Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Rancho Viejo Land History

Rancho Viejo Land History

“Unparalleled Land Stealing”


Marsha and I now live in Rancho Viejo (“Old Ranch” in Spanish) – a 23,000-acre (39 square mile) parcel of land south of I-25 in Santa Fe County, New Mexico.  Our former hometown of Wethersfield, Connecticut for comparison measured 13.1 square miles including .8 square miles of inlet cove and river water).  Among the current occupants of RV are three HOA communities (Windmill Ridge, Entrada, and The Village (our home)); Santa Fe Community College; Santa Maria de la Paz Roman Catholic Church; the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA); and the Amy Biehl Community School. 

Prior to the Spanish settlement of Santa Fe in the 1600s, the territory in-and-around what is now RV was used for hunting and gathering, and occasionally occupied by what archaeologists call Paleoindians, Archaics, and Puebloans.  (A chapter on “The Earliest Residents” is in progress.)       

The colonizing Spanish divided those open spaces into land grants – the majority of it common land for the general support of the community; some privately owned (“proprietary”) plots awarded to favored subjects and loyalists of the Spanish government, Pueblo communities or families of ten or more, and “sito” or ranch grants ranging in size from one square league (nine square miles) to hundreds of thousands of acres; and royal or vacant lands, which also were used by the general populace. Unfortunately for historians and real estate lawyers, during the Pueblo Rebellion in 1680 – an uprising by the indigenous Pueblo people against their Spanish colonizers – the Palace of the Governors (built in 1610) containing the records of all these early land grants was burned to the ground and the documents destroyed. 

The situation was exacerbated between 1869 and 1871 when New Mexico Governor William Pile was in office.  According to newmexicohistory.org, “A major debacle occurring during Pile’s term concerned the territorial archives. Ira M. Bond, the territorial librarian who was an appointee and friend of the governor, sold and destroyed some of the archives of New Mexico. [Among them some of the land grant documentation.] This action was apparently taken at Pile’s suggestion, who wanted for office use the space occupied by archival material in the Palace of the Governors.  Pile was condemned at public meetings in Santa Fe and Albuquerque for this decision.”

Dr. Richard Melzer of UNM Valencia in a talk at El Rancho de las Golondrinas told his audience that among these documents were more records of the early land grants.  When an effort was made to retrieve them it was found that many of them were used as scraps to start fires, and others in outhouses, and as butcher wrapping paper.

When Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821 they continued the land grant laws with the one addition of allowing foreigners to acquire them – something not allowed by the Spanish.

After the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, when the United States took over the New Mexican Territory, the land began to be further divided and titles reassigned –raising interesting questions about how the land came into Anglo ownership after Hispanic proprietorship – and if there were any legal shenanigans involved to transfer the right of possession.  Or as stated in “Windmills and Dreams” (a history of nearby Eldorado at Santa Fe), “unparalleled land stealing in New Mexico.”

Such as, the Native Pueblo Indians might say, had been done to them.

Spanish and Mexican land grants were officially protected under the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo – but this provision was not strictly enforced. 

William P Barrett writes in his online article “Who Owns New Mexico” that the Treaty “protected grant holders who had perfected their titles [all liens or other defects had been removed]. But the U.S. Senate refused to ratify a provision that would have vested grantees merely in the process. Indeed, much of New Mexico's vast federal acreage today is the result of disallowed Mexican or Spanish land grants.  The result was decades of litigation--and fraud, as all kinds of dubious documents surfaced in purported support of these ancient rights.”

Inconsistencies between Anglo and Spanish land laws, indefinite land grant boundaries, and the inability of many claimants to provide proof of title led to legal and political entanglements and occasional violence in territorial New Mexico.  And the “Santa Fe Ring” – a group of powerful attorneys and land speculators (basically all the Republican politicians in the state capital during the late 19th and early 20th centuries – among them the above mentioned William Pile) – amassed a fortune through political corruption and fraudulent land deals.

Ultimately the Office of the United States Surveyor General for New Mexico was created in 1852 to investigate Spanish and Mexican land grants and recommend to the U.S. Congress those claims that had actual proof.

“Even so land grant issues remain vexing in New Mexico owing to the unfulfilled promise of the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo,” wrote Stephen Sayles and Jerry L. Williams in discussion of Land Grants from “New Mexico in Maps” by UNM Press.

Eldorado at Santa Fe, the census-designated place to the west and somewhat south of Rancho Viejo (map pg. 43) has proof of being a part of both the then adjacent Lamy and Canada de Los Alamos Spanish Land Grants – taking up most of the former.  “Lorenzo Marquez was deeded the [Canada de Los Alamos] in 1785.  At that time, and until 1892, the grant was a basically square piece of property containing 13,700 acres.  It was bounded on the north by the main road from Pecos Cerrillos; on the west by a wooded ridge; on the south by Canada de la Tierra including the Colorado Mountains; and on the east the boundary line dropped due south from the junction of Old Las Vegas Highway and U.S. Highway 285 to a few miles north of the present town of Lamy.”  (Windmills and Dreams)

The first owner of record of the Lamy Grant was Diego Antonio Baca who “sometime in 1807 was given the land in exchange for a house and lot to be used for barracks by government troops in the Presidio of Santa Fe.  The grant was described as being bounded: On the North, by the road leading from Santa Fe to Pecos; on the east by Cononcito de los Apaches, including the water of said canon; on the south by the road leading from Galisteo to its junction with the soldier’s bridle path; and on the west by the soldier’s bridle path and Cerro Colorado, including said Cerro.”

The next owner, circa 1817, was Carlos de Herrera, a sheepherder who had 500 consignment sheep stolen from him – and being unable to pay for the purloined ovines, devised a “back door” transfer of the property to the Catholic Church.   However selling land to the church was not allowed under Spanish or Mexican law.  So, “in order to clear up the situation”, in 1856 Bishop (later Archbishop) Jean Baptiste Lamy secured a quitclaim covering the grant from its heir Francisco Herrera.  “Lamy alleged that the will had been lost or misplaced; he also offered no explanations or apologies for his lack of documentation regarding the validity of the original Baca claim.”  (Archbishop Lamy was the subject of Willa Cather’s novel “Death Comes to the Archbishop.”

A map of Spanish and Mexican Land Grants published in “New Mexico in Maps” shows the Lamy and Canada de Los Alamos grants as adjacent gray shapes in Southern Santa Fe Country with white space to the east and west and most of the south except for the relatively small (1,895 acres) San Marcos Pueblo Grant to the southwest, and the San Cristoval Grant attached to the southernmost extremity of the Lamy Grant.  Immediately north of Canada de Los Alamos is the Sebastian de Vargas Grant.

My interpretation of this diagrammatic representation is that the Spanish/Mexican origins of what is now Rancho Viejo lies in the white space to the east and south – indicating to me that the property was never privately granted land or, if it were, that any records of such grants do not exist.  The land may have been communal, Royal, or simply vacant.

Oh well – no Colonialism, in this case Spanish, in our property’s lineage.  But Marsha and I are used to such things being second generation Americans who moved to Santa Fe from Connecticut’s oldest incorporated town (1634) with a rich British Colonial history, and a significant number of residents with direct familial ties to that past.

But, on the plus side, now we don’t need to stay awake nights worrying about the ghost, or heirs, of Archbishop Lamy showing up at our door to reclaim their heritage.  The couple who live next door to us, however, are the Herreras.  Oh well.

Value Unclear, But Hefty

Prior to becoming Rancho Viejo in 1981 RV and the surrounding real estate had been a succession of ranches the sizes and shapes of which ebbed and flowed as a series of buyers purchased entire properties and/or parts thereof.  The current “Old Ranch” is the only one with that name that I have found. 

In the early part of the Twentieth Century the Rancho Viejo land was a part of the Mocho Family Ranch – owned and run by Jean Baptiste (“James”) and John Mocho who were turn-of-the-century immigrants from the Basque Country. 

In 1910 the Mocho brothers purchased a ranch in Encinoso Lincoln County, in the foothills of the Capitan Mountains.  “The initial ranch, formerly the Charles Spence ranch, sat on 160 acres of deeded land, had two good springs and a permit to graze two thousand ewes during summer months on Forest Service Land”, according to Jim’s son Pete.

When New Mexico became a state the once open lands had some new government controls placed upon them, which the Mocho brothers did not know how to negotiate.  “Their lack of knowledge in such matters benefitted from political competition between the Democrats and Republicans who had seen the territory become a state.”  New Mexico’s first Governor was W. “Bill” McDonald, owner of the neighboring Block Ranch – whom the Mochos regarded as a competitor for the open land. 

Pete Mocho continued, “In Lincoln County, the republicans, under leadership of Mr. Andrew Huspeth, a lawyer, and Mr. Charles Spence, a banker, seized on the opportunity of limiting Governor McDonald’s expansion of his Block Ranch by taking Dad and uncle John to Santa Fe and helping them file on state range land and against Governor McDonald’s expansion of his Block Ranch…[the Mochos] were the only landowners near Governor McDonald who were authorized to claim a commensurate righ to the new state lands.” As a result the Mocho Ranch grew to 160,000 acres of choice land.

Other ranchers came in and settled the land between Mocho Ranch and Block Ranch – among them Thomas Shoemaker whose daughters Nora and Ora married John and Jim Mocho in 1914 and 1916 respectively.  The two families soon outgrew the 1890s u-shaped house on the ranch that they shared – and in a four day period in 1917 Jim and John Mocho “ sold the whole operation on Monday for cash to Pete Etchevery and George Walker.”  The ranch had, by then, grown to 800 head of cattle and 10,000 ewes, which brought $80 a head and $14 each.

James Mocho then purchased the “Bonanza Grant” in Santa Fe, and John joined him in raising sheep and cattle on the family ranch.  According to an article on newmexico.org, “The chain of title is confused, but the lands, sometimes called La Bonanza, Bonanza Creek, Cerrillos Ranch, or old Cerrillos, as well as the recorded grant names, were in the hands of the Padilla and Rio Grande Livestock Company when purchased by the Mochos.”  The combined owned land and leased land that comprised the Mocho sheep and cattle operation at one time apparently totaled 115,000 acres.

The article continues, “Jim Mocho [John’s son] says that his father built many of the fences in the Rancho Viejo area and tried to convince others to do so as well, once buying an entire railroad car full of barbed wire in Albuquerque.”

The Mocho homestead was broken up and sold off in part due the effects of “Great Depression”, and partly due to the decrease in open grazing land caused by public spaces being given over for housing and highway department usage.  In 1951 part (or possibly all) of the Mocho family ranch plus, over time, three other properties – the Dody, Morrow and Calvin holdings became the Jarrett Ranch.

According to the June 2006 “San Marcos District Community Plan” – “The remaining area in the district is residential/agricultural land ranging in lot sizes varying from less than an acre to several hundred acres. The settlement pattern is a result of the breakup and sale of several large ranches over time, the largest of these being the Jarrett Ranch.”

“By the Mid 1970s the isolated ranch house was mostly a thing of the past. While still very rural in nature, the San Marcos district had probably picked up another fifty or sixty families. Subdivision, in all of its guises, was rampant, although building was not. The giant Jarrett ranch was split in two after the death of Mr. Hughes, with Rancho Viejo Partnership purchasing the eastern half of the ranch.  Both halves however, continued to be run as working cattle ranches.”

RV itself was formed from a portion of the 36,000-acre Jarrett Ranch, which was located between Santa Fe and Madrid, south of I 25, east of La Bajada, and west of US 285.   Richard “Jim” Jarrett and his wife Tillie bought the property in 1951 and then Jim died in a traffic accident in 1957 after which the entire spread went to his wife.  Tillie married an Albuquerque Chiropractor named Sam Lord shortly after which she died of cancer leaving the ranch to her sister Sue Hughes who soon after also died of the same disease.  The land then went to Sue’s husband Glen and son Bobby who decided to sell some of the land to pay the inheritance taxes.

Bonanza Creek Ranch – “one of the premiere [move and TV filming] locations in the western United States” and about twelve miles south of our address (as the raven flies) was also part of that large spread. And was also acquired from the Jarrett Ranch in the 1980s.  The film “Cowboy” starring Glenn Ford and Jack Lemmon was the first movie filmed here in l958. 1,200 Corriente steers were brought up from up from Mexico to use for the cattle drive scenes.

Rancho Viejo was purchased in 1981 by Adeline Meyer, Larry Meyer, Leland Thompson, William (Bill) Kennedy and Fred Chambers operating as Rancho Viejo Limited Partners.

In his Memoirs Larry Meyer writes, “Reporter Steve Terrell wrote an article for The New Mexican newspaper when we bought Rancho Viejo.  The title was ‘Three ‘Old Republicans’ Buy the Ranch,’ and in it Terrell implied that we were all Texans.  Leland is from Kansas originally, and I am from California.  In the article, Terrell called us carpetbaggers, despite the fact that, at the time, I think Leland had been here for about 25 years, and I had been here for 30 years!  Fred Chambers indeed was from Texas, but Fred didn’t take part in the day-to-day decisions.  It was more or less Leland and I who managed the operation.”

In Santa Fe Larry Meyer had established and run the L.E. Meyer Company, originally a mechanical contracting firm, and later a real estate development company in 1951.  He and his wife, Adeline, were well known for their generous support of higher education, the Santa Fe Opera, Santa Fe Garden Club, and other community efforts.

Leland Thompson was named one of “The 25 Richest People in New Mexico” by CROSSWINDS, “New Mexico’s Largest Alternative Newspaper” in October 1996 ­–  “LELAND THOMPSON, Santa Fe. Transplanted Texas oilman owns with partners lots of land around Interstate 25. Value unclear but hefty.”  In Midland Texas Thompson, Chambers and Kennedy were involved in the oil business with George H.W. Bush in the 1950s.  Leland and “HW” were both “wildcatters”, and Thompson reportedly gave a young “W” Bush his first ride in a small airplane.  Leland Thompson was also a founder of Santa Fe Preparatory School, and involved in a major way in the establishment of the Santa Fe campus of St. John’s College.

The San Marcos Plan goes on to say,  “Most of the [Rancho Viejo] holding continued as a 200 to 400 head cattle ranch leased to Mr. Henry McKinley. The partners concentrated their development efforts in the northern sections (outside the San Marcos District).”  Cattle farming ceased as in the mid-1980s as new land use codes were enacted.

Prior to the development of the Rancho Viejo HOAs, RVLP donated the lands for the establishment of Santa Fe Community College, Santa Maria de la Paz Roman Catholic Church, and the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) as well as The Turquoise Trail Elementary School and the County Fire Station across from San Marcos Feed Store.

That’s it for now.  But my quest for a history of Rancho Viejo will continue, as, among other things, I attempt to: learn the actual boundaries and size of Rancho Viejo and of the Mocho Ranch (the magnitude of some of these southwestern land holdings boggles my provincial New England mind); find out more about the Jarrett Ranch, including its dimensions; and still possibly trace RV’s chain of ownership back to the original Spanish Land Grant(s).

Recently Marsha and I attended a talk by Abiquiu New Mexico author Lesley Poling-Kempes about her latest non-fiction work “Ladies of the Canyons” – “intrepid women whose lives were transformed in the first decades of the twentieth century by the people and landscape of the American Southwest.”

She talked about the difficulty of researching the history of people who are not famous – like the four main subjects of her book.  Stuff just is not written about them.  But in this case one of the Ladies, Natalie Curtis, was a friend and professional acquaintance of President Theodore Roosevelt and is mentioned in works about him – e.g. introducing him to the Hopi Indian Snake Dance at Walpi Arizona in 1913.

This absence of source material also seems to be the case with looking into the history of the land on which our property sits.  There was no “Battle of Rancho Viejo Hill” with tales of Rough Rider daring-do for historians to recount.  And then, when some documentation is uncovered it sometimes contradicts other accounts of the same thing.  But that is what makes researching fun – even at the amateur level.

As Sir Winston Churchill describes it, “History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days.”  

An Additional Note:

A September 2001 Report to Congress “TREATY OF GUADALUPE HIDALGO – Definition and List of Community Land Grants in New Mexico reported the following:

“Land grant documents contain no direct reference to “community land grants” nor do Spanish and Mexican laws define or use this term. We did find, however, that some grants refer to lands set aside for general communal use (ejidos) or for specific purposes, including hunting (caza), pasture (pastos), wood gathering (leña), or watering (abrevederos). Scholars, the land grant literature, and popular terminology commonly use the phrase “community land grants” to denote land grants that set aside common lands for the use of the entire community. We adopted this broad definition in determining which Spanish and Mexican land grants can be identified as community land grants.

“We identified 154 community land grants (or approximately 52 percent) out of the total of 295 land grants in New Mexico. We divided these community land grants into three distinct types: 78 of these were grants in which the shared lands formed part of the grant according to the original grant documentation; 53 were grants that scholars, grantee heirs, or others believed to contain common lands; and 23 were grants extended to the indigenous pueblo cultures in New Mexico.”



Windmills and Dreams: A History of the Eldorado Community and Neighboring Areas

Eldorado Community improvement Association

New Mexico in Maps, University of New Mexico Press

The Memoirs of Larry Myer

June 2006 “San Marcos District Community Plan”

Ladies of the Canyons, Lesley Poling-Kempes, University of Arizona Press

Capitan, New Mexico: From the Coalora Coal Mines to Smokey Bear

By Gary Cozzens (books.google.com/books)