Sevilleta Grant

by J. J. Bowden

A fancied resemblance to the Spanish town of Seville prompted Governor Juan de Onate to name the most northerly Piro pueblo Nueva Sevilla when he visited it during his Conquest of New Mexico in 1598, Nueva Sevilla was situated on the east bank of the Rio Grande about twenty miles above Socorro. Shortly thereafter the pueblo was attacked and destroyed by the Apaches but was resettled sometime prior to 1630, by the Franciscans. The re‑established pueblo became the seat of the mission of San Luis Obispo de Sevilleta and was generally referred to as Sevilleta or “Little Seville”. During the Pueblo Revolt most of the inhabitants of Sevilleta joined Governor Antonio de Otermin in his flight to El Paso del Norte In 1681 the pueblo was found to be totally deserted and almost in ruin.[1]

The lands surrounding the ruined pueblo were not reoccupied until about 1810, when sixty‑seven Spanish families permanently settled at Sevilleta, On May 25, 1819, Attorney Carlos Galvaldon, on behalf of himself and all the other residents of Sevilleta, petitioned the Alcalde of Belen for a grant covering the lands which had been designated for their use. Alcalde Miguel Aragon forwarded the petition to Governor Facundo Melgares on the following day in order that he might:

decree that the grant prayed for by the citizens of the settlement of Sevilleta be executed to them, and may advise me from which point to designate to them their boundaries inasmuch as the Attorney does not state them.[2]

Governor Melgares directed Aragon on May 29, 1819, to assign the usual land to the petitioners and erect appropriate monuments to mark the boundaries of the grant. The Alcalde was also instructed to prepare title documents evidencing his action and forward a copy thereof to the governor for his records and preservations Six days later, Aragon, pursuant to said order, placed the inhabitants of Sevilleta in possession of a tract of land described as being bounded:

On the north by the boundary of Sabinal; on the south by the Alamillo Arroyo, on the opposite side of the Arroyo called the San Lorenzo Creek; on the east by a mountain in front of said town; and on the west by the Ladrones Mountains.

The expediente of the grant was returned to Melgares and deposited in the Archives of New Mexico.[3]

When the United States took possession of New Mexico in 1846, there were two large permanent settlements located upon the grant — Sevilleta and La Joya, In 1874 these towns had a total population of about one thousand five hundred persons.

On October 5, 1874, a petition was filed in the office of the Surveyor General by Samuel Ellison, Attorney for the inhabitants of the town of Sevilleta, seeking the confirmation of the grant. In this petition the Surveyor General’s attention was called to the fact that the expediente was located in his office and designated as Archive No. 214. Surveyor General James K. Proudfit promptly proceeded to investigate the claim and found that the muniments of title were genuine and beyond question. Therefore, in his opinion dated November 14, 1874, Proudfit stated that he entertained no doubt as to the validity and sufficiency of the claim and recommended its confirmation to the sixty‑seven original grantees or their heirs and legal representatives.[4] Congress took no action on the claim and it was still pending when the Court of Private Land Claims was established.

Meanwhile, a preliminary survey of the grant, made in March and April 1878, by Deputy Surveyors Sawyers and White, showed that it covered 224,770.13 acres of land.[5]

Felipe Peralta and Tomas Cordoba, descendants of two of the original grantees, filed suit in the Court of Private Land Claims against the United States on December 15, 1892, praying for the confirmation of the grant to themselves and the other co‑owners.[6] The United States was unable to advance any special defense against recognition of the claim. Therefore, the Court on December 4, 1893, confirmed the Sevilleta Grant to the heirs and assigns of the original sixty‑seven grantees. The Court in its decree defined the boundaries of the grant as follows:

The boundaries of said tract as designated by said Alcalde and marked as aforesaid were and are: on the north the boundary of Sabinal, being a portion of the grant to Belen, and more particularly designated by the ruins of the hacienda of Felipe Romero and the point of the Sabinal hill lying due east and west of each other; on the east, the Cerro Montoso, meaning thereby the summit of the mountain; on the south, the Arroyo de Alamillo, on the east side of the Rio Grande del Norte, and the Arroyo de San Lorenzo, on the west side of the Rio Grande del Norte; and on the west, the summit of the Sierra de los Ladrones.[7]

Shortly after the decree was handed down, the grant was surveyed by Deputy Surveyor Albert F. Easley preparatory to the issuance of a patent. The north boundary line of the Sevilleta Grant, as surveyed by Easley, was located north of the south boundary of the Belen Grant. The conflict involved a strip of land extending approximately twenty miles from east to west and about two miles from north to south. A protest was filed on July 25, 1896 by Jacinto Sanchez and Alcario Sais, as representatives of the owners of the Belen Grant, objecting to the approval of the survey. The Court of Private Land Claims called a hearing to investigate the merits of the protest. The evidence presented at this hearing showed that the ruins formerly believed to be those of Felipe Romero’s house were actually the ruins of the house of Jesus Baca. It was also shown that there was an old stone monument on the side of the Camino Real south of the Baca ruins which marked the common boundary between the Belen and Sevilleta Grants. The court, in its decision dated September 28, 1897, found that the north boundary of the Sevilleta Grant had been erroneously described in its decree of December 4, 1893. Therefore, it modified its previous decree insofar as it described the north boundary of the grant and ordered it to he resurveyed in order to run through:

… the old monument situated one mile south of the house of Jesus Baca in the settlement of Pecacho del Sabinal and east of the point of the Loma de Sabinal on the Socorro and Albuquerque road, said monument being the one recognized as the boundary between the Belen and Sevilleta Grants, extending east and west to intersect the west and east lines as surveyed.[8]

The resurvey moved the north boundary line about a mile south of the first line. Notwithstanding this modification, which greatly reduced the area in conflict, the Sevilleta Grant still conflicted with the Belen Grant to the extent of 11,005.98 acres. The resurvey showed that the Sevilleta Grant contained a total area of 272,193.88 acres. A patent was issued to the owners of the Sevilleta Grant based upon the metes and bounds description contained in the revised field notes on February 8, 1907.[9] It is interesting to note that the Sevilleta Grant was the largest grant confirmed by the Court of Private Land Claims. Since it was confirmed prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Sandoval Case,[10] it was not limited to the area actually occupied by the inhabitants of the grant in 1848.

Once the grant had been confirmed and its boundaries finally fixed, the owners of the Sevilleta Grant filed an ejection suit in the District Court of New Mexico against the owners of the Belen Grant to clear their title to the overlapping area. The case was ultimately appealed to the United States Supreme Court where it was held that the Court of Private Land Claims had no power to reduce the area of the Belen Grant, which had been previously confirmed by Congress and patented, or make any decision respecting its boundaries which would affect private rights within such grant. Thus, by confirming the portion of the Sevilleta Grant which conflicted with the Belen Grant, the Court of Private Land Claims overstepped its jurisdiction and such action was void.[11] This decision resulted in the reduction of the size of the Sevilleta Grant to a total area of 261,187.9 acres.

It has been contended that the Sevilleta Grant was a community grant as distinguished from a private grant. However, the Circuit Court of Appeals held that title to the grant was confirmed in the original grantees, their heirs and assigns as a private grant.[12]

Since the co‑owners of the grant were so numerous and the decree confirming the grant did not provide a procedure for its effective management and control, the New Mexico Legislature passed an act in 1915 creating a board of trustees to supervise its operation. In 1929 this act was partially repealed and all of the provisions of the general lease pertaining to the management of Spanish and Mexican Grants were made applicable to the Sevilleta Grant. This general law, among other things, provides that the management of any grant originally made to individuals for the purpose of founding a colony shall be vested in a five‑man board of trustees.[13]  Pursuant to these two acts most of the lands in the Sevilleta Grant have been distributed among and deeded to its inhabitants.

[1] Ayer, The Memorial of Fray Alonso de Benavides, 216‑217 (1916).

[2] Archive No. 214 (Mss., Records of the A.N.M.).

[3] Ibid.

[4] H. R. Exec Doc No. 62, 43d Cong, 2d Sess, 2‑8 (1875).

[5] The Sevelleta Grant, No. 95 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[6] Peralta v United States, No. 55 (Mss., Records of the Ct Pvt.. L. Cl.).

[7] 2 Journal 49‑55 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt, L. Cl.).

[8] 3 Journal 284 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[9] The Sevilleta Grant, No. 95 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[10] United States v. Sandoval, 167 U.S. 278 (1897)

[11] Board of Trustees of the Sevilleta de la Joya Grant V. Board of Trustees of the Belen Land Grant, 242 U.S. 595 (1917).

[12] Chadwick v. Campbell, 115 F. 2d 401 (10th Cir, 1940)

[13] New Mexico statutes 1953, Sec. 8‑1‑20.

Sevileta Grant; Spanis Colonial Period; J.J. Bowden's research on land grants;