Land Loss in New Mexico
Digital History ID 569
Hispano Commercial Club of Las Vegas
In New Mexico, private and communal land grants covered fifteen million square miles. Because New Mexico was a territory, rather than a state, Congress was responsible for adjudicating land claims. In 1854, it set up the Office of Surveyor General to report on the status of New Mexico land claims, but reserved the right to oppose them. This process proved incredibly slow. By 1863, only twenty-five town and private claims and seventeen Indian claims had been confirmed by Congress.
In 1854 Congress appointed a surveyor general to investigate titles, but Congress reserved the power to approve them. By 1880, over a thousand land claims had been entered; the survey sent only 150 to Congress, which in turn ruled on only seventy-one. Finally, in the 1890s Congress established a Court of Private Land Claims for New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado. These courts were very strict in requiring a proper survey, documentation, and full compliance with every Mexican law regarding land tenure. The New Mexico court rejected two-thirds of the claims presented before it. In the end, about four out of five New Mexico grant holders lost their lands, and by 1930, communal land grants had declined from 2 million acres to 300,000.
In this selection, the Hispano Commercial Club of Las Vegas, New Mexico asks the Mexican minister to the United States in 1890 to help Mexican Americans reclaim their land grants, guaranteed under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
The American government has thus far, though over 40 years have elapsed, neglected to provide a competent court to pass on the validity of the claims of those who were once Mexican citizens.... We, with great respect, petition you to champion the cause of our people and again represent to the State Department at Washington evil inflicted on us by the failure of the U.S. government to fulfill in this respect its obligations incurred by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
Source: Commercial Club of Las Vegas, New Mexico, to Matias Romero, Minister Plenipotentiary, December 27, 1890, ASRE, no. 11-5-1.
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