Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque by Steven Horak

Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque by Steven Horak

Author:Steven Horak
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Avalon Publishing
Published: 2018-06-13T04:00:00+00:00


The two reservoirs west of Tierra Amarilla are nearly linked; El Vado Lake State Park (575/588-7247,, $5/car day use) is smaller but busier, as motorboats are permitted here, and it’s a popular recreation spot, with large campgrounds (sites $10) at its south end (accessible via Hwy. 112, 17 miles southwest of Tierra Amarilla; the turnoff to the park is about 2 miles north of the village).

King Tiger and the Mercedes

The pastoral village of Tierra Amarilla gives little indication that it was once a battleground in the Chicano rights movement and the local Hispano fight for land-grant restitution. The Tierra Amarilla merced (land grant) was established in the 19th century, and when Nuevo México became a U.S. territory in 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo specified it would be preserved. But cattle ranchers and the national forest system gradually appropriated it, so that, by the 1960s, many families in largely Hispano Rio Arriba County found themselves landless and subsisting on less than $1,500 per year.

Around this time, Reies López Tijerina, a charismatic activist in the growing Chicano movement, took up the land-grant cause. In 1967, he and more than 150 local men stormed the Tierra Amarilla courthouse, calling themselves the Political Confederation of Free City States and bearing a banner proclaiming “Give Us Our Land Back.” Their plan was to make a citizen’s arrest of the district attorney (DA). But the DA was nowhere around, the activists wound up taking everyone in the courthouse hostage, and 300 National Guard troops were called in. The incident made headlines across the country, and Tijerina was an overnight legend. The press dubbed him King Tiger, and he was praised in the ballad “El Corrido de Rio Arriba,” penned within weeks by the band Los Reyes de Albuquerque.

Trials the next year were equally gripping: Tijerina wept on the witness stand, a lawman present at the raid turned up murdered, and even New Mexico’s governor gave heartfelt testimony. Tijerina came away with a minimal sentence for second-degree kidnapping. He went on to lead the Chicano faction as part of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign.

In Tierra Amarilla, meanwhile, the battle lines became hopelessly tangled. With seed money from a generous donor, the Sierra Club announced in 1970 that it would donate a new “land grant” to the area, but it failed to materialize—perhaps because environmentalists soon were battling the local sheepherders over the effects of grazing. In 1995, a local shepherd successfully sued the Sierra Club for the never-applied donation, and the economic situation in the valley has somewhat improved. But many people must lease land on which to graze their sheep, resentments run deep, and the activism of King Tiger is still recalled with feeling.


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