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New Mexico’s San Miguel del Vado Grant

San Miguel del Vado Grant

by J. J. Bowden

Lorenzo Marquez, for himself and fifty-one associates, petitioned the Governor of New Mexico, Fernando Chacon, for a grant covering the lands located on both sides of the Pecos River at the ford known as El Vado. The petitioners acknowledged that they owned a small amount of land at Santa Fe but stated it was not sufficient to support their large families. Therefore, they had mutually agreed to move to the eastern frontier of New Mexico where there was sufficient water and fertile land to start a new life. Since the lands they sought were deep in the heart of the Apache Country, the petitioners agreed to furnish their own firearms and ammunition and fortify the proposed settlement with bulwarks and towers. Chacon granted the land to the petitioners on November 25, 1794, and directed the Alcalde of Santa Fe, Antonio Jose Ortiz, to deliver legal possession of the grant to the interested parties, subject to the conditions and requisites necessary in such cases. On the following day, Ortiz assembled the fifty-two petitioners at Santa Fe and advised, them that in order to receive the grant, they would have to observe and fulfill the following conditions: 

FIRST. The grant was to he held in common, not only in regards to original grantees but also to all colonists who might join them in the future. 

SECOND. The colonists were to prepare for their mutual defense by equipping themselves with firearms or bows and arrows; provided that within two years each colonist, under penalty of forfeiting his rights, was to be equipped with firearms.

THIRD. The colonists were to reside at the Pueblo of Pecos until they had constructed adequate fortifications on the grant for their protection.

FOURTH. The colonists were to set aside small separate tracts of land on the grant for the benefit of the Alcalde of the Pueblo of Pecos.

FIFTH. Work on the fortifications on the grant and its irrigation system was to be a community project.

The grantees unanimously accepted such conditions. Thereupon, the Alcalde and the grantees went to El Vado and proceeded to survey the grant. The survey covered all land located within the following boundaries:

On the north, the Rio de la Vaca, from the place called the Rancheria to the Agua Caliente; on the east, the Cuesta with the little hills of Bernal; on the south, the Canon Blanco; and on the west, the place commonly called El Guzano.

Following the completion of the survey, Ortiz placed the grantees in legal possession of the premises with all the formalities required by law.

Pursuant to the terms and conditions of the grant, the grantees formed a settlement on the grant, which became known as the town of San Miguel del Vado. By 1803, the town had developed to the point where its inhabitants were anxious to receive title to the individual tracts which they had improved and were occupying. Chacon, on March, 1803, directed Pedro Baptiste Pino, Senior Alcalde of the Second Precinct of Santa Fe, to distribute all of the land within the grant which was under cultivation, among the fifty-eight families who then resided upon the grant. Pursuant to these instructions, Pino subdivided the arable land into small parcels on March 12, 1803, and caused the heads of families to draw lots for their individual farm tracts. The size of these tracts ranged from 49 to 230 varas in width with 38% of them having only 65 varas. Chacon approved and confirmed the distribution on March 30, 1803.[1]

During the Mexican era, San Miguel del Vado became one of the most important towns in New Mexico. In addition to having its own Ayuntamiento, it was made a Partido under the Central District of New Mexico. It was also a quasi presidio and important waystop on the Santa Fe Trail. Eight additional settlements —San Jose, Las Mulas, Entranosa, Puerticito, Guzano, Bernal, La Cuesta and Pueblo—had been established on the grant prior to the American acquisition of New Mexico and were under the jurisdiction of San Miguel del Vado. In 1853 Cura Ramon Ortiz was able to coax 900 of the 1,000 families who resided on the grant to retain their Mexican citizenship and migrate to Mexico. This loss stunted the further development of the area and to this date San Miguel del Vado has never regained its former prominence as a leading New Mexico town.[2]

Under date of March 18, 1857, Faustin Baca y Ortiz, the Justice of the Peace of San Miguel del Vado, for and in the name of the inhabitants of the settlements of La Cuesta, San Miguel, Las Mulas, El Pueblo, Puerticito, San Jose, Guzano and Bernal, filed a petition in the Surveyor General’s office seeking the confirmation of the San Miguel del Vado Grant. On November 13, 1879, Surveyor General Henry M. Atkinson made his report to Congress. He noted that while the grant had been requested by and issued to Lorenzo Marquez for himself and his fifty-one associates, the names of these associate were not listed in any of the grant papers. Atkinson contended that the law was clear that title could vest only in persons who either had been “named or so clearly described as to leave no question as to who they were.” Therefore, he recommended that the grant be confirmed to the heirs, legal representatives and assigns of Lorenzo Marquez.[3] A preliminary survey of this claim was made in November and December, 1879, by Deputy Surveyor John Shaw, which showed that it covered an area of 315,300.80 acres.

Surveyor General George W. Julian reinvestigated the claim and in a supplemental report dated December 6, 1886, recommended the confirmation of the grant to the heirs, legal representatives, and assigns of Lorenzo Marquez for themselves and in trust for the heirs and legal representatives of the other grantees referred to in the grant papers.[4] The Commissioner of the General Land Office on May 13, 1887, advised Secretary of Interior L. Q. C. Lamar that he believed the survey was grossly in excess of the quantity which originally had been granted. He, therefore, recommended that in the event Congress confirmed the claim that it be limited to the land actually occupied by the inhabitants of the grant.[5] Notwithstanding all of these proceedings, no action was taken by Congress in reference to the grant, either looking towards its confirmation or rejection.

Following the creation of the Court of Public Land Claims in 1891, three suits were filed seeking the recognition of three conflicting claims to the grant. The first was filed[6] on August 2, 1892, by Julian Sandoval, Gregario Roybal, Angel Dimas, Calarino Sena, Thomas Gonzales, Juan Gallegos and Ramon Gallegos, on their own behalf and as authorized commissioners and agents of the residents and settlers upon the grant against the United States for the recognition of their claim to the lands covered by the grant. The second suit[7] was filed on January 16, 1893, by Levi P. Marton, who claimed to be the owner of the grant by virtue of conveyance from the heirs of Lorenzo Marquez. The third suit was filed[8] On March 2, 1893, by Juan Marquez and Sylvester Marquez for themselves and the other heirs and legal representatives of Lorenzo Marquez for the recognition of their claim to the grant. Both Marton and Juan and Sylvester Marquez claimed that Lorenzo Marquez took title to the entire grant because the other fifty-one grantees were not named in the testimonio. The three cases were consolidated for purposes of the trial since all three claims covered the same lands and were based on the same grant.

The consolidated case came up for trial on April 18, 1894. The validity of the grant papers was readily recognized by the government, but it denied that the grant covered any lands which had not been allocated prior to 1846. A majority of the court rejected this contention. Next, the court proceeded to resolve the conflicting claims presented by the plaintiffs by holding that the distribution of the individual tracts in 1803 rendered certain the identity of the grantees. Thereupon, the court dismissed the suits filed by Levi Marton and Juan and Sylvester Marquez and confirmed title to the entire grant in the name of Lorenzo Marquez and his co-petitioners and all other persons who had settled upon the grant prior to December 30, 1848.[9] The government appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court which reversed the Court of Private Land Claims and held that title to the unallocated lands within the exterior boundaries of the grant passed to the United States under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The Supreme Court then remanded the case to the Court of Private Land Claims for further proceedings in order to determine the extent of the allocated lands.[10]

On December 12, 1900, Clayton G. Coleman was approved as a Special Commissioner to go upon the grant and ascertain the boundaries of the allocated lands. Coleman reported that there were approximately 5,000 residents living on the grant, and that the allocated lands, which were owned by 747 claimants, were located in ten tracts and covered, a total area of approximately 3,539.71 acres. The court approved Coleman’s report and ordered the grant surveyed in accordance with Coleman’s findings. The grant was surveyed by Deputy Surveyor Wendell V. Hall in 1903. Hall’s survey showed that the ten tracts contained the following acreage:


Tract No.
























A patent was issued on January 6, 1910, to Roman Gallegos and Francisco R. Martinez, the President and Secretary of the Board of Grant Commissioners of the Private Land Claims known as the San Miguel del Vado Grant, for the tracts described in the Hall Survey.[11]

The grant, like the Town of San Miguel del Vado, shrank to a mere shadow of its former grandeur as a result of the American occupation of the area. Today the mountain pockets along the Pecos River hold the vested remains of this once magnificent estate.

[1] S. Exec. Doc. No. 63, 46th Cong., 3d. Sess., 77‑81 (1881).

[2] Bancroft, History of Arizona and New Mexico, 312 (1889).

[3] The San Miguel del Vado Grant, No. 119 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).

[4] Report of the Secretary of Interior, 283‑284 (1887).

[5] Ibid., 284.

[6] Sandoval v. United States, No. 25 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[7] Marton v. United States, No. 60 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[8] Marquez v. United States, No. 198 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[9] 2 Journal 111‑117 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[10] United States v. Sandoval, 167 U.S. 273 (1897).

[11] The San Miguel del Vado Grant, No. 119 (Mss., Records of the S.G.N.M.).