“Quite a philanthropist, ain’t I?” interrupted Gordon, smiling lazily. “Well, let’s hear the yarn, Mr. Fitt.”
The attorney gave up his oration regretfully. He subsided into a chair and resumed the conversational tone.
“You’ve got to understand how things were here in the old Spanish days, gentlemen. Don Bartolome for instance was not merely a cattleman. He was a grandee, a feudal lord, a military chief to all his tenants and employees. His word was law. The power of life and death lay in him.”
Dick nodded. “Get you.”
“The old Don was pasturing his sheep in the Rio Chama valley and he had started a little village there—called the place Torreon, I think, from a high tower house he had built to overlook the valley so that Indians could be seen if they attempted an attack. Well, he takes a notion that he’d better get legal title to the land he was using, though in those days he might have had half of New Mexico for his cattle and sheep as a range. So he asks Facundo Megares, governor of the royal province, for a grant of land. The governor, anxious to please him, orders the constitutional alcalde, a person named Jose Garcia de la Mora, to execute the act of possession to Valdes of a tract described as follows, to wit——”
“I’ve heard the description,” cut in the young man. “Well, did the Don take possession?”
“We claim that he never did. He visited there, and his shepherds undoubtedly ran sheep on the range covered by the grant. But Valdes and his family never actually resided on the estate. Other points that militate against the claim of his descendants may be noted. First, that minor grants of land, taken from within the original Valdes grant, were made by the governor without any protest on the part of the Don. Second, that Don Bartolome himself, subsequently Governor and Captain-General of the province of New Mexico, did, in his official capacity as President of the Council, endorse at least two other small grants of land cut out from the heart of the Valdes estate. This goes to show that he did not himself consider that he owned the land, or perhaps he felt that he had forfeited his claim.”
“Or maybe it just showed that the old gentleman was no hog,” suggested Gordon.
“I guess the law will construe it as a waiver of his claim. It doesn’t make any allowances for altruism.”
“I’ve noticed that,” Gordon admitted dryly.
“A new crowd of politicians got in after Mexico became independent of Spain. The plums had to be handed out to the friends of the party in power. So Manuel Armijo, the last Mexican Governor of the province, being a favorite of the President of that country because he had defeated some Texas Rangers in a battle, and on that account endowed with extraordinary powers, carved a fat half million acres out of the Valdes grant and made a present of it to Jose Moreno for ’services to the government of Mexico.’ That’s where you come in as heir to your grandfather, who purchased for a song the claim of Moreno’s son.”