Historic Resource Study
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Chapter 7
Fictitious Capital and Fictitious Landscapes: Baca Float No. 3

Sarah Black and her husband John were teachers who came to Arizona in 1882. Sarah taught for two years in the mining town of Oro Blanco and then moved to Tubac, where she offered classes for a year in a hotel room until the town built a schoolhouse for her. Most of her neighbors were Mexicans, and the only big rancher in the area was Sabino Otero, who employed about twenty vaqueros. Sarah recalled "lots of little Indian scares" in those early days, times when the townspeople would take refuge in Otero's store. "It had a dirt roof. We huddled in there and told Indian stories—they were enough to scare anyone to death." But she did not remember anyone getting killed. "They wanted these men to go to Tucson, then they wanted to take the women in but they wouldn't go, they were not built that way, so we all stayed here," the pioneer teacher said. "No, I never worried much about the Indians." [1]

U.S. marshals, not Apaches, drove Sarah from her home. Sarah's husband built a two-room house on 240 acres of land south of Tubac. Many homesteaders followed particularly after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the Tumacácori grant in 1898. Like their neighbors, the Blacks ran some cattle and raised chile, tomatoes, and watermelons in the rich alluvial soil. In 1914, however, the Court confirmed Baca Float No. 3, an enormous square of land straddling the Santa Cruz River. The heirs of the Baca family—speculators, not family members—demanded that all settlers along the Santa Cruz abandon their ranches. Congress passed a relief bill permitting the evicted homesteaders to select in lieu lands elsewhere in Arizona. Many accepted the government's offer and settled near Buckeye.

Others, like Sarah Black, refused. Federal marshals evicted the recalcitrants. "My land looked like an auction yard. They put everything out-doors, the furniture and dishes and everything," the ninety-two-year-old pioneer recalled. "It was the most brutal thing that ever happened. I don't know as I cared so much, but it was pretty hard for the people who were too old to begin again." [2]

For the second time in less than two decades, the highest court in the United States issued a decision that destroyed an agrarian community along the Santa Cruz River. A real grant had been obliterated. A fictitious grant squatted in its place. Once again, people making a living from the land—people with names like Aguayo, Gastelum, Tanori, and Sinohui—had been uprooted and dispossessed.

Land, Law, and Custom in the Southwest

The chain of events that led to Sarah Black's eviction began in 1845, when the United States declared war on Mexico. The war was an exercise in territorial arrogance on both sides. Mexico, bankrupt and in political chaos after its struggle for independence, fought to preserve the northern boundaries Spain had bequeathed it under the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819. Those boundaries, which drew a firm line between Northern New Spain and the Louisiana Purchase in return for Spanish Florida, jogged from real rivers to abstract longitudes and latitudes across a huge, three-tiered swath of western North America. The region contained all the present U.S. states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California and parts of Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming (Weber 1982; Meinig 1993). But Mexican settlement itself consisted of a few scattered enclaves tucked into a landscape that mocked imperial dreams. Outside those enclaves, Comanches, Kiowas, Apaches, Navajos, Utes, Paiutes, Pueblo peoples, Pais, River Yumans, O'odham, and a host of California groups held sway. They had their own boundaries and their own dreams.

The United States, on the other hand, was attempting to swallow the continent whole. The British had driven the French from Canada and the Midwest during the French and Indian War (1754-1763). The United States eliminated the French presence in North America altogether when it doubled its national territory by purchasing Louisiana from Napoleon in 1803. But even though the War of 1812 ended U.S. designs on Canada, the aggressive new nation pushed westward, subjugating Indian nations east of the Mississippi and force-marching them to Indian territory in Oklahoma. Meanwhile, Anglo colonists seized Texas. By the 1840s, enflamed by the quasi-religious ideology of Manifest Destiny, the United States parried and thrust to the Pacific Coast. Diplomacy thwarted British interests in Oregon. Military force wrenched the Southwest from Mexico. Millions of acres of land lay waiting to be digested by speculators and settlers convinced of their superiority over barbaric Indians and backward Mexicans.

The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which ceded the Southwest to the United States in 1848, was supposed to keep the conquerors from running roughshod over the conquered. Articles VIII and IX guaranteed the property rights of Mexicans regardless of whether they resided in the ceded territory or chose to be citizens of the United States. And Mexican property was substantial; lands claimed under Spanish and Mexican grants encompassed about 38 million acres in the Territory of New Mexico alone. New Mexico possessed the lion's share—ca. 19 million acres—with grants covering about a quarter of its surface, mostly in the north. Southern Colorado contained another seven million acres. Claims in Arizona totaled twelve million acres, mostly in the Santa Cruz and San Pedro watersheds. The exception was the Peralta-Reavis claim, a colossal fraud that jutted like a battering ram from the Salt River Valley to Silver City (Bradfutes 1975; Walker and Butkin 1979). Once surveyor-general Royal Johnson exposed the intricate deception, grants in Arizona shrank to 850,000 acres (Wagoner 1975). [3]

Despite Article VIII's solemn assurance that "property of every kind...shall be inviolably respected," however, Guadalupe-Hidalgo was flawed from the very beginning. Article X of the original Treaty stated, "All grants of land made by the Mexican Government...shall be respected as valid, to the same extent that the same grants would be valid, if the said territories had remained within the limits of Mexico" (Griswold del Castillo 1990:180). That provision followed the legal precedent set by Chief Justice John Marshall in US. v Percheman (1833), which ruled that Article 8 of the Adams-Onis Treaty confirmed Spanish land grants in Florida. But the U.S. Senate struck the article, and it never appeared in the final treaty. U.S. authorities then operated according to the principle that most Spanish and Mexican land grants were "imperfect," i.e. that their owners had not yet perfected title to those lands under Mexican law. By assuming sovereignty over the ceded territory, the United States assumed the right to determine the confirmation process as well. Such an interpretation placed the burden of proof on the conquered, not the conquerors. Land grant owners became claimants who had to hire lawyers, provide titles, and put together cases that often dragged on for decades (Ehbright 1994).

The result was a dispossession of monumental proportions. Of the 248 grants brought before the U.S. Court of Private Land Claims, the court confirmed a mere 88. Those confirmed grants represented approximately 2 million of the 38 million acres claimed (Bradfutes 1975). Family patrimonies dissolved. Community land bases disappeared. Speculators with political connections triumphed over people who actually worked the land (Bradfute 1975; Griswold del Castillo 1990, Ebright 1994).

Even when U.S. authorities proceeded honestly and with good intentions, they usually failed to comprehend the differences between the Spanish and Anglo-American legal systems. As Malcolm Ebright (1994) points out, local custom determined the adjudication of disputes over land and water in New Mexico more often than formal Spanish law. Land grant law was not codified in any detail until after Mexican independence, when the Colonization Law of 1824 and the Regulations of 1828 were passed. Even then, the challenges of life on a dangerous frontier made the survival of your neighbors vital to your own survival as well. The logic of the market had not yet alienated land from the communities that depended upon its soil, grasses, timber, fuelwood, and water.

The United States, in contrast, had already divorced itself from communal use rights and the communal ownership of land recognized by English common law. Peasant corporate communities once dominated much of rural Europe, including the British Isles (Bloch 1966, Netting 1981, Vassberg 1984, Sheridan 1988). But as the European capitalist world system developed and diversified, land increasingly became a private commodity rather than a communal resource. During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the so-called Enclosure Laws privatized most British commons (Thompson 1966).

In colonial New England, common property barely took root. English settlers justified their seizure of Indian lands by contrasting their "improvement" of lands with Indian hunting and gathering (Cronon 1983). "As for the Natives in New England," John Winthrop observed, "they inclose noe Land, neither have any settled habytation, nor any tame Cattle to improve the Land by, and soe have noe other but a Natural Right to those Countries" (quoted in Cronon 1983:56). Enclosure and agricultural intensification, on the other hand, created a superior, civil right of ownership. At best, Indians could only claim their cornfields. As minister John Cotton proclaimed, "In a vacant soyle, hee that taketh possession of it, and bestoweth culture and husbandry upon it, his Right it is" (quoted in Cronon 1983:56-57).

After the Mexican war, then, two very different legal systems collided on a very uneven playing field. One recognized customary rights and common property, and gave precedence to people who actually worked the land. "Although written evidence of title was not without importance under the Spanish and Mexican legal systems," Malcolm Ehbright observed, "for Hispanos, possession was indeed nine-tenths of the law." Ehbright goes on to say, "Most Hispanos never conceived of the possibility that the common laws of their community grants were in jeopardy because under their laws and customs, the common lands could never be sold" (Ehbright 1994:38).

To Anglo-American lawyers, judges, and surveyors-general, on the other hand, common property was an anachronism and written title reigned supreme. The men who controlled the legal process either dismissed or did not understand the intricate web of laws, customs, and social relationships that attached communities to their land. And since many of those power brokers were unscrupulous land speculators, legal subterfuge subverted the land grant confirmation process at every stage. One tactic the speculators employed to pick apart community grants was to buy out the poblador principal, or principal settler, who in some cases was the only name listed on the grant's title. Another was the partition suit. A lawyer representing the grantees often received a portion of the grant in return for his legal services. Once the New Mexico territorial legislature passed a partition statute in 1876, the lawyer, now agrantee himself, could demand the division of the grant. If such a division reduced its value, the grant had to be sold in its entirety (Ehbright 1994). More than eighty percent of the confirmed grants ended up in Anglo-American hands (Lamar 2000). The result was a lawyers' banquet that made beggars of thousands of Hispano grantees.

The Santa Fe Ring and Baca Float No. 3

One such banquet was Baca Float No. 3. Its bizarre saga began on the plains of northeastern New Mexico during the last days of the Spanish empire. After Juan Bautista de Anza forged alliances with Comanches, Utes, Navajos, and Jicarilla Apaches in the 1780s, the beleaguered stockraisers of New Mexico crept onto the vast grasslands beyond the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Some were wealthy sheep and cattlemen who manipulated their ties with officials in Guadalajara or Durango to secure enormous private grants. Others were small ranchers and farmers who petitioned the Spanish and Mexican governments for community grants. Baca Float No. 3 was a lawyer's answer to the collision of these two competing visions of the landscape on a huge, arrow-shaped block of terrain projecting into the Southern Plains.

The first to lay claim was Luis María Cabeza de Baca, a prominent sheepman along the Río Grande. In 1821, Baca and his seventeen sons and sons-in-law received title to the grant of Las Vegas Grande, which stretched for more than half a million acres east of the Pecos River. During the 1820s, the Baca family drove their herds of sheep onto this ocean of grass, part of that brief spasm of expansion that propelled ranchers like the Elías-Gonzálezes onto the virgin grasslands of southeastern Arizona. But the alliances that allowed them to advance unraveled after Mexican independence. The Bacas occupied the grant for no more than a decade before Comanche raiding forced them to retreat to their hacienda of Peña Blanca on the Río Grande. Apparently the only improvement they made on Las Vegas Grande was a "little hovel at the foot of a cliff" called Loma Montosa, where a "swarthy ranchero" offered Josiah Gregg "a treat of goat's milk" in 1831 (Gregg 1954:76-77; Ebright 1994; Officer 1987).

A few years after the Bacas abandoned their grant, however, vecinos from San Miguel del Bado petitioned for a community grant with similar but not identical boundaries. Reflecting a change of policy, New Mexican officials granted their petition in 1835. During the eighteenth century, privileged individuals had snared most grants. But as Pueblo Indian populations declined because of disease and displacement, the government awarded more community grants to encourage agricultural production and to plant more Hispanic settlers on a dangerous frontier (Ebright 1994). The Las Vegas community grant was part of that trend, a trend that became increasingly desperate as Mexico sought to reinforce its northern borders against the Anglo-American onslaught (Weber 1982).

By 1845, the year Mexico and the United States went to war, 297 families were cultivating fields and running stock on the Las Vegas grant (Ebright 1994:183). They lived in a string of little communities along the Gallinas River, but the settlements, at least at first, were known collectively as Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de Las Vegas. By 1860, 2,200 people inhabited the town of Las Vegas itself

The Baca heirs protested the community grant, but their objections fell on deaf ears during the tumultuous 1840s. Following Guadalupe-Hidalgo, however, they renewed their claims. In 1860, the U.S. Congress recognized both grants as legal but allowed the heirs of the community grant to remain on the land. To compensate the Bacas, Congress authorized them to select "an equal quantity of vacant land, not mineral, in the Territory of New Mexico, to be located by them in square bodies not exceeding five in number." [4] Two of the chosen "floats" were in Arizona: Baca Float No. 5, northwest of Prescott, and Baca Float No. 3 in the heart of the Santa Cruz Valley.

John S. Watts, the attorney representing the Baca heirs, selected Baca Float No. 3 on June 17, 1863. Originally from Indiana, Watts descended on New Mexico for the same reasons Stephen Benton Elkins, Thomas Benton Catron, and other members of the so-called Santa Fe Ring did—because land-grant litigation had turned the territory into a golden cash cow for lawyers and their political allies. Watts represented Ramón Vigil in his successful attempt to win confirmation of a fraudulent grant along the Río Grande where Los Alamos is today (Ebright 1994). He also served as associate justice and later chief justice on the New Mexico Territorial Supreme Court. In the late 1850s, while seated on the court, Watts informed a Congressional committee that he was representing forty-three land-grant cases as well (Lamar 1970). The New Mexico legal system apparently did not worry much about conflict of interest during those avaricious days.

Watts' interests in Baca Float No. 3 went beyond legal fees, however. On May 1, 1864, less than a month after the Commissioner of the General Land Office approved the selection, a long list of Baca heirs sold their interests in Baca Floats Nos. 2, 3, and 4 to Watts for $3,000. [5] Each of those three floats—No. 2 on the Canadian River north of modern Tucumcari, New Mexico, No. 3 in the Santa Cruz Valley, and No. 4 in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado—contained 99,289.39 acres. They totaled 297,868.17 acres, more than 465 square miles. In other words, Watts paid the Baca heirs one cent an acre for three-fifths of their patrimony. On May 30, 1871, he purchased Baca Float No. 5 northwest of Prescott for $6,800. [6] Manuel María Gándara would have tipped his hat in admiration at those transactions.

According to Watts' application to the Surveyor General of New Mexico, Baca Float No. 3 was "entirely vacant unclaimed by anyone, and is not mineral, to my knowledge." [7] Watts was either incomprehensibly ignorant of the Santa Cruz Valley or breathtakingly brazen in his greed. The original 1863 location of Baca Float No. 3 encompassed most of the Tumacácori and portions of the Calabasas and Sonoita grants. It also included the communities of Tubac, Tumacácori, and Calabasas. Hispanic settlers from Sonora had raised families and fought Apaches for nearly two centuries along the river, while Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo miners had searched for silver throughout the western foothills of the Santa Rita Mountains. The original location of Baca Float No. 3 was neither "vacant land" nor "not mineral" (Mattison 1967; Wagoner 1975). Watts was playing a high-stakes game of land roulette, gambling that the Surveyor General of New Mexico would not realize what a choice piece of real estate Watts was trying to grab.

The gamble, if it was a gamble, paid off. Surveyor General John Clark certified and approved Watt's application the same day he submitted it. Commissioner of the General Land Office J.M. Edmunds bounced it right back, stating, "Your approval of the location under consideration is found to have ignored the imperative condition that the land selected at the base of Solero [sic] mountain...is vacant land and not mineral." On April 2, 1864, Clark replied, "there is no evidence in the office of the surveyor general of New Mexico" that Baca Float No. 3 "contains any mineral, or that it is occupied." Then he gave himself some wiggle room by adding, "There have been no public surveys made in the neighborhood of said tract, and there is no record of or concerning the land in question in the surveyor general's office, nor—as I believe—in the office of the register or receiver of the land office of New Mexico. As I am personally unacquainted with that region of country, I cannot certify that the land in question is 'vacant and not mineral' or otherwise. Those facts can only be determined by actual examination and survey." [8]

Whether Clark had any ties to Watts or the Santa Fe Ring remains to be determined. At least three of the other eight surveyor generals of New Mexico were "blatant land speculators," so Clark may not have been as ignorant as he claimed (Ebright 1994:41). Regardless of Clark's motives, however, Watts was not working alone. Buried in the hundreds of pages of titles, indentures, quitclaims, and testimony that ascend from the District Court of Arizona to the Supreme Court of the United States is a remarkable document no published account of Baca Float No. 3 even mentions. On March 2, 1863, more than three months before Watts requested the first location of Baca Float No. 3 and more than a year before the Baca heirs formally sold the property to him, Watts declared that he was "the owner of one of the unlocated floats containing about one hundred thousand acres of land granted to the heirs of Luis María Baca." He also claimed "full power and authority to make the location for said heirs under said act, and cause to be made a title in fee of the same after such proper location and survey." [9]

After establishing those two claims, Watts stated the following:

Now, therefore, be it further known that I, John S. Watts, have this day sold to William Wrightson, of the city of Cincinnati, State of Ohio, the said unlocated tract with all of its privileges, for and in consideration of the sum of one hundred and ten thousand dollars, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, and I hereby bind myself, my heirs, executors or administrators, to make a full and complete title in fee simple of said land to said William Wrightson, his assigns or legal representatives, whenever thereunto required. And I, the said John S. Watts, hereby authorize and empower the said W. Wrightson to make the location under the said act in as full and ample manner as the said heirs could do the same. [10]

A speculator in both railroads and mines, Wrightson was one of the founders of the Sonora Exploring and Mining Company. He also was president of the Santa Rita Mining Company, a subsidiary formed in 1858 to "occupy and develop the Silver Mines in the Santa Rita Mountains" (quoted in North 1980:39). None of the mines yielded enough ore to pay expenses, but Wrightson hung on even after the Sonora Exploring and Mining Company collapsed around him. Watts had the Baca heirs in his pocket. Wrightson knew where the most likely silver prospects were. Together the two men hatched the scheme that eventually evicted Sarah Black from her home during the First World War.

Watts and Wrightson filed the sale of the float in the District of Columbia, not in Tucson or Santa Fe. From 1861 to 1863, Watts served as New Mexico's elected delegate to Congress, where he secured passage of the Organic Act establishing Arizona as a separate territory (Wagoner 1970). His strongest supporters were Ohio members of the House of Representatives like James M. Ashley and John A. Gurley, whose support was not coincidental. Cincinnati investors ran the Sonora Exploring and Mining Company and the Santa Rita Mining Company, which were incorporated in Ohio. During the debate over splitting Arizona from New Mexico, Watts hoisted a piece of silver ore from the Heintzelman mine to press home his claim that Arizona was a land of fabulous mineral wealth (Lamar 2000; Sacks 1964). The Cincinnati entrepreneurs and the Santa Fe Ring embraced one another in Washington and set their sights on the western foothills of the Santa Rita Mountains.

On April 9, 1864, the Commissioner of the General Land Office approved Watts' selection and ordered it to be surveyed. Wrightson and mining engineer Gilbert Hopkins rode into the Santa Ritas with their surveyor's chains. Wrightson had survived Apache attacks, labor unrest, and the removal of federal troops during the Civil War. But his luck ran out in February 1865, when Apaches ambushed him and Hopkins in a thicket 500 yards away from Fort Buchanan (Pumpelly 1920). Instead of a fortune in silver, Wrightson got a bloody death and his name on the Santa Ritas' highest peak.

The Fight for the Amended Location of Baca Float No. 3

Before he died, however, Wrightson discovered a major error in the original location of the float. On April 30, 1866, Watts petitioned the commissioner to authorize the surveyor general to move Baca Float No. 3 north and east. "The existence of war in that part of the Territory of Arizona and the hostility of the Indians prevented a personal examination of the locality prior to the location," Watts stated. He argued that a "mistake" in the "initial point of location" had been made, one that "would result in leaving out most of the land designed or intended to be included in said location." [11] Watts requested that the amended location begin at a spot three miles southwest of "the building known as the Hacienda de Santa Rita," the headquarters of Wrightson's mining operations. Watts added, "this land which will be embraced in this change of the initial point is of the same character of unsurveyed vacant public land as that which would have been set apart by the location as first solicited." [12]

The amended location of Baca Float No. 3 was certainly more "vacant" than the first. It did not contain Tubac, Tumacácori, or Calabasas, and it did not straddle the Santa Cruz River or overlap the Tumacácori, Calabasas, or Sonoita grants. What it did do, however, was take in the Salero mine and what soon became the Aztec and Tyndall mining districts, the most active centers of mining in the Santa Cruz Valley (Hinton 1878). By relocating Baca Float No. 3, Wrightson and Watts hoped to gain control over a much greater portion of the Santa Rita Mountains and their mineralized foothills. If Wrightson had not been killed, and Watts had not selected the wrong initial location, they or their heirs might have ridden the Santa Cruz's silver boom of the 1870s and 1880s.

Details about this stillborn partnership remain murky. Did Wrightson ever pay Watts such an enormous sum for the grant? And if so, where did he get the money and from whom did he get it? A more likely possibility is that no money exchanged hands, that Watts, Wrightson, and their silent partners intended to keep the sale quiet until the float was surveyed and confirmed. There were, after all, legal niceties that had to be observed. Whatever the arrangements, Wrightson's death severed the deal, because no partners or heirs ever stepped forward to claim his share of the enormous square of land. Watts, deeply involved in railroad as well as land speculation by the mid-1860s, had to pursue the scheme on his own.

The result was confusion and legal limbo along the Santa Cruz. After considering Watts' request for an amended location, the Commissioner of the Land Office directed the Surveyor-General of Arizona to authorize the change. But no official survey of the amended location was ever carried out. Instead, both claimants and the Land Office treated "the metes and bounds described" in Watt's request of April 30, 1866, for the amended location "as the proper description of metes and bounds of the Baca Float No. 3." [13] The handful of southern Arizonans aware of the float assumed so too. As seventy-year-old George Roskruge, who surveyed the amended location for Colonel David Bouldin in 1887, stated, "I first heard of Baca Float No. 3 sometime in the '70's when I was in the Surveyor General's office; that was in 1870; from that time up to the year 1899 the Baca Float No. 3 was always supposed to lie in the Santa Rita mountains, covering the Santa Rita mountains. I never heard it located anywhere but in that district." [14]

For the next thirty-three years, "Judge" Watts and the heirs and claimants who followed him fought for confirmation of the amended location. They tried on several occasions to have the float surveyed and located, but the authorities always demurred. The Sonora Mining & Exploration Company, "which purported to hold the title to the amended location of Baca Float No. 3," sent John Magee to "take charge and look after that title and have it surveyed" in late December 1874. But when Magee described the grant to Surveyor General John Wasson, Wasson "point blank refused to survey it on the ground that it was known to be mineral for one hundred years showed mineral on its surface from one end to the other." [15]

Several years later, J.H. Watts, son of Judge Watts and attorney for his heirs, petitioned Commissioner of the Land Office J.A. Williams to relocate the float to the amended location. He did so on the grounds that the first location had been disapproved because no evidence had been presented that it was non-mineral. Williams replied that no such disapproval had been issued, but that the 1860 act authorizing the floats had placed a three-year limit on their selection. Because Watts' 1866 request for relocation exceeded that limit, "this office cannot authorize a re-location of Baca Float No. 3 without special legislation of Congress to that effect." [16] According to historian Ray Mattison, Charles Poston, who also claimed an interest in the float, made the same request the same year. [17]

But as bureaucrats kept passing the buck, titles to Baca Float No. 3 kept proliferating. On January 6, 1870, Judge Watts sold the amended location to Christopher Eldredge Hawley of Pennsylvania. After Watts himself died intestate in 1876, however, his widow and heirs conveyed two-thirds of their shares to D.W. Bouldin, who turned around and sold "one third of one-third" of his share to fellow Texans John Ireland and Wilbur H. King on February 21, 1885. [18]

Meanwhile, New Yorker John Robinson claimed that on January 13, 1870, Hawley had given James Eldredge power of attorney authorizing him to sell the property. [19] Eldredge did so, conveying it to Robinson on May 5, 1884. [20] On February 13, 1885, Robinson asked the Commissioner of the General Land Office to relocate the float to a third location because both the original and amended locations were mineral. Acting Commissioner L. Harrison recommended that Robinson's request be granted, but Secretary of the Interior L.Q.C. Lamar quickly squashed it for the same reason that Commissioner Williams had denied relocation to Watts' son. [21]

Stymied by the Department of the Interior, Robinson and others appealed to Congress itself—the final arbiter of land grants prior to the creation of the Court of Private Land Claims in 1891. James Eldredge continued to advise Robinson—an intriguing connection back to Hawley, particularly if Christopher Eldredge Hawley and Eldredge were related. In a remarkably cynical letter, Eldredge urged Robinson to approach Congress. "You know the 'step' and capacity of the present American Statesman [sic] and the road to reach them," Eldredge sneered. "Charly E. [Eldredge] wants me to go to Washington to help. To enable me to be of any service over there, I should have to get drunk on d—d mean whiskey and remain drunk all the time I was there to enable me to tolerate the mixing up with such a d—d vulgar set of loafers as is now running the Govt." [22] Robinson apparently did so, and bills permitting the relocation were introduced into both the 47th and 48th Congresses. But the Senate Committee of Private Land Claims opposed relocation and the bills died (Mattison 1967).

Nevertheless, Robinson continued to play ping-pong with his claim throughout the early 1890s. Before his request for relocation was denied, Robinson and D.W. Bouldin entered into an agreement to sell the relocated float and split the proceeds. [23] Seven years later, on March 17, 1892, C.P. Pushaw, who claimed to have an option for $35,000 on Robinson's share, agreed to convey the north half of the float to Powhattan and James Bouldin, sons of D.W. Bouldin, in return for the deed to the southern half. Apparently Pushaw never exercised that option, because on November 12, 1892, Robinson and the Bouldins filed an indenture exchanging half interests in the float, with Robinson receiving the southern portion. [24] Two weeks later, Robinson transferred his half to John W. Cameron of Washington, D.C. in return for ten percent of the proceeds. Then Cameron and Mrs. A.T. Belknap (September 22, 1893), Ireland and King (February 7, 1894), and Powhatan W. Bouldin and James Bouldin (February 7, 1894) all sold their shares in the south half to Alex Mathews, who apparently was trying to buy up all claims no matter how spurious. On April 30, 1896, Robinson even sold the north half of the float to S.A.M. Syme of Washington, D.C. for five dollars. [25]

The chain of claims started by Robinson eventually ended up in the hands of Arizona Copper Estate, a corporation organized in Arizona with an office in New York City. S.A.M. Syme and N.L. Boyce transferred the claim to James Simmons. James Simmons sold it to the American Exploration Company for a schedule of payments totaling $125,000. Apparently the company couldn't make the payments, however, so Mathews and Syme issued a quitclaim to Arizona Copper Estate in return for a mortgage on the property. [26]

Another corporation—the Santa Cruz Development Company—purchased the remaining shares of the Watts heirs. By then, Watts' children had scattered far and wide from Santa Fe, the city where their father had wheeled and dealed. Watts himself died in Bloomington, Indiana. His widow lived out her remaining years in Berkeley, California. J.H. Watts moved to Missouri and then Kansas. His brother, J. Howe Watts, bounced from Arizona to Honduras to Mexico, where he was "in the mining business." He settled in San Pedro, California, while a sister—Mrs. Fanny Bancroft—resided in San Francisco. [27] Between 1899 and 1913, James and Katherine Vroom of Denver, Colorado and New York City bought out Watts' children and sold their claims to the Santa Cruz Development Company. [28]

On the eve of World War I, then, four different parties—Arizona Copper Estate, the Santa Cruz Development Company, the Bouldin family, and two West Virginia lawyers, Cornelius Watts and Dabney Davis, who originally represented Syme and Mathews—all claimed portions of the huge square. Beneath the formal language of quitclaims and indentures, you sense capital flows and family undercurrents, accumulating debts and predatory speculators. The "tangled web," as Mattison (1967) described the controversy over the Baca land grants, stretched from Santa Fe to the Santa Cruz Valley, from Dallas, Texas to New York City and Washington, D.C. Speculators had created a fictitious landscape of competing claims that hovered like vultures over the miners, homesteaders, and ranchers struggling to make a living from the actual landscape itself.

Joseph Wise and the Lost Baca Heir

A final chain of claims attempted to bind Calabasas and the Hacienda de Santa Rita back to the plains of north-central New Mexico. Unlike other speculators, Joseph Wise had long and visceral ties to the Upper Santa Cruz Valley. Born in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania in 1867, he first settled at Santa Rita in 1884, when he was seventeen. His father Morgan, a former Pennsylvania congressman, had been there since 1879, squatting in that crumbling outpost of Spanish dreams. "The Hacienda de Santa Rita consisted of some ruined buildings," Wise testified in 1914. "There were some buildings that were fit for habitation when I started living there; they needed repairing. I lived in some of the old buildings." Wise remained there until 1888. He met David W. Bouldin and George Roskruge, and even though he did not accompany Roskruge on his survey, he came across some of Roskruge's monuments while riding "over the country a great deal." [29]

His father Morgan, in fact, wrote the Commissioner of the General Land Office protesting Roskruge's survey in 1887. Morgan Wise pointed out to the commissioner that he and his son had a patented mining claim within the float along with "15 or 20 others." He also declared that David Bouldin had told him he intended "to let a contract and fence" the float despite the fact that the float was mineral. According to Wise, Bouldin did not want the government to survey the float. Commissioner William A.J. Spar recommended that Wise bring the matter to the attention of the U.S. Attorney General. [30]

Son Joseph pursued and built upon his father's dream. Joseph Wise was a cowboy—"that was my vocation; that was my business"—who dreamed of being a cattleman. "I occupied portions of the land on Baca Float, as I understood it, prior to 1907, when I purchased the interest from Mr. Wilbur King," Wise stated. He purchased John Ireland's share from his widow on April 8, 1907, and King's share from King himself several weeks later. [31] Those two transactions supposedly gave Wise one-ninth of Bouldin's original purchase from Watts' heirs, even though John H. Watts later argued that the transaction with Bouldin had never been a deed of sale but a "contract" or "agreement" with Bouldin to quiet the float's title. [32]

Wise also owned several patents for mines and mill sites on both the original and amended locations, and homesteaded 160 acres near Calabasas, fencing the quarter section in 1889 and proving up on it in 1908. By then he had established his headquarters at Calabasas—Colonel C.P. Sykes' fading entrepot on the Santa Cruz—where he had lived since 1888. His wife Lucia claimed another forty acres there. Lucia, ironically enough, was the daughter of C.P. and Mary Sykes. The two of them lived in the Santa Rita Hotel—Sykes' vision of New England prosperity on the Arizona frontier—until Wise built an elegant home of their own in 1910. [33]

Together the taciturn cowboy and the heiress of a failed visionary methodically set out to capture as much of the Baca float as they could. Once in possession of Ireland and King's shares, Wise began fencing off up to 25,000 acres of the float. According to neighbor George Atkinson, "Wise has got one pasture on the Baca Float of about a thousand acres, known as the 'Garden' pasture. His biggest pasture is 'Sinquitona.' Probably he has got 4,000 acres in it and a small pasture of 1,000 absolutely. He is in absolute control of that because he has got it fenced. He also uses a lot of other grazing land; he has got cattle running on them." [34] Wise was living on the cusp, a product of the open range fighting to fence off as much of that range as he could.

He also had the mesquite-stump stubbornness of a pioneer who believed that possession was nine-tenths of the law, as the following interchange between him and Mr. Kingan, counsel for plaintiffs Watts and Davis, suggests:

Q Prior to 1907 the first fences that you built outside of your 160 acres you built them upon what you believed was the public domain, isn't that a fact?

A Why, I didn't, but I built them and I took them down because the government brought a suit against me and compelled me to take them down but I believed I had a right to fence them as long as there was a grant there.

Q You yourself believed it was the public domain at that time, did you not?

A No sir, I did not.

Q That your only object in acquiring the King and Ireland title so called was to give you a color of title to fence up that float?

A It is not.

Q Isn't that a fact?

A It is not. [35]

You can sense the anger of the forty-eight-year-old rancher mounting as the lawyer probed. But Wise dug much further into the past than King and Ireland to advance a second claim upon the float. Piecing together a convoluted genealogy, he argued that he possessed the share of a nineteenth Baca heir—Antonio Baca—who died before his father, Luis María Baca, but left a widow and children. The architect of Baca Float No. 3—Judge Watts—never knew about this dead son, or confused him with another heir, José Antonio Baca. According to Wise, Watts could not have conveyed Antonio's share to Christopher Hawley in 1870 because he never possessed it in the first place. [36]

Wise employed a grandson of Luis María Baca named Marcos C. de Baca to track down the heirs of the mysterious nineteenth son. A letter to Wise from Baca and Jesse Wise, Joseph's brother, spelled out the terms of the deal. "Witnesseth said Marcos de la Baca hereby agrees to secure from various heirs of Luis María Baca a deed or deeds for their interests in certain premises in Santa Cruz County, Arizona, said premises are now occupied by Joseph E. Wise et al as a cattle ranch, said Marcos de Baca is to receive for said services thirty-five ($35) Dollars for each heirs' name in said Estate." [37] Baca, an attorney in New Mexico, was Wise's headhunter, scouring old court records and exploiting family connections to provide Wise with another boot hold on the float.

Most of Baca's headhunting took place in New Mexico. On August 20, 1913, he secured quitclaim deeds from the widow and children of José Baca, Antonio Baca's grandson. A day later, the widow and children of Ignacio Baca, another son of Antonio, did the same. On August 25, Marcos C. de Baca sold the deeds to Jesse and Joseph Wise "for and in consideration of the sum of One Dollar and other valuable consideration," which is what Baca paid the Baca heirs for their purported shares in the float. [38]

The genesis of Wise's claim arose at least six years earlier, however. On March 13, 1907, Wise paid Teodora and Manuel Baca of Cananea, Sonora, ten dollars for their title to the Baca float. As a cattleman, Wise had extensive dealings in Sonora, eventually purchasing El Rancho Arizona south of the border. He also invested heavily in Nogales, where he moved his family in 1916 and served as mayor from 1933 to 1935. That 1907 quitclaim deed did not state Teodora and Manuel Baca's relationship to Antonio Baca, if there was one. But somehow Wise ferreted out Bacas in Cananea and concocted his most elaborate claim to the land he had been trying to monopolize since the late 1880s. [39]

The Department of the Interior vs. the Baca Float

While all these claims and counterclaims were bouncing from one assignee to another, the Department of the Interior was growing increasingly skeptical about the validity of the float itself. After the U.S. Supreme Court nullified the Tumacácori land grant, the General Land Office opened the former grant lands to homestead entries. At first, the Baca assignees paid little attention because they were still fighting over the amended location, which did not include any of those lands. In 1899, they even requested another survey of the amended float.

The General Land Office forwarded the request to Secretary of the Interior E.A. Hitchcock on May 6, and Hitchcock rendered his decision on July 25. After reviewing the history of Baca Float No. 3, he posed three questions that had to be answered: 1) Whether the original selection of June 17, 1863, or the amended selection of April 30, 1866 was binding on the applicants? 2) Whether the "character of the land selected," i.e. whether or not it was vacant and non-mineral, was to be determined at the date of selection or the date of approval of the claim's survey? And 3) "By whom and in what manner is the character of the land to be ascertained and determined?" [40]

Regarding the first question, Hitchcock supported the decisions of his predecessors, ruling that the "so-called amended location...was in reality, except as to the very small area common to both, an application to make a new selection." Because the three-year time limit had expired by 1866, Hitchcock declared, "The Department is therefore of the opinion that the grant claimants are bound by the selection of June 17, 1863." [41] Regarding the third question, Hitchcock contended that despite the creation of the Court of Private Land Claims in 1891, the Surveyor General of Arizona still possessed the authority to survey and locate the Baca floats. Regarding the second question—the one that cut right to the heart of the legality of the float itself—Hitchcock instructed the surveyor general to investigate the matter and hear the testimony of anyone claiming an interest in the float "adverse to the grant claimants" regarding whether it was non-mineral and vacant on June 17, 1863. [42]

The adverse claimants lost no time in being heard. On October 23, 1899, attorneys for twenty-three petitioners, including George Atkinson and the Wises, notified the surveyor general that they had occupied lands selected by the float for many years. There they had "at great expense, erected valuable and permanent improvements thereon; and, at great cost to themselves, they have reclaimed their said land, so occupied by them by bringing water thereto and irrigated the same therewith." All had filed entries and proven up on their land once the General Land Office had opened the Tumacácori and Calabasas grants to homestead entries. They also declared that portions of the float were "generally and notoriously known to be" mineral, that "well-known mines" were situated there, and that "large numbers of men have been engaged in such work continuously since a time prior to 1860." In conclusion, they argued that Baca Float No. 3 was "void" because the land was neither vacant nor non-mineral on June 17, 1863, when the original location was selected.

Secretary Hitchcock denied most of the petition except the question as to whether the original location of the float was vacant and non-mineral. [43] The same attorneys therefore presented a Brief of Contestants on January 25, 1900, appending the testimony or affidavits of long-time Arizona settlers Charles D. Poston, George Atkinson, Peter R. Brady, Fritz Contzen, Peter Kitchen, Teodora de Troil, Sabino Otero, and Joseph King. All those Arizona pioneers reiterated that portions of Baca Float No. 3 were being, farmed, ranched, and mined in the early 1860s. They related Manuel María Gándara's attempts to establish his hacienda at Calabasas. They talked about mining in the Santa Ritas during the 1850s and early 1860s. Some noted the presence of even earlier mining activity. "Throughout these mountains [surrounding the Santa Cruz Valley] are many shafts, tunnels, and dumps, some of them showing great age," testified cattleman Sabino Otero, one of the heirs to the oldest Spanish land grant in Arizona. "At Tumacácori there is a large slag dump, deposited there many years before my recollection, and in which large mesquite trees are growing, and have been since my earliest recollection," Otero continued. "I was informed by my uncle and also my father that ores were brought principally from the Salero mountain and the Huebavi and from surrounding camps to Tumacácori and were treated there. The Guevavi or Huevavi mines were situated about 3 miles North of the old Huevavi mission on a range of mountains between the Potrero Creek and the old mission, and just South of old Fort Mason." [44]

Most of the pioneers had never heard of Judge Watts or Baca Float No. 3. "If Baca Float No. 3 had been located on the ground in 1863, where it is now claimed to be located, I, in common with all my neighbors, would certainly have known it," Otero declared. "I remember that in the year before Wrightson was killed, a survey was made, and that my father at that time protested against them including his property in their survey; but the survey as then made, and as I then understood it was to the North and East of the San Cayetano Mountains." [45] In other words, the survey was of the amended, not the original, location.

Charles Poston, on the other hand, testified that he knew Judge Watts when Watts was a delegate to Congress. According to Poston, "said Watts was well acquainted with the character of the lands included within Baca Float No. 3, and its mineral character." [46] Poston was general manager of the Sonora Exploring and Mining Company, and may have been privy to the secret deal between Watts and Wrightson. To the rest of the pioneers, however, the Baca Float was a fiction that had nothing to do with the people who had lived and died along the Santa Cruz River for the last forty years.

On June 30, 1900, the Department of the Interior ruled that even though the U.S. Supreme Court had nullified the Tumacácori and Calabasas grants, they and the San José de Sonoita grant were "in a state of reservation" when the original location of the float was selected in 1863. Consequently, any lands that the surveyor general found to be occupied or homesteaded on the former grants had to be excluded from the government survey. James Vroom, acting on behalf of himself and John Watts as claimants to the float, took issue with that decision on September 4, but his petition was denied. [47]

Barnes and Martin and John B. Wright, the attorneys for the adverse claimants, then filed a scathing response to Vroom's petition. Painting a romantic picture of Gándara's hacienda at Calabasas, and citing Poston and J. Ross Browne about mining activity on the float, they characterized Watts' attempt to locate the float "as a fraud upon the Government, as well as a fraud upon the 150 or more miners whom Poston and Brown [sic] say were at the time mining within the boundaries of this land, taking out ores and known to be there by Judge Watts." "The attempt to sustain Baca Float No. 3 has been turned down by the Department time after time," they thundered. "It has been hawked through lawyers' offices from San Francisco to Washington, by persons who offered contingent fees of one-half of whatever might be recovered, for some thirty years last past. We thought we had the hydra killed, but now there comes another who wants to be heard. How many more there may be we cannot tell, but it seems that now is the opportune time to finish this claim with a quietus from which it shall never recover." [48]

The Department of the Interior delivered no such coup de grace. Instead, it awarded the contract to survey Baca Float No. 3 to Philip Contzen, U.S. Deputy Surveyor of Tucson, in 1905. Surveyor General Frank Ingalls then notified interested parties that hearings would be held at Nogales, Calabasas, and Tubac. Land that was vacant and non-mineral on June 17, 1863, would be included in the survey. "All lands that may be ascertained by me to have been occupied, or known to have been mineral at the date of the location" were to be excluded, Ingalls asserted. [49] In response, George Atkinson called a meeting of "all the claimants to the agricultural lands within the boundaries," whom he stated were "all bona fide settlers." He submitted a list of sixty-four names to Ingalls, forty-seven of which were Hispanic. [50]

Contzen began his survey in early fall, 1905. By late October, he had progressed enough for Ingalls to launch his investigation. Ingalls traveled from Phoenix to Nogales and then proceeded northward, interviewing settlers and mining experts in Nogales, Calabasas, and Tubac. In the process, he visited the ruins of Gándara's hacienda, Mission Tumacácori, and the Hacienda de Santa Rita at Salero. Riding horseback around Salero Hill, he photographed many patios and arrastras, "some of which are in a fair state of preservation. Others are barely distinguishable." "The country surrounding Salero Hill is conspicuously mineralized," Ingalls reported, "and a person not conversant with the surface character of a mineral belt cannot fail to observe the existence of precious minerals, for its presence is apparent everywhere." [51]

All the settlers and mining men who testified concurred, including William P. Blake, professor of geology and mining at the University of Arizona. Blake first came to Arizona in 1853 as a mineralogist and geologist assigned to R. S. Williamson's survey of a rail route from the Mississippi Valley to the Pacific Coast. Six years later, while serving as editor of Mining Magazine and Journal of Geology, he wrote an article entitled "Silver and Copper Mining in Arizona." His primary informant was Charles Poston, although he also utilized the reports of numerous other observers. Blake characterized southern Arizona as "the northwestern extension of the great silver region of Mexico." "The most celebrated modern localities are Arivaca, Sópori, the Arizona mountains, the Santa Rita Range, the Cerro Colorado, the entire vicinity of Tubac," he noted. "Titles were acquired to many veins of silver ores in the Santa Rita mountains, among which were the old mines of Salero and Ojero." Blake's article also enumerated the mines worked by the Sonora Exploring and Mining Company and the Santa Rita Mining Company. "Some of these mines were worked long ago and large amounts of silver taken out," Blake concluded (Blake 1859:3). [52]

Two other witnesses—Thomas Gardner of Patagonia, who visited the Salero Mine in 1857, and William McCoy, who worked as superintendent of the Santa Rita Mining Company between 1858 and 1860—testified that the Tyndall Mining District in the Santa Ritas was known as the "Wrightson Mining District" as early as 1858. [53] Joseph King, whose ranch was "about 800 yards east of the old Tumacácori Church or Mission," even worked on Wrightson's survey of Baca Float No. 3 until a heavy snowstorm interrupted it on New Year's Day, 1865. [54] Through these witnesses, along with excerpts from the published work of J. Ross Browne, Raphael Pumphelly, Hiram C. Hodge, and Richard J. Hinton, Ingalls clearly established both the existence and notoriety of mining on the float prior to the original location in 1863.

Then, in an eloquent and emotional passage, Ingalls declared:

I am satisfied in my own mind that the passing of title to the Grant's heirs of any of the lands included in this survey, and particularly those lands in the N.E. corner thereof, surrounding Salero Hill, which I instructed Deputy Contzen to segregate by instructions dated June 17th, 1905, would be a great injustice, not only to those who are developing this country and extracting valuable mineral therefrom at the present time as grantors or heirs of former occupants, but an injustice to those who have passed within the Great Beyond, who sacrificed their lives at the hands of the blood-thirsty Apaches in the development thereof, long before the Baca heirs dared attempt the perpetration of this fraud on these hardy pioneers and blazers of the western trail. Perhaps, like coyotes in the night, they sneaked into this country after an Apache raid, or before a prospective one, and found the inhabitants had fled temporarily, and they then proclaimed the country vacant, unoccupied and non mineral. [55]

Finally, Ingalls attempted to cut off the last head of the hydra by taking aim at the originator of the "fraud," Judge Watts himself. Turning Watts' own florid prose against him, he quoting a speech Watts gave before the Second Session of the 37th Congress (1861-62). "Mr. Speaker, it is the general impression that this distant Territory is a God-forsaken portion of the world, of no interest to anybody, and that nobody need take any interest in," Watts teased, holding up a specimen of Arizona silver. "Now, I wish to satisfy the House that this is a mistake; that although every acre of ground that is within the limits of Arizona will not produce seventy-five or eighty bushels of corn, it will produce seventy-five or eighty or one hundred dollars worth of the precious metals, including gold." Watts then had the Clerk of the House read a letter from the Director of the Philadelphia Mint stating that ore from the Heintzelman Mine had assayed at $1,660 a ton. "From my intimate knowledge of that section of the country, the Territory of Arizona alone will furnish to the circulating medium of the country $50,000,000 per annum in the articles that I have exhibited to you," Watts concluded. "An Italian sunset never threw its gentile rays over more lovely valleys or Heaven-kissing hills, valleys harmonious with the music of a thousand sparkling rills, mountains shining with untold millions of mineral wealth, wooing the hand of capital and labor to possess and use it." [56]

Even though Watts did not mention "Heaven-kissing" Salero Hill in his paean, Ingalls argued that the judge was "intimately conversant with its mineral-bearing veins." Why else would he include the area around Salero Hill in both his original and amended locations? In Ingall's opinion, Watts was biding his time until federal troops subdued the Apaches so Watts "and his followers" could "return to reap their reward, by extracting the valuable ore from these mines." Ingalls recommended that the "selection be rejected in its entirety" because it violated the provisions of the Congressional act of 1860 that restricted the Baca floats to vacant, non-mineral land. [57]

The Commissioner of the General Land Office affirmed Ingall's recommendation on May 13, 1907. The Baca heirs appealed, and on June 2, 1908, the First Assistant Secretary Pierce of the Department of the Interior issued his decision on behalf of the Secretary. Pierce reviewed the history of "this remarkable litigation," which involved "title to a tract of land more than twice the area of this District of Columbia, vast mineral wealth and the rights of a multitude of settlers." [58] He dismissed the appellants' contention that title passed to the Baca heirs when the original selection was made and approved by the Surveyor General of Arizona in 1863 or when the surveyor general ordered a survey in 1864. "During all these years, the land selected on June 17, 1863, has been retained on maps and records as part of the public lands," Pierce declared. "The grantees have never been in possession and have never paid a cent of taxes upon it as private property, but, on the contrary, until recent years have treated it as a piece of land unwisely selected but happily not so far appropriated by them in settlement of their claim as to prevent, if the Government would permit, a new selection." [59] Pierce also stated that lands included within the Tumacácori, Calabasas, and Sonoita grants had been reserved at the time of the original location and would be excluded from the float. He then ordered the Surveyor General of Arizona to notify the appellants of his decision and to allow them sixty days after notification to request another hearing to present evidence rebutting the claims of Atkinson and other settlers. If no such motion for review were filed within that time period, "the entire selection" would be "finally rejected." [60]

Ingalls sent the notice out on August 13, 1908. On September 21, he informed the Commissioner that no motion for review had been filed by September 12, which, according to departmental policy, was the expiration date. [61] By then, those fighting Baca Float No. 3 may have thought that the "hydra-headed monster" had finally been slain. [62]

The Baca Float and the Courts

In less than a decade, however, the monster rose triumphant and devoured all the adverse claims. After the Department of the Interior issued its decision in 1908, the General Land Office opened the float to homestead entries. By then, the major claimants were John Watts and James Vroom, who traced their claims back to the widow and children of Judge Watts, and Cornelius C. Watts (apparently no relation) and Dabney C.T. Davis, whose claim descended from Watts' sale to Hawley in 1870. The three parties petitioned the U.S. District Court of Arizona to enjoin the Secretary of the Interior and the Commissioner of the General Land Office from permitting further entries. [63]

According to the reminiscences of Arizona pioneer Alexander Davidson, Watts and Davis were West Virginia lawyers commissioned by "Sims & Mathews," another law firm in Virginia. Davidson's brother had been a Union surgeon during the Civil War who had cared for a wounded Confederate prisoner named Colonel Sam Sims. The two men became close friends. Davidson was in his nineties when Mrs. George S. Kitt interviewed him in the early 1930s, so his memory for names may have been faulty. "Sam Sims" was probably S.A.M. Syme of Washington, D.C. and Alexandria, Virginia, while Mathews was undoubtedly Alexander Mathews, who resided in West Virginia.

Sometime in the 1890s, Davidson's brother asked him to look after Syme and Mathews' interests in the float. Before the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the Tumacácori land grant in 1898, Davidson advised Syme and Mathews to "lay low and let the settlers and the Calabasas and Tumacácori people fight it out because, if these grants were genuine their claim antedated that of the Baca Float and would stand, whereas, if they were not genuine the settlers were fighting Sims and Mathews battle for them." After the Court threw out the Tumacácori grant, Davidson told Syme and Mathews to press their claims and have the float surveyed. According to Davidson, they paid $5,000 to "Senator Edmunds, the great International lawyer," to examine their case. He concluded their title was valid because the Surveyor General of New Mexico had approved it. [64]

By then, according to Davidson, Syme and Mathews were "broke." Syme "was a great promoter and speculator and made much money just after the War," Davidson recalled. "But later because of unstable loans in an endeavor to aid the Southern people, the firm failed." Syme and Mathews hired Watts and Davis to represent them in return for a thirty percent interest in the grant. Syme and Mathews also employed "Senator Baily"—probably former Senator Joseph W. Bailey of the firm Bailey, Nichols & Bailey of Dallas, Texas—to quiet that part of the title claimed by Judge Watts' heirs. But when Bailey found out Watts' claim on the float was good, he "flopped over and went in with Watts to secure part of the property." Again, Davidson's memory was cloudy. "Judge Watts" was long dead by then, so Bailey must have entered into an agreement with son John Watts and James W. Vroom. According to Davidson, "The question was finally settled by a compromise whereby Watts and Baily were given the north half of the grant for the consideration of $25,000." [65] At some point in the process, Watts and Davis must have secured the rest of Syme and Mathews' claim to the southern half of the float, because their names disappear from the legal record.

The U.S. District Court of Arizona granted John Watts, Vroom, and Watts and Davis the injunction to prevent further entries on the float. "Judge Rouse was employed to gather evidence in Arizona," Davidson recalled, "But Judge Rouse had just lost his son Charlie, which was a great blow, and nine tenths of the time he was 'indisposed?' so I had to hustle around and do most of the work myself" The settlers appealed the injunction to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but it affirmed the lower court. Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane and Clay Tallman, Commissioner of the General Land Office, then stepped in and appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case was called Lane v. Watts. The Supreme Court heard it in the late spring of 1914. On June 22, it affirmed the decisions of the two lower courts. Contrary to the arguments of the Department of the Interior that the land could not be withdrawn from the public domain until a survey of the float had been completed, the Supreme Court ruled that title to Baca Float No. 3 "passed out of the United States and vested in said heirs on April 9, 1864" when the Commissioner of the Land Office approved the location. All subsequent claims and withdrawals were therefore invalid. Lane v Watts had nothing to say about the overwhelming evidence that the float was neither vacant nor non-mineral when the float was selected.

The day after the Court's decision, Watts and Davis filed suit in the U.S. District Court of Arizona to quiet the title. Defendants included both the Wises and the Bouldins, who claimed most of the north half of the float. On December 14, the court ruled that Watts and Davis held title to "an undivided eighteen nineteenths of the south half" of the float while three Bouldins—Jennie, David, and Helen Lee—together held eighteen nineteenths of the north half Joseph and Margaret Wise each possessed "an undivided one thirty-eighth of the whole of said tract." [66]

Four different suits appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The suits were consolidated, and on January 8, 1917, the appeals court issued its opinion. Lane v Watts had already determined that title to Baca Float No. 3 had passed to the Baca heirs in 1864; subsequent commissioners of the General Land Office had no power to revoke it or change its boundaries. In other words, the amended location, which the speculators had pursued for nearly half a century, was not and never had been valid.

The appeals court then turned its attention to the Wises' claim that they held title to the share of Antonio Baca, the elusive nineteenth son. The District Court of Arizona had affirmed that title. The appeals court reversed it. "We assume that Luis María Baca had a son named Antonio Baca, who died before his father," the opinion stated. [67] But after reviewing the original Baca grant in New Mexico, the appeals court concluded that Antonio Baca was not one of the claimants. "Neither Antonio Baca nor any of his heirs ever having made any claim to any land granted by the Mexican government, they had no claim to waive, and manifestly waived none," the appeals court stated. As a result, "Joseph E Wise and Margaret W. Wise acquired no interest in the land in controversy through the heirs of Antonio Baca, who had no interest therein to convey." [68]

Homesteaders: The Second Dispossession

The second dispossession of the Santa Cruz Valley soon ground forward. Once the decision was announced, the Bouldins and Watts and Davis filed suits to evict settlers living on Baca float lands. By then, there were eighteen patented entries encompassing 2,352 acres and forty-one pending entries covering 5,527 acres on the float (Mattison 1967). Watts and Davis named seventy-five defendants living on the south half of the grant. [69] At least fifty-two of those names were Hispanic. The Bouldins and Weldon M. Bailey, son of ex-Senator Joseph W. Bailey, enumerated 161, of whom 101 had Hispanic surnames. [70] Most of these people were immigrants from Sonora, including Opata and Yaqui Indians who had fled the genocidal policies of the Mexican government under President Porfirio Díaz (Gastellum 1995).

Louis Gastellum, who was four years old when federal marshals forced his family from their land in 1919, wrote a memoir of life along the Santa Cruz in the early 1900s. Gastellum's Basque ancestors migrated from Spain to Alamos in the early 1700s. A century later, they were raising cattle in the Altar Valley, where his great-grandfather was born in 1828 in the former mission community of Tubutama. His father Santiago moved from Tubutama to Tubac in 1898. Santiago was no stranger to the Santa Cruz Valley. For at least a century, close ties of trade and kinship had linked families along the Río Altar in northwestern Sonora to families in Tucson and Tubac (Sheridan 1986).

Santiago Gastellum went to work as a cowboy for Luis Acuña, another Sonoran pioneer from the former capital of Ures. In 1886, Acuña homesteaded 120 acres of floodplain land just south of Tubac. By 1895, he had brought 100 acres under cultivation and had sunk a well, fenced his property, and built a corral, stable, chicken coop, and two-room adobe house. Santiago soon became part of the family when he married Santos, Acuña's seventeen-year-old daughter, in 1903 (Gastellum 1995).

For the next decade and a half, Santiago worked as a foreman for both Acuña and Sabino Otero while he built up his own herd. At that time, Otero's cattle ranged across an immense arc that stretched from the Santa Cruz Valley to the Baboquivari and Santa Rosa Districts of what is now the Tohono O'odham Nation. Because of his hard work, Santiago and his family prospered, and more Gastellums moved from Tubutama to Tubac. After Acuña died in 1911 and his wife in 1915, Santos and her sister inherited the homestead and all its improvements and animals. The Gastellums were now property owners, cattle ranchers, and farmers, their livelihoods governed by the rhythms of the range and their floodplain fields.

Many of the names mentioned in the eviction petitions were their neighbors and friends. Rosa Lim was the midwife who delivered Luis and his sixth brothers and sisters. One of his aunts married Ramón Andrado while another wed Eduardo Sierras. Sarah Black taught two generations of Acuña and Gastellum children, and the Casanega, Madril, Lowe, Gomez, and Valdez children were their schoolmates. The Trujillo, Gomez, and Lowe families raised many of the fine horses that raced one another at every major fiesta, while Frank Burruel, Lola Villa, and Francisco Cota provided the music for dances held on the patio outside the Alday home (Gastellum 1995).

Their way of life was as ancient as Spaniards in the Sonoran Desert. Their fields sprouted Old World green in the winter—wheat, barley, oats, lentils, fava beans—and New World green—corn, beans, squash, and chile—when frosts were no longer a danger. On the bajadas descending from the Santa Rita and Tumacácori mountains they grazed livestock domesticated in the Near East and gathered agaves, cactus fruit, and wild greens just like the O'odham who preceded them. By the early 1900s, they were driving their cattle to railheads and shipping them to feed lots and slaughter houses in the Midwest, but theirs was still a semi-subsistence economy involving as much barter and sharing as cash. Life on the ranchos along the Santa Cruz was little different from life in Tubutama, Ures, or the other riverine towns of Sonora where they had been born.

The settlers of the Upper Santa Cruz Valley did not give up that life without a fight. Responding to the Bouldins' suit against them in the U.S. District Court of Arizona, those on the north half of the grant listed the legal boundaries of their properties, which they had been in "open, notorious, continuous, peaceable" possession for twenty years or more. When they or their predecessors occupied those tracts were "in a wild and uncultivated condition, covered with brush and trees, rough, and not capable of being cultivated." Then, in dry, legal language that barely hinted at a generation or more of sowing and reaping, of calving, castrating, and branding, of flood, drought, childbirth, and death, they went on to say that they "have cleared and leveled the land, built fences to enclose their said several tracts, constructed ditches to conduct water onto the land, and made many and valuable improvements thereon, and in good faith greatly enhanced the value of said land and premises in a large sum, to wit, more than Two Hundred Thousand Dollars ($200,000.00)." [71]

Once again, the settlers and their lawyers pointed out the cynicism and opportunism of the speculators. From 1866 until 1905, the plaintiffs made no claim to the original 1863 location of Baca Float No. 3. Instead, they "repeatedly denied that they had any interest in said land, and claimed and insisted that they were the owners of the lands included within the amended location of 1866." [72] During those four decades, the plaintiffs were "fully aware" that the settlers were occupying and improving lands on the original location. "With reckless indifference to the effect upon these defendants and cross-complainants and all other persons willing to assume the risk, hazard and danger to life consequent upon contributing to the building up of the undeveloped lands of Arizona," the plaintiffs encouraged the settlers to "avoid" the amended 1866 location and claim lands on the original location. [73] In telling words, the settlers argued that "the asserted claim of the plaintiffs has never been maintained by them honestly or in good faith, as a true or citizenlike ownership of the said lands, but has been exploited by them as a matter without risk or expense to themselves, of speculation, for the joint benefit of themselves and real estate operators and others." [74] According to the defendants, Judge Watts and his heirs had "abandoned" the original location and had no claim upon it now.

Their arguments fell on deaf ears. Lane v. Watts had given the Bouldins and Watts and Davis the legal foundation they needed to quiet all claims. George Atkinson, who had come to Calabasas to build Colonel C.P. Sykes' Santa Rita Hotel, offered $250,000 for the grant. The speculators demanded $400,000. He then asked Congress to offer some relief to those about to lose their lands. "As for myself, it does not matter so much," Atkinson stated. "Although I spent $40,000 in one jolt to fight this case, I still have enough to support me to the end of my days. I still have my cattle" (quoted in Wagoner 1975:206). Atkinson proposed that the government pay the speculators and allow the farmers and ranchers who had homesteaded the land to remain where they were (Wagoner 1975).

The government declined. Instead, the Sixty-seventh Congress passed "An Act for the Relief of Settlers" after the Sixty-sixth Congress had turned it down. President Warren Harding signed it into law on July 5, 1921. Individuals who had received patents to their land prior to December 13, 1917 were entitled to select en lieu lands elsewhere in Arizona. The lieu lands could not surpass twice the amount of land they lost along the Santa Cruz. Some settlers accepted the offer and selected lands near Buckeye along the Gila River. Others, like Sarah Black and the Gastellum family, refused and had to be removed by federal marshals. Livestock had to be moved. Property had to be stored. Family homesteads had to be abandoned to people who bought and sold paper in Dallas or New York City or Washington, D.C. "The eviction occurred at a most inopportune time, as my mother had just given birth to my younger brother, Manuel," Luis Gastellum remembered. "Complications developed and my mother underwent surgery, which confined her to bed for several weeks" (Gastellum 1995:7).

The Gastellums were fortunate. They owned land at Reventon about five miles north of Tubac. The children had to commute three hours instead of five minutes to school each day, but their roots along the Santa Cruz were not completely ripped away. Other Mexican families either left the valley or moved onto small plots of land that could not support them. "Consequently, they became migrants and followed the harvesting seasons to the Salt River Valley and to California," Gastellum recalled. "As a result, many of the children had to leave school for two to four months each year" (Gastellum 1995:12).

The O'odham dispossessed by Gándara's land grab represented a culture that had inhabited the Sonoran Desert, including the Santa Cruz Valley, for a millennium or more. The Gastellums and their neighbors were part of an agropastoralist way of life that had flourished in the river valleys of Sonora since the 1600s. But the strokes of pens in distant places made them squatters—or ghosts—on lands they had cleared and plowed and seeded season after season, generation after generation. Two distinct land-based societies had been dismantled from Tubac to Guevavi. The triumph of speculators in the Upper Santa Cruz Valley was now utter and complete.

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Last Updated: 12-Mar-2007