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New Mexico: the Alianza Fights For Birthrights That Were Lost Albuquerque, N.M. This fall a carload of Texas touristsorle among the thousands of families visiting the national forests of northern New Mexico each yearreceived something of a shock when they were confronted in the midst of Carson National Forest by a band of Spanish-Americans toting .30-.30 rifles and told to “get off our land.” They were informed that they were trespassers on the sovereign state of “Republica del Pueblo de San Joaquin del Rio de Chama.” This “independent republic” in the midst of a national forest was, at the time, the latest brainstorm of the leadership of the Alianza Federal de Mercedes, or Federal Alliance of Land Grants. The Texans had stumbled into a political experiment unique in modern American history, perhaps one of the most futile manifestations of ethnic bitterness in our nation’s history. Leaders of the Alianza, however, probably would not agree to classification with the rest of the nation’s “hyphenated Americans.” All Spanish-speaking, the self-declared heirs to ancient Spanish land grants in the Southwest, they regard themselves as a conquered people with rights established by international treaty. The origin of the Alianza is buried in the turbulent history of our Spanish Southwest, the area now including California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and parts of Texas. The center of the group’s effort is New Mexico, where the governors appointed by the viceroys of Spanish Mexico once ruled from the ancient capital of Santa Fe. In brief, the members of the Alianza argue that the United States violated the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which was signed after the U.S.-Mexican war more than a century ago. The treaty provided that all conquered citizens of Mexico could become U.S. citizens or retain their Mexican nationality. All Mexican nationals who remained in the area and made no public choice automatically after a period of time, became American citizens, subject to the U.S. law. In signing the treaty, the U.S. guaranteed that it would honor all extant Spanish land grants which had been recognized as valid by the Mexican republican government. Therein lies the catch. These grants, usually made by the king in Madrid or the viceroy in Mexico City Mark Acuff lives in Santa Fe, N.M., and writes a syndicated political column about affairs in that state. He has covered many of the situations described in this article. 12 The Texas Observer Mark Acuff in payment for some service rendered the crown, were given to heads of families for purposes of settlement. Some of them ran into millions of acres of what was at the time considered virtually worthless land. Over the centuries \(New Mexico was the grants had come to have great numbers of heirs, who were in conflict with each other over the land., Parts of many grants had changed hands innumerable times, although originally they had been granted to just the one family and its descendents “in perpetuity.” Thus the legal situation was nightmarish even before General Kearney “occupied” New Mexico for the U.S. Very few of the Spanish heirs to the grants had anything resembling a standard U.S. title to their land, relying only on common knowledge that such and such land belonged to a certain family. The situation obviously was ripe for exploitation by greedy gringos from the East, and they were not long in arriving. Few of the claimants had established title to their lands through the U.S. courts, in ways customary under U.S. law \(about was often a simple matter for Anglos to “buy” title to a grant from an “heir” for a few dollars or a bottle of whiskey. Since each grant was likely to have several hundred dispossessed “heirs,” it was easy to find a seller. The gringo ranchers, accompanied by one of the early frontier lawyers \( who may or may not have ever been “title” to court and receive for it the validations of law. There were no Spanish-speaking lawyers in the state at the of the grantholders had no notion of what was happening to them until someone appeared suddenly with a title confirmed in court and a deputy sheriff to back it up. The people working the land often were summarily booted off, and they found no recourse in the law. One of the great men of early New Mexico, Manuel B. Otero, was shot and killed in a feud over one of the largest grants. A striking figure of a man, blueeyed and red-bearded, Otero had been educated at the University of Heidelberg and had come to head the powerful Otero clan at the Valencia County seat of Los Lunas, 15 miles south of the present-day Albuquerque. He had managed, through some wheeling and dealing of his own, to come into control of the Estancia and Baca land grants, encompassing 1,232,000 acres of prime grazing land on the slopes of the Rockies. But Otero had never bothered with clearing titles through U.S. courts. In August of 1883, two Boston brothers, Joel P. and James G. Whitney, bought the same land from another “heir” and had the title confirmed in the courts. Otero awoke one day to hear reports that Spanish farmers and herdsmen living on the grant under his patronage were being thrown off by gringos armed with a posse and a court order. Otero rode out to the headquarters of the vast Estancia grant to put a stop to the piracy, and he received a bullet in the neck. One of the Whitneys was also shot and disappeared to California via Santa Fe and the train. New Mexico history is full of similar incidents. Only last_ year shots were fired in anger near Tierra Amarilla in Rio Arup Spanish-Americans had decided to take back the land now held by the Chama Land and Cattle Company. MOST SPANISH New Mexicans of today live in poverty. There is little “racial” discrimination per se, as an educated, wealthy Spanish-American has little difficulty “crossing the line” into polite society. Democratic Party politics have long been in the private province of old patrones turned county-level ward heelers. But there is considerable economic disparity in the state, and as a result the bitterness runs deep. Where strained relations between former Mexican citizens and Americans have been more noticeable on the surface for many years in much of South Texas, in New Mexico the mutual distrust and bitterness has been buried beneath a facade of interracial harmony. The usual New Mexico line is that the state is a unique blend of three cultures ing in harmony, but the harmony is more apparent than real. Mora County, almost entirely Spanish, has a per capita income of less than $800 annually. Most of the seven northern “Spanish” counties of the state are peopled with welfare recipients and old men in crumbling mountain communities. One sees no young adults in these areas, for the able-bodied young men and women have left for California or Colorado, where there is some chance of work less frustrating than pushing wooden plows. Only a few of the land grants remain intact and under the control of their heirs. One of these is the Tome grant on the Rio Grande south of Albuquerque; it covers a tract 20 by 30 miles and belongs to hundreds of “stockholders” who spend much of their time feuding over control of their board of directors while the land washes away from erosion brought on by overgrazing. The Tome grant has not shown