ROOTS OF N.M. CONFLICT

dwheeler at teleport.com dwheeler at teleport.com
Sun Sep 6 12:54:46 EST 1998


The following article appeared in the Sunday, Sept. 6 issue of The Oregonian.

ROOTS OF N.M. CONFLICT REACH DEEP INTO HISTORY, LEGACY OF LAND GRANTS

LA Times-Washington Post Service

	VALLECITOS, N.M. -- In the eyes of many area residents,
environmentalists are but the latest in a long line of white usurpers of the
land, harbingers of an alien culture based on service and recreation.	  
"The whole agenda is to move us off the land and into the barrios," said
Antonio "Ikie" DeVargas, a local leader.       "It's part of the
gentrification you see going on in Santa Fe and Taos. They want to make these
mountains into a playground for the rich."	Land or Death -- "Tierra o
Muerte" -- proclaim hand-painted billboards along county roads, signaling a
deep-seated resentment toward outsiders who try to take the land or dictate
how it is used.      The anger has its roots in the years after the
U.S.-Mexican War and the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, in which the
United States agreed to honor Spanish and Mexican land grants that conveyed
the mountains and forests of northern New Mexico to Spanish-speaking peasants
who settled there as early as the 17th century.        But the treaty was
widely ignored, and, during the next half-century, grantees were fenced out
or forced to pay for access to the land where their grandparents had been
free to graze cattle and sheep, cut timber and collect firewood.       The
U.S. Forest Service ended up owning a large chunk of the contested land. Its
efforts to reduce grazing, logging and even firewood collection, often at the
behest of environmental groups, have been responsible for rising tension.    
   "We have been prisoners in our own land," said Moises Morales, a Rio
Arriba County commissioner who has used both guns and politics in a 30-year
career as a land rights activist.      In the 1920s, insurgents calling
themselves La Mana Negra -- the Black Hand -- ambushed forest rangers and cut
the fences and burned the barns of ranchers who had moved into the mountain
pastures that had been the common grazing lands of Latino pioneers.  Decades
later, after the Forest Service had revoked the last free grazing rights,
locals fought back under the banner of the Alianza Federal de las Mercedes, a
union of descendants of land grantees.	A series of "camp-ins" on Forest
Service land led to mass arrests and ultimately to a gunbattle in the summer
of 1967 between state police and about 20 Alianza members, including Moises
Morales, outside the county courthouse in the town of Tierra Amarilla.	     
Four lawmen were wounded, one seriously. Morales and his companions fled,
hiding out in the mountains for days as hundreds of National Guardsmen and
police searched for them. Eventually, Morales was arrested and spent six
months in jail.   "It was worth it," he said. "We accomplished respect." 
When the counterculture migrated to the mountains in the early 1970s and took
up residence in dozens of communes and makeshift homesteads, many encountered
threats and some were burned out.   In the late 1980s, angry residents once
again took up arms when a group of outside investors sought to subdivide a
portion of the Chama Valley in northern Rio Arriba County. No one was shot
that time, and the dispute ended in a negotiated compromise.	  Today,
village residents insist that control of their own lands is vital to the
survival of one of the oldest intact cultures in an increasingly homogeneous
nation.

Posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler
http://www.oregonwhitetruffles.com

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