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Caja del Rio Grant Testimony

Identifier: MSS-51-BC

Scope and Content

The bulk of this collection consists of testimonies in case 4123 of Aniceto Abeytia et al., Plaintiffs, vs. Willi Spiegelberg et al., Defendants in the District Court of Santa Fe, New Mexico from 1907-1908, regarding partitions of the Caja del Rio land grant. The testimonies contain extensive genealogies meant to establish heirs of the original grantee (Nicolas Ortiz II) and his wife (Juana Baca) as well as information regarding the boundaries of the land in question, which overlap to some degree with land in the La Majada Grant.

The collection demonstrates that the Ortiz family has been prominent in New Mexican history. In addition to having two members designated as land grantees (Nicolas Ortiz II and Don Antonio Ortiz), Ramon Ortiz, son of Antonio Ortiz and great-grandson of Nicolas II, was the last Spanish priest at the Juarez Mission. The collection includes genealogies establishing the heirs to the Antonio Ortiz grant, and testimonies regarding these heirs. Among them is testimony about Ramon Ortiz and his prominence as a clergyman in New Mexico.

The court proceedings in this collection exemplify the various setbacks faced in land grant cases. In many of these cases, problems arose as a result of large numbers of heirs to the original grantee vying for the same land, a vagueness surrounding the boundaries of each grant property resulting in overlap in land grants, and the poverty of claimants. Frequently, claimants were unable to finance litigation by means other than paying lawyers up to 80% of acreage of the very land being disputed. Other problems revolved around the validity of original Spanish documents as well as the language barrier which hindered accurate translation of the documents by Anglo lawyers and court officials. Assertions of chicanery by lawyers and judges involved with the Court of Private Land Claims and implicated in suspect land acquisitions are also associated with the Court of Private Land Claims and grant lands, generally.

Thomas B. Catron and L. Bradford Prince were both attorneys and witnesses for the defendants. Catron moved to New Mexico in 1866 where he began a controversial career as politician and as one of the most prominent land grant lawyers in New Mexico. Catron is said to have bought 49,322 acres of the Caja del Rio grant for approximately $50 rather than for more than the $1,000 which was owed the government in delinquent taxes and interest. L. Bradford Prince is also implicated in questionable land deals regarding grant lands in New Mexico.

This collection has also been known as the Caja del Rio Grande collection.


  • 1887-1914 (bulk 1904-1914)

Language of Materials


Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research,.

Copy Restrictions

Limited duplication is allowed for research purposes. User is responsible for compliance with all copyright, privacy and libel laws. Permission is required for publication or distribution.


The Spanish King and his Mexican representatives, in what is now the U.S. Southwest, parceled out large quantities of land to individual settlers of Spanish or Indian heritage and communities in what was then Mexico, in order to promote settlement of certain areas. Under the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the United States was obligated to respect all prior property rights in New Mexico.

The Court of Private Land Claims was established in 1891. It consisted of five judges empowered to determine the validity of land titles from Spain and Mexico held by descendants of the original grantees. Until 1904, the Court of Private Land Claims heard 301 petitions regarding 34,653,340 acres of land. Ultimately, only 75 petitions were approved, guaranteeing rights of ownership to over 1,934,986 acres of land to claimants.

This collection consists of subsequent court cases regarding the Caja del Rio grant. The land involved in this case was originally granted to Nicolas Ortiz II, Niño Ladrón de Guevara (also written Guebara), born in Mexico to Nicolas Ortiz I, who joined colonists in Zacatecas in 1693 and served as aid to Don Diego de Vargas, Governor of New Mexico. While many grantees received land from viceroys and representatives of the King, Nicolas Ortiz II received this land by authority of the King, himself. The Caja del Rio grant consisting of 66,848.783 acres northwest of Santa Fe in Santa Fe County was ultimately confirmed and approved by the Court of Private Land Claims as property of claimant Felipe Delgado. Though he is not referenced in the testimonies in this collection, the genealogies presented in the testimonies confirm that Felipe Delgado is second cousin to the plaintiff (Aniceto Abeytia), and that both are great-grandsons of the original grantee.


1 box (.38 cu. ft.)


This collection contains testimony from the U.S. Court of Private Land Claims regarding the legitimacy of the Caja del Rio grant involving a legal dispute between the descendants of Nicolas Ortiz, Ni?o Ladr?n de Guebara (the original grantee) and Willi Spiegelberg. It also includes legal documents confirming genealogy of the Ortiz family and records of sales of this land in 1860 from the Ortiz family through various owners, to Thomas B. Catron in 1909.

Related Material

Thomas B. Catron Papers Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico Ortiz y Pino Family Papers Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico

Relevant Secondary Sources

  • Alianza Federal de las Mercedes. The Spanish Land Grant Question Examined.Albuquerque, N.M.: Alianza Federal, 1966.
  • Bradfute, Richard Wells. The Court of Private Land Claims: The Adjudication of Spanish and Mexican Land Grant Titles, 1891-1904.Albuquerque, N.M.: University of New Mexico Press, 1975.
  • Chavez, Fray Angelico. Origins of New Mexico Families: A Genealogy of the Spanish Colonial Period. Santa Fe, N.M.: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1992.
  • Keleher, William Aloysius. "Law of the New Mexico Land Grant," New Mexico Historical Review 4 (4): 350-371.
  • McCarty, Frank. "Land Grant Problems in New Mexico," Albuquerque Journal, 1969: pp. 1-24.
  • Puckett, Fidelia Miller. "Ramon Ortiz: Priest and Patriot," New Mexico Historical Review 24(4): 265-295. 1950.
  • Smith, Thomas Edwin."Land Grant Community," New Mexico Magazine 27 (7): 27, 46-47. 1949
  • Westphall, Victor. "Fraud and Implications of Fraud in the Land Grants of New Mexico," New Mexico Historical Review 49(3): 189-218.
Finding Aid of the Caja del Rio Grant Testimony, 1887-1914 (bulk 1904-1914)
Processed by Karen Stocker
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Finding aid is in English

Revision Statements

  • June 28, 2004: PUBLIC "-//University of New Mexico::Center for Southwest Research//TEXT (US::NmU::MSS 51 BC::Caja del Rio Grant Testimony)//EN" "nmu1mss51bc.sgml" converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • Monday, 20210524: Attribute normal is missing or blank.

Repository Details

Part of the UNM Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections Repository

University of New Mexico Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections
University Libraries, MSC05 3020
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque NM 87131