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A Latinx Resource Guide: Civil Rights Cases and Events in the United States

1967: Tierra Amarilla Land Grant & Courthouse Raid

"They stole our land and gave us powdered milk!”  —Reies Lopez Tijerina
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Last page of Treaty, with signatures and seals. 1848. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

On June 5, 1967, Reies López Tijerina, also known as King Tiger, led the Alianza Federal de Mercedes (Federal Alliance of Land Grants) to storm the Tierra Amarilla courthouse and arrest District Attorney Alfonso Sanchez, free detained members of the Alianza Federal de Mercedes, and raise awareness of the New Mexico land grant movement of the 1960s.

Spain and Mexico had endowed land grants to pioneers who settled in states along the Rio Grande River long before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded the region to the U.S. at the end of the Mexican American War. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo did protect these property rights, stating that they were to be "inviolably respected.” The Protocol of Querétaro of 1848 and Congressional legislation in 1854 further secured protections and created a land grant system in which the Office of the Surveyor General, working under the Supervision of the Secretary of Interior, managed land claim investigations. Even so, land grant heirs throughout the region unsuccessfully lost claims to millions of acres as private and communal lands transferred to new Anglo-Saxon owners and the U.S. Government.

Under Mexico’s government, community land grants like the 524,215-acre Tierra Amarilla land grant issued in 1832 could not be sold. Nonetheless, Surveyor General William Pelham, recognized these lands as private; so resistance movements by former Mexican citizens ensued. Tijerina and the Alianza Federal de Mercedes were among those organizing such movements.

One year before the Tierra Amarilla Courthouse Raid, Tijerina and the Alianza organized peaceful protests in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and occupied the Echo Amphitheater—located south of Tierra Amarilla to declare it the “Republic of San Joaquin del Rio Chama.” Law enforcement responded, arresting several Alianza members. Subsequent suppression of their meetings and orders by District Attorney Alfonso Sanchez for additional arrests culminated in the now infamous raid, which resulted in a manhunt for Tijerina by the National Guard and hundreds of police officers.

Timeline

May 30, 1848 The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is effective and declares property of former Mexican citizens to be "inviolably respected.”
1848 The Protocol of Querétaro declares that land grant titles would be protected under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
1854 Congressional legislation establishes the Office of Surveyor General of New Mexico.
June 1860 The Tierra Amarilla Land grant is classified as private property in the name of Francisco Martinez following Surveyor General William Pelham’s investigations.
October 1, 1876 In Tameling v. United States Freehold & Emigration Company, 93 U.S. 644 (1876), the court does not overturn any Congressional approval of land grants.
May 24, 1897 In United States v. Sandoval et al., 167 U.S. 278 (1897), the Court rulesthat Mexico is the owner of common lands issued before 1848 and annexed by the U.S after the Mexican-American War.
February 2, 1962 The Alianza Federal de Mercedes is established.
July of 1966 The Alianza Federal de Mercedes organize a peaceful protest in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
October 15, 1966 The Alianza Federal de Mercedes occupies Echo Amphitheater and renames it the Republic of San Joaquin del Rio Chama.
June 5, 1967 The Alianza Federal de Mercedes raids the Tierra Amarillo Courthouse.

Resources

The following resource is available online at the Library of Congress.

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The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.

The following external websites can be useful for expanding your research on the Tierra Amarilla Land Grant and Courthouse Raid.