Private Land Claim of Luis Mesa, National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 - October 15)
Under the provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War in 1848, the United States acquired a vast extent of territory. Nevada and Utah and portions of Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona became American territories and, with the exception of California, which entered as a state in 1850, remained federal territories for many years. When the Mexican government ceded its title to this land, the occupants of the region became American citizens and found themselves subject to new laws.
This anomalous situation resulted in a long history of conflict over disputed land claims. In 1851 Congress created a Board of Commissioners to address these disputes in the new state of California. The board was disbanded in 1856, but the federal government continued to receive private claims to land long after this time—often from heirs of the original owners—which were then settled in federal district courts.
In 1870 the heirs of Señor Luis Mesa petitioned Congress in an attempt to confirm Mesa’s title to a tract of land near Monterey, California known as the “Corral de Tierra.” Among the papers sent to Congress to prove ownership of the land was a letter from Mariana Day—a former Mexican citizen married to an American and the current occupant of a portion of the land. Her husband, Thomas Day, had purchased the land from Luis Mesa before he died. The file also included a letter from the archivist of the U.S. Surveyor General’s office in California. He sent a photographed facsimile copy of the original Mexican grant and a traced copy of a map of the land as well as a translation of the correspondence between Señor Mesa and the Mexican government that established the original grant.
The memorialist, Mariana Day, requested that the claim of the heirs of Luis Mesa “be presented to the U.S. District Court” so that “relief may be granted to remove the disability which now exists in the title to said Rancho.” Mrs. Day referenced a similar case that was decided in favor of the petitioner as evidence that the request was legitimate.
Senator James Nye (R-NV, 1864-1873) of the Committee on Territories proposed a bill on March 29, 1870 to authorize and require the federal district court for California to hear and decide Luis Mesa’s land claim. The bill was sent to the Committee on Private land claims but was discharged without action in the next session. Although the Senate records do not provide a resolution in this case, they show the wide variety of argumentation used in these historical claims and invite additional research in local California records to determine the final outcome.
Map of disputed land drawn by Luis Mesa in 1841, Records of the U.S. Senate