Many people have asked me about the land grants dating from the Pueblo de San Jose era. Most people refer to them as the “Spanish Land Grants.” In fact, the grants were nearly all Mexican grants as the Spanish king’s land was only given to retired soldiers for their military service. Of the 44 land grants in Santa Clara County, only three were Spanish while 41 were Mexican. To receive a Mexican Grant, an individual only had to petition the governor, file a crude map of the area, and submit a fee of about twelve dollars. The petition could be for a city house lot or a 50,000 acre rancho. In addition, one had to be a Mexican citizen and of the Catholic faith. To become a Mexican citizen, an individual merely had to pledge allegiance to Mexico.
Most of those applying for a land grant were illiterate, with little ability to draw a precise map. This became a major problem in later years. The crude map was known as a “disueno,” and the boundaries were described as a certain rock, tree or stream. The problem was that a rock could be moved, a tree could die and a stream could change course. The land was measured in leagues and “varas.” A vara was originally a bit less than a yard in length, but Spain changed the length of the vara during this period, adding another layer of confusion to all the early measurements. Further complicating legal ownership in some cases was the granting of the same land by two different Mexican governors to two different petitioners.
The original Spanish plan of government was that the Indians were to be converted by the missionaries to become good Spanish citizens and then the land would be given to them to farm. This plan had a major flaw: the Indians didn’t want to farm the land and they had no concept of land ownership. Only two grants were made to Indians: Roberto and Ynigo. Roberto’s grant was called “Los Coches,” (the pigs). He only kept the land for seven years from 1840 before selling it to Antonio Sunol. This land is where Burbank and the Rose Garden areas are today. Ynigo also sold his land soon after receiving his grant and this land is where Moffett Field is today.
Later purchases of granted lands presented great difficulties in determining where the boundaries of the properties were located, and it took U.S. courts more than one hundred years to settle all of the land claims, some as recently as the 1960s.