Written accounts of the Tierra Amarilla locality by pathfinding Spanish friars in 1776 described it as suitable for pastoral and agricultural use. The route taken by the friars from Santa Fe to California became the Spanish Trail. During the Californian Gold Rush the area became a staging point for westward fortune seekers.
The Tierra Amarilla Grant was created in 1832 by the Mexican government for Manuel Martinez and settlers from Abiquiu. The land grant encompassed a more general area than the contemporary community known as Tierra AmarillaThe grant holders were unable to maintain a permanent settlement due to "raids by Utes, Navajos and Jicarilla Apaches" until early in the 1860s.Although a land patent for the grant required the completion of a geographical survey before issuance, some of Manuel Martinez' heirs began to sell the land to Anglo speculators. In 1880 Thomas Catron sold some of the grant to the Denver and Rio Grande Railway for the construction of their San Juan line and a service center at Chama. By 1883 Catron had consolidated the deeds he held for the whole of the grant sans the original villages and their associated fields. In 1950, the descendants of the original grant holder's court petitions to reclaim communal land were rebuked.