By 1801, the population in San Miguel had reached 182, including 85 men and boys, and 97 women and girls, exceeding the 123 residents at the Pecos Pueblo. Soon after, the original and newly arriving settlers established San José, as already mentioned, and continued to settle other communities along the Pecos River, including La Cuesta, later named Villanueva, and Las Mulas, Entrañosa, Puertocito, Guzano, Bernal and El Pueblo. These and other communities flourished, and by the early 1830s their combined population exceeded 2,000 people.
It was during this period, beginning in about 1820, that the first traders began coming into New Mexico from the east, and San Miguel and its sister communities were the first settlements they encountered while traveling west on their way to the great capital city of Santa Fe, officially named La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Assisi (The Royal City of Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi).
Spanish officials soon designated San Miguel and its surrounding communities as a separate ayuntamiento, which allowed them some semblance of local autonomy and self government. San Miguel itself was designated as the official port of entry into New Spain from all points east and northeast (the Great Plains), and taxes and fees on all trade goods were there imposed as individual traders with pack mules, and later caravans, crossed the ford at San Miguel on their way to Santa Fe. It was this early trade and passage through San Miguel that began the famous trade route known as the Santa Fe Trail.
At this point we should remember that San Miguel was the only community in northeastern New Mexico. Las Vegas had not yet been established. There was no Raton, or Springer, no Tucumcari or Santa Rosa, nor any points in between. San Miguel stood alone, and it was an arduous and dangerous life which the early colonists endured. They depended entirely on their harvests and livestock for their sustenance, and raids by Native Americans were common, resulting in many deaths and injuries on both sides.
But these early settlers — ancestors to many of us — endured. They and newly arriving settlers continued to follow the Pecos River, and 37 of them went on to settle the Antón Chico Land Grant in 1822, and later established Puerto de Luna and Colonias in Guadalupe County. Others made their way northeast, settling the Tecolote Land Grant in 1824.
Like so many other land grants in New Mexico, the San Miguel del Bado Land Grant, originally containing 315,300.80 acres, was adjudicated in the Court of Private Land Claims, which was established by the United States government in 1891 to settle land claims and disputes arising out of the many Spanish and Mexican land grants made before 1846, when the United States annexed New Mexico.
Adjudication of the San Miguel del Bado grant began in 1857 and went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which decided in 1897 that the Grant consisted of only 5,207.73 acres which had been vested in and settled by the original grantees, and that the remaining area of the original grant constituted public domain land. (See United States v. Sandoval, 167 U.S. 273; 1897).
Like many other land grant decisions by the U. S. Supreme Court, the Court of Private Land Claims and the office of Surveyor General, the determination concerning the San Miguel del Bado grant was very convoluted, and caused great dispute and consternation. As we know, many scholarly writings and treatises have been devoted to the whole issue of land grants in New Mexico, and perhaps more time and attention will be given to this subject as this series progresses. For now, however, we continue with our journey into Las Vegas.
It was not until 1835 that 36 brave colonists, most of them from San Miguel, made their way to a meandering river and the verdant meadows which they named Las Vegas Grandes de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores. But before that story can be told, we must relate the fascinating if brief sojourn into Las Vegas by Luis María Cabeza de Baca beginning in 1820, and the litigation and competing claims which followed for the Las Vegas Land Grant.
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Next: Luis María Cabeza de Baca and his brief settlement of Las Vegas beginning in 1820, and the C de Baca claim to the Las Vegas Land Grant.
Jesus L. Lopez is a native of Las Vegas and a local historian. He may be reached at 425-3730.