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by Denise Holladay Damico, Ph.D.
New Mexico History Scholar
While Guadalupe Miranda may be best known in New Mexico history as one of the original recipients of what came to be known as the Maxwell Land Grant, his legacy stretches beyond that claim to fame. After the conquest of New Mexico by the United States in 1846-1848, Miranda worked to assist those Hispano New Mexicans who wished to remain Mexican citizens. He also fought to ensure that the American government would confirm the land grants enacted in the late Mexican period.
Miranda’s wealthy family provided him with an excellent education that would later serve to help him navigate the complex American land grant confirmation process. Born in El Paso del Norte (present-day Ciudad Juárez) in 1810 he traveled to the provincial capital, the city of Chihuahua, as a young man. There, he received an education under the auspices of Dominican and Franciscan friars.
By 1829 Miranda had moved north to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to open his own school. Formal education was rare and highly prized at the time, generally available only to the rich. Miranda likely viewed Santa Fe as a place where families who were profiting from the trade along the Santa Fe Trail would be eager to send their children to school, and pay for the privilege.
The territorial diputación, or assembly, appointed him Instructor of the nascent public school in Santa Fe on 26 April 1832. Antonio Barreiro mentioned Miranda in his 1832 Ojeada Sobre Nuevo-México, providing valuable information as to the curriculum, student body (all male), and location of these early efforts at public education. “Young Guadalupe Miranda extends to this territory the singular benefit of teaching a group of young men the elements of Spanish grammar, Latin, and the rudiments of philosophy in the home of Don Juan Rafael Rascón, vicar general,” wrote Barreiro.
Barreiro's report also indicates some of the challenges Miranda and his students faced, but emphasized that both teacher and students worked to overcome these challenges. “The constancy and sincerity of citizen Miranda deserve just praise. The youths deserve no less praise for the improvement they show in spite of the great odds against which they struggle, such as a lack of books, etc.” Problems like the lack of books and other resources were not limited to Miranda or Santa Fe. Though “there is no better pay in the territory than that received by school teachers,” he reported, “the schools are in a deplorable condition,” citing “neglect, carelessness, and ignorance of many of the teachers” and “the lack of interest shown by authorities.”
These challenges likely combined with several family members' decision to give Miranda his inheritance to convince him to move back to the El Paso area. By 1833 Miranda had returned to his home town, after receiving valuable possessions and land from his father and grandmother.
However, Miranda moved back to Santa Fe five years later, in 1838, perhaps because of the new opportunities Santa Fe now offered him. On 10 April 1839, Governor Armijo appointed Miranda secretary of the territory. He also served as collector of customs and captain of militia.
Miranda's allegiance to a Mexican New Mexico was apparent in his service to the government in the early 1840s. Following Texan attempts to invade New Mexico in 1841, the Mexican minister of state awarded Miranda the Cruz de Honor Mexicana (Mexican Cross of Honor) for action against the Texans. When another group of Texans again invaded New Mexico in 1843, Guadalupe Miranda served as acting governor while then-acting governor Juan Andrés Archuleta headed east to deal with that invasion.
It is likely that Miranda’s association with Manuel Armijo helped him and Charles Beaubien secure a huge land grant that would later be known as the Maxwell grant. Beaubien and Miranda requested the grant on 8 January 1841, and Armijo, in his capacity as governor, approved the request on 11 January. It was not, however, until 1843 that Beaubien and Miranda received the official “act of possession” for the grant. Two elements contributed to this delay: the Texan invasion of New Mexico in 1841 and protests from the Taos priest, Father Antonio José Martínez. The influential Padre Martínez would continue to agitate against the grant through the early 1840s, arguing that the grant would be owned in part by Charles Bent, who, as an American citizen was not eligible to receive land grants, and that it infringed upon lands used by Hispanos and Taos Pueblo Indians for grazing livestock.
Miranda never lived on the grant, however, and returned to the El Paso del Norte area by 1845. After the U. S.-Mexican War, Miranda not only chose to remain a Mexican citizen, he also assisted others who wished to do the same but lacked his education and resources. Miranda served as alcalde at El Paso del Norte, and, on 28 April 1853, the Mexican government appointed him commissioner of emigration. His job was to assist Mexican citizens who lived in New Mexico to resettle in the northern provinces of Mexico and thus retain their Mexican citizenship. Miranda was the second person to hold this commission after the priest, Ramón Ortiz. In his capacity as alcalde and commissioner of emigration, Miranda officiated on several land grant processes in southern New Mexico, including the Mesilla Civil Colony, which was one of the colonies set up by the Mexican government for the resettlement of New Mexicans in Mexico. Miranda's education helped him ensure that he enacted this grant, along with the Doña Ana Bend grant, to the perfect letter of the law. His diligence later proved beneficial to both grant claimants when they went before the surveyor feneral and Court of Private Land Claims for confirmation.
In 1851 Miranda received his own land grant in the area, now called the Guadalupe Miranda Grant. He had invested in the overland trade between Santa Fe and San Antonio, Texas and used the grant, just north of El Paso del Norte, to house his ranch and serve as a grazing site for the large quantities of livestock he owned as part of the trading operation.
Unfortunately for Miranda, he lost his copy of the grant papers. He requested the official copy from the local (Mexican) property registry, but learned that the pertinent record books had been lost or destroyed. Once the United States acquired the territory north of El Paso del Norte in the 1853 Gadsden Purchase, Miranda realized that he could never get the title to his grant confirmed under the stringent Court of Private Land Claims requirements, so he sold the land to a Josiah F. Crosby on 18 January 1888 for five dollars.
Perhaps Miranda made what must have been the difficult decision to part with his land because of his experience with other land grants in the area. In proceedings before the Surveyor General in the 1870s, Miranda had testified on behalf of claimants to the Mesilla Civil Colony grant. Despite his testimony, and the Surveyor General's recommendation that Congress confirm the grant, Congress proceeded so slowly on the recommendations that they were mostly ineffectual. In the 1890s, the Court of Private Land Claims took over the work of confirming Spanish and Mexican land grants.
The Court of Private Land Claims used letters and transcripts of testimony from Miranda on behalf of the land claims in southern New Mexico as evidence. Miranda's detailed work ensuring that the land grants complied with the letter of the law also helped ensure their confirmation. By the time the Court of Private Land Claims was established, it was too late for Miranda to testify directly on behalf of these grants or any other. He died some time around 1890 in Chihuahua, Mexico, where he had moved some time after 1874. After all of his work to assist the Mexican citizens of New Mexico re-establish themselves in Mexico, Miranda died in Mexico, the country of his birth.
Guadalupe Miranda papers, New Mexico State Records Center and Archives.
Barreiro, Antonio. “Ojeada sobre Nuevo-México.” In Three New Mexico Chronicles. Edited by H. Bailey Carroll and J. Villasana Haggard. Albuquerque: The Quivira Society, 1942.
Bowden, J.J. “The Guadalupe Miranda Grant.” In Spanish and Mexican Land Grants in the Chihuahuan Acquisition. pp. 6-9. El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1971.