Message #234: From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG To: "'Matthias Giessler'" Subject: Land Grant Struggles Date: Mon, 16 Jun 1997 19:07:13 -0700 [ SASIG Ed. Note -- The artice appended below states "Land problems for New Mexicans originated with the American Occupation in 1846 and the subsequent Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848..." In reality, land problems in New Mexico probably began in A.D. 1540, if even not a bit earlier. ] La Herencia del Norte, The Heritage of the North, is a quarterly magazine that highlights New Mexico's Hispanic culture, both past and present. Current issues and trends that directly affect Hispanics in the state are also covered. The magazine's editorial focus is to reinforce and revisit the history of the Hispanic culture in New Mexico. Unlike any other publication, La Herencia del Norte speaks directly to a culture that has been a dominant force in New Mexico for over four hundred years. La Herencia del Norte is written by Hispanics who by the turn of the century will be the largest minority in America. La Herencia del Norte's editorial content delivers invaluable information that is used from family to family as a reference tool. This publication is included in many bilingual school curriculums. http://www.herencia.com/samples/land.htm The Never-Ending Land Grant Struggle by Anselmo F. Arellano In early February of this year, the Juan de Onate Center at Alcalde hosted a three-day commemoration of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which was ratified at the conclusion of the Mexican War. After the treaty was signed on February 2, 1848, the course of history for New Mexico's native population was radically altered. Close to 150 years later, nuevomexicanos are still reeling from the loss of their land grants and other related issues that continue to affect their cultural and economic survival. The commemoration at Alcalde offered individuals an opportunity to express long-standing sentiments on these issues and a place to reassess the land grant movement that reached its apex in the late 1960s. Members from remaining community land grants in northern New Mexico are determined to seek a resolution to this critical situation as the 20th century comes to a close. The history of the hundreds of land grants in New Mexico is highly complex, but the Las Vegas Community Land Grant is one of the most controversial. At one time the Las Vegas Land Grant was one of the largest in New Mexico, containing close to half a million acres of land. In 1913, the Las Vegas Daily Optic criticized Las Vegas native and then-Lt. Gov. of New Mexico Ezequiel C. de Baca for his involvement in the Las Vegas Land Grant issue. Since 1890, C. de Baca had fought to keep control of the land grant in the hands of the mercedarios, or heirs of the original grantees. C. de Baca answered his critics by saying that his attitude and support of the community would be remembered. favorably "when there is nothing but smoke left of this valuable patrimony of the people." Ezequiel's prophecy proved true, as all that remains of the Las Vegas Community Land Grant today is a few hundred acres at Camp Luna and 6,000 acres that concedes grazing rights to the villages of Las Gallinas, Los Vigiles and San Agustn. The heirs to the Las Vegas Land Grant lost control of their inheritance to a board of trustees that was appointed by the district court judge in 1903. After clearing about 1,300 small claims of land -- that could not exceed 160 acres -- to inhabitants of the land grant, the board proceeded to sell thousands of acres of land to outside speculators who brought many immigrants and ranching interests to the community land grant. Throughout their many struggles, Las Vegas Land Grant residents fought for their rights that were supposed to be protected by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, but those expectations were soon cast to the wind, much like the treaty itself after it was ratified. By 1890, San Miguel County was the largest and most populous county in the New Mexico Territory. Extending from the eastern flank of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the Texas Panhandle border on the east, the county boasted 24,204 of the state's 153,593 residents. Las Vegas was the largest city in New Mexico, followed by Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Native Hispanos comprised close to 80 percent of New Mexico's population. Because of this and large commercial interests, San Miguel County continued to grow in influence. The power that the county held in territorial politics, as well as its enormous wealth in resources and people, helped it gain the reputation of being the Imperial County. Las Vegas became a force in territorial politics as it advocated and promoted issues that directly affected the Hispano. The most important issues that directly affected the residents of San Miguel County during the late 1880s were land grants, property rights, tax laws, education, labor and statehood. An organized effort to address change was initiated through a newspaper which had recently been transferred from Santa Fe to Las Vegas, La Voz del Pueblo. This Spanish-language newspaper proved to be effective in organizing the common people who resided on the Las Vegas Land Grant and scattered settlements of the county. Many of the conflicts which developed in San Miguel County were directly related to the vast land grants contained within its boundaries. The larger grants were the Las Vegas Land Grant, which was heavily populated, and the Beck, Ortiz, Antn Chico, Montoya, San Miguel del Bado, Pecos, Trigo and Ojo del Apache land grants. Anglo outsiders and a few wealthy Hispanos, who purchased many of the vast tracts of land, established large cattle and sheep companies, and San Miguel County soon surpassed all other sections of the territory in rais- ing stock. The eastern section of the county extending to the Texas Panhandled developed a large cattle industry soon after the Indian threat had been quelled in 1882. Hispanos and large cattle companies in San Miguel County disagreed over fencing, boundaries and land titles, and water issues. The major problem in the county was caused by the confusing status of the Las Vegas Land Grant which contained 496,446 acres, and the fact that the courts had not yet settled the title to it. Occupants of the grant were convinced that it was a community grant and that it should remain open to every mercedario, or legal heir, for grazing, wood, water and other common needs. Land problems for New Mexicans originated with the American Occupation in 1846 and the subsequent Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. During the ensuing years, Anglo-Americans -- mostly lawyers and traders at the beginning-made major inroads into the territory. Lawyers especially were quick to note that under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo there was a rich environment that promised vast wealth for them if they secured title to the land grants covering much of the territory. Many community land grants, such as that of Las Vegas, were invaded by individuals who treated the land as public domain Others made illegal purchases from individuals who had appropriated large portions of ejidos, or common lands. Those who encroached on the common lands would then fence their own boundaries within these grants, thereby depriving poor people, who had lived on them for generations, of grass, wood and water. These rights had been guaranteed by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and confirmed by Congress. During this time, La Voz del Pueblo reported that the occupants of the Las Vegas Land Grant and other grants in the area could no longer tolerate the avarice of land speculators, who continued to fence the countryside on common lands. It further stated that the "workingman, poor ranchers, and farmers" were continuing the organized social, political and labor movement that had begun in 1889 with the emergence of the Gorras Blancas, or White Caps. The consequent movimiento del pueblo, or people's movement, emerged and blossomed. As an organized group, the Gorras Blancas were probably the most secretive and closely-knit association of men ever to exist in the Territory of New Mexico. Their protest against the encroachment upon and theft of their lands began in 1889, and by the end of 1890, their notoriety had spread throughout the territory and reached the eastern states. Las Gorras Blancas were organized early in April 1889 by Juan Jose Herrera and his younger brothers Pablo and Nicanor, with support from other poor people in the area of El Salitre, El Burro, Ojitos Frios and San Gernimo. Eventually, all the settlements which fell within the boundaries of the Las Vegas Grant and other northern New Mexico communities joined the organization. On April 3, 1889, the Las Vegas Daily Optic carried an article on the destructive activities of the White Caps in Tuscola, Ill. White Caps in that state destroyed the barn and contents belonging to one of the commissioners of an unpopular drainage canal that was being built. Twenty-three days later, Las Gorras Blancas made their first appearance m San Miguel County. The masked riders destroyed four miles of new fenceline belonging to two Englishmen who were ran chin g near San Gernimo. Las Gorras Blancas did not discriminate in their attacks on the enemy. At the village of San Ignacio, riders attacked the farm and sawmill of Jos Ignacio Lujn three different times during June and July of 1889, destroying his crops, fences, farm equipment and sawmill. Throughout 1889, these types of attacks continued on other fenced-in ranches lying within the land grant. County Sheriff Lorenzo Lpez had been serving warrants and indictments against members of the Gorras Blancas since early May 1889. However those individuals charged did not go to trial until much later during the November term of the district court. On November 1, 1889, as the first trial approached, 63 Gorras Blancas rode into Las Vegas and surrounded the courthouse. Next, they went to the home of District Attorney Miguel Salazar, and then to the county jail to show support of their comrades who were incarcerated. When the Gorras Blancas threatened the jail, Sheriff Lorenzo Lopez sent a telegram to Gov. Bradford Prince requesting 50 rifles to defend the jail. Throughout the winter of 1889 and 1890, Las Gorras Blancas remained fairly active. Immediate grievances and attacks had centered on the destruction of fences restricting access to communal grazing and water on the land grant. Their attacks spread to include haystacks, railroad bridges and ties, buildings and crops. These highly secret, organized activities of Las Gorras Blancas continued into 1891. They were carried out by several hundred armed and masked mexicanos from Las Vegas and the many settlements and small ranches found throughout the land grant. Early in March 1890, about 300 Gorras Blancas entered Old and New Town Las Vegas and posted copies of Spanish leaflets announcing their platform and principles. The platform was signed "The White Caps, 1,500 Strong and Growing Daily." In addition to their manifesto, Las Gorras Blancas posted another notice throughout Las Vegas and in other strategic locations near the mountains. This one ordered land grant members not to cut and sell lumber or railroad ties unless it was for a price approved by the White Caps. They also asked the people not to work for anyone unless the Gorras approved the work and the salaries they would be receiving This notice was signed "White Caps, Fence Cutters and Death." In voicing their concern for the Hispano working man, the Gorras also destroyed and burned railroad bridges and tracks. Railroad workers were told to strike for higher wages, and timber cutters, who prepared railroad ties, were ordered to demand higher prices from the railroad. By July 1890, according to a letter submitted to the Secretary of the Interior by adversaries of the Gorras Blancas, 25 acts of violence had been committed, hundreds of miles of fences were destroyed, homes were sacked and burned, haystacks were burned and agricultural implements broken and destroyed. The letter also charged that people had been shot to death, and many more had been wounded. Despite this allegation, there is little evidence to support the statement that individuals had been killed by the White Caps. No one was ever convicted of any alleged crimes committed by Gorras Blancas. While the Gorras Blancas were gaining fame for their exploits, Herrera and his brothers, Pablo and Nicanor, continued their role of organizing poor residents on other land grants and communities in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado in their struggle for survival. Their primary concerns centered on property rights and land titles. By 1890, Juan Jos also sought to join ranks with a national populist labor party the Knights of Labor. in Spanish, the Knights of Labor became the Caballeros de Labor, and as a labor party it became a charter member of the national organization. The Knights of Labor expanded their organization among Mexicanos by expressing their opinion that the poor people of San Miguel County had the right to organize to protect their jobs and families. On July 3, the Caballeros de Labor celebrated vespers by parading through Las Vegas on horseback, carrying torches. On the Fourth of July, the Caballeros de Labor conducted a daytime procession through town. This time, the men on horseback carried numerous banners and slogans in Spanish, declaring their principles and objectives as an organization. Throughout their procession, the Caballeros' cries were heard throughout Las Vegas: "El pueblo es rey, y los oficiales publicos son sus sirvientes humildes que deben obedecer sus mandatos." "The people are king, and public officials are her humble servants who must obey her mandates." As the ranks and assemblies of Knights of Labor grew in New Mexico and southern Colorado following the Fourth of July celebration, so did the activities and night rides of the Gorras Blancas. Due to the growing number of complaints against the Gorras Blancas, Gov. Prince was finally compelled to visit Las Vegas in August 1890 and personally inquire into the situation. Since the Caballeros de Labor were continually accused of being associated with the Gorras Blancas, the labor organization sent a committee headed by Nestor Montoya of La Voz del Pueblo to speak with the governor to disclaim the accusations. They assured him of their good intentions and willingness to assist him in suppressing violence, fence cutting and any other depredations committed by Gorras Blancas. Prince found many of the people in Las Vegas to be indifferent to the White Caps. He finally determined that one-half of the people, including prominent citizens, were highly sympathetic to the fence-cutting activities that were taking place on the Las Vegas Grant. Following Prince's proclamation, warning the people about "white capism," La Voz reacted by saying that the proclamation should not have been limited to lawless fence-cutting elements in San Miguel County, but it should also have applied to the lawless land grabbers and speculators who were the prime cause of all the destruction and turmoil in the area. Within two months after the Caballeros de Labor had organized and established its order, a new political party was organized for San Miguel County, El Partido del Pueblo Unido, or the United People's Party. It was also patterned after a national populist political party. El Partido del Pueblo Unido's philosophy and objectives in 1890 were in complete harmony with those of Las Gorras Blancas and Caballeros de Labor. However, as a populist party, El Partido called on concerned residents, regardless of party affiliation. As the party's official mouthpiece, La Voz del Pueblo introduced the party to the community by stating that it was forming due to the cry of discontent which had engulfed San Miguel County and the many abuses committed against the people. The organizers mentioned that the new party would be composed of factions torn from the old, established Democratic and Republican parties. The new party would be represented by the working classes, laborers, farmers, mechanics and ranchmen. The Partido del Pueblo Unido platform echoed many issues and concerns voiced by the White Caps and the Knights of Labor. El Partido del Pueblo Unido needed to do little campaigning for November 7, 1890, since the people's movement had been fermenting for months. El Partidoemerged a resounding victor and the new party would be a strong representative for San Miguel County residents for years to come. Following the newly-formed pattern of celebration and victory in county politics, the Partido gathered in another large public demonstration. Herrera and six marshals led 500 hundred men on horseback through Las Vegas in another nighttime procession. They wielded burning torches and flags, and yelled as they rode through town, "┴Que viva el Partido del Pueblo Unido en el Condado de San Miguel!" ("Long live the United People's Party in San Miguel County!") Following the victory of the Partido del Pueblo Unido, newspapers throughout New Mexico associated the party with the Gorras Blancas and the Caballeros de Labor, usually stating that all three groups were one and the same. The Santa Fe New Mexican periodically indicated that the Caballeros de Labor and the Gorras Blancas were one group, controlled by Democratic Party scheming. El Movimiento del Pueblo had such a resounding impact that on March 3, 1891, Congress created a court known as the United States Court of Private Land Claims for the purpose of deterring and adjusting land claims in the territories which were acquired from Mexico. The United States was bound to recognize and confirm those land claims within the territories of Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and Wyoming under the stipulations of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo and the treaty of 1853 known as the Gadsden Purchase. Those claims which could not be settled in the Court of Private Land Claims could be appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The White Caps subsided as an organized movement by the end of 1891. It is important to note, however, that the occupants of the land grant had risen in a collective effort to address their many concerns and especially to protect the vast land grant which had brought them to colonize that area many years earlier. Today, the land grant issue is being rekindled by land grant activists, many of whom participated in the land grant struggle of the late 1960s as young adults. It is their intent and hope that the United States Congress might once again review the blatant abuse and disregard of people's land rights that occurred during the late 1800s and early 1900s.