Land grants were made to individuals and communities during the Spanish (1598-1821) and Mexican (1821-1846) periods of New Mexico’s history. Because the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 destroyed nearly all of the Spanish documents in New Mexico, we can only be certain of land grants that were made after the Spanish Reconquest of New Mexico in 1693. The two major types of land grants were private grants made to individuals, and communal grants made to groups of individuals for the purpose of establishing settlements. Communal land grants were also made to Pueblos for the lands they inhabited.
In 1846 the United States began its occupation of New Mexico, and in 1848 the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo established New Mexico as part of the United States. Article 8 of the treaty stated that “property of every kind now belonging to Mexicans not established there shall be inviolably respected.” In 1854 the U.S. government established the office of the Surveyor General of New Mexico to ascertain “the origin, nature, character, and extent to all claims to lands under the laws, usages, and customs of Spain and Mexico.” These duties included making recommendations to Congress concerning the validity of land grant claims. The Surveyor General considered approximately 180 claims (excluding Pueblo grants) and confirmed 46 of these non-Pueblo grants. For various reasons that are discussed in the many books about land grants, the Surveyor General was largely unsuccessful in confirming the validity of New Mexican land grants. In 1891 the US government established the Court of Private Land Claims to adjudicate land grant claims in New Mexico and other states. Over its thirteen-year history the Court considered 282 claims to land grants in New Mexico and confirmed 82 of these grants.
Throughout the 20th century, legal battles over land grant claims continued in New Mexico’s district courts. In the late 1990s New Mexico’s congressional delegation attempted to pass federal legislation that would establish an entity to reconsider the confirmation of New Mexican land grants and the validity of decisions previously made by the Surveyor General and the Court of Private Land Claims.
The beginning of the 21st century has seen the resurgence of interest in the validity of Spanish and Mexican period land grant adjudications by the Surveyor General and the Court of Private Land Claims. The General Accounting Office has issued its first report Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo: Definition and List of Community Land Grants – Exposure Draft. This report is available as a free download in English and Spanish at https://www.gao.gov/.
Documents pertinent to the study of land grants are available at the New Mexico State Archives. They are maintained within some of the collections noted below:
Spanish Archives of New Mexico I (SANM I). These are also known as the “Land Records of New Mexico” and are a microfilm collection that contains the Surveyor General of New Mexico and the Court of Private Land Claims case files.
District Court Records. These are organized by county and contain litigation over land grants. Most of the district court records at the State Archives date from the territorial period (1851-1912). The subject card catalog in the Research Room will usually include references to specific cases that involved land grants.
Clark S. Knowlton Collection. Professor Knowlton’s areas of research were the Mexican and Spanish Americans of the Southwest and their loss of ancestral lands. https://nmarchives.unm.edu/repositories/17/resources/886
Land Grant Collection. These are Land grant documents donated by various donors. https://nmarchives.unm.edu/repositories/17/resources/758
A.A. Jones Papers. The bulk of the collection consists of legal papers, which include land grant case records pertaining to the Maxwell, Preston Beck, Mora, Las Vegas, and Eaton land grants.
Elisha V. and Boaz W. Long Papers. The collection consists of Elisha V. and Boaz W. Long’s personal, legal, and diplomatic correspondence; legal and business records; manuscripts and reports; clippings; and family papers. Noted subjects include the Anton Chico, Las Vegas, Maxwell, Mora, Los Trigos, Pablo Montoya, and Pablo Melendres land grants. https://nmarchives.unm.edu/repositories/17/resources/819
Eugene Fiske Papers. The collection consists primarily of Fiske’s professional papers and materials relating to litigation over many New Mexico land grants. The collection also includes a survey, plat, partition, and list of heirs for the Plaza Colorado Land Grant, and testimony of New Mexico territorial governor Donaciano Vigil concerning the Sierra Mosca and Preston Beck, Jr. Land Grants.
Napoleon B. Laughlin Papers. The collection consists of case files and a variety of documents such as wills, deeds, and estate records from legal cases handled by Laughlin. Series VII, VIII, IX, and X of the collection consist of documents concerning many New Mexico land grants, including the Las Trampas, Caja del Rio, Piedra Lumbre, Cieneguilla, Truchas, Antonio Martinez, Arroyo Hondo, Rancho del Rio Grande, La Joya de Cevilleta, and Tome land grants.
Edward L. Bartlett Papers. The collection consists of Bartlett’s official correspondence as Solicitor General of the Territory of New Mexico (1890-1902) and professional papers from his legal practice and other materials on New Mexico land grants, and various political and legal issues in San Juan County and Santa Fe.
Albert T. Rogers Family Papers. The bulk of the collection consists of Albert Jr.’s business and legal papers (1898-1956) and land grant case files involving the Maxwell, Preston Beck, Anton Chico, and Mora land grants. https://nmarchives.unm.edu/repositories/17/resources/852
Amado Chaves Papers. The collection consists of correspondence, personal papers, manuscripts, genealogies, and clippings and subjects include land grants and titles.
USE THESE TOOLS TO FIND OUT WHERE IN THE STATE ARCHIVES’ COLLECTIONS YOU CAN FIND INFORMATION ON SPECIFIC LAND GRANTS.
New Mexico State Library Computer Catalog https://www.nmstatelibrary.org
Online Archives of New Mexico https://nmarchives.unm.edu/
Land Title Study. By White, Koch, Kelley and McCarthy, and the New Mexico State Planning Office. Published by the NM State Planning Office, 1971. Reprinted in 1981.
Private Land Claims of the Southwest. By J.J. Bowden. Master’s thesis completed at SMU, 1969. (Microfilm copy available at NM State Archives.)
Land Grants and Law Suits in Northern New Mexico. By Malcolm Ebright. University of New Mexico Press, 1994.
Mercedes Reales: Hispanic Land Grants of the Upper Rio Grande Region. By Victor Westphall. University of New Mexico Press, 1983.
Land, Water, and Culture: New Perspectives on Hispanic Land Grants. Edited by Charles Briggs and John Van Ness. University of New Mexico Press, 1987.