If you take a tour of Northern New Mexico, there are many things to see. Heading towards Abiquiu and Chama, one passes through Georgia O’Keeffe country where you will recognize countless images from her many paintings of the Southwest. While O’Keeffe’s work encompasses all things spiritual and beautiful in our everyday lives, there is another nearby part that represents the heartaches and losses of many of the early Mexican-Americans. I am referring to an episode which occurred in the tiny village of Tierra Amarilla, the scene in 1967 of what in some ways could be called the final battle of the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848.
In the mid-19th century, cries of Manifest Destiny drove the US to claim or “liberate” the lands now known as Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. President James Polk accomplished this by declaring war on hapless Mexico. Following Mexico’s quick defeat, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed between the two nations which guaranteed the recognition of the Spanish and Mexican Land Grants in the Southwest, many dating back hundreds of years. This would legally protect the ownership rights of many Mexican-Americans.
Very sadly, over the next 60 years following the war, lawyers and judges in Santa Fe re-filed and altered the titles to 4,000,000 treaty guaranteed acres of these Northern New Mexico land grants. They had been stolen “legally” without compensation from the Mexican-Americans by the notorious Santa Fe Gang, lawyers and judges who were in the position to re-deed the Grants to themselves. These unethical land grabs included the Manuel Martinez Tierra Amarilla Land Grant of 1832. This theft set the stage for the bitterness, anger and desire for justice which resulted in an armed insurrection reclaiming these land grants. An uprising in 1967 was led by Reies Tijerina, a political and social activist who had been inspired by the political winds of change of the early 60’s, as was Cesar Chavez, the farm labor organizer.
Tension had been growing for decades, resentment driven by the poverty of the landless peoples from the area of this stolen land grant. In the 1950’s Reies traveled to Mexico to research the history of the land grants under the condition that the people unite to “regather the strength that the Anglos had taken from them.” He formed a group of like-thinking Hispanics called Allianza (Alliance) which by 1966 had grown to 22,000 members. They began a march on Santa Fe on July 4, 1966 in the hopes of receiving the State’s assistance in repatriating their ancestral lands but were rebuffed by the governor. Later, 300 Allianza members seized control of the Echo Amphitheater Park south of Tierra Amarilla and formed their own government called the “Republic of San Joaquin del Rio Chama.” Besides this little known piece of history, from a geological point of view, the Echo Park Amphitheater is also a great attraction on your drive north.
Police reclaimed the amphitheater, later arresting some Allianza members at road blocks. This drove Reies into hiding in a small town named Canjilon where the famous Courthouse Raid was planned. In June 1967, Reies led an armed raid on the Rio Arriba Courthouse to free the arrested Allianza members. In this confrontation, a jail guard was wounded and a sheriff’s deputy was badly injured. Reies and his men fled back to Canjilon. Now known as the King Tiger, a popular song about him was played continuously on the radio. The resulting manhunt involved a dozen agencies including the National Guard and was the “biggest (unsuccessful) manhunt in NM’s history”. Eventually Reies turned himself in, was sentenced to a 2 year sentence in 1970. And so ended in frustration the only armed attempt to regain what had been taken illegally from the Hispanics of Northern New Mexico. As Reies grew older, he ironically began to speak harshly of many other people and in the end was criticized for his lack of tolerance of other races.
Santa Fe has a rich and checkered history. The peaceful re-conquest by Spain in 1692 that wasn’t really so peaceful and the state-wide corruption of the Santa Fe Gang is one example. But Santa Fe also has a deep appreciation of the Spanish and Mexican cultures. The Spanish Colonial Art Museum and the Girard Folk Art Museums are two nearby institutions that salute the many cultural contributions of both cultures to the southwest. The Inn on the Alameda’s courtesy car can drive our guests up to Museum Hill to see the various collections. After a tour of either northern New Mexico or just the museums nearby, returning to the Inn to sit by the fire and order dinner and cocktails is a perfect way to reflect on the rich and varied aspects of the history of Northern New Mexico.