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The Truchas Grant

Nuestra Señora del Rosario, San Fernando y Santiago Grant

by Mark Shiller
with review by Malcolm Ebright

The Nuestra Señora del Rosario, San Fernando y Santiago del Rio de las Truchas Grant or, as it is now more commonly known, the Truchas Grant, was made in 1754 by Governor Tomás Vélez Cachupín. It was one of three grants Vélez Cachupín made between 1751 and 1754 in the area northeast of the villa of Santa Cruz de la Cañada. In order to understand the grant's history, it is important to know something about the strategy employed by Veléz Cachupín and his predecessors in establishing this and other grants in the area.1

The Pueblo Rebellion of 1680 drove Spanish settlers out of New Mexico for a period of twelve years. After the Spanish reestablished themselves at the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth centuries, the Spanish governors employed a settlement strategy "characterized by the desire to expand the territory embraced by existing settlements [the villas of Santa Fe, Santa Cruz de la Cañada and Albuquerque], and to provide buffer communities in protecting the larger centers [against Indian attacks]."2

Regarding the establishment of the Las Trampas Grant on 15 July 1751 (which immediately preceded the initial settlement of the Truchas Grant), Veléz Cachupín wrote, "it appears that the inhabitants of this said city [Santa Fe] have increased to a great extent . . . [and] there is not land or water sufficient for their support. Neither have they any other occupation . . . excepting agriculture and the raising of stock and whereas in the King's domains which are unoccupied there are lands which up to this time are uncultivated and which will yield comforts to those who cultivate them . . . [and] from which the further benefit will result that hostile Indians will not travel over them and will serve as a barrier against their entrance to despoil the interior settlements . . . I hereby assign and distribute said site . . . ." So extending settlement to the east and north served the dual purpose of providing resources, irrigable land, pasture and water for a growing, population to develop a subsistence economy and providing buffer communities that protected established villas from marauding Indians.3

Between the reestablishment of the Spanish settlers in 1692 and 1754, when the Nuestra Señora del Rosario, San Fernando y Santiago del Rio de las Truchas Grant was made, communities of this type were established in Chimayó, Cundiyó, Pueblo Quemado (present day Córdova) and Las Trampas. As irrigable land and grazing resources became fully appropriated in one community, marginalized members of the population established new communities on the frontiers north and east of their parent settlements. Thus, the original members of the Nuestra Señora del Rosario, San Fernando y Santiago Grant were residents of Chimayó and Pueblo Quemado. These settlements were all designated as community grants or evolved into quasi-community grants and were laid out around fortified plazas for protection against Indian attack.4

The Truchas grant was a community grant from its inception. Sometime before 5 March 1754, eleven residents of Chimayó and Pueblo Quemado including Nicolas Romero, Juan de Dios Romero, Salvador Espinosa, Tadeo Espinosa, Miguel Espinosa, Venturo Espinosa, Julian Romero, Gabriel Romero, Domingo Romero, Francisco Bernal and Cristobal Martín, wrote Governor Vélez Cachupín reminding him "that having been promised by your Lordship the grant of the place of Rio de las Truchas as soon as the boundaries of the new settlement of Santo Tomás Apostol del Rio de Las Trampas were established, and on that promise we have in good faith built an acequia and have planted for the past two years, we ask that Your Excellency deign to grant us said site in the name of His Majesty."5 Thus the petitioners, while they continued to reside in their parent communities, had built an acequia and planted crops at Truchas for two years to comply with an agreement they had apparently made with Governor Vélez Cachupín promising them the tract when the boundaries of the Las Trampas grant were fully established. 6 The boundaries requested were: "north, the ridge [the Ojo Sarco Ridge] that serves as a boundary on the south for said settlers [the southern boundary of the Las Trampas Grant], south, the [northern] boundary of the Pueblo Quemado [Grant], east, the Sierra del Oso (Bear Mountain) and west, the public road to Picuris."7

On 5 March Vélez Cachupín responded to the petition, directing Alcalde Juan José Lobato to report to him concerning its contents and the amount of land contained within the proposed boundaries.8 On 6 March 1754, Alcalde Juan José Lobato told Governor Vélez Cachupín that the petitioners lived uncomfortably on their small possessions in Chimayó and Pueblo Quemado and that the grant would not only benefit the petitioners, but the settlement would also obstruct one of the main avenues marauding Indians used to attack Santa Cruz de la Cañada. Lobato also confirmed that the proposed settlement was on unappropriated public land and would not prejudice any third party.9

On 18 March 1754 Governor Vélez Cachupín made the grant, giving Alcalde Lobato specific instructions about how the settlement was to be laid out and how the land was to be divided. He first instructed the alcalde to set aside one league of public land for grazing and raising livestock with the understanding that this land as well as the surrounding forest and watering places would be held in common by the new settlers as part of the grant. He next directed Alcalde Lobato to assign sufficient land to build houses which were to be joined, forming a square plaza with only one gate just large enough for a wagon to pass though. Veléz Cachupín explained that this was so that the settlers would be able to defend themselves against Indian attacks to which they would be vulnerable if their houses were scattered. The governor further instructed Alcalde Lobato to direct the settlers to work together to build their residences and finish their acequia so that the work could be accomplished in the shortest time possible. He then ordered the alcalde to assign farm lands of equal quantity and quality to each petitioner, which were to be measured in Castilian varas and marked by stone boundary monuments. The governor went on to say that all of this must be done just as he instructed and that he would prosecute anyone who did not follow his directives. He assigned the name Nuestra Señora del Rosario, San Fernando y Santiago [del Rio de las Truchas] to the grant, and told Alcalde Lobato that all of the grantees must be informed they could not sell, transfer, or in any other way encumber the lands for four years. Finally, he ordered Lobato to make a copy of the title for the grantees and remit the originals to be filed in the government archives in Santa Fe.10

The act of possession executed by Alcalde Lobato was equally detailed. Writing from Truchas on 24 April 1754, Lobato informed Governor Vélez Cachupín that he had selected the most convenient and defensible site, adjacent to a large spring, for the plaza. He then laid out the plaza according to the governor's instructions (measuring 60 varas on the inside an 70 varas on the outside), then allotted tracts of farm land to two additional heads of families, José Manuel Gonzales and Juan Luis Romero, who had not been included in the original petition, but had been part of another grant north of the Pueblo Quemado Grant made on 1 August 1751. Pursuant to the governor's instructions Lobato then allotted farming plots of approximately 150 varas to all the original petitioners and ordered them to construct permanent boundary markers to divide them.11

Alcalde Juan José Lovato then outlined the boundaries of the grant, which differ significantly from those requested in the petition: "north, the Truchas River, south, the heights adjoining the Rio Quemado, east, the point of diversion of the acequia on the Rio Quemado that irrigates the fields of this settlement, and on the west, the public road that leads to Picuris."12

Alcalde Lovato's designation of the Truchas River instead of the Ojo Sarco ridge as the northern boundary of the grant opened up a tract of land to the north of the grant. Francisco Montes Vigil, an elite from the villa of Santa Cruz de la Cañada who was one of the witnesses to the act of possession, petitioned for this unappropriated tract to the north of the Truchas grant some time in April of the same year. (Montes Vigil took possession of the tract in May of 1754.)13

The grant documents conclude with Governor Vélez Cachupín's 29 May 1754 response to Alcalde Lobato's act of possession in which he approved the grant and the act of possesion. The governor declared the August 1751 grant south of the Truchas grant void because its petitioners had been allotted land in the Nuestra Señora del Rosario, San Fernando y Santiago del Rio de las Truchas grant, and the 1751 grant had not been settled within the prescribed period of time. Veléz Cachupín told Alcalde Lovato that the 1751 site was, therefore, unappropriated and available for settlement by someone else.14

These grant documents demonstrate how Governor Vélez Cachupín's settlement strategy was implemented. As the population of the villas of Santa Fe and Santa Cruz de la Cañada expanded and competition for limited resources in those areas increased, settlement in the resource rich areas to the east and north became more attractive despite the dangers of living on the frontier. It is particularly interesting to consider this settlement strategy with regard to the relationship between the two community grants (Truchas and Las Trampas), and the two neighboring private grants, the previously mentioned Francisco Montes Vigil that lay between the two community grants and the Sebastian Martín grant that abutted the Trampas grant on its western boundary. 15 Both Martín and Montes Vigil were elites from the Santa Cruz de la Cañada area who obtained grants in order to be able to expand their grazing and farming operations. (In Veléz Cachupín's grant to Montes Vigil he specifically instructed Alcalde Lobato to restrict the boundaries of the Montes Vigil grant so that the other Santa Cruz residents' ability to pasture their animals in the area would not be prejudiced because "that town has no serviceable grazing grounds.")16

The establishment of the two community grants not only provided the two private grants protection from Indian attack-Martín actually granted the settlers of the Las Trampas grant 1,640 varas of irrigable land on the west side of the Rio de Las Trampas in order to make settlement more desirable-but also may have provided peones (laborers) for their grazing and farming operations. This view is substantiated by the depositions of claimants to the Montes Vigil grant during its confirmation hearings before the Surveyor General. Most of the people who gave depositions before the Surveyor General, several of whom claimed no direct relationship to the original grantee, resided in the town of Truchas (within the Nuestra Señora del Rosario, San Fernando y Santiago del Rio de las Truchas grant), and told the court they used the Montes Vigil grant seasonally (April-October) for grazing, farming and resource extraction. Asked if Montes Vigil actually established a residence on the grant, Juan N. Martín, who was 62 years old in 1882 when the deposition was taken, responded, "there are some old remains of houses on a rancho which are reputed to have been the stock and planting ranch of Vigil." Other testimony corroborates this assertion. It is very unlikely that Montes Vigil took up full time residence on this remote and dangerous tract. We can infer, therefore, that he established a residence on the grant that was used seasonally (as it was subsequently used by the claimants), to house his herders and farmers while they grazed his livestock and farmed his irrigable land during the months of April through October. We can also infer that these operations were carried out by people who were members or became members of the Las Truchas community because their settlement was less than a quarter mile from the Montes Vigil southern boundary, and by the time of the Surveyor General's investigation all the Montes Vigil heirs resided in that community. Moreover, the Montes Vigil grant which began as a private grazing grant, evolved into a quasi-community grant by becoming an extension of the Nuestra Señora del Rosario, San Fernando y Santiago del Rio de las Truchas grant common lands, utilized by a significant group of grant residents, both heirs and non heirs. 17

This same pattern of use was probably true of the eastern portion of the Sebastian Martín grant as well. Sebastian Martín established a residence on the extreme western portion of the grant in the community of Soledad (present day Villita). In order to utilize the eastern portion of the grant, which by eighteenth century standards was effectively isolated from Soledad, he would have had to establish herders on that portion of the grant. The most practical place to recruit those herders was the commmunity of Las Trampas, which immediately abutted his grant on the east and whose members, in all likelihood, were already grazing their own livestock on the Sebastian Martín grant.

Competition for limited resources in this area also became an issue between the residents of the Las Trampas grant and the Truchas grant. In 1755 the residents of Las Trampas "made plans to divert [the water from the Rito San Leonardo] for irrigation in the Cañada del Ojo Sarco, a proposal vigorously opposed by residents of Truchas, who claimed an exclusive right." Truchas managed to maintain its exclusive use of the water because Governor Vélez Cachupín determined that the Truchas settlers had been promised it when they were given permission to construct an acequia two years before they received their grant. Members of the Las Trampas grant, however, were determined to expand farming into the Ojo Sarco portion of their grant, and in 1836 they initiated a legal battle, which resulted in a judgment that the water from the Rito San Leonardo was free and available for use by members of the Trampas community in Ojo Sarco. Threats of violence ensued but the irrigators on the Las Trampas Grant managed to prevail.18

Ironically, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, members of the Las Trampas grant fought among themselves over the water from the Rio de Las Trampas, of which the Rito San Leonardo is a tributary. Residents of the communities of Las Trampas and El Valle felt that residents of Ojo Sarco were diverting more water than the Rito Leonardo produced and thus impairing their water rights. Several legal battles were fought, and a decree issued in 1908 defined each community's allotment.19 The battle over resources in this area, however, continues to this day, and members of the communities between Truchas and Picuris are so territorial that the Forest Service, which now manages much of these former grant lands, has established "social influence zones" in order to manage this area in a way that discourages inter-community rivalries from coming to a head.20

In 1776 Fray Francisco Atanasio Dominguez undertook a survey of all the missions of New Mexico. He passed through Truchas and noted, "this settlement is not of ranchos, but around two plazas . . . ." He further noted that it consisted of 26 families with 122 persons, demonstrating that between 1754 and 1776 the community had already doubled in size and population.21

The petition for confirmation of the Nuestra Señora del Rosario, San Fernando y Santiago del Rio de las Truchas grant was submitted to the Court of Private Land Claims on 13 August 1892. The petitioner was Pedro José Gallegos who, according to the petition, was seeking confirmation "on behalf of himself and in behalf of all the other heirs, successors and legal representatives of the original grantees interested in the said private land claim." The petition went on to state "there are now more than fifty persons or heads of families who hold undivided interests by inheritance and succession from the original grantees, and all of whom are now and for a long time have been living upon, cultivated and possessed [said tract]."22

Attorneys N.B. Laughlin and Candelario Martinez represented the plaintiffs. Laughlin represented many land grants during their adjudications, sometimes inadequately or unethically, and usually took a third to a half of the grant as his fee. He was often a legal and political rival of another infamous land grant lawyer, Thomas B. Catron, and vigorously supported Catron's disbarment when he became a judge in the first judicial district (though he was in the minority). 23

Laughlin's petition sought confirmation of the boundaries outlined in the grantees' 1754 petition, but the court (which found the title documents "complete and perfect)," confirmed the boundaries described in the act of possession.24 Interestingly, on 3 March 1893, Isabel Jaramillo de Romero filed a petition also seeking confirmation of the "Rancho de Las Truchas Grant." The government responded on 29 December 1896 informing Jaramillo de Romero that the grant had already been confirmed and the court's authority with regard to the grant had been exhausted. On 12 May 1897 Jaramillo de Romero withdrew her claim.25

The survey of the grant by the Office of the Surveyor General was delayed by the heirs' inability to provide "the relative location of the boundary calls of the grant, or the area and extent of same." 26 As a result the Surveyor General submitted an "estimate" of the boundary calls and projected costs of the survey and was authorized to proceed with the survey on 27 December 1894.27 The survey was completed by Albert Easley 29 April 1895 and the grant was found to contain 14,786.58 acres. The survey confirmation documents note that the U.S. Attorney Matthew G. Reynold's "objections to said survey . . . [have] been withdrawn."28 Reynolds had initially objected that the survey did not follow the boundary calls of the decree of confirmation.29 It is unclear why he withdrew his objections, but the survey, particularly with regard to the southern boundary designated as "the heights adjoining the Rio Quemado," continues to be strongly contested by the grant commissioners who claim the Forest Service placed its boundary fence too far north of the actual boundary, cheating the grant out of a considerable amount of land.30

The grant was not patented until 3 June 1905. It was delivered to Santiago Martinez, one of the grant commissioners.31 The Truchas grant had been authorized by New Mexico statute to be run by a board of trustees.32

1. The other two grants are: Francisco Montes Vigil (1754) and Las Trampas (1751).

2. Charles Briggs, "Our Strength is in the Land," (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1980), 49-50.

3. Grant by Governor Tomás Vélez Cachupín, Santa Fe, 15 July 1751, The Town of Las Trampas Grant, SG 27, Roll 16, fr. 298.

4. Malcolm Ebright, Land Grants and Lawsuits in Northern New Mexico, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994), 25.

5. "Como megor prosedo en derecho y al nuestro convenga y desymos que aviendonos prometido su Señora la merced del citio del rio de las Truchas luego que se decclaro el lindero de la nueva polasion de Santo Tomás Apostol del Rio de las Trampas en culla buena fee emos costiado sequia de asernos merced de dicho sitio en nombre de su Magestad, que nismos linderos que en nuestro primer escrito . . ." SANM I, 771. The alcalde, in his response to Vélez Cachupín, said the petitioners were from Chimayó and Pueblo Quemado.

6. Petition for the Nuestra Señora del Rosario, San Fernando y Santiago del Rio de las Truchas Grant, [early 1754], SANM I, 771. Also The Nuestra Señora del Rosario, San Fernando y Santiago Grant, PLC 28, Roll 35, fr. 1267-1278.

7. "Por el norte la cuchilla que le sirve lidero al sur a los dichos pobladores, por el sur los linderos del Pueblo Quemado, por el oriente la sierra del Oso y por al poniente el Camino Real que va para Picuris," Ibid.

8. Governor Vélez Cachupín to Alcalde Juan José Lobato, Santa Fe, 5 March 1754, Ibid.

9. Alcalde Juan José Lobato to Governor Vélez Cachupín, Soledad de la Rio Arriba, 6 March 1754, Ibid.

10. The additional language "del Rio de la Truchas" was added by Vélez Cachupín on the first page of the grant documents. Grant by Governor Vélez Cachupín, Santa Fe, 18 March 1754, Ibid.

11. Act of Possession for the Nuestra Señora Rosario, San Fernando y Santiago del Rio de Las Truchas Grant, 24 April 1754, Ibid.

12. "Por el norte las corrientes de el Rio de las Truchas, por el sur el alto inmediato al referido Rio de el Pueblo Quemado, por el oriente la toma de la acequia de el Rio del Pueblo Quemado que ha de fertilizar esta poblazon, y por el poniente el Camino Real que va para Picuris," Ibid.

13. Petition for the Francisco Montes Vigil Grant, [Santa Cruz de la Cañada, April 1754], PLC 14, Roll 34, fr. 1207.

14. Letter from Governor Vélez Cachupín to Alcalde Juan José Lobato, Santa Fe 29 May 1754, The Nuestra Señora del Rosario, San Fernando y Santiago del Rio de las Truchas Grant, SANM I, 771. Also PLC 28, Roll 35, fr. 1267-1278. [get info on August 1751 grant]

15. Deed from Sebastián Martín to twelve Las Trampas settlers, Soledad, 1 July 1751, Las Trampas grant, SG __, Roll 16, fr. 2 (this deed is being reinterpreted by a recently discovered 1755 Vélez Cachupín document).

16. Grant for the Francisco Montes Vigil Grant, Santa Fe, 16 May 1754, PLC 14, Roll 34, fr. 1208.

17. Depositions of claimants taken by the Surveyor General, April 1882, The Francisco Montes Vigil Grant, SG 128, Roll 25, fr. 43-55. Also see Mark Schiller, "The Francisco Montes Vigil Grant," New Mexico Land Grant History Project, 5-6.

18. John O. Baxter, Dividing New Mexico's Waters, 1700-1912, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1997), 43-44.

19. Malcolm Ebright, "Water Regulation in Territorial New Mexico", an unpublished manuscript in possession of the author.

20. Mark Schiller, "Local Forest Service Implements New Strategy: Collaborative Stewardship," La Jicarita News, Vol. II, Number V, May 1997, 1,4.

21. Fray Francisco Atanasio Dominguez, The Missions of New Mexico, 1776, (Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico Press, 1956), 83-84.

22. Petition to the Court of Private Land Claims for confirmation of the Nuestra Señora del Rosario, San Fernando y Santiago del Rio de las Truchas Grant, 13 August 1892, PLC 28, Roll 35, fr. 1260-1263.

23. See Laughlin's minority opinion, in re Catron 8 NM 253; Malcolm Ebright, Land Grants and Lawsuits in Northern New Mexico, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994), 131, 152. See also Victor Westphall, Thomas Benton Catron and His Era, (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1973), 232-234.

24. Confirmation of the Nuestra Señora del Rosario, San Fernando y Santiago del Rio de las Truchas Grant, 10 December 1892, PLC 28, Roll 35, fr. 1295-1296.

25. J.J. Bowden, "Private Land Claims in the Southwest", (M.A. thesis, Southern Methodist University, 1969), 1210-1211, n. 2.

26. Commissioner of the General Land Office (hereinafter GLO) to the Office of the Surveyor General (hereinafter SG), 5 March 1894, SG 227, Roll 29, fr.911-912.

27. Commissioner of the GLO to the SG, 27 December 1894, SG 227, Roll 29, frames 914-915.

28. Confirmation of the survey of the Nuestra Señora del Rosario, San Fernando y Santiago del Rio de las Truchas Grant by the Court of Private Land Claims, 3 September 1896, SG 227, Roll 29, fr. 925-926.

29. U.S. Attorney's objection to the confirmation of the survey of the Nuestra Señora del Rosario, San Fernando y Santiago del Rio de las Truchas Grant, August 1896, PLC 28, Roll 35, fr. 1298.

30. Personal conversation with Max Córdova, former president of the board of the Nuestra Señora del Rosario, San Fernando y Santiago del Rio de las Truchas Grant, 8 June 2004.

31. Patent for the Nuestra Señora del Rosario, San Fernando y Santiago del Rio de las Truchas Grant, 3 June 1905, SG 227, Roll 29, fr. 931.

32. White, Koch, Kelley and McCarthy and the New Mexico State Planning Office, Land Title Study (Santa Fe: State Planning Office 1971), 245 (summarizes the provisions for operating the Nuestro Señora del Rosario, San Fernando y Santiago grant)

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