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Rabbitbrush Rambler: The Conejos Grant

Posted: Tuesday, Jan 8th, 2013

Because I soon shall be writing a series about an early-day resident of Conejos County, Lafayette Head, it seems timely to first offer an article about the Conejos Grant.

The Guadalupe Grant, sometimes referred to today as the Guadalupe Conejos Grant, was conferred in 1833 by the Mexican provincial government to a group of Hispanic people. They were from northern New Mexico, primarily from around the El Rito or Abiquiu area it is believed, and although they might have used some of the land for seasonal grazing and crops, the Guadalupe Grant was not settled, due to its isolation and danger from nomadic Indians.

In 1842, a new petition for a smaller tract, the Conejos Grant, was submitted and approved. Concerning this grant, I shall quote from the reliable “History of Colorado,” vol. 4, page 91, by Frank Hall (Chicago: Blakely Printing Co., 1895):

“A considerable part of Conejos county lying in the San Luis valley or park was granted to Jose Maria

Martinez and Antonio Martinez of El Rito, Rio Arriba county, New Mexico and Juan Gallegos and

Seledon Valdez of Taos, October 12, 1842. A few settlers came, but were frightened away by the active hostility of the Indians; hence no permanent improvements were made.”

As Hall wrote, “The boundaries of this old Mexican grant are thus somewhat vaguely described in the original documents now on file in the office of the Surveyor-General of Colorado, at Denver:- ‘On the north by La Garita Hill, on the south by the San Antonio Mountain, on the east by the Rio Del Norte, and on the west by the timbered mountain embraced by the tract.’

“Then follows an account of how the lands are allotted to the original colonists, in these words: ‘By measuring off to them the planting lots from the plateau Bend, there fell to each one of the settlers 200 varas in a straight line from the San Antonio River and its adjoining hills and its margins, to the La Jara river inclusive, there being eighty-four families, a surplus of the upper portion toward the cañon of said river remaining for settlement of others, from where the two separate upward.’”

The document continued with stipulations about common pastures, watering places, unobstructed roads leading from the town, and so on, similar to those in the Sangre de Cristo Grant. The certified document was signed by Cornelio Vijil.

Hall’s account also included an additional document about conditions for occupying the site, which concluded with a description of the ceremony at the tract when grass was plucked, stones were tossed in the air, and the Justice of the Peace proclaimed, “Long live the sovereignty of our Mexican Nation.”

Although the some grantees did take possession, “Indians, resenting the intrusion upon their cherished hunting and camping grounds, harassed the settlers continually and finally drove them out,” Hall reported.

Among those who managed to get a brief toehold, Atenacio Trujillo of El Rito came to the Rincones area southeast of Manassa in 1847 and 1848, and others surnamed Garcia, Martinez, and, and Lucero came to Los Cerritos in 1852. On the Sangre de Cristo Grant across the Rio Grande, meanwhile, permanent settlement had begun along the Costilla and Culebra rivers in 1848-1849 and 1851.

The Army of the West arrived in New Mexico in 1846, however, and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in 1848. In1860s, when the Court of Private Land Claims and the U.S. Senate addressed the question of grants of land that had been made by Spain and Mexico, some grants were allowed, but the Conejos Grant was not.

At one point in the dispute, documents in official custody were said to have disappeared, although petitions continued. Years later, in the 1890s, the Court of Private Land Claims considered the grant again, and it was declared null and void in 1900.

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