 20, 1875, seeking the confirmation of their claim. In addition to filing their testimonio the petitioners called Proudfit’s attention to the expediente of the grant which was then on file in his office.[4] In further support of their claim, the claimants introduced the testimony of a number of highly credible witnesses who testified that the original grantees had continuously occupied the lands from 1824 up to and including the date of the filing of their petition, except for short periods when Indian troubles prevented such occupation. Proudfit issued an opinion[5] on October 13, 1875, in which he found the concession to be good and valid notwithstanding the fact the governor had failed to sign the decree of February 27, 1824. And, therefore, he recommended its confirmation by Congress to the heirs and legal representatives of the original grantees. A preliminary survey[6] made by Deputy Surveyors Elkins & Marmon in June, 1878, showed that the grant contained 114,400.54 acres.

Congress had not taken any action on the grant prior to the appointment of George W. Julian as Surveyor General. The Town of Vallecito Grant was one of the claims which he re‑examined pursuant to Commissioner William A. J. Spark’s instructions of December 11, 1885.[7] In a Supplemental Report[8] dated May 12, 1886, Julian stated that in his opinion a legal grant had not been made to Jose Rafael Samora since the alleged grant by Baca had not been signed and the proceedings by Trujillo had not been approved by the governor. Julian was especially suspicious of the genuineness of the governor’s decree notwithstanding the fact that it had been found in the archives. He pointed out that the decree was written on a six by eight inch scrap of unstamped paper and there was no evidence that it was in Baca’s handwriting. He also called attention to the fact that the two signatures by Trujillo were dissimilar. Continuing he stated that even if the grant papers were genuine, they did not indicate that a grant had been made but amounted merely to a license permitting the claimants to occupy the land until it could be formally granted to them. In conclusion, Julian recommended that the grant be rejected on the grounds that the claimants had failed to establish either a legal or equitable title.

Congress had not acted on either of the reports prior to the establishment of the Court of Private Land Claims. Therefore, the various claimants of the grant sought the assistance of that august body. On February 28, 1893, Merejildo Martinez and thirty-six other persons claiming to be the heirs and legal representatives of Jose Rafael Somora and his twenty-five associates filed suit[9] against the United States for the confirmation of the grant. A second suit for[10] the confirmation of the grant was filed on March 2, 1893, by S. Endicott Peabody, who claimed to be the owner of the grant by virtue of having purchased certain interest from the heirs and legal representatives of Jose Rafael Somora. He contended that since neither the original petition nor the grant by Governor Baca specifically named Somora’s twenty-five associates, they could not legally be grantees. On the following day a third suit seeking the recognition of the claim was[11] instituted by Jose Salazar y Ortiz, who had purchased the lots which had been allotted to Benito Sanches and Francisco Trujillo by Alcalde Trujillo on September 22, 1824.

The three suits were consolidated[12] for purposes of trial. Since the grant conflicted with a portion of the Tierra Amarilla Grant, the owners of that grant were joined as parties’ defendant. The defendants in their answers put in issue the allegations contained in the plaintiffs’ petitions. They also specially asserted that on the date of the alleged grant the governor of New Mexico had no authority to make a valid grant and that even if he did, the documents introduced by the plaintiffs, at best, amounted to a mere license to occupy and use the land pending the consummation of a valid grant.

The case came up for trial on October 5, 1897. After a full hearing on the merits of the grant, the court, on the same date, announced its decision[13] rejecting the claims; notwithstanding the plaintiffs’ strenuous contentions that the reference to the grant in the title papers concerning the Petaca Grant, which were recognized as valid, amounted to a recognition of the grant by the Mexican Government. The court’s decision virtually adopted the contentions advanced by the defendants. The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court, which affirmed[14] the Court of Private Land Claims decision. The Supreme Court held that the fact that a subsequent grant to other parties of other lands was therein bounded by “the boundary of the Vallecito Grant” is no evidence of and is inadequate proof of the legal existence of the latter grant.

[1] Archive No. 898 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[2] S. Exec. Doc. No. 31, 44th Cong., 1st Sess., 16‑20 (1876).

[3] The Town of Vallecita de Lovato Grant, No. 108 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[4] Archive No. 898 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[5] S. Exec. Doc. No. 31, 44th Cong., 1st Sess., 20 (1876).

[6] The Town of Vallecito de Lovato Grant, No. 108 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[7] S. Exec. Doc. No. 113, 49th Cong., 2d Sess., 2 (1887).

[8] The Town of Vallecito de Lovato Grant, No. 108 Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[9] Martinez v. United States, No. 142 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[10] Peabody v. United States, No. 204 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[11] Salazar v. United States, No. 236 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[12] 3 Journal 97‑98 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[13] 3 Journal 300 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[14] Peabody v. United States, 175 U.S. 546 (1899).