Friday, December 14, 2012

The Boquillas land grant and evictions of 1906

George Hurst
Between 1880 and 1906, contested ownership of Mexican land grants in the San Pedro valley caused controversy and suffering in our area. Even so, the sacrifices of our predecessors led directly to something of great economic, ecological and cultural value we enjoy today — the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA). The Mexican Government issued 20 land grants in what is now Arizona during the 1820s and 1830s; eight in what became Cochise County. The San Juan de las Boquillas y Nogales grant ran roughly 12 miles north along the San Pedro from near the Charleston bridge. The San Rafael del Valle grant, stretched from near the Hereford bridge north to near the southern edge of the Boquillas grant. Each was roughly 4 “sitios” in size or about 18,000 acres. Sonora approved both grants in 1833 for 240 pesos each. Northern Sonora was enjoying a brief respite from Apache conflicts during this period and the San Pedro land grants prospered as cattle ranches. However, by the 1840s renewed Apache raiding meant that wild cattle roaming the San Pedro were the only remnant of the Mexican ranchos. The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, that ended the Mexican-American War in 1848, called for the United States to recognize the legitimacy of Mexican land grants. Land grant claims had to pass validation by the U.S. legal system. The difficult approval process confused ownership and hindered economic development of the Arizona Territory. George Hearst and other entrepreneurs operating from San Francisco speculated in land grants. Hearst was no stranger to the San Pedro — he invested in mines and mills here and was a visitor to Tombstone in 1880, where the story is, Wyatt Earp served as an escort. In 1880, Hearst became sole owner of the Boquillas grant. Hearst sold portions of the Boquillas grant as sites for mills, railroads and ranches. The other occupants of the land grant area based their ownership on homestead claims, preemption (“squatting”), or purchase from rival claimants to the land grant. Courts eventually approved eight Arizona land grants. One interesting anecdote centers on the failed attempt in 1880 by James Reavis to claim a land grant covering a huge area running from Phoenix to Safford, based on documents he had forged. This story became a movie in 1950, “The Baron of Arizona,” starring Vincent Price as Reavis. In 1899, the U.S. Court of Public Land Claims ruled the Hearsts had valid title to the land grant. A group of 30 other residents of the land grant soon filed a lawsuit to dispute the ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the decision in 1906. In 1901, while their case was still pending, the Hearsts sold the Boquillas grant to the Kern County Land and Cattle Company. This new owner formed the Boquillas Land and Cattle Company in 1901 and began to raise cattle as the Little Boquillas Ranch. The Del Valle grant was added to the Little Boquillas Ranch in 1912...more

So how did the BLM get their hands on this?  They acquired the land grants from Tenneco Oil Company, for some hefty tax write offs I'm sure.  Pennzoil did the same thing in northern NM.  Both were done under Ronald Reagan.  While at Interior I tried to fight the one in NM, but James Baker in the White House was a big supporter.  Besides, the Treasury Dept. makes the call on the tax write offs. 

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