Considering that the Spanish colonizers had more than three centuries to do it, one would assume that the twenty Indian pueblos of New Mexico (I include Pecos pueblo which was abandoned in 1837) were given title to their land in the form of written grants from the Spanish crown. Yet for eighteen of the pueblos such records have never been found, even though we cannot entirely discount the possibility that grants were made and the documents were lost when the Spanish records were burned during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, or later during American territorial days when the contents of some archives were considered trash and thrown out into the street.
Under Spanish rule the legal basis for the pueblo lands rested in the various royal ordinances, especially the royal cédula of June 1687, in which an original degree of May 1567 was re-affirmed and emphasized. In that cédula it was decreed that the Indians were entitled not only to all the land that was occupied by their town but six hundred varas (1,650 feet) more, measured from the “farthest house of the place” in all four cardinal directions. Constant revisions eventually increased that size to the proverbial “league” and thus led to the four-square-leagues concept that became the accepted size for Indian pueblos in New Mexico. Many 18th century Spanish documents use the term “pueblo league” but the phrase apparently referred only to a recognized minimum right rather than to a specific area. In any case, the Spanish crown’s much proclaimed concern for the landed rights of the pueblos did not result in giving them surveyed and monumened boundaries. While non-Indians were admonished not to encroach on pueblo lands, Spanish officialdom tended to leave it to the judgement of the encroacher to determine whether or not he was encroaching.
As for written evidence of title only Taos and Sandia Pueblos have Spanish documents, Taos from a Spanish grant dated 1793 and Sandia from 1748 when the pueblo was re-established after abandonment of an earlier location. Seven pueblos have original title dating from the U.S. territorial period as a result of Executive Order or acts of Congress. The Pueblos had been Mexican citizens and as such were not subject to the reservation system as were the nomadic tribes. The remaining eleven pueblos (Acoma, Cochiti, Jemez, Laguna, Pecos, Picuris, San Felipe, San Juan, Santo Domingo, Zia, and Zuni) trace their titles to documents supposedly issued in 1689 by Governor Cruzate. These documents are the subjects of this discussion.
Domingo Jironza Pétriz de Cruzate was a Spanish military officer who was born about 1650 in the Aragonese province of Huesca. In 1683 after the Spanish colonists had been expelled from New Mexico in the Indian revolt, he was appointed Captain General and Governor of the New Mexico frontier, mainly for the purpose of combating the Apaches and to attempt a re-conquest. A royal cédula of 1684 specifically gave him the authority to make pueblo grants whenever needed. Cruzate (in keeping with American practice I will call him thus, even though his Spanish name was Jironza) established his headquarter in Paso del Norte (today Ciudad Juarez, Mexico) where he founded the nearby Presidio of San Eleazario (today spelled: San Elizario). He was an experienced military commander of whom a contemporary historian wrote that he was given the office as a reward for his services in the Spanish wars against Portugal.
Cruzate served nearly four years in his first term as governor (1683-86), during which time the military expeditions undertaken by him ran afoul of the civil and church authorities in neighboring Nueva Viscaya (today part of the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Sonora and Durango) resulting in his temporary removal from office. Since under his successor Pedro Reneros de Posada the re-conquest of the province was going nowhere, he was re-appointed in 1689. After sacking and burning Zia Pueblo in order to prove his military prowess, Cruzate in Paso del Norte in September of that year supposedly made the grants that bear his name.
Nobody has been able to prove that Governor Cruzate ever made such grants, he himself never claimed having done so, and there is no mention of their existence or delivery in any known Spanish document. Written front and back on 8 ½-by 14 inch paper the Cruzate grants first made their appearance in the mid 1850s, after Surveyor General Pelham requested that all Spanish land titles be submitted to his office for his examination and subsequent submission to Congress for approval. Because all of the pueblos had been encroached upon in various degrees Pelham was anxious to have their boundaries surveyed. After examining the Cruzate grants he accepted all but one as authentic and submitted them to Washington for confirmation. In his rejection of the Laguna grant Pelham stated that the pueblo had not been established until 1699, ten years after the date on the grant papers. Congress in December 1858 confirmed all but the Santa Ana grant, which was confirmed a year later. Most of these pueblos were surveyed by U.S. Deputy Surveyor John W. Garretson from June through October 1859.
In 1891 Congress established the Court of Private Land Claims and appointed a prominent St. Louis lawyer by the name of Matthew Givens Reynolds to safeguard the interest of the United States. Among Reynolds assistants was William M. Tipton of Santa Fe, graphologist and Spanish language translator, who had worked for the surveyor general’s office since 1876, and among many others had detected the forgeries in the documents of the notorious Peralta Claim. Tipton made a study of the Cruzate grants and after exhaustive research declared all of them to be spurious [ANTEPASADOS: Sep. ‘03].
Tipton based his conclusion on the following observations: Comparing the signature of Cruzate with his signature on genuine official documents in the Spanish archives he found it to be counterfeit. Secondly, all grants had been countersigned in the same handwriting by a Don Pedro Ladrón de Guitara. Tipton found that no such person had served as government secretary (Cruzate’s secretary was named Pedro Ortiz Niño de Guevara). Then there was the Laguna “grant”, made at a time when the pueblo not yet existed [Note: Pelham’s and Tipton’s assertion that Laguna was not founded until 1699 has some years ago been challenged]. Furthermore all of these “grants” contained language that appeared to have been copied from a book entitled: Ojeada sobre Nuevo Mejico [A glimpse of New Mexico] that was not written until 1832. This last observation raises the question of how Tipton could determine who had copied from whom?
So where did these documents originate? In a law suit originally brought in 1854 in Socorro County and later appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court (Case #13 “The Pueblo of Acoma v. Vicente Avilucea, Ramon Sanchez, and Victor de la O”), the governor of Acoma Pueblo charged three defendants with attempting to sell the pueblo a land grant document stolen from the Santa Fe archives. One of the defendants, a Chihuahua native named Victor de la O claimed to have inherited land grant documents from his father who, he said, had been a lieutenant in the Royal Spanish dragoons in the state of Chihuahua, and who had died there in 1810. How the papers came into the elder de la O’s possession the son stated he did not know. Victor also claimed to be illiterate and said that he had come to New Mexico in 1833, at which time he had brought the documents with him. In well-reasoned observations by presiding Justice Kirby Benedict the Court did not buy Victor’s claim of illiteracy, perhaps made by him only in order to ward off any suggestion that he had anything to do with forgery. But since he was accused only of stealing the documents and not of their fabrication he was acquitted.
The true origin of the Cruzate “grants” has never been resolved. If de l
a O had indeed forged these documents he was more careful than a half-century later that self-styled “Prince of Forgers” James Addison Reavis, some of whose “Royal Spanish” grant papers bore the watermark of a paper-mill in Minnesota. I would already have raised my eyebrows at the 8 ½ by 14-inch paper size. With today’s technology it would not be too difficult to examine paper and ink and date their manufacture, but as the matter is no longer of legal importance, such examination would be of interest only to the historians.