The Act of Possession

Getting your very own land grant required a certain amount of paperwork and qualifying. But the deed didn't just come in the mail. There was the "ceremony," called The Act of Possession.

To be successful the application had to include a "diseno," a simple descriptive map. The applicant was investigated as to need and ability, as well as the requirement that he or she be Mexican and of the Catholic faith. If the applicant was a foreigner, he had to become a Mexican citizen, embrace Catholicism, and preferably marry a Mexican woman or "hija de pais," native daughter.

When the application was approved, the Governor e-mailed him (just kidding).. Upon approval, the Governor sent the proper paperwork to the applicant, and then the land had to be measured off and marked. The land was measured in "varas" (2.78') by horsemen with measuring ropes.

After the survey was complete the new owner was led by hand onto the land by a Mexican government official, in the presence of witnesses. The neighboring land owners were usually witnesses.

Then came the Act of Possession.

Much like the early explorers who knelt on the ground, erected the cross, and proclaimed aloud that the land was claimed in the name of their king or queen, the Act of Possession was a ritual.

The Mexican official led the new owner by the hand and said four times in a loud voice, (to the north, south, east and west), "I herewith put you in possession of these lands in the name of the Mexican Nation."

The new owner then kicked the ground, tossed some rocks, broke some branches, pulled some grass, or generally disturbed things somewhat-- like he owned the place,-- to show that it was his. The significance of this was that no proper Mexican would act like that on anyone elses land, only on his own.

Imagine one Jose Ortega standing at Pismo with his new neighbors and the government official on that November day in 1840, as he was "herewith put in possession of the land," in the Act of Possession.

I'd have done it on the beach.

Then, much like the American Homestead Act, the Mexican Land Grant required that Jose do certain things. He had to occupy the land, build a home, and improve it within the first year.

The first home was frequently an adobe, which would bear the owner's name.