Four leagues of their own

Four Square Leagues: Pue­blo In­dian Land in New Mex­ico by Malcolm Ebright, Rick Hen­dricks, and Richard W. Hughes

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Casey Sanchez I For The New Mex­i­can

Over more than 400 years, New Mex­ico pue­b­los have fought, sued, pur­chased, ne­go­ti­ated, and bartered for their land un­der Span­ish, Mex­i­can, and Amer­i­can gov­ern­ments. As a re­sult, court­room cases over pue­blo land claims can some­times take on the air of a his­tory sem­i­nar, with re­searchers and ar­chiv­ists called upon to scru­ti­nize an­ti­quar­ian maps and hand­writ­ten parch­ment scrolls dat­ing back to the early 1700s.

The three au­thors of Four Square Leagues: Pue­blo In­dian Land in New Mex­ico know this well, hav­ing ei­ther served as coun­sel or wit­ness in a string of pue­blo land cases over the past few decades. The book’s writ­ers are Malcolm Ebright, a land grant his­to­rian and di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Land Grant Stud­ies in Guadalupita; Rick Hen­dricks, New Mex­ico state his­to­rian; and Richard Hughes, a Santa Fe at­tor­ney who spe­cial­izes in In­dian law. Since its pub­li­ca­tion last year by the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico Press, the ti­tle has been named a 2014 best book by the Bor­der Re­gional Li­brary As­so­ci­a­tion and was awarded the 2015 Fray Fran­cisco Atana­sio Domínguez Award by the His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety of New Mex­ico.

De­spite its fo­cus on North­ern New Mex­ico pue­b­los, the in­spi­ra­tion to write the book grew out of his­tor­i­cal and le­gal re­search the three men were pre­par­ing for the Ysleta del Sur Pue­blo near El Paso in the late 1990s. “I had writ­ten a cou­ple books al­ready, one about His­pano land grants and then one with Rick Hen­dricks about the land grant in Abiquiú (The Witches of Abiquiú: The Gov­er­nor, the Priest, the Genizaro In­di­ans, and the Devil), which came out in 2006,” Ebright said.

Hughes, who has rep­re­sented sev­eral pue­b­los in land cases dur­ing his 37 years of prac­tice in In­dian law, con­trib­utes some of the new book’s most po­ten­tially con­tro­ver­sial chap­ters, such as an ac­count of the in­sider pol­i­tics of the 1924 Pue­blo Lands Act. He also writes ex­ten­sively about the Cruzate doc­u­ments, land deeds — con­firmed by Congress — that are the ba­sis of nine pue­b­los’ core land hold­ings and claims. The pa­pers are widely be­lieved by con­tem­po­rary his­to­ri­ans of New Mex­ico to be fraud­u­lent. Pur­ported to be from 1689, the deeds are writ­ten on pa­per that was not pro­duced un­til the 1840s and use sev­eral pas­sages that are lifted nearly ver­ba­tim from a book that was pub­lished in 1832.

While Hughes’ role as coun­sel to sev­eral pue­b­los in land cases is well known in New Mex­ico In­dian law cir­cles, he said that he and his co-au­thors wrote the book to serve as a neu­tral ref­er­ence vol­ume for years to come. “This book is not in­tended to be an ad­vo­cacy piece. It’s in­tended to be his­tor­i­cal and re­flect what ac­tu­ally hap­pened to the pue­b­los. For the most part, it’s based on pub­lic doc­u­ments that any­one is free to re­fer to.” Div­ing deep into doc­u­ments main­tained by New Mex­ico, Mex­ico, the fed­eral govern­ment, and the pue­b­los them­selves, the book chron­i­cles the ways in which pue­b­los have lost and gained land over the cen­turies. It spans the most re­cent de­vel­op­ments, in­clud­ing the re­turn of Blue Lake to Taos Pue­blo and San­dia Pue­blo’s claim to U.S. For­est Ser­vice land in the San­dia Moun­tains. As its ti­tle sug­gests, the book also delves into the 17th- and 18th-cen­tury Span­ish Colo­nial era to ex­plain the ori­gins of the “pue­blo

league” — a way of mea­sur­ing pue­blo land for land­grant pur­poses. The pue­blo league en­com­passed 4 leagues (roughly 5 square miles) em­a­nat­ing in each car­di­nal di­rec­tion from a pue­blo’s cen­tral church.

Why is the pue­blo league so im­por­tant? Fed­eral law has made sev­eral al­lowances for the land agree­ments pue­b­los had with the pre­ced­ing Span­ish and Mex­i­can gov­ern­ments — un­like the barely hon­ored treaties other Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes signed with the U.S. govern­ment. Though it has re­quired con­stant vig­i­lance by the pue­b­los, the pue­blo league has also given the pue­b­los a his­tory vastly dif­fer­ent from that of other U.S. tribes or what the writ­ers call a “sad tale of treaties bro­ken, home­lands lost, and forced mi­gra­tion to fed­er­ally des­ig­nated reser­va­tions.” “Ev­ery­one who works on this field knows about pue­blo league, the 4 square leagues that made up pue­b­los,” Hen­dricks said. “But in terms of track­ing the ori­gin of the league and how it ar­rived, no one be­fore has tracked it through ev­ery doc­u­ment.” Be­cause of the de­struc­tion of archives dur­ing the 1680 Pue­blo Re­volt, no sur­viv­ing pa­per ex­plains the league’s ori­gin, though this book col­lects its ear­li­est ap­pear­ances in the ex­tant le­gal record.

One ma­jor dis­cov­ery in the book was made pos­si­ble by Santa Ana Pue­blo. The tribe, just north­west of Al­bu­querque, al­lowed the writ­ers to ex­am­ine the pue­blo’s own archive of le­gal doc­u­ments, most of which had never pre­vi­ously been ex­am­ined by his­to­ri­ans. “It was ma­te­rial no one had ever used be­fore in the con­text of a much larger study,” Hen­dricks said. “It gave us an un­der­stand­ing of Mex­i­can and Span­ish le­gal prac­tices. We broke quite a bit of new ground.” The tribe’s archives re­vealed that by the early 1700s, only years af­ter the Span­ish had reestab­lished rule over New Mex­ico, the pue­blo had al­ready be­gun buy­ing ad­di­tional land along the Río Grande and Jemez River from its His­pano neigh­bors. “Pue­b­los didn’t have the same con­cept of land own­er­ship,” Ebright said. “But once they re­al­ized this con­cept of own­er­ship could be used to their ben­e­fit, it meant they could ac­tu­ally buy the land from the Span­ish govern­ment, though per­haps it was their land to be­gin with. They didn’t have money, but they traded cat­tle, sheep, and horses and such. In re­turn, they were given spe­cific tracts of thou­sands of acres of ir­ri­ga­ble farm­land, which they are us­ing to this day.”

The re­searchers also learned that be­gin­ning in 1815, sev­eral pue­b­los be­gan trav­el­ling to Du­rango, Guadala­jara, and Mex­ico City to file griev­ances over loss of their land to Span­ish colo­nial set­tlers. “To go all the way to Mex­ico City and back would be about 3,000 miles,” Ebright said. “It’s a ma­jor in­cur­sion as far as be­ing away from your fam­ily and fields. Most would have been trav­el­ing on horse­back, pos­si­bly even by horse-drawn wagon, at the time. Span­ish law pro­vided that In­dian lands were pro­tected. They didn’t al­ways en­force the laws nor de­fine what they mean by In­dian land, but they made it pos­si­ble for pue­b­los to ap­pear in court with a Span­ish lawyer. Some­times the Span­ish coun­sel did a good job; some­times they didn’t. But in all cases they made prece­dent-set­ting de­ci­sions that are still in use to­day.”

De­spite the two decades of re­search and writ­ing that went into this book, none of the au­thors feel the sub­ject is ex­hausted. “Malcolm and I are in the process of for­mu­lat­ing a sec­ond vol­ume that would in­clude pue­b­los that we didn’t in­clude this time, such as the Ysleta del Sur Pue­blo we started with,” Hen­dricks said. “We feel it will be a ref­er­ence that will be use­ful to peo­ple for a long time. So many of the sto­ries that make up New Mex­ico his­tory are never even told.”

Read­ing the Acts of Vas­salage and Obe­di­ence at Acoma; op­po­site page, left, Pue­blo In­di­ans Pe­ti­tion­ing Bri­gadier Gen­eral Stephen Watts Kearny in Santa Fe; right, Mea­sur­ing the Pue­blo League; il­lus­tra­tions by Glen Strock; cour­tesy Univer­sity of New Mex­ico Press

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