History of Land Grants in New Mexico
Prior to Nuevo Mexico becoming part of the United States, land was distributed through grants to communities, Indian Pueblos and individuals. Each of these three types of grants exists within the Jemez Mountains.
It was the custom at the time the Spanish were colonizing the Americas for groups of Spanish pioneers who had settled in one location to petition the Spanish crown for land grants. Each head of family was given a small parcel of land, typically a long narrow strip with water access on one end. The community was given a much larger area, often thousands of acres, to be used by all primarily for grazing, hunting, and cutting timber, plus access to any other resources. After certain requirements had been met, individuals were given a deed to their small plot, which they could sell if they wished. The common land, however, could not be sold. The petition was sent to the provincial governor, who subsequently dispatched an official to mark off the boundaries, usually by describing landmarks; for example, arroyos, promontories, water courses. Petitioners were required to meet specific guidelines. For example, each settler must “live and labor” on the land four years, and the town must be defensible, which meant that dwellings were built altogether and side-by-side.
The Spanish crown was also diligent in awarding grants to each of the Pueblos, albeit usually less than each Pueblo considered its traditional territory. The typical way that a Pueblo grant was measured was three leagues from the corners of the church that sat in the plaza. Traditionally, a league was the distance a man could walk in an hour, or 3-4 miles.
Individual grants were invariably huge, and the owners lived in the style of grandees in Spain and later in Mexico. Some of these measured hundreds of thousands of acres, especially those on the eastern side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains or in other less mountainous areas.
In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain, and the Mexican government also awarded land grants. Then in 1848, New Mexico and Old Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and this area became U.S. territory. The treaty set in motion years of legal battles over land ownership, and within a few generations, villagers were fighting to hold on to their grants. While the U.S. Land Claims Court attempted to honor the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the lack of documentation that Americans understood and accepted resulted in the loss of most of the original grants. In 1897, the Supreme Court ruled in U.S. vs Sandoval that Mexico owned the land held in common on land grants. Therefore, it reasoned, under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ownership of that land then became U.S. property. In addition, unscrupulous Americans and their lawyers were able to whittle away large portions of the old grants.
Important grants in this area were, in chronological order, Ojo del Espiritu Santo Grant in 1766, Ojo de los San Jose Grant in 1768, San Joaquin del Nacimiento Grant in 1769, San Ysidro de los Dolores Grant in 1785, Cañon de San Diego Grant in 1798, and Luis Maria Cabeza de Baca grant in 1821. Boundaries of these land grants are shown on many contemporary maps. All New Mexico land grants have been involved in legal battles for decades; some are still in dispute.
Ojo del Espiritu Santo Grant
The Ojo del Espiritu Santo Grant was made to Jemez, Zia and Santa Ana Pueblos in 1766. Located northwest of Cuba on Hwy. 550, it is a bit out of the our area but is of local importance because it was granted to Luis Maria Cabeza de Baca in 1815, who claimed it had been abandoned. According to then Cañon resident Dora C. de Baca’s memoirs, the boundaries were the summit of the Jemez Mountains on the east, the Rio Puerco on the west, the Ventana mesa on the north and the Canada leas Querencias and the ranch of Antonio Armenta on the south.” The land was claimed by various parties over the years, and in 1954 the U.S. Congress ordered the land transferred to the Bureau of Land Management. Subsequently, half of that land was transferred to Jemez Pueblo.
Ojo de San Jose Land Grant
Ojo de San Jose Land Grant was given to Paulin Montoya and five other families. The grant lands eventually supported two communities on the Rio Vallecitos, which were known at first as Upper Vallecitos and Lower Vallecitos, Upper Vallecitos was also known as Vallecitos de los Indios. Lower Vallecitos, was referred to as Santo Toribio del Vallecito in 1778 records. However, when they wanted a post office, they had to pick another name because Vallecitos was already taken elsewhere in the state, and they chose Ponderosa.
San Joaquin del Nacimiento Grant
Nacimiento, which later became the Village of Cuba, was first settled on the banks of the Rio Puerco in 1736 by Pedro Barela, Jacinto Barela, Jose Sanchez, and Juan Garcia. Three decades later, a larger group of 36 settlers petitioned the governor of New Mexico Province for land which became known as the San Joaquin del Nacimiento Land Grant. The Act of Possession, signed in 1769 by Bartholome Fernandez, Chief Alcalde and War Captain of the Pueblos of the Queres Tribes, designated the grant as follows:
. . . on the North a small arroyo, commonly called the Tortuga Arroyo, on the South the commonly called the Arroyo Hondo, this to be understood as the point of said mesa toward the south which points on the west toward a small hill under the large mesa on the west, on the East side of the mountain extending from Jemez to the Piedra Lumbre and looking toward said pueblo, and on the West an arroyo commonly called the Arroyo en el Medio, which includes from north to south in the center somewhat more than four leagues, and from east to west including somewhat less than three leagues . . .
San Ysidro de los Dolores Grant
In 1786, Governor de Anza of New Mexico awarded a land grant based on the petition of Antonio de Armenta, the senior justice and war captain of the town of Queres, and Salvador Antonio Sandoval, a soldier in the royal garrison. The San Ysidro de los Dolores Grant was 12 miles long and 2 miles wide, described in the original Spanish documents as follows: “On the north the lands of Jemez; on the south the lands of the pueblo of Zia, on the west the mountain of the Espiritu Santo Spring …; on the east the lands of Nerio Antonio Montoya which is the road leading from Cochiti to Jemez.”
Cañon de San Diego Grant
In 1798, the Cañon de San Diego land grant of 116,000 acres was awarded to a group of settlers by the king of Spain. You may read copies of the grant in Spanish or English. The land around the hot springs was included within the boundaries, but the grantees settled around what is today Cañon on Highway 4 and the long-since-vanished village of Cañones, which was located one mile up the Guadalupe Canyon from the junction of the Jemez and Guadalupe Rivers. Repeated raids by the Navajos eventually caused these villages to be abandoned, which may have been the reason no settlers ventured further north. Boundaries were somewhere near Sierra los Pinos on the east, Jemez Pueblo on the south, Nacimiento Mountains on the west, and near La Cueva on the north. Details of the history of the grant are included in a document found among the John A. Adams papers.
Luis Maria Cabeza de Baca Grant
The Luis Maria Cabeza de Baca grant of 1821 has a more convoluted history. In 1821, Luis Maria Cabeza de Baca petitioned the Spanish governor for land on the Gallinas River at Las Vegas and received approval in 1826. He then built a house on the river and grazed livestock on the land. In 1835, the Town of Las Vegas was granted the same land. In 1855, after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo, the Baca heirs asked the New Mexico Surveyor General to settle their claim to the land. The case reached the U.S. Congress, which decreed that the Town of Las Vegas be upheld in their right to the original claim. The Baca family agreed to select five separate tracts of land, each of around 99,000 acres (roughly the equivalent of the Las Vegas Grant) in exchange. One of those tracts, in the Jemez Mountains, became known as Baca Location No. 1. That name is still used by old-timers in the Jemez, even after it changed ownership several times. It was the property of the Otero family at the time that Jemez Springs was settled. In the last transfer of title in 2015, “the Baca” became the Valles Caldera National Preserve, now a part of Bandelier National Monument.