Rabbitbrush Rambler: No Spanish land grants here


Let’s try repeating this statement 10 times, just to help remember it. There were no Spanish land grants in the San Luis Valley.

One Mexican land grant, yes. Spanish land grants, no, even if those words have a nice ring to them.

It’s true that before 1821 Spanish officials in Mexico City had bestowed some grants in this continent’s Southwest. But not in the San Luis Valley. Some nearby authentic Spanish grants were on Pueblo Indian lands, though, and others were at Taos, the Chama River Valley, and elsewhere.

The Baca Grant began as a Spanish grant near Las Vegas, in New Mexico, but was the basis that one part of a land reimbursement made by the United States for loss of the original grant became the Baca Number 4, in 1860.

Spain’s crown and its authority were ousted in 1821. Its occupation and rule had lasted a little more than three centuries, melding indigenous people with others, while many chafed at the economic, governmental, and social stratification that made revolution desirable. Communication might have been slow, but people in Mexico knew about the revolutions in the United States and France and desired one in Mexico, too.

On September 12 in 1810, the Mexican revolutionaries had declared independence, but warfare continued until 1821. Following the celebrations on Cinco de Mayo Day, many things changed in the new republic.

In the old regime, foreigners had been denied admission into Spanish Mexico, somewhat like the U.S. building a wall to exclude immigrants without knowing exactly where the boundaries were. After the revolution, foreigners were allowed to enter the Mexican Republic, and they came with zest — traders, trappers, marriages, families, changes of names and religion if convenient.

Some of the newcomers applied for Mexican land grants, which were approved by a local civil authority, who was the alcalde or mayor. Some were given to Americans and French Canadians who had established themselves with trading and trapping, farms, and ranches.

The Mexican land grants in the San Luis Valley included the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant on the east side of the Rio Grande. This grant was made to Charles (Carlos) Beaubien who had been at St. Louis before coming to Taos.

The other Mexican grant in the San Luis Valley was the Conejos Land Grant (sometimes called the Guadalupe) on the west side of the Rio Grande. This was a communal grant, applied for by native Mexicans. The recipients of this grant were from the area of the Chama River Valley’s Rio Arriba County, with the leaders being José Maria Jaques and Lafayette Head, a former American soldier from Missouri who had become a trader at Abiquiú.

Next, the Mexican American War began, and a couple of years later the Treaty of Hidalgo Guadalupe was signed in early 1848, but no settlement had yet begun on either of these two grants in the Valley. A few hardy souls came to Costilla on the Sangre de Cristo at Costilla in 1848 and to what became today’s Garcia in 1849, though. Other settlement on the two grants did not begin until the 1850s.

When the U.S. Senate confirmed the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant, it disallowed the Conejos Grant. Petitions continued until 1900 when the Court of Private Land Claims declared the Conejos Grant null and void, leaving one Mexican land grant in the San Luis Valley.

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