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Las Animas Partition Suit a Prolonged process Written By Elizabeth Barratt A JUDGE BELDEN 72 fter California attained statehood, Congress appointed a Board of Land Commissioners to reconfirm old grant titles. To obtain a patent on their property, owners had to prove the land belonged to them. The ensuing process dragged on, often holding up claimants and their heirs for years. When inheritors of those who purchased the original grants tried to sell off portions of their lands, further boundary and title questions sometimes arose. During the Spanish and Mexican eras in Alta California, land grants had been awarded to colonists who followed an application process to receive acreage parcels. After the individual submitted a petition, an official investigation would determine the claim. If findings were satis- factory, to include proof of the applicant’s good moral character, he received the grant, confirmed by the Viceroy through the local magistrate. A symbolic final gesture of own- ership followed, such as throwing stones, breaking twigs or pulling up grass over the property. This act included declaring loyalty, at first to the King of Spain, then following independence, to the President of Mexico. In the Gilroy area, the 21,377-acre Rancho las Animas was granted to early arrival Jose Mariano Castro in 1802. The property extended from the Pajaro River in the south, across the site of the present City of Gilroy and up to Mt. Madonna. After Castro died in 1822, his widow, Josefa Romero Castro, was regranted the land in 1835. She inherited half the rancho, with the remainder divided between their eight children, who each received 1/16th of the property. In 1850, Josefa, along with four of her children, sold her interest to GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2016 Jose Maria Sanchez. This made Sanchez the owner of about 3/4 of the former rancho. When Sanchez drowned in the Pajaro River three years later, his widow, Encarnación Ortega Sanchez and their five children inherited the property, but not before legal squabbles tied up the case for 21 years. In 1852, Josefa Castro’s son, Vicente, sold his share to Alexander Godey. A year later Godey resold it to Thomas Rea. In 1858 her daughter, also named Josefa Castro, sold her portion to Martin Murphy, who in 1860 sold the interest to his daughter, Johanna Murphy Fitzgerald. Josefa Castro’s other children sold off their portions to cattle baron Henry Miller, as did the heirs of Jose Maria Sanchez, after their title was established. Miller’s enormous 12,335-acre portion covered land which by that time was laid out as the city of Gilroy. In the new town, it was discovered that boundaries on certain lots were not well determined, and in some cases this meant that property lines overrode one another. Additionally, several portions were uninten- tionally sold to more than one buyer. To resolve the dilemma, over a thousand litigants entered the Las Animas Partition Suit, which lasted from 1879 until 1887. Later called the largest land title suit in the state’s history, the claim was filed in San Jose on January 3, 1879 at the 20th District Court of Santa Clara County. In the case, Henry Miller, Thomas Rea and Johanna Fitzgerald, plaintiffs, filed against defendants Massey Thomas and 268 landowners living in Gilroy. The case was meant to authenticate the claims of the plaintiffs, who wanted clear titles to their land, as well as to establish title for the legal gmhtoday.com