Mesilla Land Grant, New Mexico

The Mesilla grant was made by the state of Chihuahua, and had its origin in the clause m the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which provided that those Mexican citizens who did not desire to become and remain American citizens might remove from the limits of the United States to Mexico. Many persons desired to take advantage of this provision, and most of these selected La Mesilla (then in Chihuahua) as a desirable location for such a colony. Application for the location was made to the government, the grant was made and a tract of country of well-defined natural boundaries was assigned to the colony. The settlers entered upon it, subdivided the tract, cut their acquis, or community irrigating ditches, built their churches and residences, and before the next treaty, known as the Gadsden Purchase, the settlement had become the strongest one in the valley of the Rio Grande south of the Jornada del Muerto and north of El Faso.

Both of the treaties with Mexico provided that the people should be secured in their rights, property and lands, and if no change in their status as citizens of Mexico had taken place, the rights they held under the laws of Mexico should continue to be held under the laws of the United States. The sole question that remained in future years to annoy the occupants of the Mesilla grant was whether there was a bona fide town grant, made by the Mexican government, through the state of Chihuahua, the records of that state show conclusively that such a grant was made. Every requirement of the laws of Mexico was also complied with by the occupants of the grant. At an early day Congress passed an act empowering the surveyor general of New Mexico to take the evidence and decide upon the merits of land grants of all kinds in the Territory, and report the same to Congress for its action.

Acting under the provisions of that act, the grants made to all towns and settlements in the northern portion of the Territory were confirmed to the people, and until comparatively recent years they held their grants by those titles. But dangers incident to a journey from Mesilla and Dona Ana to Santa Fe, which included crossing the dreaded Jornada del Muerto, prevented many witnesses from making the trip. The Mesilla valley was then so isolated from the remainder of the Territory that even the territorial courts were not held there, and the people were compelled, through sheer necessity, to establish courts unknown to the laws of the Territory. Unaided, they defended their homes and flocks from the depredations of the murderous Apaches, and though robbed of all but their lands, they maintained their colonial rights. They even spoke of going to New Mexico as if they resided in another Territory. The surveyor general did nothing to enable them to make legal proofs of their occupation of the land grant, though he fully realized that few, if any, of the people were able to go to Santa Fe to do so.

While this land grant question was still pending in the office of the surveyor general, the Civil war broke out, putting an end to further action in the matter for the time being. The surveyor general refused to act, and all knowledge of the existence of the law seemed to have passed from the recollection of the people of the valley until 1872, when the commissioner of the general land office revived the matter. The evidence taken as the result of that revival of the question tended to prove that Mesilla had a better title to its land than was held by the occupants of most of the town grants previously confirmed by Congress.

 

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Source: History of New Mexico, Its Resources and People, Volume I, Pacific States Publishing Co., 1907.

©New Mexico American History and Genealogy Project 2011 - 2017
Created 1996 by Charles Barnum & 2016 by Judy White