Land Grant Country
It was a crisp October morning with a tang of autumn in the air. A bright sun kept
breaking through the wispy clouds, giving promise of one of those beautiful fall
days for which New Mexico is famous. All in all, it was an exciting kind of morning
when you think it's a good day to be alive.
Before the morning was over, Ranger Walter Taylor had all the excitement he wanted
for awhile. He knew that he was in deep trouble and that he might not even be alive
to see the setting sun.
This was October 22, 1966, the day the Alianza Federal de Mercedes (an organization
which included two or three hundred Spanish-speaking northern New Mexicans, including
descendants of Spanish land grant heirs) had let it be known they planned a take-over
of Carson National Forest landswhich they claimed were once part of a community
The organization led by Reies Tijerina, a militant ex-preacher, was seeking to stir
up support for reopening land grant litigation, claiming community lands were taken
over for public domain or obtained by fraud by private owners. The Alianza proposed
to establish headquarters at Echo Amphitheatera Forest Service picnic ground
alongside U. S. 84, 65 miles north of Santa Fe.
This beautiful camp and picnic site, with its magnificent setting against the cream
and pink colored cliffs where picnicking youngsters and their parents have for years
been trying out their voices against the pulsating echoes, was to be their location
of a new city-state, New Pueblo Republic of San Joaquin del Rio de Chama.
Since Echo Amphitheater is a public campground, the Forest Service had no intention
of keeping anyone out, even people claiming title to the land. The visitors, however,
were subject to the recreation-use fee.
The Forest Service assigned three Rangers to the campground: Walter Taylor, of Taos;
Philip Smith, of Canjilon, and Chris Zamora from the Cibola National Forest. A few
carloads of people arrived early, but when told they would have to pay the $1.00-a-day
fee, they parked outside, along the highway.
State Police Officer Martin Vigil* was on duty outside the Forest boundary. He lectured
the early visitors, announcing that he would not stand for any trouble. He told
them the Forest Rangers were in charge inside the campground, and he was in charge
outside. There was no trouble from this group.
*Now Chief of State Police.
Along about 10:30, a motorcade of cars approached Echo Amphitheater. Ranger Taylor
was standing on one side of the cattle guard entrance to the grounds, Ranger Smith
on the other. Turning into the campground, drivers sounded their horns, ignored
the stop signs and the Rangers, then put on speed and headed through the gateway.
The Rangers blocked the entrance, but had to jump out of the way or be knocked down.
Probably 40 cars and trucks passed them as they stood helpless alongside the cattle
guard. The cars pushed into parking areas, and a myriad of men, women and children
erupted from the carslaughing, talking, shouting.
Ranger Taylor remembered that he had left his pickup unlocked. He was afraid it
might be looted if the crowd got out of hand. Among other things, a personal hand
gun he usually carried in the car was lying on the seat under his jacket. He didn't
want that to fall into someone's hands in this explosive situation, so he ran to
the pickup. He had locked the door on the left side and was locking the door on
the right side when Cristobal Tijerina, brother of the leader, came up to him and
grabbed him by the necktie.
"Shut up," Cristobal Tijerina told the Ranger.
Ranger Taylor hadn't yet said a word.
"Don't talk to me like that," Taylor then told him.
"Shut up you son of a bitch," Tijerina said. "You're under arrest."
If Cristobal was trying to provoke the Ranger, he had picked the right way to do
it. Taylor clenched his fist and was just starting a swing when he was grabbed from
behind. Hands clutched his arms, pulled at his shirt. There were shouts from men
and women. . . . Get him. . . . kill him. . . .
Taylor realized by now he had made a mistake in preparing to take a swing at Cristobal.
Rifles and shotguns had made their appearance in the crowd. "I thought I was a dead
man," Taylor related later. "I feel sure if I had hit him, someone would have shot
The men around him half dragged, half lifted him off his feet to take him toward
a picnic table.
Ranger Smith, seeing the melee, rushed to help Taylor. He was grabbed, too and up-ended
and then practically carried along behind Taylor to the picnic table. At the table
was Jerry Noll, one of the Alianza leaders who had once proclaimed himself "King
of the Indies." He was hurriedly setting up court for the new city-state of San
Back in the crowd someone had grabbed Ranger Chris Zamora. "Get your dirty hands
off me," Zamora said in Spanish, pushing his "captor" away.
"Leave him alone," a voice said, "He's one of ours." Being of Spanish extraction
was the only "passport" needed to the Pueblo of San Joaquin on this day.
At the picnic table, "Judge" Jerry Noll was asking, "What are these men charged
"How about public nuisance?" the "judge" asked.
"Public nuisance, too."
About this time, Reies Tijerina, leader of the Alianza, got up on the picnic table
bench to look over the crowd and the arrested men.
State Police Captain Martin Vigil came up to him, "Why are you holding these men?"
Captain Vigil asked.
"Publicity," was the answer.
"If you're through with them, then let them go."
With Captain Vigil on hand to back them up, Rangers Taylor and Smith started to
walk away. "Judge" Noll was sentencing them, but the Rangers weren't paying any
attention to him.
". . . . eleven months and 21 daysand $500 fineall suspended on condition
you leave the Pueblo and stay away."
Taylor and Smith got out their notebooks and started to write down the license numbers
of cars parked in the area.
"If you do that we'll have to arrest you again," Tijerina told them.
All this time TV and news cameras had been grinding away, recording the scene of
the take-over of the Forest. People were milling around and setting up camp.
The Rangers, accompanied by Captain Vigil, Tijerina, and a group of Alianza "deputies"
and followers, walked over to their pickups. "You can't take them," Tijerina told
them. "They're impounded."
"Their personal things," Captain Vigil said.
Tijerina agreed they could take their personal belongings.
Taylor unlocked the door and reached in to get his coat and gun from the seat. He
tried to keep the gun hidden under the coat and slide it out so he could shove it
down inside his belt.
"As luck would have it," Taylor recounted later, "it slipped out of my hands and
down to the ground. A lot of people seemed to make a grab for it and got their hands
on it, but I got my hand on the butt and hung on."
They were going to take the gun from Taylor, but Captain Vigil reminded Tijerina
that the Rangers could have their personal articles. The gun was a personal one.
By this time Taylor's anger was at the boiling point. A soft voice said in a whisper
from behind him, "Take it easy. Take it easy."
It was Jim Evans, investigations officer of the Forest Service.
"He was wearing a black raincoat type of coat," Taylor explained, "and they must
have taken him for a priest. They never bothered him and he roamed all over the
place, just as Chris Zamora did."
Some of the Alianza members even tried to talk Zamora into joining forces with them.
For the rest of the day, the Rangers remained outside the campground, observing
from a distance what was happening inside. During the afternoon, Tijerina stood
on a picnic table and made a fiery speech in Spanish to his followers.
Taylor, who grew up in Western Colorado and speaks Spanish, heard him declaim that
"Castro has what he has because he has guts. Castro is getting every gringo
out of Cuba, and we can do it here."
The blue flag of the Alianza, with its gold lettering proclaiming the Pueblo of
San Joaquin was raised above the campground, and cardboard signs put over the Echo
The Forest Service, fearing nightfall might bring violence, sent out a call for
more Rangers, and they set up headquarters at Ghost Ranch Museum. By 8 o'clock,
the Pueblo of San Joaquin was as quiet as any other village in northern New Mexico,
and the Rangers went home.
Forest Service officials swore out warrants for Reies Tijerina, Ezequiel Dominguez
and Alfonso Chavez, charging them with assaulting the two Forest Rangers and conversion
of government property. They also applied to the Federal Court for an injunction
restraining the Alianza membership from further occupation of the campground. After
a hearing the injunction was issued and the camp broke up. The warrants against
the five men were served and the men and their cause were headed for the courts.
Tijerina had claimed in press interviews that he was eager to get the land claims
into the courts. "Our intention is to go to the Supreme Court."
The Forest Service issued a news release on October 29, 1966, stating that there
was no Rio de Chama land grant. It was explained that the land of the original grant
as confirmed by the courts is held under private ownership and is surrounded by
The curtain came downtemporarilyon this first act in what has become
a long drawn-out drama tinged with tragic overtones.
The basis for the plot of this modern drama goes back into history of the last couple
of centuries. Millions of acres of New Mexico land had been granted by Spain and
later by Mexico to individuals and to groups of colonists to establish settlements.
One of these was the Cañon de Chama Grant, which had been given to 39 families
who settled in the Chama Valley.
Confusion over the boundaries of this and other grants and also over the question
of whether community lands as well as private lands were sold by heirs, and whether
the United States government took over disputed lands for public domain, has kept
the land grant issue alive for a hundred years.
After the American occupation of New Mexico when disputes began to arise over land
grants, the Federal government undertook surveys of grants. In the 1870's, a surveyor
general estimated the Cañon de Chama grant at 184,320 acres. Congress took
no action on this, and it was re-surveyed in 1878. This survey estimated the grant
at 472,000 acres. Again no action was taken by Congress to confirm the grant. In
1882, Congressman Hazelton introduced a resolution to confirm the grant, but the
resolution was buried under hours of debate on technical questions in regard to
grants, and again no confirming action was taken. In 1885, George W. Julian was
appointed Surveyor General and sent to New Mexico to straighten out the land claims
of various individuals and groups.
As an early history of New Mexico related, "The Territory was greatly wrought up
in 1883, 1884, and 1885 over the extensive fraudulent operations in land in New
Mexico. The matter was investigated under direction of Congress and the report of
the special agents who performed the work showed that the registrar of the Land
Office had entered into collusion with a ring of capitalists to get possession of
vast areas of public land in the Territory by fraudulent means."
Surveyor-General Julian was aghast at the idea that the Cañon de Chama Grant
was surveyed to include 472,000 acres, contending that the lands involved were located
only within the canyon as the name implied.
In the meantime, a British cattle syndicate had obtained possession. A newspaper
account (Santa Fe New Mexican) in January 1887, said the English capitalists had
paid $500,000 for 300,000 acres of land. When the U. S. Court of Land Claims was
organized in 1891, the syndicate entered a claim for 472,000 acres. The Court confirmed
only 1,422 acres and a patent was finally issued in 1905 in the name of the original
grantees and the British syndicate, the Rio Arriba Land and Cattle Co. which passed
into the possession of T. D. Burns of Tierra Amarilla, who had also purchased several
thousand acres of the Manuel Martinez grant in Rio Arriba County.
When the Court of Private Land Claims finished its work after 13 years of hearings,
it had confirmed only 2,051,526 acres of the 35,491,020 acres claimed in 301 cases.
All lands not confirmed became public domain, and when the National Forests were
established, they were created from public domain lands. The Carson National Forest,
which encompasses lands that were claimed by the Cañon de Chama heirs, was
established in 1908, taking in the Taos National Forest, established as Forest Reserve
in 1906, and part of the Jemez National Forest, established as Forest Reserve in
The cattle firm which had bought Cañon de Chama appealed the Private Land
Claims Court decision to the Supreme Court, contending the Claims Court allotment
covered only the individual farming acreages and not the community lands. But the
Supreme Court in one of its land claim decisions had ruled that common lands remained
with the sovereign and could not be allocated to settlers.
In 1944, Congressman Antonio M. Fernandez introduced a bill in Congress to return
to living heirs of the original grantees of the Cañnon de Chama grant Federal
lands within the boundaries of the grant as surveyed in 1878. The Department of
Agriculture made a study of the grant legal history for the Committee of Public
Lands of the House of Representatives.
In its report, the Department, over the signature of Charles F. Brannan, Assistant
Secretary, stated that "while the Department believes that equity should be done
in all cases, it is unable to find adequate equitable justification for the conveyance
of even a limited interest in so large an acreage of publicly owned land, especially
where such conveyance in all probability would quite adversely affect a considerable
number of local and dependent people and a wide range of more remote state and national
interests. Accordingly, it recommends that the bill, H. R. 4797, be not enacted."
The report to the Committee summed up its findings as follows:
In essence the record may be summarized as follows: In 1806 Francisco Salazar on
behalf of himself, his two brothers and 28 other persons, petitioned the Governor
of the territory to grant them lands for purposes of residence. On July 6, 1806
the Governor directed the proper Alcalde to make personal inspection of the land
mentioned and make a report. On the 14th of the same month the Alcalde submitted
his report in which he stated he had visited and personally examined a spot called
the Chama River Canyon "over all of which I passed with the greatest care and observation."
He reported that the land was sufficient to care for the 31 families applying for
it and land for the increase they may have in the way of children and sons-in-law.
Later, on March 1, 1809, the Alcalde reported that he had proceeded to the Chama
River Canyon, accompanied by the 25 settlers, to which there were added 14 other
citizens without land, and has assigned them certain lots or tracts.
The time expended by the Alcalde in making the necessary examinations, the small
number of families involved, the restrictions which the Governor had placed upon
the quantity of land to be allotted to each family, and the descriptions of the
boundaries reported by the Alcalde, all showed the area covered by the Grant to
have been of very limited extent. At one point, the Surveyor General expressed the
opinion that the area did not exceed four miles; the further opinion of the Surveyor
General being that the Alcalde's report could not be construed to make the granted
tract more than about three leagues square or the equivalent of about 40,000 acres
in round numbers.
In 1878, a survey of the grant was made under direction issued in 1872 by Surveyor-General
Proudfit. The honesty, integrity, and validity of that survey later were challenged
by a succeeding Surveyor-General, Julian, in 1886, in the strongest terms, as will
be noted by reference to his report. As was too frequently the custom in that period
the surveyor, instead of accepting the nearby landmarks described in the original
grant, adopted more remote landmarks of similar name; the result being that the
survey encompassed an area of 472,736.95 acres, or more than 10 times the maximum
area that could be derived by the most liberal interpretation of the reports of
the Alcalde upon which the grant originally was based. Apparently the protests of
the Surveyor-General sufficed to prevent issuance of patent to the claimants based
upon the survey made in May, 1878, by Stephen C. McElroy U. S. Deputy Surveyor and
approved September 7, 1878 by Henry M. Atkinson, U. S. Surveyor-General.
Because of the number of cases of similar character then commanding attention, Congress
by the Act of March 3, 1891 (26 stat. 854) established the Court of Private Land
Claims. The specific function of that Court was to adjudicate claims to lands of
the United States asserted or based upon prior grants by the governments of Spain
or Mexico. By decree of September 29, 1894, in a case entitled "The Rio Arriba Land
and Cattle Company (Limited) vs. the United States of America," the Court found
for the petitioners "to the extent of the lands lying in the Canyon del Rio de Chama
which were first apportioned among the settlers and no more"; the same thereby being
confirmed to the heirs and legal representatives of the 39 persons specifically
named in the decree. The names in the decree in large part correspond to those set
forth in H. R. 4797, but that bill includes three parties not named in the decree
and excludes three parties so named.
Upon entering of the above mentioned decree it became the function of the Surveyor-General
to define the boundaries of the area which by the decree was confirmed to the petitioners.
By letter of January 12, 1898 addressed to the Commissioner of the General Land
office, the Surveyor General protested that the decree was faulty in that the boundaries
therein set forth were entirely insufficient and wholly indefinite. He accordingly
recommended that the decree be returned to the Court for such corrections as would
allow his office to execute a survey upon the ground with certainty.
In consequence, the Court of Private Land Claims later executed an amendatory or
supplementary decree in which the lands confirmed to the petitioners were more specifically
described. The understanding of this Department is that the area finally surveyed
and patented as the Rio de Chama Grant, consisting of 1,422.62 acres, is the area
precisely described by the Court of Private Land Claims in its supplementary or
By Section 9 of the Act of March 3, 1891, provision was made for the right of appeal
to the Supreme Court of the United States, such appeal to be taken within six months
from date of decision of the Court of Private Land Claims. Accordingly, the Court
of Private Land Claims, in its decree of September 29, 1894, specifically ordered
that the petitioner be and thereby was allowed an appeal from the decision and decree
of that Court to the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court on May
24, 1897 affirmed the decision of the Court of Private Land Claims. See Rio Arriba
Land and Cattle Co. vs. United States (167 U. S. 298).
The Bill H. R. 4797 provides for the conveyance of title to the now living heirs
of the grantees named in the bill. It should, however, be noted that the suit before
the Court of Private Land Claims was in the name of Rio Arriba Land and Cattle Company,
Limited, and the fact that the Court recognized that corporation as the legal plaintiff
would indicate that the Corporation had succeeded to all rights in the property
at some time prior to September 29, 1894. If the heirs of the original grantees
had in fact disposed of all interests in the grant, an Act of Congress which would
now vest such heirs with a right to the conveyance of title apparently would ignore
the transfers of right or interest which apparently had occurred.
It seems evident the establishment of complete title to the lands to which H. R.
4797 would apply, hitherto could have been accomplished only under the provisions
of the Act of March 3, 1891, (26 Stat. 854). The seventh provision of section 13
of the Act seems specifically to provide a maximum limitation of 11 square leagues
for any claims under the Act. A Spanish league is 2 miles 48-1/2 chains; a square
league thus containing approximately 7-1/2 square miles. Eleven leagues, therefore,
would amount to about 80 square miles or about 51,000 acres; consequently, the bill,
if enacted, would apply to almost ten times the maximum area prescribed by Section
13 of the Act of March 13, 1891.
The big Manuel Martinez land grant in Rio Arriba county, which was sold and re-sold
and its more than half million acres divided into many ranches, has triggered numerous
court battles and violent acts in Rio Arriba County for the last 80 years.
Descendants of heirs of the Martinez family and other settlers had claimed community
lands in the grant and were in and out of court over the years. Organized as the
Corporation de Abiquiu in the 1940's, they sought to dispossess then-current owners
and regain the lands but lost out in Federal Court. Then, in a hearing in state
district court in October, 1964, Judge Paul Tackett stripped the Corporation of
Abiquiu of all legality in connection with the Tierra Amarilla Grant.
So, the Alianza, which had been newly organized, began then to unite land grant
claimants from the Abiquiu Corporation and from among the Cañon de Chama
heirs, as well as any others who claimed any family connection with old Spanish
or Mexican land grants.
The Alianza began to beat the propaganda drums to make its cause known. Publicity
campaigns were undertaken, using such phrases as "U.S.A. is Trespassing in New Mexico"
and "Trespassers Must Get out of New Mexico." Even a march to the capitol from Albuquerque
was staged to present a petition to Governor Campbell demanding that he investigate
their land claims.
The only gains made by Reies Tijerina and his Alianza in the next 18 months were
publicity gains. Tijerina and his Alianza were much in the news. Then in October,
1966, the Alianza decided to take over the lands they could not get through legal
channels. The first confrontation was a quiet one. On the weekend of October 15,
about 300 or more members moved into the Echo Amphitheater to establish what they
said was the ancient settlement of San Joaquin. Don Seaman, Supervisor of the Carson
National Forest, announced the Alianza camp was to be regarded merely as "visitors."
Next day the campers were gone.
But two days later the Alianza sent a delegation and a process server to the office
of Regional Forester William D. Hurst with papers signed by Reies Tijerina proclaiming
the establishing of the Pueblo San Joaquin del Rio Chama, and serving notice it
was taking over the old grant lands.
The Regional Forester declined to accept the papers, and he told Tijerina and the
others who had come to his office that the property they claimed belonged to the
United States of America, and "I will not under any condition allow it to be claimed
by an organization or group."
Tijerina and his delegation left the Forest Service office to plan their next stepand
this was the confrontation at Echo Amphitheater on October 22 when Rangers Taylor
and Smith were manhandled.
Trial for the five who were arrested was still to be a year off. In the meantime
the Alianza leaders were having problems with State Police and District Attorney
Alfonso Sanchez, of Santa Fe, who issued warrants for a number of the membership
charging unlawful assembly growing out of a convention at Coyote, June 3. Then on
June 5, 1967 when arraignments were to be held in Tierra Amarilla, an armed group
of Alianza members raided the court house. A state policeman was shot, the sheriff
was disarmed, two of his deputies were wounded, a United Press International reporter
and a deputy sheriff were kidnapped and held temporarily as hostages, and officials
were rounded up and held prisoner in the county commission chamber. State Police
cars were riddled with bullets; windows in the court house were broken. State Police
got their second wind and began to make arrests as National Guardsmen were called
in to keep order. It was weeks before all of the 14 charged had finally been arrested,
including leader Reies Tijerina and his brother Cristobal.
The five who had been arrested at Echo Amphitheater went to trial in Federal court
in Las Cruces in November, 1967. All five were found guilty on the charges of assaulting
the Forest Rangers.
Reies Tijerina and Cristobal Tijerina were each sentenced to two years in prison.
Jerry Noll, the "King of the Indies," who had presided over the "trial" of the Rangers
at Echo Amphitheater, was sentenced to three years. "I am immune to prosecution
in foreign courts," Noll announced. Esequiel Dominguez and Alfonso Chavez were sentenced
to 60 days in jail.
The Alianza attorneys immediately announced appeals to the U. S. Circuit Court and
the men were released on bond.
The next scene in this ill-omened drama shifted again to Tierra Amarilla where in
early January, 1968, Deputy Sheriff Eulogio Salazar was murdered by being beaten
over the head. His car was then run off the road into a 40-foot deep arroyo.
Salazar was the deputy who had been shot in the cheek during the Tierra Amarilla
raid. The mystery of Salazar's murder remains unsolved.
When he came to trial in district court on the State charges growing out of the
raid, Tijerina claimed the raid was merely an attempt to make a citizen's arrest
of District Attorney Alfonso Sanchez. He claimed to have taken no personal part
in any of the shooting or violence. The jury believed him and brought in a verdict
of not guilty.
Tijerina again made headlines when he went to Washington during the hearing on the
appointment of Warren Burger as chief justice of the Supreme Court. Tijerina announced
he would make a citizen's arrest of Burger. He did not get near Burger, but he did
get the publicity which has seemed so important to the fiery Alianza leader in his
effort to keep his cause alive. On Saturday, June 8, he also attempted to make a
citizen's arrest of Governor David Cargo and of Norris Bradbury, director of the
Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, but was unable to locate either one. The next
act took place next day in the Santa Fe National Forest, near the village of Coyote,
a dozen miles from U. S. 84 which is a boundary for parts of the Carson and Santa
Fe National Forests. In early June, 1969, members of Tijerina's Alianza had been
encamped near Coyote for several days.
James H. Evans, investigations officer of the Forest Service Regional Office, was
at the Coyote Ranger Station on June 8 and heard over the State Police radio that
a Forest Service sign had been set on fire at Capulin, nine miles west of Coyote.
Evans called U. S. Attorney Victor Ortega to ask his advice on how to proceed. The
U. S. Attorney advised him not to make any arrests at that time but to try to identify
the sign burners. Later, Evans was informed that a crowd was gathering around a
Forest Service sign on the highway, a couple hundred yards below the Coyote Ranger
Station and preparing to burn the sign.
This time Evans went down with the intention of making arrests. State Police Officer
Robert Gonzales later testified that he saw a woman dressed in yellow slacks and
flowered blouse put brush and twigs around the Forest Service sign. (She was later
identified as Mrs. Tijerina.)
The sign erupted in flames and Evans, a carbine in his right hand, walked over to
Tijerina. He was backed up by two State Police investigators, Robert Gilliland and
"I'm Jim Evans," he told the Alianza leader. "I'm a Federal officer. You're under
arrest for destruction of government property."
"You," Tijerina replied, "are under arrest for conspiracy against the poor."
The crowd moved in between the two men, and Tijerina walked hurriedly to his car
and pulled out a carbine. The crowd scattered, and Evans stepped behind an automobile.
Evans saw Tijerina put the rifle to his shoulder and aim it directly at him.
"Drop it or I'll kill you," he shouted to Tijerina. When Tijerina hesitated, Evans
called out, again, "Drop it or you're a dead man!"
Tijerina rested his carbine against his car and the State Police officers then moved
in and took him into custody.
Meanwhile, State Police had arrested Mrs. Tijerina.
The Associated Press the next day quoted Tijerina in the Santa Fe New Mexican as
saying Jim Evans "has 24 hours to get out of the state." The AP reported that Tijerina
and his Alianza are "going ahead with plans to make a citizen's arrest" and "this
time we are not going unarmed." That night four members of Tijerina's group sought
to make a citizen's arrest of Evans at his home, but he was not present when they
As a result of the sign burning incident, and the alleged threats against Evans,
Federal Judge Howard Bratton was requested to revoke the bond under which Tijerina
was free while awaiting action on the appeal of his conviction in the Echo Amphitheater
case. Judge Bratton ordered Tijerina held without bond, and he was taken to the
Federal Penitentiary at La Tuna, Texas to await court action.
In late September, 1969, Tijerina went to trial in Albuquerque in connection with
the sign burning. After nearly a week of testimony, he was found guilty of aiding
and abetting destruction of government property and assaulting a Forest Service
officer. He was sentenced by Judge Bratton to three years in prison. His lawyers
immediately announced an appeal.
The previous appeal from the Echo Amphitheater conviction had been decided against
Tijerina in U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals and was then carried to the U. S. Supreme
Court. In early October, 1969, the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal. A rehearing
was next requested.
Tijerina's court trials were not over. He was still scheduled to go on trial in
connection with additional charges growing out of the Tierra Amarilla court house
raid. Since his bond was still revoked, he was being held in jail in Albuquerque
but allowed to go to the Federal building under guard each day to use an office
for interviewing witnesses to prepare his defense in the raid case.
Just before the trial opened the Alianza met in Albuquerque in annual convention
and elected Ramon Tijerina, brother of the jailed leader, as president. It also
issued a map of southwestern states showing land grant areas, which it announced
it would petition President Nixon and Congress to separate from the United States
for a separate nation.
The jailed leader disagreed with the latest switch in policy and announced to the
press his resignation from the organization.
Before the District Court trial got well under way, a mistrial was declared by District
Judge Gannett Burks because of what he termed "impermissible separation of jurors"
disqualifying two or more from hearing the evidence. The trial was reset for the
November, 1969 term of court.
On November 26, Tijerina was convicted on two counts of false imprisonment of a
deputy and assault with intent to kill or maim the jailer Eulogio Salazar. Tijerina
was acquitted on other charges growing out of the Tierra Amarilla raid. His attorney
filed notice of appeal.
It is ironic that the Santa Fe and Carson National Forests have been the scene of
violent demonstrations in recent years, since the rapport between the Forest Service
and ranchers and residents of northern New Mexico had been generally good over the
While there were misunderstandings and oftentimes some resistance to Forest rules
and regulations, in general there had been good cooperation. Forest Service officials
learned early in its existence that it made good sense to assign people to northern
New Mexico who could speak Spanish. Some Rangers and deputy Rangers, aides, fire
guards and work crews have been of Spanish extraction. Most of the Anglo Rangers
were men who spoke Spanishmen like Elliott Barker, Tom Stewart, and Dick Wetherill
(who spoke Spanish and Navajo as well as English.) One of the Santa Fe's outstanding
Rangers was the late Joe Rodriguez, who knew his Coyote District like his own backyard
and knew every man, woman and child in the District. The adjoining Carson National
Forest had such Rangers as Paul Martinez, L. P. Martinez, Chris Zamora, and Steve
Because the Carson National Forest has so many small ranches bordering the Forest,
and because it has been used by northern New Mexico residents for two centuries,
the Carson has the largest number of permittees of any Forest in the Southwestern
As Elliott Banker once related, "four-fifths of our dealings were with Spanish-speaking
people. They would listen to a person who could talk their language and explain
things to them, whereas if it had to be done in English or through an interpreter,
you could never put it over at all."
The appearance on the scene of a Spanish-speaking, fire-eating orator who aroused
the people in what most legal minds regard as a hopeless cause brought about an
era of bitterness, discontent, and violence.
It is all the more ironic since only two or three hundred people are involved as
so-called land grant claimants, but the organized group keeps up a constant barrage
of publicity and agitation.
As the administrator of lands that were once claimed as grants, the Forest Service
has sought to administer them for the greatest good for the greatest number. The
small ranchers in the neighborhood of the Forests have been given permits to graze,
work crews have been hired from the village, projects have been sought to upgrade
the economy of the area.
Years ago the Forest Service began the organization of livestock associations made
up of permittees on the Forests in order to deal with representatives of the Forest
users rather than a large number of individuals singly. The associations were designed
to help the permittees and to improve relations.
Chief of Operation Walt Graves has explained how they operated:
"On the Coyote District (where he had once served as Ranger) the livestock associations
were limited usually to one grazing allotment and were made up of permittees on
that particular allotment. In a few instances, the association covered two allotments,
primarily because we had permittees who grazed on one of them in the summer and
another in the winter, and we combined the two into one association. They were strictly
local associations. They elected their own officers. I, as Ranger, had to act as
secretary and keep the thing going, but they conducted their own meetings which
I always attended. To the extent that we could, we accepted their recommendations
for range management practices and that sort of thing on the allotment. We could
not always accept their recommendations because they were continually requesting
increases in numbers, and this, of course, we could not accept."
The livestock associations are still operating, and on the Coyote District, for
example, there are three associations. Many of the permittees are small farmers,
with two or three on a half dozen cows grazing on the Forest. But having that forest
permit is very important to them, and it has been said that most of them would sell
anything else they owned before they would part with their Forest permit. It is
something of a status symbol to be one of the permittees. Presently the grazing
fee on the District is 43 cents per cow per month, although a sliding scale of increases
will take it above a dollar in the 1970's.
Eddie Rael, range conservationist on several Districts in recent years, and currently
Ranger on the Coyote District, thinks the cooperation between permittees and the
Forest Service today is better than it has been in many years, in spite of the Alianza
activities, or maybe because of it.
There has been a backlash among Spanish New Mexicans in the area because of the
Echo Amphitheater incident, the Tierra Amarilla raid and the sign burning.
"Our people here at Coyote saw what an ugly thing it was," Rael related, "and many
of them have turned their backs on the Alianza. In fact, before the recent convention
of the organization when a meeting was called here, only a very few people showed
Even on the day of the sign burning, the people of Coyote were onlookers rather
than participants, according to Rael. "Manuel Martinez, the State Police officer
who covers this district, was here that day," Rael said. "He told me that he looked
the crowd over and the Coyote people were just spectators scattered around in the
background looking on.
"Many people are actually embarrassed that they ever had anything to do with the
Alianza. They say that when they go to Santa Fe to shop, they even hesitate to say
they are from Coyote. And they have always been so proud of their village."
Rael also credits improved relations between the Forest Service and residents of
the area to more cooperative efforts by the present professional staff of the Ranger
District, who have been assigned there in the past two years.
Rael explains it this way:
"Years ago, the old-time Rangers were close to the people. Probably in more recent
years when new Rangers were assigned to the Districts they seemed less approachable
to the villagers who looked upon them as very important people, and they hesitated
to take their little problems to the Ranger or his staffor to ask for a free-wood
permit or make some complaint. So perhaps they got caught in some violation of regulations
and were pretty unhappy about it. Then along came Tijerina and capitalized on their
Because he is a native New Mexicanborn and brought up in Santa Fe and one
of the native Spanish American professionals in the Forest ServiceRael understands
the problems on both sides. As a result, much of his work the past two years has
been visiting and listening to people of the District, explaining the Forest Service
operations and trying to iron out minor differences.
"You know, it's a funny thing," he said, "but I think I do more business just before
and after church on Sunday than any time during the week."
As a devout Catholic, Rael attends church every Sunday. He recalled that one very
elderly lady came up to him one Sunday morning to congratulate him. When he asked
what she was congratulating him for, she replied in Spanish: "For working for the
Forest Service. I didn't know that they employed Catholics."
In his present assignment, Rael could probably have moved back to Santa Fe to work
out of the Forest Supervisor's office, but he asked to remain in Coyote.
One of the reasons is that he wants his children to learn and speak Spanish fluently.
"I don't have the time or the patience to teach them, and my wife is from Wisconsin,
so she can't help them. But they are certainly picking it up at school." The Raels
have six children, and three of them are now in school.
Spanish is the language of rural northern New Mexico, although most of the people
except the elderly are bilingual. Since the beginning years of the Forest Service,
Rangers have been encouraged to learn Spanish if they did not know the language
before taking assignment in various parts of New Mexico and Arizona.
When Bill Edwards, formerly Ranger at Coyote, was moved to the District from Ruidoso,
he took a cram course in Spanish. At Coyote, he told Eddie Rael he wanted to continue
to use his Spanish so he could become more fluent and not let it lapse. Rael then
suggested that they conduct their conversations in Spanish and that he give his
instructions and orders to work crews in Spanish.
Rael helped it along by telling permittees to "talk to the Ranger in Spanish when
you see him."
"Word got around that the guardia, as they call the Ranger, could talk their
language," Rael explained. "It made all the difference in the world in the relations
with people generally."
Rael's current assignment as this was written is another activity that is improving
the Forest Service's image among the people of the District. He is researching land
titles to attempt to clean up titles on a large number of small plots of landabout
600 acres in allthat were included in the general survey of the Polvadera
Grant when it was purchased by the Government in 1937 as part of the Land Utilization
Projects. Tracing ownership and occupation of the lots by families over the past
150 years has been a time-consuming task since it means tracing and examining legal
documents, parish and family records and personal interviews with old time residents.
But the Forest Service is trying hard to assist the people in securing clear title
to their land.
In the fall of 1969, the Forest Service purchased ranch lands on the Chama River
which will provide tremendous recreation facilities in the Coyote District since
the 3,000-acre ranch has seven miles of river frontage. The ranch was purchased
from the Guy C. Scull estate and comprised lands that had once been part of the
T. D. Burns Ranch.
The Forest Service still has land problems to be solved. One involves the 1,750,000
acres of non-Federal lands intermingled and within the boundaries of the National
Forests and Grasslands of Region 3. In addition there are nearly 2,000,000 acres
of Spanish Land Grant lands adjacent and surrounded by Forest lands.
Congress has authorized land purchases, and as parcels within National Forests become
available efforts are made to acquire them. Lands within Wildernesses have first
priority in this regard. The Forest Service is also seeking to acquire by exchange,
lands within old Spanish land grants, since they are valuable watershed and have
substantial recreation development potential.
It has been noted in the Service's Management Guide that "the Spanish land grants
have been largely stripped of timber under past ownerships and management. Fifty
to 100 years of restoration and protection are needed for them to again contribute
fully to the Nation's economy and to the welfare of locally dependent people."
Fortunately for generations yet to come, the Forest Service takes the long view
in the conservation, protection and rehabilitation of our land resources.