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Treaty versus promise

September 16, 2018

In 1848, the United States ended the war with Mexico. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was created as a result, with New Mexico among the territories transferred. The treaty stipulated that the Spanish and Mexican land grants would be honored, ownership protected.

By 1891, the vast acreages had enticed the U.S. president enough that he allowed the Court of Private Land Claims to reduce land grants by as much as 90 percent, creating U.S. forest reserves. These common areas were shared by the grants and provided justification for public land designations.

Although the Court of Private Land Claims ended in 1904, its practices did not. Numerous Spanish families, the Archuletas, for one, had land taken on Jan. 16, 1930, per court documents. The U.S. government had hired three learned men from Colorado to quiet thousands of deeds. The required affidavit of publication listing properties deeded to 2,300 families and their “unknown heirs” was posted, in English, at the courthouses in Tierra Amarilla and Santa Fe and at the post office in Española the first week of January 1931. The Archuletas lived a one-day horse ride from Española in good weather; several feet of snow was another story. Likewise, January was for lengthy, traditional New Year celebrations and keeping livestock safe in the cold. As a result, of the few “unknown heirs” who read English, fewer saw the document.

In 1987, Onesimo (Neddie) Archuleta received by warranty deed a piece of property inherited by his father from his grandmother, Donicia Archuleta y Baca. This property in rural Northern New Mexico was marked and measured by boundaries, a standard practice until 1954. Property descriptions on the deed looked something like this: north to the property of Bilarmino Varoz; south to public domain; east to the property of Salomon Archuleta; west to the Lobato Grant. The boundaries lined acreage that was assessed and the taxes paid by Neddie, his great great-grandfather, great-grandfather, grandmother, as well as his father.

Unbeknownst to the family, this property was quietly titled on Jan. 9, 1931, despite the fact that taxes were paid to date. As a result, when Neddie moved a mobile home to the land, the U.S. Forest Service filed a lawsuit against him for trespassing on government land. Five years and much of the family’s resources later, the Forest Service sold him 1.04 acres with a quitclaim deed.

My brother and I are among the “unknown heirs” of property listed on the affidavit of publication, and are among the supporters of HR 6365 — Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo Land Claims Act of 2018 — a new bill before Congress addressing lands currently in Forest Service hands. Sponsored by U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., the bill was reviewed by the Subcommittee on Federal Lands on Sept. 6. We expect a markup of the bill by the House Committee on Natural Resources by October. (A second land grant bill, HR 6487, introduced by U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, focuses on recognition of traditional uses on former common lands now run by federal government; it doesn’t have a hearing yet.)

Anyone among the Hispanic families who know of or even suspect involvement are encouraged to voice their concerns to Congress, and stand with us seeking restoration.

Phil T. Archuletta lives in El Rito.

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