In August I traveled to Flagstaff where the Arizona surveyors had invited me to speak about Spanish land grants. The Arizona grants were granted in the 1820’s by the Mexican state of Sonora to cattle ranchers and, unlike most grants in New Mexico, did not involve a settled population. Of the seventeen grants submitted to the Court of Private Land Claims eight were approved, the other were rejected by the Court. All but one, Algodones at the junction of the Gila and Colorado, are located to the south and southeast of Tucson.

On the way home I visited the Santa Cruz Valley, an area that Spanish missionaries attempted to colonize beginning with the Jesuits under Father Kino in 1691. Settlement was a mighty precarious undertaking because of the Apaches and permanent occupation did not take place until after the area became part of the United States in the Gadsden Purchase.

A drive from Tucson to Nogales on interstate 19 will take you ten miles through the San Ignacio de la Canoa Grant starting at the town of Green Valley. It was surveyed and monumented in July 1821 by the last Spanish commander of the royal fort of Tubac for four sitios (17,354 acres). Mexican independence prevented the Spanish from issuing title and the owner was given a title only in 1849 by the state of Sonora. American ranchers bought the grant from its Mexican owner and succeeded in getting the Court of Private Land Claims (CPLC) to approve almost 47,000 acres, considerable more than four sitios. The government appealed and the U.S. Supreme Court reduced the grant to its original size.

With land grants still very much on my mind I stopped at the old presidio of Tubac located at the very northwest corner of Luis Maria Baca Float No. 3. The presidio was abandoned in 1776 when the Spanish garrison was moved forty-five miles north to Tucson. The entire original layout that is visible is what the archaeologists have excavated. The State of Arizona maintains it as an historic park.

Under a Spanish settlement regulation of 1772 the commander of Tubac in 1789 granted about 1,200 acres just outside the presidio to a Toribio Otero, whose heirs relinquished their rights to the grant because of the expense involved to submit it to the CPLC, a sad commentary on American handling of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Article VIII of the Treaty, specifically incorporated into the Gadsden purchase, guaranteed landowners their property "…without their being subjected, on this account, to any contribution, tax, or charge whatever."

I went on to visit the old Spanish mission of Tumacacori three miles south of Tubac. Unlike Tubac, Tumacacori (accent is on the second a) was not abandoned until 1848 and the church is still standing, although it suffered greatly from vandalism and neglect.

In 1806 the governor of the pueblo of Tumacacori petitioned the administrator of the province of Pimeria Alta for four sitios of farmland (fundo legal) plus two sitios of grazing land (estancia) and asked for it to be surveyed. The commander of Tubac appointed officers to survey the boundaries. Even though these men surveyed only about a fourth of a league, the Indians received title to all petitioned land a year later. There was however a provision that if the grant should be abandoned for three years the land could then be claimed by anyone.

The civil wars after Mexican independence in 1821 and constant raids by the Apaches resulted in chaotic conditions along the entire Sonoran frontier. In 1834 all missions were secularized and its lands put into the public domain. The state of Sonora was in rebellion against the central government in Mexico City and in 1844 it sold Tumacacori at public auction for $500. Manuel Maria Gandara, former governor of that state, whose son-in-law had received title as a stand-in, operated Tumacacori on and off as a sheep ranch, finally selling it in 1878 to a San Francisco speculator for $12,500 in gold coin.

The new owner and several partners soon organized a Land and Cattle Company and presented the title papers to Surveyor General John Wasson in Tucson, who in 1880 approved the grant, to which the nearby mission lands of Calabazas and Guevavi had been added, for 52,008 acres. Congress however took no action to confirm the title and the owners later petitioned CPLC for 81,350 acres. The Court refused to recognize the 1844 title on the grounds that the treasurer of Sonora had no authority to sell the Mexican public domain, which was also the reason for the rejection of the afore mentioned Algodones grant. The claimants appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court where the lower court was sustained. By then most of the Tumacacori land grant was located on the Baca Float No.3 that the Supreme Court validated in 1914. Today the old mission site is a National Historic Park.

About the Author

Fred Roeder, LS

Fred Roeder lives in Tularosa, New Mexico. He emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1957 and spent most of his surveying career in the Southwest, working for the U.S. Forest Service. Now retired, he started writing a regular column for the New Mexico Professional Surveyors Newsletter in 1988. In 1994, NMPS produced Antepasados, a book of his columns. Many surveyors are good writers, especially about technical or legal matters. However, it's not often that we find a surveyor/story-teller who can present historical facts in a manner that makes them fun to read. Fred Roeder is such a writer and we are pleased to present more than 80 of his stories here. Bibliography is a list of the books Fred used in his writings, and includes a numbered index of the articles. Index is a list of all the articles Fred has written and when. Editor's pick: The King Who Had No Title
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