CRESPIN V. UNITED STATES, 168 U. S. 208 (1897)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Crespin v. United States, 168 U.S. 208 (1897)

Crespin v. United States

No. 6

Argued October 12, 1897

Decided November 15, 1897

168 U.S. 208


The plaintiff's claimed as heirs and legal representatives of the original grantees under a grant alleged to have been made March 24, 1840, by "the prefect or superior political chief of the district of Bernalillo," in the Republic of Mexico. There was no evidence that the grant of the prefect ever received the sanction or approval of the governor, the ayuntamiento, or other superior authority of the Mexican Republic. Held that it was beyond the power of the prefect alone to make the grant in question.

Possession of land so granted after the date of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, however exclusive and notorious, cannot be regarded as an element going to make up a perfect title.

This was a petition by Crespin and about forty others for the confirmation of what is commonly known as the "San Antonito Grant," situated in Bernalillo County, New Mexico, and alleged to contain 32,000 acres.

Plaintiffs claimed as the hers and legal representatives of the original grantees, and set forth in their petition that on March 24, 1840, the Republic of Mexico, through Antonio Sandoval,

"the prefect or superior political chief of the district of Bernalillo, thereunto duly authorized by the laws, usages, customs, superior orders, and decrees of the said republic, or of its duly constituted and competent authorities,"

granted and delivered possession of this tract of land unto the grantees therein named. That the original grant or expediente of title remained in the office, and formed a part of the archives of the said prefect, and that an official copy or testimonio was at the time delivered to the grantees, as a complete and final title in fee.

That the petitioners were unable to find the original expediente, which, with a large part of the other public archives, was lost, destroyed, or stolen, and that the official copy, or testimonio, has also been stolen, but that, while the expediente was in the archives of the prefecture, a testimonio, or

Page 168 U. S. 209

true copy, thereof, was made by one Rumaldo Chaves for his own use, and that such copy was prior to 1846 transferred and delivered by said Chaves, by endorsement thereon, unto Gaspar Atencio, one of the grantees of the original grant, for his uses and purposes, and has ever since remained in his possession.

The petitioners further alleged, upon information and belief, that the grant was finally confirmed and approved by Gov. Manuel Armijo and the departmental assembly, and that by virtue thereof, an allotment was made in severalty to each of the grantees, and juridical possession given to such grantees by Jose Trujillo, in accordance with the decree of the prefect and the laws then competent and in force in said territory, and that the grantees since then have been in open and notorious possession of the tract. The remaining allegations of the petition are immaterial.

Upon the trial of the case, plaintiffs offered in evidence a petition addressed to "Senior Prefect Don Antonio Sandoval" by "Juan Jose Garcia and Gaspar Atencio, residents of the demarcation of Albuquerque," stating that they and their constituents, finding themselves without tillable land by which to subsist,

"and there being back of the Sandia Mountain a tract of land called San Antonito, the fertility of which and the increase of whose waters all invite its cultivation, by this means the commendable promotion of agriculture and the progressive benefit of the petitioners will be accomplished,"

they inform the prefect

"that it is fifteen years, a little more or less, since this tract was donated to Cristobal Jaramillo, deceased; yet, moreover, in all this space of time, said land has not been cultivated at all; and, if this has been forfeited in accordance with our laws, we humbly beg your honor to be pleased to grant us what we ask, as it is without prejudice to a third party."

In compliance with this petition, the prefect, signing himself simply "Sandoval," made an order, under date of March 21, 1840, that the petition be transmitted to the justice of the peace of Los Ranchos to report in detail the nature of the land and the need of the petitioners.

Page 168 U. S. 210

On the following day, Jose Trujillo, the justice, filed his report, stating, after having fully informed himself as to the nature of the lands, that "it is fitted for agriculture, very pleasing, and very delightful for a life of tranquility, very favorable to everything for a most comfortable living," and that the petitioners are in need of landed property, with the exception of three persons named, who are known to have land, but do not count upon it, because they are in debt, and have it secured by said lands, and that all the others have not such property.

Upon this report Sandoval made the following decree:

"Barelas, Mar. 24, 1840"

"One of the most commendable and beneficial things to a people being the promotion of agriculture, let this petition be transmitted to the justice of the peace of Los Ranchos, in order that with all the customary formalities he give the possession solicited by the parties in interest, without prejudice to a third party, and only for cultivation the lands necessary, leaving free the pastures and watering places, which under no circumstances ought to be interfered with; and, after this is done, he shall make a full report to this prefecture."


"Francisco Sarracino, Secretary"

In compliance with this decree, Trujillo, justice of the peace, reported that he had given juridical possession of the lands to the petitioners and their associates to the number of twenty-seven, who were each given one hundred varas, except two of the petitioners, who were given one hundred and fifty, in the usual form of livery of seisin under Spanish grants.

The testimonio, or official copy, of these papers, was not made by the secretary of the prefect Sandoval, but by Rumaldo Chaves, the clerk of the justice of the peace Trujillo, and seems to have been made for the personal use of Chaves, and afterwards transferred by endorsement to Gaspar Atencio, who appears, from the document, to have been one of the leading petitioners, and received, according to the allotment, one hundred and fifty varas.

Page 168 U. S. 211

Plaintiffs next offered in evidence the following hijuela, or certificate of allotment, executed April 11, 1840, by Jose Trujillo, purporting to show an allotment of one hundred varas of land at San Antonito to Vicente Samora, under the decree of the prefect Sandoval:

"The citizen Jose Trujillo, justice of the peace of the jurisdiction of Los Ranchos De Albuquerque, does hereby certify in form of law that one hundred varas of land at San Antonito were donated to Vicente Samora in accordance with and as stated in the general grant made by me, the said justice of the peace, by virtue of the decree of March 24th made by the prefect Don Antonio Sandoval. The foregoing certificate is given at the ranchos this 11th day of April, 1840, I signing it with my two attending witnesses, to which I certify."

"Jose Trujillo [Rubric]"

"Attending witness:"

"Rumaldo Chavez [Rubric]"

"Attending witness:"

"Pablo Roman Sisneros [Rubric]"

Plaintiffs further offered to refer to other cases and documents for the purpose of showing that other grants had been made by prefects, which were recognized and confirmed by the proper Mexican authorities, and also that several of such grants had been confirmed by the Congress of the United States.

These documents were all objected to by the government, and were admitted subject to these objections. Some further explanatory oral testimony was introduced in support of petitioner's claim, but no evidence was offered on behalf of the government.

Upon this state of facts, the court delivered judgment dismissing the petition and rejecting the grant, whereupon the plaintiffs appealed to this Court.

Page 168 U. S. 212

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