DocumentCitationsKeywordsRelated Material

“The Taking of San Joaquin, October 1966”

by Reies López Tijerina

In the 1960s, Reies López Tijerina and his supporters organized the Alianza Federal de Mercedes (Federal Alliance of Land Grants), a grassroots protest group of Hispanic northern New Mexico villagers. The aim of the Alianza was to recover lands and water rights originally deeded to the members’ ancestors by the Spanish crown or the Mexican government. In the passages below, Tijerina writes about the roles of Anglo settlers and the US government in depriving Hispanic Americans of their land and resources since the US conquest of the region in 1848. He also describes the seizure of the Echo Amphitheater Park.

~ ~ ~ ~

That the government would question the right of the people to their land was a cruel and unjust violation of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. I now sought to open a new door to the halls of justice. When Ed Stanton fought for the grant in Socorro, he got good publicity in the state, and Life magazine published an ample report on his effort on June 29, 1953. In my case, the Denver Post was the only newspaper that gave me good publicity, and, on January 3, 1966, Newsweek gave me a brief report; it was informative but nicknamed me, appropriately, “Don Quixote.” It is notable that when an Anglo sought to reclaim land, the other Anglos thought favorably of him, but when a Mexican attempted the same, they did not like it at all.

The march of July 4 did not have a good result, even though it lifted the spirits of the Alianza. But the Anglo and his allies thought we were crazy. Now our next step, given the cruelty of the government, obligated us to take the land by force at San Joaquín del Río de Chama. This land belonged to more than three hundred and fifty families who had never left their land. The title to this land grant is in perfect condition. The US House of Representatives created a committee on public lands and named as surveyor general, James K. Profit, on July 22, 1854, and Profit confirmed the rights of these families to the San Joaquín grant and made that recommendation to the committee on February 14,1873.

By this time, the Congress had already approved a land grant to Thomas B. Catron and other Anglos who had taken possession of one million, seven hundred fourteen thousand, seven hundred sixty-four point ninety-three (1,714,764.93) acres of land. The people were indignant over this illegal act. Because of the furor that the people raised over this “Maxwell” grant over the ownership rights of Guadalupe Miranda and the other people, the committee stalled other applications.

But Catron got his nearly two million acres of land and the people of San Joaquín did not. In 1891, Congress established the US Court of Claims, but the people of San Joaquín never presented their demand. An English corporation, however, bought a few lots from some of the residents and asked the Court of Claims to confirm their right to 472,000 acres. Surveyor General James K. Profit had recommended those lands be given to the people who were the heirs to the San Joaquín grant. Naturally, the Court of Claims refused this British claim with the explanation that the land belonged to the original settlers and their heirs, who then numbered four hundred or more.

King Charles IV of Spain had given this San Joaquín del Rio de Chama land grant, on August 1,1806, through the New Mexican governor of the time, Joaquín Alencaster. The principal settler and impresario for this grant was Francisco Salazar, who had settled there with thirty-one other families at least forty years prior to the arrival of the first white man.

In Book 5, Title 7, Law 1, of the New Recompilation of the Laws of Spain, it clearly states that a city or pueblo can obtain title even against the crown if they can hold the land peacefully for at least forty years. The same thing is said in the Law of Prescriptions in Book 4, Title 15, and Law 1. So even if the title to the land grant in San Joaquín had not been to the letter of the law—but it was—the people had title because of possession for forty years.

On May 12, 1945, the congressman from the northern part of New Mexico, Antonio Fernandez, presented the claim of the people from San Joaquín to the 78th Congress. In his presentation, Congressman Fernandez repeated the commitments under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the history of the people of San Joaquín, the legal history behind the struggles of the 47th Congress beginning in 1870, and its subsequently leaving everything in limbo. He clearly outlined that the people of San Joaquín had never had their day in court. The only ones who had gotten their day in court and been approved, illegally, were the two Anglos who got title to the “Maxwell” grant of nearly two million acres.

The Congress ignored the plea of Antonio Fernandez, as it had done in prior years to the people of San Joaquín. The same year that Congress ignored one of its own members, Antonio Fernandez, the United States was involved in World War II. This was supposedly in the name of democracy and for justice. Many youths from northern New Mexico were involved as soldiers in this war, defending the rights of England and other European countries. Many of them were in Japan as prisoners of war, and still the Anglo ignored us.

“It was now a hundred and twenty years of injustice and oppression that our people had suffered.”

It was now a hundred and twenty years of injustice and oppression that our people had suffered, just as I had said in the letter of December 12, 1959, to President Eisenhower. The people were ready. I only led them. The people of San Joaquín had elected officers. A direct descendant of the original settler, Francisco Salazar, was elected mayor: José Lorenzo Salazar. Samuel Cordoba was elected marshal.

We chose October 15, 1966, as the day to take the land of San Joaquín. According to the original settlers and their descendants, the land grant consisted of six hundred thousand square acres, and we thought that the best site to provoke the confrontation with the federal government would be to take the area within the designated grant now called “Echo Amphitheater Park.” We took that park by force and held it over the weekend.

Their press immediately began their campaign against us, describing it as violent aggression. The newly elected officials of the Pueblo of San Joaquín sent letters to all other residents, asking them to recognize this new government. The letters were also sent to the federal authorities, particularly to the Department of Agriculture, to evacuate these lands.

On October 22, 1966, more than one hundred fifty cars and vans took part in the official takeover. The entrance to the park was full of police agents under the direction of James Evans. The federal government had sent this agent to New Mexico after his having done service in the southern states. According to confidential sources, he was famous for having used his gun to intimidate many Blacks. According to this source of information, he was allegedly responsible for several deaths (but we did not know for sure).

I thought that the choice of James Evans was because the White House thought this Anglo supremacist was mentally conditioned to strike fear into the hearts of the settlers of San Joaquín with the hope that they would not follow Reies López Tijerina. This Anglo was the one that spoke the most while we took the lands of San Joaquín. He showed his credentials and showed great courage, but the people questioned him and moved him aside and, at the same time, arrested other forestry agents. The judge of the Pueblo of San Joaquín sentenced these individuals to thirty days in jail and levied a five hundred dollar fine, but suspended that sentence and fine on the condition that they not continue to trespass on the lands of San Joaquín and not bother the residents.

“The Anglos had a plan to destroy our movement.”

The Anglos had a plan to destroy our movement. Basically, the plan was not to arrest or charge any individual member of the founding families of San Joaquín and to target only Tijerina and the officials of the Alianza. They were thus admitting that they respected the rights of the land heirs. The government also recalled the other federal agents stationed in San Joaquín and reassigned them to the state of Arizona. Only James Evans remained. They left him, I think, because they needed a brave man to confront Tijerina.

Locally, the Anglo judges won this round. But the community won in the eyes of the world. Moreover, people of the land began to lose the terror that they had for the Anglo over the past 120 years. The Albuquerque press, loyal to the spirit of the Santa Fe Ring, immediately began a campaign of lies and confusion against us. But this Anglo press would not say anything against the individuals or people. Their target was the founder of the Alianza.

The reporters conducting this campaign were not born in New Mexico and only reported emphatically the government’s version and the Anglo side. They never reported the legal history of the Pueblo of San Joaquín, and my declarations on the subject were regularly thrown into the trashcan. The truth is that the Anglo and his government are afraid to open the doors to justice, because then everything will come to light, including the crimes, fraud, and conspiracies of the Santa Fe Ring, and the destruction of the archives in Santa Fe by the Anglo governor and Methodist minister William A. Pile. They know full well that their investigation will bring to light the history the likes of which Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian exile, would be amazed.