Land Grant Maps

California Poppy smallerAfter Spain sent the Franciscan padres to California in 1769, they encouraged further colonization by awarding land grants to “deserving” individuals, a practice continued by the Mexican government when that nation achieved its independence from Spain in 1822. Property was measured in leagues; and even considering some variation of opinion as to the exact measure, a Spanish league was in excess of 4,000 square acres. Some of these land grants were enormous, others smaller; most intended as acreage for free-range cattle grazing. To acquire a grant, the applicant submitted appropriate papers and a hand-drawn map, called a diseño.  Surveys weren’t considered necessary. Instead, the diseño outlined desired boundaries by clearly visible natural features such as watercourses, isolated hills, or lone oak trees towering above flat expanses of wild oats. Attitudes were relaxed; provincial California contained millions of acres, and no one gave much thought to where one family’s land ownership ended and another began, even when boundaries abutted each other. Then, America acquired California at the end of the Mexican War. The diseño maps, heretofore proofs of ownership respected and relied upon for 80 years, were called into question by the United States’ 1851 Land Commission. On average, the process of appeals lasted 17 years. Under this system  813 claims were presented, 605 finally confirmed, 190 rejected, and 19 withdrawn.

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