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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The History and People of the Socorro Land Grant

On May 16, 2015, I gave a presentation to the Socorro County Historical Society. I've decided to post the paper here. I could have published this in a journal or newspaper somewhere, but I consider it to be a short summary or "sneak peak" of information that I either have already published or will publish later. This presentation was sponsored by the Socorro County Historical Society, the New Mexico Genealogical Society and was made possible through a scholarship by the Office of State Historian.
The History and People of the Socorro Land Grant
Copyright (c) 2015 By Robert J. C. Baca
On or about September 18, 1818, Pedro Bautista Pino rode into the newly resettled village of Socorro to solicit donations for the New Mexico militia.  Early that month, New Mexico’s Spanish Governor Lieutenant Colonel Fecundo Melgares had received a message that Navajos had invaded the northern villages of New Mexico. Melgares, a seasoned warrior, realized early that he did not have enough supplies for his troops. He therefore sent out a proclamation requesting grain and other supplies from the people of New Mexico. It was Pedro Bautista Pino’s task to fulfill this request for his governor. As Pino collected the donations, he wrote down the names of those who made contributions. The list he created would become the first enumeration of the people of Socorro. 

Socorro was resettled around 1815. Seventy families from Belen and other parts of New Mexico moved their homes to the village. Socorro, which had been abandoned just prior to the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, had not been occupied for over 125 years. Both the Spanish and the native Piros left the area for communities near present day El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico. After the Spanish resettlement of New Mexico in 1693, fears that nomadic Indians would attack settlers kept the Spanish from sending colonist south of Sabinal, a community about 25 miles north of Socorro. Because of this there were no permanent settlements between Sabinal and El Paso, an area of nearly 200 miles.

On January 18, 1800, the Commandant General of the Internal Provinces of New Spain ordered the New Mexican governor to begin settling the areas between Sabinal and El Paso. He wanted to ensure the protection of the travelers along El Camino Real, the Royal Road. The abandoned communities of Senecu, Socorro, Alamillo, and Sevillita were to be resettled. The governor ordered Alamillo to be resettled immediately, but waited to resettle the other villages because he feared they were far too isolated. He thought this would leave these communities open to attack.

Socorro was resettled mostly by families from the Belen and Tomé areas. The earliest baptism of a child born in Socorro was recorded in the Belen church registers on August 17, 1816, when 5 day old Maria Clara Ortis, the daughter of Jose Bisente Ortis and Barvara Padilla, was baptized. Ninety-one baptismal records were recorded in the Belen church for Socorro families between August 1816 and December 1821. The San Miguel del Socorro Mission itself would begin recording baptisms for the community in July 1821. It is believed that San Miguel was built upon the ruins of the old Nuestra Señora del Socorro church.

Genealogist Ronaldo Miera identified the Socorro families who baptized their children in Belen during this period. He found 38 different surnames for heads of household, with an additional 16 different surnames for the wives. He assumed that there were extended families for each of these households and figured that he had found the original 70 families of Socorro.

Socorro settlers probably began building their community immediately after arriving there. The original order was for them to place their homes within four square leagues from the center of the proposed church – one league for each cardinal direction. This measurement was later surveyed by the American government in 1896 to be over 17,000 acres. However, prior to that in 1875, Socorro residents claimed 100 miles east to west and 33 miles north to south, or about 1,612,000 acres. This was nearly 100 times the original proposed size. It appears that the residents placed their farms, ranches and homes in areas beyond the original four square leagues.

Having to live off the land, the original settlers of Socorro had to quickly become productive in order to survive. Although they may have brought many provisions, and may have even been able to trade with others traveling along the Camino Real, they would have had to begin planting as soon as possible. Therefore, they may have moved to Socorro in the spring. By September 1818, these families had enough surplus produce and other items to donate towards the military campaign against the Navajos.

An administrator would have had to divide the land grant into sections for the various families. In Pino’s 1818 list, the first person enumerated is the Alcalde don Miguel Aragon. This alcalde, or mayor, was the Alcalde of Valencia, a community 50 miles to the north. He appears to be the administrator for the entire area, and probably did not live in Socorro itself. He does not show up in any other records for Socorro. He does, however, appear in a document for Sevilleta, a community north of Socorro.

As Pedro Bautista Pino was collecting donations from Socorro residents, he saw a couple of familiar faces. The second person on this list was Juan Dionosio Baca. This man was married to Pino’s niece Maria Rita Pino. Maria Rita’s father was the similarly named Pedro Jose Pino, who was the Alcalde of Laguna decades past. It was in Laguna that Maria Rita Pino married her husband in 1785.

The communities within and around Belen were close-knit, and the families that left there for Socorro was often even more closely related. Juan Dionosio Baca’s 1st cousin, once removed was Francisco Xavier Garcia Jurado, listed as Xavier Garcia on the list. He, with another early resident, Anselmo Tafoya, petitioned the governor in 1817 requesting that Socorro residents be given title to the land grant. When the governor’s officials did not fulfill the residents’ request, Xavier Garcia petitioned the governor once again. Both times, the governor ordered his subordinates to give Socorro settlers title. 

Whether or not title was actually given would be a source of contention decades later when Socorro residents fought the U.S. Government in court over whether the grant actually existed and as to the size of the grant. Interestingly enough, both Baca’s and Garcia Jurado’s descendants played an important part in those lawsuits. Juan Dionosio Baca’s son and grandson transcribed a document that they claimed verified the grant; while Francisco Xavier Garcia Jurado’s grandson sued the government and had four square leagues approved for the Socorro grant. 

Another cousin of both Baca and Garcia Juardo, the similarly named Dionosio Antonio Baca, was one of two soldiers mentioned in the 1818 list, as was his wife. The document reads “[Doña] Ana Maria Sanches Esposa del tiente [Don] Dionosio Baca”. In English, this indicates that doña Ana Maria Sanches was the wife of lieutenant don Dionosio Baca. 

The Baca and Garcia Jurado families were related through a common ancestor, Ramon Garcia Jurado. Ramon Garcia Jurado was born in Mexico and arrived with his parents in New Mexico in 1693 as part of the re-colonization. Unlike the Baca family, who arrived in New Mexico in 1600, the Garcia Jurado family were not part of the older New Mexican families. That didn’t hurt his political aspirations, though. He had become alcalde of Bernalillo and the surrounding pueblos in 1732. Also, his name can be seen prominently at El Morro Rock, where he chiseled his signature on his way to Zuni in 1707.

Ramon’s daughter Petronila was the grandmother of the two Baca cousins. She married Juan Antonio Baca of Bernalillo. When he died, she tried to sue his family to get property for her children, which included Dionosio Antonio Baca’s father Juan Francisco Baca. She apparently did not get much, though, as she had to leave her home in Bernalillo and move to be by her daughter Rafaela Baca, who herself had married Diego de Torres, one of the founders of Belen. Petronila’s other son was Juan Felipe Baca, also known as Garcia. He was born two years after Petronila’s husband had passed, but apparently was given the Baca name anyway. He is the father of Juan Dionosio Baca.

Of the names enumerated on the 1818 list, most are men. However, wives were listed in lieu of their husbands. The aforementioned doña Ana Maria Sanches is one example. This may indicate that her husband was away at the time, possibly fulfilling his military obligations. Don Xavier Garcia’s wife (“su esposa”) is mentioned, although not by name. Xavier Garcia himself is listed separately. This may indicate that his wife had property of her own. Maria Getrudis Muñis, the wife of Antonio Gurule is on the list. The unnamed wives of Jose Padilla, Juaquin Aragon, Anselmo Tafoya, and Antonio Trujillo are mentioned. This may indicate that these men were also away, although Anselmo Tafoya is also separately named on the list. Another name on this list is Barvara Barela, a widow.

By doing a little bit of investigation, we can flesh out the story of anyone on this list. Seventy people are listed by name or by relationship on the September 1818 list. By comparing these names against baptismal, marriage, prenuptial investigations, death and census records, we can find out who these people, their spouses, children and parents were, and where they came from. We can often figure out their approximate or actual dates of birth, marriage and death. We know what other families they are related to. Many of the Socorro Grant families were related by blood or by marriage, or both.

An example of this is the fore-mentioned Barbara Barela. This woman appears to have been the widow of Juan Trujillo. Her son, who may also be on the list, is Manuel Antonio Trujillo. He is probably the one listed as Manuel trujillo Melsiano. “Melsiano” may actually be the word “miliciano”, which means militiaman. Manuel Antonio Trujillo was married to Ana Maria Garcia. This couple are shown in the 1833 census of Socorro and the 1845 census of Polvadera, a small community north of Socorro. The ages on these census records indicate that Manuel Antonio Trujillo was born between 1781 and 1785. In 1833, they had two young Native American girls living in their household, possibly adopted and probably their servants. In 1845 they had one young boy, Jose Anastacio, 9 years old, living with them. Once again, we have a family that is related to another family on the list. Manuel’s father-in-law was Francisco Xavier Garcia Jurado.

Although most families were either from the Belen or Tomé areas, not all were. For example, Miguel Perea and his wife Maria Martina Marquez had roots in the Rio Arriba (upper river) rather than the Rio Abajo (lower river.) Their children were born in Ojo Caliente and the Bernalillo/Sandia Pueblo areas. Although some grandchildren are born in the Socorro area, the lack of information from census and other records seem to indicate the family left the area before 1833.

Some of the Socorro residents in the 1818 list show hidalgo roots. These minor nobility have the title “don” or “doña”. Often these titles were passed along generation after generation from the original colonists of New Mexico. It showed that these families had bravely settled in dangerous areas and developed the land they were given.

Hidalgos of Socorro included: the alcalde Miguel Aragon, Juan Dionosio Baca, Xavier Garcia, Pedro Garcia, Feliciano Montoya, Bautista Chaves, Ana Maria Sanchez and her husband lieutenant Dionosio Baca, and Diego Sanches.  Having the titles of nobility, did not mean that these families were wealthy. In 1846, American George Ruxton complained:

The appearance of Socorro is that of a dilapidated brick-kiln, or a prairie-dog town; indeed from these animals the New Mexicans appear to have derived their style of architecture.

How ironic that these types of “prairie-dog” houses that Ruxton derided would one day influence the sought-after New Mexico pueblo architectural style.

Selected Bibliography
Alief, Teresa Ramirez, Jose Gonzales, and Patricia Black Esterly, transcribers. New Mexico Censuses of 1833 and 1845: Socorro and Surrounding Communites of the Rio Abajo. (Albuquerque: New Mexico Genealogical Society, 1994)

Archives of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, various microfilms.

Baca, Robert J. C. “Comment and correction to Socorro Grant Article”, The Baca/Douglas Genealogy and Family History Blog,, retrieved 19 April 2013.

Baca, Robert J. C. “Early Settlers of the Socorro Land Grant: An 1818 List” (three parts), New Mexico Genealogist, Part I: Vol. 50, No. 3, September 2011, pp. 116-120; Part II: Vol. 51, No. 1, March 2012, pp. 10-16; Part III: Vol. 51, No. 3, September 2012, pp. 118-126. You may order these issues from the New Mexico Genealogical Society’s website at

Bowden, J.J., “Socorro Grant”, New Mexico Office of State Historian website, retrieved 19 April 2013,

Chavez, Angelico, compiler. New Mexico Roots, Ltd.: A Demographic Perspective from genealogical, historical, and geographic data found in the Diligencias Matrimoniales. 11 Volumes. Typescript, 1982.

Chavez, Angelico, Origins of New Mexico Families: A Genealogy of the Spanish Colonial Period, revised ed. (Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1992)

Esquibel, Jose Antonio and John B. Colligan, The Spanish Recolonization of New Mexico: An Account of the Families Recruited at Mexico City in 1693 (Albuquerque: Hispanic Genealogical Research Center of New Mexico, 1999)

Gómez, Arthur “Royalist in Transition: Facundo Melgares, the Last Spanish Governor of New Mexico, 1818-1822”. New Mexico Historical Review (October 1993), pp. 377-380.
Marshall, Michael P. and Henry J. Walt, Rio Abajo: Prehistory of a Rio Grande Province (Santa Fe: New Mexico Historical Preservation Program, 1984.)

Miera, Ronald, “Who Were the Settlers of the Socorro Town Land Grant?”, Herencia, Vol 9 (July 2001), p. 8. 

Various sacramental books published by the New Mexico Genealogical Society, the Hispanic Genealogical Research Center, and others. See my three part article “Early Settlers of the Socorro Land Grant: An 1818 List” for more information.

For more information about my research into the Socorro Land Grant, visit my blog “The Baca/Douglas Genealogy and Family History Blog” at Click on the category “Socorro Land Grant”.

1 comment:

  1. Several places have changed from Sanchez,(correct) to Sanches.