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.

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 Agust’n. 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, Ant—n 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

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

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

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

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 Ger—nimo. 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 Ger—nimo.

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
JosŽ Ignacio Luj‡n 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 L—pez 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

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 JosŽ 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

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