by Charles W. Bowman
Las Animas Grant
Ceran St. Vrain, having become a citizen of the Republic
of Mexico, and resident at Don Fernando de Taos, in conjunction with Cornelio
Vigil, also of Taos, in 1842 applied to the Governor of the Province of New
Mexico for a grant of land. It had been the custom of the Mexican Government, as
well as the Spanish rulers before, to make concessions of land in the form of
grants to prominent citizens. Usually, this was done for some meritorious act in
the public service. St. Vrain and Vigil had been of invaluable service to the
Mexican frontier in maintaining peace with the Indians, and now proposed to
colonize and cultivate portions of the tract asked for, which would be an
additional guarantee of the safety of the frontier. In their petition, they used
the following language (translated from the Spanish):
That, desiring to encourage the agriculture of the country to such a degree as to establish its flourishing condition, and finding ourselves with but little land to accomplish the object, we have examined and registered, with great care, the land embraced within the Huerfano, Pisipa and Cucharas Rivers, to their junction with the Arkansas and Animas, and, finding sufficient fertile land for cultivation, and abundance of pasture and water, and all that is required for a flourishing establishment, and for raising cattle and sheep, being satisfied therewith, and certain that it is public land, we have not hesitated to apply to Your Excellency, praying you to be pleased, by an act of justice, to grant to each one of us a tract of land in the above-mentioned locality.
The grant was made without hesitation, from which it is
probable the applicants had consulted with the Governor before making a formal
request. The grant was a simple endorsement on the back of the petition, as
follows (translated from the Spanish):
To the Justice of the Peace of the proper jurisdic-tion, who will give the possession referred to by the petitioners, as this Government desires to encourage agriculture and the arts.
The petition was accompanied by a map showing the
water-courses and the boundaries of the tract desired. In order to a proper
comprehension of its extent and magnitude, as also showing its relation to Bent
County, the following description, furnished the writer in 1873 by one of the
heirs, will prove useful:
Beginning on the north line of the lands of Miranda and Beaubien, at one league east of the Rio de Las Animas, where there was placed a corner, thence following a straight line to the Arkansas River, one league below the confluence of the Animas and Arkansas, made the second corner, on the bank of the said Arkansas River; thence continuing to follow up the same Arkansas River to a point one league and a half below its confluence with the San Carlos, made the third corner; thence following a straight line toward the south, to the foot of the first mountain, two leagues west of the river Huerfano, and placed the fourth corner; thence continuing on a straight line to the top of the said mountain toward the east until it encounters the line of Miranda and Beaubien, and placed the sixth corner, thence following said line to the beginning corner; within the counties of Pueblo, Huerfano, Las Animas and Bent in the Territory of Colorado, and the county of Colfax in the Territory of New Mexico.
By the terms of the treaty with Mexico in 1848, it was provided that private land claims of this description in the territory ceded to the United States should be secured to the owners by this Government the same as under the Mexican authority. Accordingly, in 1860, Congress passed an act confirming, among others, the Las Animas grant, known as Claim No. 17, but providing that said claim should "not be confirmed for more than eleven square leagues to each claimant."
In the interval preceding, the grantees had conveyed away numerous and large tracts of the land to various persons, and really exceeded, in such transfer, the amount confirmed to them by Congress. This has more recently led to some conflict between the claimants of the grant and settlers thereon, the latter claiming the right to occupy under the homestead laws of the United States, while the former say the decision of Congress is unjust, and that their right to the whole tract will certainly yet be confirmed. To this view, not a few persons are still committed, and steps are now being taken by heirs and assignees of the original holders to procure this confirmation.
As a sample of the conveyances made by Vigil and St. Vrain, the following copy is subjoined:
Deed of Conveyance to Charles Bent
The undersigned owners and possessors of the lands, included from the waters of the Rio de Las Animas and of the Huerfano, within the boundaries designated in the act of possession, for the purpose of effecting and procuring means to settle those lands, for which purpose we have solicited and obtained the concession of the Government: and, of our own free will, we cede to M. Charles Bent, and to his successors, the one-sixth part of the land contained in our possession at said place, to which we hereby renounce all of our rights, hereby obligating ourselves not to prescribe him in that which we hereby grant unto him; it being our voluntary act and deed, it being understood that we are to give to such families as may transport themselves to said place, lands free of charge for settlement, subject to the guarantees and benefits to each party, as may be agreed upon, in order to protect the settlements to be formed; and, by this extrajudicial document, which we execute on this common paper (there being none of the corresponding seal), we, thus, as our entire voluntary act, covenant; and this indenture shall be as valid as if it was duly authenticated; and, by the same, we may be compelled to observe and comply therewith; and, in testimony whereof, we sign this, in Taos, on the 11th day of March, 1844.
Ceran St. Vrain.