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Spanish & Mexican Land Grants

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Private Spanish land grants to establish pueblos or towns were first introduced in California in 1774. These provided colonists with seed livestock to establish herds to be grazed on common grazing grounds. The procedure was codified in California Governor Felipe de Neve's Reglamento issued June, 1779.

A private land grant was made by Commander Rivera to California's first rancher, Manuel Butron, in 1775. However, it was not until 1784 that California Governor Fages, empowered to make private grants not to exceed three square leagues, employed the land-grant system in ernest. Each grantee was required to agree to build a storehouse and to stock his holdings with at least 2,000 head of cattle. By 1790, there were 19 private rancheros in California.

By 1824, Mexican Colony Law established rules for petitioning for a land grant. First, the settler could petition for citizenship, pledging loyalty to Mexico and the Roman Catholic Church. After a year's probation, he could receive citizenship and petition for a land grant.

By 1828, the rules for establishing land grants were codified in the Mexican "Reglamento." The minimum size of a ranchero was set at one square league (about 4,500 acres,) with an 11 square league maximum. There was no limit on family holdings or holdings from inheritance or purchase. Of the 11 leagues, one was to be in irrigable soil, four dependent upon rain and six fit only for grazing.

A native born or naturalized Mexican citizen could make an application for a land grant, setting forth location boundaries or approximate size; testifying that it did not overlap another grant; declaring that he would stock with the legally required number of horses and cattle; and supplying a "diseno," or rough topographical map.

A blotter copy or "borrador" of the grant was kept at the governor's office; minutes of the transaction in the record book called the "toma de razon"; and the diseno and borrador placed in the archives in a file called the "expediente."

A land survey was carried out under a magistrate with witnesses and neighboring rancheros. Surveyors measured the grant starting at a pile of stones called a "mojonera" using a 50 foot "reata," or rawhide cord tied to stakes that the riders thrust into the ground as they rode along. Validity of the grant depended on fulfillment of certain conditions such as building a house, stocking the land with cattle, and planting trees on boundaries.


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