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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Where did the Land for Carlsbad Caverns come from? Some Partial Observations

History Leads & Resources
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Number: 97-10 Date: Friday, November 21, 1997

by Bob Hoff

Revised February 2008

Before the United States

Before the United States came to “own” this land we call New Mexico, other peoples and cultures had been here for years. In what we today call New Mexico, a rich diversity of Native-American tribes, including the Manso, Jumano, Navajo, Jicarilla Apache, Mescalero Apache, and the various groups of desert and river pueblo lived their lives and evolved their cultures for hundreds of years. Even today, scholars seek to understand these people’s land ownership, land competition, and land cooperation concepts. Additionally, some descendents of these first Americans today seek to preserve and protect their past.

Eventually in the 1500s, the Spanish made contact with these peoples and through non-violent or violent means, they sought to change the values and behavior of the people they found living here. Some Spanish explorers claimed the Native-Americans’ lands for the Spanish crown, eventually amassing a huge area in what today is the southwest and west of the United States, including present today day New Mexico. In some cases, Spanish individuals received large grants of this land from the Spanish government as rewards for service. While often vague in description (tied into trees, rocks, and streams as boundary points), these claims were considered legal by those receiving them and by their descendants.

But Spain’s imperial control would come to an end. Centuries later in 1810 (The Mexican holiday “Diez y Siez” --September 16th--) commemorates the beginning of the revolution against Spain by Mexico and is celebrated even today). Mexico revolted against Spain, like its large neighbor to the north had revolted against Great Britain in 1776. In 1821 Mexico gained independence after a hard-fought eleven year war and inherited much of the same land that Spain’s flag had flown over. Like the Spanish Government before here, the Mexican Government conferred large land grants, also considered legal by those receiving them. Mexico’s tenure ended much sooner than Spain’s did. In 1846, the United States and Mexico went to war and in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) the United States emerged with territory which today includes California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. By the treaty, the United States paid Mexico $15,000,000 for the land and guaranteed to protect the existing land claims within the boundaries of the treaty land. In 1850, New Mexico Territory was formed ;some inhabitants of the area wanted statehood, but Congress ignored their preferences. ( While there are a number of good books to read on these various periods, I recommend The American Southwest: It’s People and Cultures by Dr. Lynn Perrigo--University of New Mexico Press, 1971-- and New Mexico by Marc Simmons and Great River: The Rio Grande in North American History by Paul Horgan, Pultizer Prize Winner for History in 1954.)

Townships/Ranges/Sections Comes to New Mexico, April, 1855

At the end of the Mexican War, a new way to describe, locate, and measure land came to New Mexico Territory. The Land Ordinance of 1785 established the system of land sale based on rectilinear survey townships. Townships are divided into 36 sections, with each section measuring one mile square. Each section had a standard number and location within the township—see illustration immediately below. Each township usually had one section reserved for educational purposes, typically sec. 36. (Howard R. Lamar, editor, The Reader’s Encyclopedia of the American West, (Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1977) p: 1166

A township is a total of 36 square miles, six miles long on each of the four sides. Townships are measured north and south from the Prime Meridian. See explanation below. So T2 N starts six miles north of the P.M., T4 N starts 18 miles north of the P.M. etc. Ranges are measured east and west from the Prime Meridian.


A Prime Meridian base point (an anchor point, if you will) was established in New Mexico in April 1855 by John W. Garretson on the west bank of the Rio Grande about 20 miles north of Socorro or 57 miles south of Albuquerque. (Warren A. Beck and Ynez D. Haase, Historical Atlas of New Mexico, University of Oklahoma Press, 1969) That is the base point, where the township line and the range line intersects; a north-south axis measures townships north or south from the Prime Meridian; an east-west axis measures ranges east or west from the Prime Meridian. Ranges measure east and west from the Prime Meridian. Range numbers also change every six miles. R5 E would start how many miles east of the Prime Meridian? (24 miles)

See "Applying the System" at
See Initial Point of New Mexico Prime Meridian System at:

Remember that the P.M. location is expressed in longitude and latitude, (degrees, minutes, and seconds),a different land measuring/location system than what the townships and ranges system uses.

Each township is one mile by one mile or a square mile or 640 acres. To locate where a point is with a township, the following system is used.


The above information shows again that the New Mexico Principal Meridian is 20 miles north of Socorro, New Mexico, and 57 miles south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. New Mexico extends 32 townships north of the P.M. and 28 south of the P.M. Since each township covers six miles on a side, New Mexico townships extend a total of 360 miles north to south (32 (NT) x 6 = 192 miles) + (28 (ST) x 6 =168 miles) = 360 miles. New Mexico has 20 (WR) and 35 (ER) for a total extension of 330 miles east to west.

From the cavern entrance information, you can see it is located in T24 S, R25E, section 31, the NE 1/4 quadrant of that section and the NW 1/4 quadrant of that section. If a section is one square mile (640 acres), then 1/4 of that is 160 acres and 1/4 of that is 40 acres.

Spanish and Mexican Land Grant Claims

In 1854 a surveyor-general was appointed in New Mexico to pass on the validity of Mexican and Spanish land grants. By 1886, 205 land grants had been filed with 141 approved and 13 rejected and 51 remained to be acted on. Because of the slowness of the courts, a special Court of Private Claims was appointed in 1891. It finished its work in 1904. Of the 35,000,000 acres of land submitted for arbitration, Spanish and Mexican land grant claimants lost about 33,000,000 acres. Lost land went into the public domain. (See Foreigners in their Native Lands: Historical Roots of the Mexican Americans by David Weber, “All the Rights of Citizens,” p. 139 - 202, for firsthand accounts of injustices suffered by particular land owners (University of New Mexico Press, 1973) No land grants were issued in our part of New Mexico.

Early Area Settlers

In February 1947 Park Naturalist Bennett T. Gale examined the land records in the Las Cruces BLM Office. In examining the records for Section 31 of Township 24 South, Range 25 East, (where Gale noted that the caverns entrance and bat shafts were located)he found that the earliest plat of the township was a map drawn by General Land Office Surveyor Alfred H. Warren, requested by a settler in the township, Mr. Pantaleon Martin, who paid $449.00 to the General Land Office for the service. Warren surveyed the area July 10 - 16, 1884. Gale also noted that “no mention is made on the map of the Caverns entrance nor of the Bat Cave.”
Gale noted the following information


In his March 1952 “Historical Sketch of Carlsbad Caverns” Gale noted:

With the exception of placer mining notices, no claims have ever been made to the land immediately surrounding the caverns entrance. However, land to the east, over the bat cave, has been held in private ownership. In 1905, the Santa Fe Railroad conveyed their rights in a lieu selection of 40 acres, the northeast quarter of the northwest quarter of sec 31. The rights were conveyed to C.T. Hagen and the land was patented on December 30, 1905. Ownership of this land changed hands numerous times and eventually title was vested in T.A. Blakely of San Bernardino, California by 1917 or 1918. See Blakely under Purchasing Land or Water Rights below.
When GLO Mineral Examiner Robert A. Holley arrived to survey the cavern on April 6, 1923, he wrote to his boss, Mr. J.T. Murphy, that the only patented land within three or four miles of the cave entrance belonged to the Santa Fe Pacific and some state land to the west under lease to Charles S. Grammer. Obviously, Holley did not at that time have access to GLO Surveyor Alfred H. Warren’s survey plat (see above).

A Mistake in Land Acquisition takes Two Years to Straighten Out

On February 17, 1923, General Land Commissioner William Spry wrote to National Park Service Assistant Director Arno B. Cammerer and said:

I am inclosing (sic) herewith several photographs of the interior of a cave recently called to the attention of the Field Service of the General Land Office, which undoubtedly will interest you. These are the pictures which were shown you Wednesday by the Chief of Field Services Mr. Hair.This cave is locally known as "Bat Cave" and is situated about twenty-four miles southwest of Carlsbad, New Mexico, in T. 24 S., R. 25 E. N. M. P. M. The entrance is located on the NE ¼ NW ¼ Sec 31. of said township and range. All of this section is in private ownership, being embraced in a Santa Fe Pacific Railway Lieu (sic) Selection, patented in 1905.

You can see from the above that further pinpointing of the location of a piece of land was done by dividing the section into smaller geographical components.

The 719.22 acres which President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed as Carlsbad Cave National Monument on October 25, 1923 was from public domain land. In fact, General Land Office Mineral Examiner Robert A. Holley, who surveyed the cave for the National Park Service, in April and May of 1923 recommended to his boss on April 6, 1923 that land be withdrawn immediately to prevent “further filings by blood suckers.”

A land ownership mistake resulted in repercussions. President Coolidge’s October 25, 1923 PROCLAMATION included “section 36, township 24 south, range twenty-four east of the New Mexico Principal Meridian.” While the entrance to the huge cavern in southeast New Mexico did indeed exist in sec 31 of T 24 S, R 25 E, the sprawling limestone cave extended into sec 36 of the section adjacent to the west (T 24 S, R 24 E). President Coolidge’s proclamation creating the national monument also created problems. Accidentally, the U.S. government had appropriated state of New Mexico land. For nearly two years, the National Park Service negotiated for a land exchange with the state of New Mexico to legally acquire the wrongly withdrawn land. The nearly two year long incident was not without some conflict and bureaucratic headache. On March 12, 1925, New Mexico Governor A. T. Hannett signed a bill authorizing section 36 to be conveyed to the United States government. PhotobucketOn September 19, 1925, the arrangement became formal. Prior to the redress of this land issue, the monument’s budget was frozen for a period of time. With the legal land exchange, the budget thawed.

Ways Our Park Acquired Land

Withdrawing Public Land—accounted for over 90% of our park’s land
Receiving Donated Land—accounted for less (way less) than 1%
Purchasing Land or Water Rights—accounted for 1.2%
Exchanging Land—accounted for 6.5%
Condemning Land—accounted for .6%
(Note: Rough percentages not meant to add up to 100%)

Withdrawing Public Land

Our first withdrawal of land was the 719.22 acres which established the national monument on October 25, 1923. In some cases, the withdrawing of public domain land for possible use was just that: "for possible use". In the history of our park, far more land was withdrawn for determination of possible use than we ended up ever acquiring within our park’s boundaries. For instance, in 1924, April, 85,683.20 acres were withdrawn “pending determination of whether they should be reserved for national park purposes.” At that time, a movement was in motion to get some of today’s GUMO resources and the early version of our park and everything in between created into a kind of mega-park (land that in the future was used to create two national parks)

Another 2,560 acres was withdrawn in May 1928 for “determination of reserving for national park purposes.” On June 17, 1930 another 34,560 acres were withdrawn for the same purposes. At this point 123,522.42 acres or 193 square miles were available for inclusion in the park.

The act which created the park on May 14, 1930 also provided that by Presidential Proclamation, the park could be expanded from withdrawn lands. On February 21, 1933 Franklin Roosevelt added 9,239. 94 acres to the park, and in the biggest single land acquisition to the park, six years later on February 3, 1939, he added 39,488.41 acres, including Slaughter Canyon Cave and much of the western park of the park. At this point, the park contained approximately 49,000; almost 60 years ago, we had nearly 2,500 acres more than now.

On December 30, 1963, 1055.70 acres were withdrawn.

Receiving Donated Land

Three times we have received donated land: May 10, 1928, January 20, 1933.
And October 14, 1959

In 1928, Miss Dorothy Swigart donated .34 acres of land for the site of the future house for the Superintendent (east of the present day Albertson’s). Eventually that land, along with the residence, was disposed of through the Government Services Administration (GSA) in the early 1970s.

In 1933, W.B Grammer donated 40 acres of land (See below).

In 1959, Wallace Pratt donated 5732 acres of land in McKittrick Canyon to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. At some point, this acquisition referred to Deed 12 became Deed 1 and 2 at Guadalupe Mountains National Park . Carlsbad Caverns administered Guadalupe Mountains National Park until the late 1980s when Guadalupe National Park recruited their own staff.

Purchasing Land or Water Rights

On January 20, 1933, on the same day that W.B. Grammer donated 40 acres of land to us, we purchased 440 acres of land from him for $15,000.00. Actually, the National Park Service put up $7500.00 and the State Highway Department, at the request of the Eddy County Commissioners, put up the other $7500.00 for these private lands in Walnut Canyon. The present Walnut Canyon road was constructed within the next two years through this acquired area.

Scarcely a year later, on January 23, 1934, we purchased water rights and 79.87 acres of land at Rattlesnake Springs from Ida M. Harrison for $7540.00. While we managed the Rattlesnake Springs area, including designating it as a Civilian Conservation Corps area from 1938-1942, it did not became a part of the park until December, 1963.

Blakely and his wife Myrtle, owners of the General Fertilizer Association Company, retained ownership of this land over the Bat Cave from 1917 or 1918 until December 1957. In 1940 they threatened to resume guano mining in the Bat Cave. In exchange for not doing so, the Blakelys received a 25 year guano mining lease at Slaughter Canyon Cave. In December 1957, the Blakelys gave up the lease and received $5000.00 from the government for the 40 acres, half of their requested selling price of $10,000.

In September 1930 the Blakelys leased guano mining rights in the Bat Cave to Jim White and Dave Mitchell about 16 months after Jim’s retirement from the Park Service.

Exchanging Land

The park exchanged land with the state of New Mexico on January 14, 1965 and with a private individual, Mr. Thurman Mayes, on April 11, 1965.

Condemning Land

In May 1950, we purchased 320 acres for $5040.00 from Mr. E.E. Scoggin. This was not a normal purchase because Mr. Scoggin was an unwilling seller and his land was condemned as a public taking. To no avail, he even appealed to President Truman to get the National Park Service to leave him alone. At one point, he asked to be appointed a game warden so that he could stay on his land. But in the end, he left.


This is a summary of our land acquisitions history, mainly an overview. As employees of a land management agency, we appreciate the importance of land issues to people in the past, present, and future. We also appreciate the importance of protecting and preserving land resources for the future (in the park and out) and for communicating that message to our visitors from this country, as well as all over the world.

We also realize the importance/responsibility that we as employees of the National Park Service have in "walking the talk" of conservation, preservation--in general, practicing wise use of all the finite resources of earth.


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