'State of Jefferson' parallel in New Mexico

May 02, 2007 12:00 am

By Cornelia de Bruin

Triplicate staff writer

The Mexican holiday's importance in history also laid a keystone for a modern-day incident in New Mexico about 40 years ago.

It is because of America's defeat of the Southern rebels, aided by the French the Mexican fought at Puebla, that Mexicans crossed the international border more than 100 years later.

They came to help U.S. soldiers fight in World War II after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii brought this country into the western front of the war.

Their loyalty superceded their anger over the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, the agreement that ended the Mexican-American War fought between 1846 and 1848.

Omission

The treaty originally promised that the U.S. government "would honor and guarantee" all land grants awarded in lands owned by the formerly foreign, and now U.S. residents after the land was ceded to the United States.

The U.S. Senate omitted that provision, however.

To this day many early landowners who trace their properties to deals made with the Spanish government during the settlement of areas previously owned by Spain, and later Mexico, believe the U.S. government unjustly took their lands from them by not honoring the provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo.

The treaty provided for the Mexican Cession, which gave the United States parts of what is now New Mexico, Arizona and all of California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado.

Anger over the betrayal of Guadalupe-Hidalgo prompted a group of New Mexicans to seize control of the Tierra Amarilla County Courthouse in 1967.

Raid

Led by Reis Lpez Tijerina and some government officials, the Alianza Federal de Mercedes raided the courthouse to free members of the group who had been arrested earlier that year.

They were charged for their part in a failed attempt to seize control of the Echo Amphitheater near Abiqui, which was an attempt to establish the Republic of San Joaqun del Ro de Chama – which was intended to re-establish a communal landholding such as those Tijerina believed were stolen from New Mexicans after the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo.

The amphitheater had been part of the San Joaqun del Ro de Chama land grant, one of the land grants which later became federal land.

Tijerina, his brother Cristbal and three other members of Alianza were charged with assault and converting government property to personal use.

Tijerina had previously been involved in other attempts to create such landholdings for his people in the hope of restoring rights he believed they lost.

The fled into the mountains, launching the largest manhunt in New Mexico history.

Tijerina later turned himself in and was charged with 54 criminal counts, held for 35 days and acquitted of the courthouse-related charges.

He was, however, later convicted of two charges connected to the amphitheater takeover, and served two years.

Tierra o Muerte

The story is detailed in author Tony Hillerman's book, "The Great Taos Bank Robbery," a collection of hilarious short stories about Northern New Mexico. Hillerman is a former editor of The Santa Fe New Mexican.

To this day, signs reflecting the sentiment of the times dot the sides of the U.S. highway that leads into Northern New Mexico from Colorado, passing through Chama in Tierra Amarilla County.

"Tierra o Muerte," they read — land or death.