Gervacio Nolan Grant

The Gervacio Nolan Grant
by Malcolm Ebright

Gervacio (Gervais) Nolan was a French-Canadian fur-trapper and trader who came to New Mexico in 1824 with fellow French Canadian Charles Beaubien. Both became Mexican citizens in 1829, married local Hispanic women, and raised families in the Taos area, though Beaubien is much better known than Nolan. Beaubien was a co-recipient (with Guadalupe Miranda) of the Maxwell grant (originally the Beaubien and Miranda grant) and a prominent merchant and judge in Taos.

Gervacio Nolan was a native of St. Charles, Canada. Little is known of his early life except for a few references to his trapping and trading activities in Montreal and Lake Superior. Four years after his arrival in New Mexico, on 5 August 1828, he married María Dolores Lalande, twelve-year-old daughter of Jean Baptiste Lalande, the first American to establish commercial contact with Santa Fe. Juan Baptiste had arrived in New Mexico in 1804 and married New Mexican native María Rita Abeyta. When María Dolores Lalande married Gervacio Nolan, her father had been dead for seven years, so it was her mother María Rita Abeyta who consented to the marriage. María Rita was apparently anxious for her daughter to marry a Norte Americano as she herself had done. Gervacio's and María Dolores’ son, Fernando, also married an Abeyta. It is likely that the Abeytas listed in the 1870 Santa Clara census were related to María Dolores.

Gervacio Nolan became a naturalized citizen of Mexico in June of 1829, shortly after Mexican naturalization requirements were eased in April of 1828. After his naturalization as a Mexican citizen, Nolan was able to legally trap for furs. It was against Mexican law for foreigners to engage in trapping. In the winter of 1830-31 Nolan was part of a trapping expedition that netted fifty pounds of beaver pelts, the only documented instance of Nolan’s fur trapping in New Mexico. By the early 1830s Nolan's interests had shifted from trapping to mining, blacksmithing, and trading. In 1835 he was operating a store and forge in the mining town of Real del Oro south of Santa Fe, and by 1849 Nolan and his son Fernando were in California prospecting for gold.

Gervacio Nolan's association with the New Mexico grant that bears his name began on November 15, 1845. Nolan, along with Juan Antonio Aragón and Antonio María Lucero, petitioned Governor Manuel Armijo for a grant west of the Ocate grant and south of the Beaubein and Miranda grant in the Cañoncito of the Rio Colorado (Canadian River). Nolan told the governor that he was requesting the land because of the needs of his large family and because of the services he had rendered the Mexican Nation. As he had done with the Beaubien and Miranda grant, Governor Armijo speedily approved the petition, making the grant on November 18, 1845, and directing the alcalde of Mora to place Nolan and his companions in possession of the grant. As it happened, the alcalde of Mora was Gervacio Nolan's brother-in-law, Tomas Benito LaLande. Thus it appears that the act of possession was a mere formality, as had been the case with the Beaubien and Miranda (Maxwell) grant. The important procedure of walking the boundaries of the grant with the alcalde may not have taken place.

The boundaries of the Gervacio Nolan Grant were set forth as: north, the Beaubien and Miranda grant; south, a line one league south and east of the Rio Sapello; east, the hills on the eastern side of the Rio Colorado; and west, a north/south line running southerly through the Cañoncito de Ocate to a point 500 varas west of the little hills of Santa Clara. A few months after the grant was made, Gervacio Nolan and his associates contacted the new alcalde of Mora, Manuel Lujan, asking if the inhabitants of the Mora grant had any objections to the boundaries of the Nolan grant. On February 23, 1846, the principal settlers of the Mora grant agreed to the boundaries of the Nolan grant and released any claim they might have to any area in conflict. (In a similar manner, the principal settlers of the Mora grant consented to the Guadalupita grant, which is located entirely within the boundaries of the Mora Grant.) On May 27, 1848, Nolan obtained deeds from his co-grantees for their interests in the grant, making him the sole owner of the Gervacio Nolan grant.

While Gervacio Nolan seems to have recognized the potential for irrigated agriculture on the grant, he did not immediately settle there. Sometime between 1850 and his death in 1857, Nolan briefly occupied the Santa Clara Springs area of the Nolan grant, building some houses and possibly irrigating the area around the houses while grazing livestock nearby.

Gervacio Nolan realized that he would need a group of settlers, in addition to his extended family, to settle the Santa Clara Springs area because of frequent raids by Ute, Navajo, Comanche, and other Indian tribes. In 1853 Gervacio and Fernando Nolan visited the Mora grant where Gervacio's wife's family lived. Their intention was to recruit families to help them settle the Nolan grant. Sometime between 1853 and 1857 Gervacio Nolan offered land on the grant to Julian Valdez and others to help him settle the grant. No one would accept his offer because of their fear of Indian raids. In 1857, when Gervacio Nolan was on his death bed, he offered Vicente Rivera half of the Nolan grant if he would occupy it, but Rivera too declined the offer because "the country . . . swarmed with Indians."

After Gervacio Nolan's death in 1857, his son Fernando Nolan took possession of the houses built by his father and constructed other houses, made improvements, "and resided there off and on with some tenants, employees, and some of his brothers." During the 1850s, Fort Union's presence and the settlement of Barclay's Fort (later the community of Watrous), provided some protection against Indian raids. In 1862 Fernando Nolan moved to Santa Clara Springs permanently with his brothers and sisters. According to Fray Angelico Chavez, Gervacio Nolan had at least five children: Juan Bautista, born May 30, 1830; María Dolores, born April 8, 1832; Fernando, born June 1, 1835; Juan Eugenio, born November 15, 1837; and Antonio Venceslao, born September 4, 1841. Two more children are listed in the 1870 Santa Clara Springs census: Francisco in house no. 57 and Leonora in house no. 60. Antonio [Venceslao] Nolan is listed in house no. 61(house numbers were used as locations for a community census). Gervacio Nolan's widow also settled on the Nolan grant. She built a residence on the Ocate River where she"cultivated a portion of ground and pastured her stock."

The Wheeler map shows a group of houses to the west of the Santa Fe Trail near where the Cimarron cut-off trail intersects the Santa Fe Trail that are designated "Nolan's R[anch]." These are probably the houses built by Gervacio and Fernando Nolan referred to above. The Gervacio Nolan ranch house with its surrounding irrigated land is undoubtedly the house and lands referred to in the May 28, 1863 entry of Santa Fe traveler Ernestine Franke Huning in her diary: "we passed a house where the land surrounding it was well cultivated and a large flock of sheep was grazing not far off. The house had a beautiful location between hills in the valley called Santa Clara, where there are a number of nice springs."

On February 27, 1860, Nolan's widow and children petitioned Surveyor General William Pelham to confirm the Gervacio Nolan grant. At the hearing held on April 4, 1860, Tomas Benito LaLande testified that he was the alcalde of Mora in 1845 when he placed Gervacio Nolan in possession of the grant. Governor Manuel Armijo had directed LaLande to place Nolan in possession of the grant and Surveyor General Pelham recommended confirmation of the grant on July 10, 1860. The Nolan grant claim lay dormant for some time as the Nolan heirs pursued their claim to the Rio Don Carlos grant, made to Gervacio Nolan, in Colorado. During this same time frame, the Mora County Court awarded a portion of the Nolan grant to Juan María Baca.

In July of 1870 the Rio Don Carlos grant was confirmed by an Act of Congress for eleven square leagues or 48,000 acres. Although the act of confirmation provided that issuance of the patent was "in full satisfaction of all further claims or demands against the United States," the Nolan heirs still considered the Gervacio Nolan grant as valid and they actively pursued its sale. In February of 1875 they sold the west half of the grant, minus the Baca portion, to William Pinkerton of Sonoma County, California for $40,000. Pinkerton paid this relatively large sum although the Nolan grant had not been confirmed by Congress, or patented by the executive branch.

William Pinkerton, a Scotsman, moved to Australia and New Zealand in 1838. He introduced “improved breeds” of sheep there at the behest of the British government. He moved his business to California around 1848 bringing some of the new breeds with him and later he appeared in New Mexico. Pinkerton established his sheep business on the Gervacio Nolan grant in the vicinity of Wagon Mound. By 1881 he was said to own about 10,000 sheep. Deputy Surveyor John Shaw performed a preliminary survey of the Gervacio Nolan grant between December 1881 and October 1882. The survey was approved by Surveyor General Henry Atkinson showing the grant to contain 575,958.71 acres. Several owners of the grant, including Pinkerton and Dr. I. M. Cunningham, protested the location of the western boundary of the grant, claiming that the Cañoncito de Ocate was located twelve miles west of the place where Shaw's survey had located it. If this contention was correct the grant would include an additional 60,000 to 80,000 acres. After an extensive investigation, Surveyor General Clarence Pullen, found that the Shaw survey was in fact correct. This decision was appealed to Secretary of the Interior L. Q. C. Lamar. Lamar dismissed the appeal on January 9, 1886, on the ground that acceptance of the patent to the Rio Don Carlos grant estopped (prevented) the heirs of Gervacio Nolan from asserting any further claims for land against the United States. The area was summarily opened for homestead entry and settlement. Pinkerton filed an ejectment action against one of the homestead settlers that resulted in a jury verdict against Pinkerton. The verdict was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which affirmed the decision.

With the status of the Gervacio Nolan grant in limbo, Pinkerton again tried to establish his title to the grant by seeking confirmation on November 11, 1892, in the Court of Private Land Claims. The Land Claims Court rejected Pinkerton's claim in its entirety, for the same reason that Secretary Lamar had dismissed the objection to the preliminary survey of the grant in 1886. When Pinkerton again appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, his appeal was dismissed on October 13, 1897, because he had failed to furnish the high court a printed transcript of the trial court's proceedings.

Although the Gervacio Nolan grant was ultimately rejected, its history is important because of its connection to the early history of the Mora grant. Testifying before the Court of Private Land Claims on February 2, 1893, Pinkerton said that there were about six families living in Wagon Mound at the time he moved there (by 1893 there were said to be 500 people in Wagon Mound). The community of Wagon Mound was established by1882 and it was at that time that the population in this area began to increase, especially on the east side the railroad tracks where the community of Wagon Mound is located. Today Mora County includes the land encompassed by both the Mora Grant and the Gervacio Nolan Grant. Wagon Mound and Mora are the largest communities in Mora County.


1804: Jean Baptiste Lalande arrives in Santa Fe, the first American to establish commercial contact.

1824: Gervacio Nolan comes to New Mexico from Canada.

1828: Gervacio Nolan marries Maria Dolores Lalande, daughter of Jean Baptiste Lalande and Maria Rita Abeyta.

1828: Naturalization requirements are eased.

1829: Gervacio Nolan becomes a naturalized citizen of Mexico.

1830-31: Gervacio Nolan engaged in fur trapping in New Mexico.

1835: Gervacio Nolan was operating a store and forge at Real del Oro.

1846: Gervacio Nolan was a resident of San Francisco del Tuerto.

1849-50: Gervacio Nolan and his son Fernando go to California to prospect for gold.

1845: Nolan along with Juan Antonio Aragón and Antonio Maria Lucero petition for the Nolan Grant which is granted by Governor Manuel Armijo. Nolan and his co-grantees are placed in possesion of the grant by his brother-in-law Tomás Benito Lalande.

1853-57: Gervacio Nolan and his son Francisco try to recruit settlers from the Mora grant.

1857: Gervacio Nolan dies.

1860: Nolan's widow and children seek confirmation of the grant from Surveyor General William Pelham.

1875: The Nolan heirs sell the west half of the grant, except the Baca portion, to Scottish sheep man William Pinkerton, for $40,000.

1876: William Pinkerton moves to Wagon Mound.

1881-82: Deputy Surveyor John Shaw surveys the Nolan grant and finds it to contain more than 575,000 acres.

1888: US Supreme Court upholds dismissal of Pinkerton's ejectment action against homestead settler Ledoux in Pinkerton v. Ledoux.

1886: Shaw survey is affirmed by Secretary of the Interior L.Q.C. Lamar.

1892: Pinkerton applies to the Court of Private Land Claims for confirmation of the Gervacio Nolan grant. The claim is rejected.

1897: US Supreme Court affirms Court of Private Land Claims rejection of the Nolan grant in Pinkerton v. US.

Sources used:

Atlas Sheet No. 70 (6), North Central New Mexico, Expeditions of 1874, 1875, and 1876, under the command of 1st Lieutenant George M. Wheeler, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Bowden, J. J. "Private Land Claims in the Southwest," (M.S. thesis, Southern Methodist University, 1969), 4:817.

Craver, Rebecca McDowell. The Impact of Intimacy: Mexican-Anglo Intermarriage in New Mexico, 1821-1846 (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1982).

"Ernestine Fanke Huning's Diary, 1863," in Marc Simmons, ed. On the Santa Fe Trail (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1986), 82.

Fray Angelico Chavez, New Mexico Families, 428.

Gervacio Nolan grant, PLC 46, Roll 37, frames 851 et seq.

Gervacio Nolan grant, SG 39, Roll 16, frames 557 et seq.

Knowlton, Clark. "The Mora Land Grant: A New Mexican Tragedy," in Malcolm Ebright, ed., Spanish and Mexican Land Grants and the Law (Manhattan, Kansas: Sunflower University Press, 1989), 62.

Mora County Justice of the Peace Record, 1856-68. Roll 1, pp. 253-55, SRCA, Santa Fe.

Pinkerton v. Ledoux, 129 U.S. 346 (1888).

Pinkerton v. U. S., 170 U. S. 945 (1897).

Stoller, Marianne. "Grants of Desperation, Lands of Speculation: Mexican Period Land Grants in Colorado," in Van Ness and Van Ness, Spanish and Mexican Land Grants in New Mexico and Colorado, Journal of the West 19 (July 1980).

Weber, David. "Gervais Nolan," in LeRoy R. Hafen, Fur Trappers and Traders of the Far Southwest (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1965).

Wislizenus, A. Memoir of a Tour to Northern Mexico (Washington, 1848).

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