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Translating Property: The Maxwell Land Grant and the Conflict over Land in the American West, 1840-1900

Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 315
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  • Book Info
    Translating Property
    Book Description:

    Although Mexico lost its northern territories to the United States in 1848, battles over property rights and ownership have remained intense. This turbulent, vividly narrated story of the Maxwell Land Grant, a single tract of 1.7 million acres in northeastern New Mexico, shows how contending groups reinterpret the meaning of property to uphold their conflicting claims to land. The Southwest has been and continues to be the scene of a collision between land regimes with radically different cultural conceptions of the land's purpose. We meet Jicarilla Apaches, whose identity is rooted in a sense of place; Mexican governors and hacienda patrons seeking status as New World feudal magnates; "rings" of greedy territorial politicians on the make; women finding their own way in a man's world; Anglo homesteaders looking for a place to settle in the American West; and Dutch investors in search of gargantuan returns on their capital. The European and American newcomers all "mistranslated" the prior property regimes into new rules, to their own advantage and the disadvantage of those who had lived on the land before them. Their efforts to control the Maxwell Land Grant by wrapping it in their own particular myths of law and custom inevitably led to conflict and even violence as cultures and legal regimes clashed.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92648-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    When Denver lawyer Jeff Goldstein asked me in 1997 if I could help him with a lawsuit,Espinoza v. Taylor,¹ I was a bit startled to learn that conflicts over Mexican land grants still raged in the American West. To me, these land grants seemed to be arcane vestiges of a distant past. Goldstein wanted me to look at documents relating to the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant in the southern portion of Colorado. The grant had been owned in the 1840s by Carlos Beaubien, one of the parties in the Beaubien/Miranda (later the Maxwell) grant, the subject of this...

  6. 1 Contested Boundaries
    (pp. 19-45)

    From the moment that its first human inhabitants, the Jicarilla Apaches, set foot on what would become known as the Maxwell Land Grant, people told stories that marked boundaries on the landscape. These stories and boundary markers were rooted in the particular culture of the group inhabiting the land. The Jicarillas, in particular, marked their territory by the natural boundaries of the four rivers that surrounded their homeland. In turn, the Spanish explorers gave natural features (rivers, mountains, springs) Spanish Catholic labels to mark their possession. The Mexican government, through its grantees Carlos Beaubien and Guadalupe Miranda, used maps and...

  7. 2 Regulating Land, Labor, and Bodies: Mexican Married Women, Peones, and the Remains of Feudalism
    (pp. 46-77)

    When Col. Stephen Watts Kearny led the U.S. Army of the West into Santa Fe in 1846, he was not merely conquering a Mexican province for the U.S. government. Kearny was also leading a moral crusade against what some U.S. political leaders, such as John C. Calhoun, regarded as a despotic and feudalistic system of government and property.¹ The editor of theBoston Timessummed up their mood best when he wrote,

    The “conquest” which carries peace into a land where the sword has always been the sole arbiter, . . . which institutes the reign of law where license...

  8. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  9. 3 From Hacienda to Colony
    (pp. 78-120)

    The traditional relationship betweenpatrónandpeónended when Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell and his wife, María de la Luz Beaubien Maxwell, sold their vast estate in northern New Mexico to European investors in 1869. Their sale to the Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Company produced a transformation of property relations that were, at least for the people living on the land grant, as radical and far-reaching as the legal revolution effected by the 1848 conquest of New Mexico. The sale confronted the various inhabitants of the land grant—Jicarilla Apaches, Hispano farmers and laborers, and Anglo miners—with a novel...

  10. 4 Prejudice, Confrontation, and Resistance: Taking Control of the Grant
    (pp. 121-156)

    The close of the 1870s brought an end to the Colfax County troubles, a patent from Congress, and the sale of the company to a new set of directors. It looked as if stability might finally settle across the Maxwell Land Grant. The decade of the 1880s, however, brought little relief to the beleaguered company or the weary settlers. The company consistently faced financial failure as the Hispano and Anglo settlers continually resisted every move that the company made to bring the land under its control. Although the company did finally secure title to the entire 1.7 million acres through...

  11. 5 The Law of the Land: U.S. v. Maxwell Land Grant Company
    (pp. 157-190)

    Why, after almost thirty years of covert resistance and subtle accommodation, were the settlers willing to confront the company agents at the Pooler Hotel on the morning of August 25, 1888? The settlers’ unorganized opposition, pitted against the company’s intransigence, had led to rising tempers and increased frustration, but conceivably the standoff could have continued for years without a decisive victory for either side. In the two decades since the company had taken over the land grant, neither group had been able to expel the other from the grant, and neither had ever gained a truly decisive advantage. The company...

  12. 6 The Legacy of Land Grants in the American West
    (pp. 191-220)

    The year following the Supreme Court decision, and particularly throughout the summer of 1888, opposition to the company began to gather strength on various portions of the grant. The company’s managers, especially M. P. Pels, felt that the only way to bring tensions to an end was to convince the district court and the sheriff to fulfill their obligations to enforce the Supreme Court’s order with ejection notices. On July 19, 1888, the Colfax County sheriff reluctantly went north from Cimarron to Vermejo Park with summonses for the illegal residents to appear in district court and face ejection proceedings. He...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 221-260)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 261-278)
  15. Index
    (pp. 279-299)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 300-300)