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Post Reies Lopez Tijerina and the Taking of Tierra Amarilla Courthouse
Created by John Eipper on 01/20/18 6:12 AM

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Reies Lopez Tijerina and the Taking of Tierra Amarilla Courthouse (Richard Hancock, USA, 01/20/18 6:12 am)

I spent most of the first 38 years of my life in New Mexico (1926-64). I think that New Mexico has a history that is not equaled in interest by that of any other US state. It has the highest Hispanic population in the US (47.3%). It has a native-American history of more than 10,000 years and was first visited by a European (Coronado) in 1540. It was first settled by the Spanish under Juan de Oñate in 1598, occupied by American soldiers in 1848 and admitted as a state in 1912.

This post is motivated by an article in the New Mexico Historical Review, "Reconsidering Reies López Tijerina," by Enrique R. Lamadrid. López Tijerina is famous for having led a group of Hispanic farmers who seized control of the courthouse in Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico in June 1967. López Tijerina (1926-2015), born in Falls City, Texas, a town about 30 miles southeast of San Antonio, was a Pentecostal preacher and one of the leaders of the Chicano movement in the US. The Chicano movement in New Mexico defended the rights of northern New Mexico farmers to land that was allegedly taken from them during the Anglo-American era, both by individuals and the US government, which showed little respect for Spanish colonial land-grant titles. López Tijerina felt that capitalistic forces usurped private land while the US government also converted some of this land into federally controlled forest land.

These landholders included Hispanic villagers and Pueblo Indians. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, who grew up in central Oklahoma, gives an interesting history of this problem in her book, Roots of Resistance, a History of Land Tenure in New Mexico, published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 2007. The groups that are participants in this conflict are Chicanos (supporters of Hispanic subsistence farmers) upper-class Hispanics, Pueblo Indians and Anglo-Americans. Ms. Dunbar-Ortiz does a good job in quoting spokespersons for the Indian and Hispanic groups. She depicts the actions of early Spanish colonials as promoting policies detrimental to the Pueblos, while the capitalistic economy of the Anglo-Americans was damaging to both Pueblos and the Hispanic villagers.

Ms. Dunbar-Ortiz earned a PhD in history from the University of California, Los Angeles. She is a renowned feminist as well as an active member of the American Indian Movement. She has written a number of books about Indians including one on the Miskito Indians of Nicaragua. Her OU Press book contains a lot of interesting information. For example, she cites the instance where a statue of Oñate was built near Española to commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Spanish colony in New Mexico. Unknown persons sawed off the right foot of the statue to remind the public that Oñate, after having put down a rebellion of the Acoma pueblo, ordered the right feet of all male participants in the rebellion to be cut off. A much larger statue of Oñate was built in El Paso, Texas in 2006. Mindful of protests, the statue was named "The Equestrian." In the Washington, DC Hall of Statuary, where all states have placed statues of historic figures of their respective states, New Mexico has a statue of Popé, the Pueblo Indian who led the 1680 revolution which drove the Spaniards out of New Mexico for twelve years.

Dunbar-Ortiz's book on New Mexico provides much interesting information on the state. She is critical of the capitalistic character of the American period of New Mexico's history. I think that she projects a strong socialistic attitude that doesn't tell the whole story. I am aware that there were many examples of damage to New Mexico by such things as overstocking the land by Americans unaccustomed to ranching on desert lands. However, I think that it is not rational to attempt to maintain the subsistence-level economy that characterized northern New Mexico at the time the Americans took over the state. The needs of the world cannot be met through maintaining a society of subsistence farmers. Our world is improved by the national forests that replaced these subsistence farmers. They clearly should have been compensated more fairly for the land that they lost, but progress does not benefit all equally. The states of New Mexico and Chihuahua share a common border and have similar natural resources. However, New Mexico is much ahead of Chihuahua in development. Clearly, the influence of Anglo-Americans has been beneficial in New Mexico.

JE comments:  This is Richard Hancock's first WAIS posting of 2018--a happy and healthy New Year to you, Richard!  I had never heard of Reies López Tijerina and his acts of civil disobedience.  Wikipedia tell us that the takeover of the Tierra Amarilla courthouse turned violent, resulting in a hostage situation and several injuries.  Tijerina was sentenced to three years in prison.

Hispanists best know Tierra Amarilla as the home, and frequent literary setting, of the great New Mexican writer Sabine Ulibarrí (1919-2003).  I met him at a conference in Albuquerque in 1993.

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