News

March 26, 2014

HISPANIC COMMUNITY MEMBERS IN NORTHERN NEW MEXICO ACCUSE THE U.S. FOREST SERVICE OF RACISM, DISCRIMINATION AND OF VIOLATING THE CIVIL RIGHTS OF HISPANICS IN THEIR TREATMENT OF HISPANOS IN NORTHERN N.M.; FOREST SERVICE ALSO ACCUSED OF USING ‘GESTAPO’ TACTICS AND OF MISCONDUCT

TAOS, N.M.–The U.S. Forest Service and Forest Service rangers, agents and other personnel have been accused of racist treatment of Hispanics in Northern New Mexico. Hispanic community members in Northern New Mexico say the Forest Service has harrassed Hispanics and the Hispanic community members also say the Forest Service has violated the civil rights of Hispanos in Northern New Mexico.

The Forest Service is also accused of using “Gestapo” tactics in their mistreatment of Hispanics in Northern New Mexico. The Hispanic community members made their accusations against the Forest Service in a letter they sent in January to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and in a more recent press release published in local newspapers.

Among other things, the Hispanic community members say Forest Service rangers and other personnel have pulled over vehicles for no reason and without authority in Northern New Mexico and have issued citations for speeding and other traffic violations normally done by local police. Forest Service personnel do not have the authority to issue traffic citations unless they are deputized by the local sheriff and the Forest Service personnel have not been deputized in Rio Arriba County, where most of the alleged racist treatment has taken place, according to the Hispanic community members.

There have also been reports over the years of racist misconduct against Hispanics by Forest Service personnel in other northern New Mexico counties, including in Taos County. The Hispano community members have also said that the Forest Service has not allowed Hispanos to access lands in the Carson National Forest for grazing, cutting wood and other traditional and cultural uses, which is a violation of longstanding agreements between the government and Hispano Land Grant community members and others.

The U.S. Forest Service currently controls more than 6 million acres of land that the U.S. Government stole from several Hispano Land Grants in the late 1800s and early 1900s and these lands, mostly in Rio Arriba, Taos, Mora, San Miguel and Santa Fe Counties have been where the Forest Service personnel have been accused of racism and discrimination by Hispanos for generations ever since. The latest accusations are in reference to the racist misconduct of Forest Service rangers and other personnel against Hispanics in more recent years.

Complaints by Hispano community members in Northern New Mexico against the Forest Service personnel have also resulted in federal lawsuits against the Forest Service over the years, including some that are still pending. HispanoNewMexico.com tried to get comment for this story from the Forest Service but we could not reach anyone as of press time. We also asked for a comment from U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich (both Democrats who are supposed to represent New Mexico) but neither senator responded to our questions. U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, also a Democrat who is supposed to represent Northern New Mexico also did not respond to our questions. We also tried getting comment from Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack but were unsuccessful in getting a response.

Whether these officials are trying to ignore the complaints by the Hispano community members is uncertain but neither Udall, Heinrich nor Lujan have made any comments, leading many Hispanos community members in Northern New Mexico to believe these politicians are covering up for the Forest Service’s misconduct and the Forest Service’s racist treatment of Northern New Mexico Hispanos.

 

February 7, 2012

TREATY OF GUADALUPE HIDALGO DAY CELEBRATED AT NEW MEXICO STATE CAPITOL ROTUNDA; EVENT IS ATTENDED BY MANY LAND GRANT HEIRS AND SUPPORTERS INCLUDING STATE LEGISLATORS, PUBLIC OFFICIALS AND LAND GRANT OFFICIALS

SANTA FE–The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was celebrated February 2 at the New Mexico State Capitol Rotunda, with many New Mexicans in attendance, including members of the State Legislature and Land Grant heirs, officials and supporters.

The event–which was called the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo Day–also commemorated the 164 th anniversary of the historic treaty being signed between the United States and Mexico. For Hispano New Mexicans, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo holds special and important significance because the treaty helps form the basis of the Land Grant struggle of the Hispano people of New Mexico.

At the State Capitol Rotunda, the event was marked by an official program which included live Hispano music provided by local musician ”El Gringo,” an introduction by former New Mexico Lt. Governor Roberto Mondragon and remarks by several state legislators. Also speaking at the event were Gilbert Ferran, president of the New Mexico Land Grant Consejo and a member of the Abiqui Land Grant, Sarah Maestas Barnes, parliamentarian of the Land Grant Consejo and a member of the Cebolleta Land Grant, Javier Sanchez, a member of the Manzano Land Grant and a University of New Mexico Land Grant Studies Research Fellow, Juan Sanchez, chairman of the New Mexico Land Grant Council and a member of the Merced del Pueblo de Chilili, Arturo Archuleta, a member of the Tierra Amarilla and Manzano Land Grants and LM Garcia y Griego of the UNM Land Grant Studies Program and a member of the Canon de Carnuel Land Grant.

Participants also gave updates on state and federal Land Grant legislation, the New Mexico Land Grant Council and a presentation on mapping historic boundaries of the Land Grants was also featured. New Mexico State Auditor Hector Balderas gave a presentation on Land Grants and the state Audit Act.

Espanola attorney and author Mike Scarborough was also introduced and Scarborough gave a presentation of his new book, “Trespassers on Our Own Land,” which is a story of the Juan Bautista Valdez Land Grant in Rio Arriba County and of the heirs of that Land Grant who continue to struggle for their Land Grant. The book is now available for purchase.

 

October 18, 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

(L-R): The village of Arroyo Hondo, N.M., with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the background, where the Arroyo Hondo Land Grant is situated. photo credit to activerain.com; A country road running through the Arroyo Hondo Land Grant.

ARROYO HONDO LAND GRANT STRUGGLE CONTINUES WITH FEDERAL COURT HEARING

TAOS COUNTY– The Land Grant struggle of New Mexico’s Hispano community continues in the village of Arroyo Hondo, in Taos County, as members of the Arroyo Hondo Land Grant prepare to fight for their land in federal court.

As HispanoNewMexico.com previously reported, the Arroyo Hondo Land Grant, which dates to the 1700s, is currently being sued by three separate title companies, First American, Stewart Title and Old Republic National Title, which filed their lawsuits against the Land Grant (Merced) earlier this year, after the Arroyo Hondo Land Grant filed a warranty deed with the Taos County Clerk’s Office for the 20,ooo acres of the Land Grant, located about 10 miles north of the Town of Taos.

The first hearing in the lawsuit, known as a scheduling conference, will be held on October 31 at the Federal Courthouse in downtown Albuquerque before U.S. Magistrate Alan Torgerson. Attorneys for the Arroyo Hondo Land Grant and the title companies are expected to confer on the details of the lawsuit, including discovery, case scheduling and any possible settlement in the case.

Attorney Santiago Juarez, who is representing the Arroyo Hondo Land Grant in the case, said he could not go into many details before the hearing but said he is hopeful about the outcome for the Land Grant. Juarez said the case is difficult for the Land Grant and its members because they have very little money for legal costs compared to the title companies.

Indeed, the lawsuit is a classic example of other historic court cases involving Hispano Land Grants in New Mexico and southern Colorado, in which the Land Grants and their members must defend themselves against corporate interests and wealthy individuals who often have resources in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars.

In this case, the three title companies in question are national conglomerates with millions of dollars at their disposal, basically a David vs. Goliath situation. HispanoNewMexico.com  tried reaching the three title companies for comment but only one, the Old Republic National Title Company, responded. Cheryl Jones, a corporate spokeswoman for the company said simply, “We have a policy against talking to the press.”

The lawsuit is the latest in a long string of legal disputes involving the Spanish Land Grants in New Mexico, which were issued to Hispano communities across New Mexico from the 1600s through the 1800s, before the U.S. took over New Mexico and Colorado in 1846.

In the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War, the United States government agreed and promised to recognize, protect and honor the Land Grants in New Mexico and southern Colorado, which numbered more than 200 Land Grants in about as many individual Hispano communities. The vast majority of the Land Grants were issued by the Spanish government, which ruled New Mexico from 1598-1821 and a smaller number were issued by the Mexican government, which ruled New Mexico from 1821-1846.

While some of the Land Grants were recognized by the U.S. government in the 1800s and early 1900s through a system known as “Patents” issued by Congress, most were unfortunately allowed to be stolen from the Hispano communities to which the Land Grants rightfully belonged.

Ironically, the Arroyo Hondo Land Grant was given a patent by the Congress in 1908 but corrupt land grabbers, who were new to the area, stole much of the land afterward, often using fraudulent deeds of their own and taking advantage of the fact many of the Hispano Land Grant members could not speak, read or write in English in those days. The members of the Arroyo Hondo Land Grant, which includes most of the original Hispano families who settled the village of Arroyo Hondo and some smaller surrounding villages, farms and ranches, have never given up their claim to their Land Grant and through the years many disputes have arisen as new residents have built homes and tourist development has encroached upon the Arroyo Hondo Land Grant’s 20,000 acre property.

Last year, members of the Arroyo Hondo Land Grant filed their warranty deed to their Land Grant at the Taos County Courthouse, setting off the latest dispute in New Mexico’s Land Grant struggle to regain the Land Grant lands which were stolen from the Hispano communities they rightfully and legally belong to.

Making the Arroyo Hondo Land Grant struggle more difficult is the fact that Taos County has increasingly become more of a tourist destination and many wealthy individuals have built vacation homes in and around the boundaries of the Land Grant. In addition, the price of real estate in Taos County, especially in the vicinity of the Town of Taos and in the surrounding communities, including Arroyo Hondo, has become inflated over the years to the point where local Hispano families and other working class people, often cannot afford to buy even an acre of land. An acre of land in the area goes for about $50,000 up to more than $100,000, something which has made matters worse for the Land Grants and for the greater Taos community.

The title companies became involved because the Arroyo Hondo Land Grant, in asserting its rightful and legal title, threatened the title to other property owners and developers in the area. In Taos County, where the real estate industry is a multi-million dollar business, many realtors and developers were afraid their profits would be lost. The president of the Taos County board of realtors, John Kejr, even traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with members of the New Mexico Congressional delegation to vent his concerns. Meanwhile, the Hispano Land Grant members, without the financial resources of the Taos realtors and developers, have relied upon their unity and faith to continue their struggle to regain their lands.

While the outcome of this particular lawsuit remains unclear, the need for the U.S. Congress to uphold the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and recognize and protect the Spanish Land Grants of New Mexico and southern Colorado becomes increasingly urgent. To the Hispano Land Grants and their members, who have been economically deprived from having their lands stolen from them, the situation has made poverty, high unemployment and other related problems a sad fact of life.

And as the rich and powerful steal their lands and build luxury homes on their Land Grant lands, the Hispano families continue their struggle to someday regain their lands and regain their own hopes of economic improvement for themselves and their children.

(Editor’s note: if you would like to help contribute to a fund for the Arroyo Hondo Land Grant struggle, send us an email at HispanoNewMexico@gmail.com for more information).

  

June 25, 2011

        (The New Mexican)

Tijerina visits New Mexico: Legendary Land Grants leader and activist Reies Lopez Tijerina made a weeklong tour of northern New Mexico and the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado earlier this month. (l-r) At the Onate Center in Alcalde, Tijerina was welcomed by a crowd of supporters which included Juan Valdez, in the black cowboy hat, who was part of Tijerina’s group that went to the Rio Arriba County Courthouse in Tierra Amarilla in 1967 to make a citizen’s arrest of then-District Attorney Alfonso Sanchez; in the photo on the right, Tijerina signs a book for a supporter from San Luis, Colorado.

REIES TIJERINA VISITS NORTHERN NEW MEXICO DURING WEEKLONG TOUR; IS WELCOMED BY CROWDS OF EMOTIONAL SUPPORTERS, HONORED AND GIVEN KEYS TO THE CITY OF LAS VEGAS

NORTHERN NEW MEXICO– Legendary Hispano Land Grants leader and activist Reies Lopez Tijerina visited northern New Mexico and southern Colorado earlier this month during a weeklong tour that included visits to Taos County, Las Vegas, N.M., San Luis, Colorado and to the Rio Arriba County Courthouse in Tierra Amarilla, where 44 years earlier–in June 1967–he led a group of Land Grant supporters and heirs to make a citizen’s arrest of the local district attorney, an event which brought Tijerina and New Mexico’s Land Grant struggle to national and international prominence.

Now 84 years old, Tijerina made the trip to northern New Mexico from his home in El Paso, Texas, with his wife and an entourage which included members of the Brown Berets who provided personal security for the aging Land Grants leader. Though his health is not strong, Tijerina braved the trip that took him to several communities in northern New Mexico, including to Las Vegas, where he was honored with the presentation of the keys to the city by Mayor Alfonso Ortiz Jr., who also proclaimed June 8 (the day of his visit to Las Vegas) as “Reies Lopez Tijerina Day.”

While in Las Vegas, Tijerina was greeted by hundreds of supporters who filled the town’s Plaza where he was given the keys to the city. Earlier that morning, a symposium on the Land Grants was held at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, where several speakers honored Tijerina for his role in re-awakening the Hispano people of New Mexico and southern Colorado to the Land Grant struggle. Tijerina also spoke during the two events.

His historic visit to New Mexico began on June 5 in Alcalde, where Tijerina was greeted by hundreds more supporters at the Onate Center. The people who came to the Onate Center to welcome Tijerina included some who were part of Tijerina’s inner circle in the 1960s. Among them were Juan Valdez of Rio Arriba County, who was a member of the Alianza Federal de Merceds, the organization Tijerina founded to organize New Mexico’s Hispano Land Grant heirs and supporters. Valdez, now an older man like Tijerina, hugged his old friend and spoke to Tijerina and the gathered crowd.

Valdez was with Tijerina on June 5, 1967 when a small group of Alianza members showed up at the Rio Arriba Courthouse in Tierra Amarilla to make a citizen’s arrest of then-District Attorney Alfonso Sanchez, who the group felt had failed to uphold state and federal laws protecting the Hispano Land Grants. But Sanchez was not at the courthouse that day (some say he had been tipped off) and instead the Alianza group ended up in a shootout with a state police officer and two Rio Arriba County sheriff’s deputies who happened to be at the courthouse. Several people were injured in the shootout and two hostages were taken, including a newspaper reporter from the Associated Press who had been talking to his editors on a payphone at the courthouse and who was the first to relay word to the outside world about the “courthouse raid,” as it became known.

Then-New Mexico Gov. Dave Cargo, whose Hispana wife was later revealed to be a member of the Alianza, was out of state when the attempted citizen’s arrest took place, but Lt. Gov. Francis ordered the New Mexico National Guard into the mountains and villages of northern New Mexico to find Tijerina and his group. Eventually, Tijerina was arrested and acquitted of the charges related to the shooutout at the courthouse, but the plight of New Mexico’s Hispano Land Grant heirs and our struggle to regain our lands gained public support and is considered the spark that re-awakened the modern-day Land Grant struggle in our state and in neighboring southern Colorado.

As Reies Tijerina’s tour took him to various New Mexico communities, he was greeted by large and emotional crowds of supporters who were eager to shake his hand, hug him and many of whom cried as their emotions came pouring out. Indeed, the Hispano Land Grant struggle remains an emotional one for most Hispano New Mexicans who are connected one way or another to the Land Grants. Pablo Martinez, a Land Grant activist from Taos County who is involved with the ongoing struggle in the Taos area, said he was with Tijerina during much of his recent tour and described the emotional nature of Tijerina’s visit.

In Tierra Amarilla, at the very same courthouse where 44 years ago the attempted citizen’s arrest took place, Martinez said he was with Tijerina and his entourage as the group entered the courthouse’s front doors.  “At first, it was sheer shock (among courthouse employees and citizens inside) and then once people realized who it was he was treated with respect and there was a camaraderie between the courthouse employees and Tijerina.” Martinez said Tijerina was greeted by several county officials at the courthouse, including Rio Arriba County Clerk Moises Morales, who ironically was also an Alianza member and part of the group who went to the same courthouse in 1967 for the citizen’s arrest.

Martinez said courthouse employees were soon joined by people from the village of Tierra Amarilla, who came to shake Tijerina’s hand, have their pictures taken with him and by old timers who simply wanted to chat with the man who more than 40 years ago lived in their community and inspired them to fight for their Land Grants. “There was a joyfullness about it; it was very inspiring,” Martinez said. He added that a local coffee shop owner came and gave everyone free refreshments as the visit took the atmosphere of a reunion of sorts.

Other communities Tijerina visited during his tour included Arroyo Hondo, just north of Taos, which has become the latest focal point in the Land Grants struggle. In Arroyo Hondo, about 300 locals showed up to listen to Tijerina speak and to meet the man who many consider a hero. Tijerina urged the people of Taos and Arroyo Hondo to be strong in their ongoing struggle to regain more than 40,000 acres of their Land Grants which were stolen from them over the years. Tijerina then visited the village of Amalia, near Costilla, before making a visit to San Luis, Colorado.

In San Luis, Tijerina and his entourage were again greeted by hundreds of locals at a community-wide potluck in the small Hispano town that is Colorado’s main Land Grant community. Shirley Romero-Otero, who lives in San Luis and is a leader in the Land Grant struggle in the San Luis Valley, hosted Tijerina and his group at her home. “He was so well received; this visit was full-circle for him,” she said.

Romero-Otero, who has been involved with the Land Grant struggle since the 1970s, called Tijerina a hero and said it was he who inspired her and so many other young Hispanos to get involved and work to regain the millions of acres of stolen Land Grant lands that rightfully belong to the Hispano people of New Mexico and southern Colorado. “He (Tijerina) was relaxed and focused,” she said, adding that his message to the people was to stay united in their struggle.

Romero-Otero also described Tijerina’s visit as emotional and said she personally witnessed dozens of people–including elderly men–cry as they thanked Reies Tijerina for giving the Hispano people the courage to stand up for their rights and for their Land Grants. “He woke up the people to the fact that their Land Grants were stolen from them and he gave us the courage, the hope and the knowledge to continue in the struggle to regain our lands,” she said.

And Romero-Otero knows that through hard work and perseverance, the struggle can pay off. In 2002, the Hispano Land Grant heirs of San Luis won a major victory before the Colorado Supreme Court, which ruled that the Land Grant heirs could have access to their 77,000-acre portion of the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant (north of the Colorado-New Mexico state line) for all traditional uses, including wood gathering, fishing, hunting and for taking their cattle for grazing, among other things. The title to the land, however, is still with the absentee Anglo land owner, although the Land Grant heirs are still challenging the title itself.

In New Mexico, Romero-Otero pointed out that the state Legislature has passed laws recognizing Land Grants as political entities, which means they have self-governance and can apply for state monies for economic and agricultural development purposes. New Mexico also has Legislative committees on the Land Grants, she said.

Romero-Otero said people throughout Tijerina’s visit (she accompanied him to Las Vegas and other communities) were inspired and excited by his visit and said a common message from the people to Tijerina was to thank him and also let him know that we will continue the struggle to regain our Land Grants. “His visit reaffirmed and validated all his work on behalf of the Land Grants; it was great to see the people thank him while he was still alive,” she said.

 

June 15, 2011

      (SFNM/Alb.Journ.)

The Track Fire burns in the Raton Pass Tuesday, June 14, in the photo on the left. The fire is now at about 25,000 acres and has destroyed several homes and cabins in both New Mexico and southern Colorado. The fire is just a few miles north of the town of Raton. In the photo on the right, the Albuquerque city skyline is smoky on a recent night from thick smoke coming from the Wallow Fire in Arizona.

NEW MEXICO’S FIRE SEASON GETS WORST WITH FIRES BURNING IN RATON PASS AND CARLSBAD CAVERNS; ARIZONA FIRE ALSO CONTINUES

ALBUQUERQUE– The 2011 fire season in New Mexico is proving to be a tough one for residents, firefighters and the land itself as several fires continue burning in several parts of the state as of this afternoon. In northeastern New Mexico, the Track Fire is burning in the rugged mountains and foothills of the Raton Pass, forcing the New Mexico State Police to close down Interstate 25 between the towns of Raton, N.M. and Trinidad, CO. The road closure is a major transportation problem for the area since I-25 is the major north-south highway linking southeastern Colorado and northeastern New Mexico. Traffic is being diverted along smaller state highways to the east of Raton and Trinidad, officials from both states have said.

The Track Fire, which has now burned about 25,000 acres, including 6,000 acres in Colorado, has also destroyed a dozen homes or cabins in the area and officials today said natural gas service to the town of Raton will be turned off this evening because a main valve located in the Raton Pass caught on fire Monday. Raton Natural Gas Co. officials said gas service to about 3,300 customers in Raton must be turned off for at least one or two days while crews replace the valve. The Track Fire was reported to be about 5% contained today. About 500 firefighters are battling the blaze and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez toured the Raton area Monday to assess the situation. “It’s alot of devastation. However, we’re very proud of our firefighters and how the communities have come together to help each other,” Martinez said during her visit. The governor also said state resources will be made available to help with the Track Fire and with the other fires still burning across New Mexico.

Those other fires include the 16,000 acre Loop Fire burning in southern New Mexico, near the Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The Loop Fire has forced the closure of the caverns, which are easily the state’s most popular tourist attraction in southern New Mexico. Firefighters are trying to keep the fire away from the caverns’ headquarters building and visitor’s center as the fire has come to within two miles of those structures, according to officials. The Loop Fire is about 25% contained as of this afternoon.

Meanwhile, the mammoth Wallow Fire in eastern Arizona continues burning nearly two weeks after it became the nation’s most publicized forest fire. The Wallow Fire, which has burned more than 400,000 acres in the Apache National Forest, is now Arizona’s largest forest fire in state history, although fire officials now say they have contained about 18% of the fire. The Wallow Fire crossed into New Mexico over the weekend but the fire has only burned a small amount of acreage in New Mexico. Still, a pre-evacuation order remains if effect for Catron County, N.M., since the fire still poses a risk to several ranches and the small community of Luna, just a few miles inside New Mexico. Gov. Susana Martinez also visited the area last week.

In Albuquerque, city officials Tuesday lifted the air quality alert for the metro area, as smoke from the Wallow Fire has subsided or been shifted by changing wind patterns. During the first week of June, when the Wallow Fire was sending considerable amounts of smoke straight into the mid-Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico, the smoke was thick in the city of Albuquerque and those with respiratory problems were advised to remain indoors. As of this afternoon, the skies above Albuquerque were once again blue and smoke was hardly noticeable. Because of the severe fire conditions across the state, many local communities have banned fireworks for the upcoming Fourth of July holidays, including in Bernalillo County and the Rio Grande bosque in the city of Albuquerque. Despite all the fires, there have been no reports of serious injuries or fatalities in New Mexico. And the Osha Fire near Sipapu Ski Area in Taos County has been put out, according to fire officials.

 

June 3, 2011

   The Taos News

Forest Fires Strike New Mexico: Several forest fires are burning across the state and near the state line in eastern Arizona this evening with thick smoke causing health concerns in the Albuquerque metro area, prompting public health alerts. In the pictures above, the Osha Fire in southern Taos County has been burning since Wednesday, prompting some evacuations near the village of Vadito and the Sipapu Ski Area.

FOREST FIRES RAGE OUT OF CONTROL IN ARIZ. AND NEW MEXICO AS THICK SMOKE CAUSES PUBLIC HEALTH ALERTS IN THE ALBUQUERQUE METRO AREA

ALBUQUERQUE– The city of Albuquerque and much of the Mid-Rio Grande Valley area from Socorro to Santa Fe and Espanola are under air quality and public health alerts this weekend due to thick smoke coming from the 100,000 acre Wallow Fire burning in eastern Arizona, just a few miles west of the New Mexico state line, a spokesman for the Forest Service said late this afternoon.

In Albuquerque, the city’s Health Department issued an “Air Quality Alert” effective from today until Monday, meaning that air quality in the metro area is poor and could cause health problems for people with respiratory problems such as asthma, the elderly, young children and those with heart conditions. In addition, New Mexico Health Secretary Dr. Catherine Torres issued a separate, but nearly identical alert, advising those with health issues to remain indoors when smoke and haze becomes thick and urging people not to use their swamp coolers and to limit outdoor activities. The City of Albuquerque also said their air quality tests from last night indicated smoke particulates were 20 times their normal levels.

The smoke causing these air quality alerts is coming from the 100,000 acre Wallow Fire, which as of 5 p.m. this afternoon remained out of control and had 0% containment, said Dan Bastion, a public information officer for the U.S. Forest Service in Alpine, AZ. The town of Alpine and a few surrounding small communities have been evacuated of all residents, Bastion said. He said the Forest Service is running its fire operations center for the Wallow Fire from Alpine.

Meanwhile, strong winds blowing from the south/southwest are bringing the smoke from the Wallow Fire straight into the Mid-Rio Grande Valley area of New Mexico, where it settled last night and is expected to do so again tonight and through the weekend, according to Albuquerque television weather reports. Today, KOB-TV weather reports indicated that winds in the Albuquerque Metro area were at about 30 miles per hour, with the afternoon high of 91 degrees. The high winds and low humidity in both Arizona and New Mexico are feeding the fires and producing the smoke.

In northern New Mexico, a separate and smaller fire is burning mountainous terrain in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in southern Taos County. That fire, called the Osha Fire, had consumed about 650 acres since it began Wednesday and is about 7% contained, said Donna Storch, public information officer of the Osha Fire. The Osha Fire is burning mostly on Carson National Forest land, several miles east of the village of Vadito and a few miles west of the Sipapu Ski Area, Storch said. Last night several residents of the area were evacuated and as of today about 35 homes were still being threatened, she said. However, the Osha Fire is expected to be put out by June 15, the Forest Service is estimating.

Still, the main highway between Taos and Mora, NM 518, remains closed as of today. The New Mexico State Police have set up manned checkpoints near Vadito and again at the Taos-Mora County line and are not allowing traffic to pass through, except for area residents. Storch said she did not know how long the highway will be closed. NM 518 is the only highway linking Taos and Mora directly, through the high country of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

And the 85,000 acre Miller Fire north of Silver City is also still burning, although that fire is reported to be about 95% contained. The Wallow Fire in Arizona is mostly burning in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and about 900 personnel are fighting that fire. The Osha Fire in Taos County now has about 400 firefighters battling the fire. New Mexico remains in a high-drought condition and the forests are very dry, after a winter and spring with little snow or rain. Extreme caution is being urged for anyone traveling or camping in or near the forests and mountains, officials have said.

 

May 7, 2011

  

New Mexico Chile: The state’s most iconic crop faces many hurdles but remains the most popular food item to many New Mexicans. Pictured are mature green chiles, chile fields near Hatch, N.M., and some chopped chile ready to be eaten.

NEW MEXICO’S CHILE INDUSTRY FIGHTS TO SURVIVE AGAINST VARIOUS HURDLES BOTH MAN-MADE AND ACTS OF NATURE

LAS CRUCES– The state of New Mexico’s most popular crop remains a favorite food item of most New Mexicans even as the crop, chile growers and the industry fight to keep it going against hurdles both man-made and acts of nature. The signs of the industry’s difficulties can most easily be seen in the declining acreage now being devoted to growing New Mexico green and red chile: last year, industry officials say less than 9,000 acres were planted and harvested with chile, down from a high of 35,000 acres in 1992.

Most of New Mexico’s chile crop is grown in the southern part of the state, especially in the somewhat fertile Rio Grande Valley in the area of Hatch and Las Cruces. Other areas of the state where chile is grown include Deming, Portales and in northern areas including Chimayo and the Espanola area. However, most of the state’s commercial chile crop is what is grown primarily in the southern area around Hatch, Las Cruces, Deming and Portales, said Jaye Hawkins, executive director of the New Mexico Chile Association, an industry group headquartered in Las Cruces and dedicated to the chile industry’s survival.

In the northern part of the state, such as Chimayo, chile farmers are primarily small family growers who sell their products at local farmer’s markets. The larger chile farmers, who are also mostly family enterprises, make up the bulk of New Mexico’s commercial chile industry. All told, the state’s chile industry generates an estimated $350 million for the state, Hawkins said. The industry includes about 2,000 full time jobs and another 10,000 part-time job, she said.

With all this economic benefit to the state, it becomes clear why the survival of New Mexico’s number one crop is so important. In addition, chile is a state cultural tradition and is popular among most Hispanos in addition to Anglos and Native Americans. It has been grown in New Mexico for centuries. Part of the reason New Mexico chile is unique is that it is its own “type” of chile, known simply as the New Mexico-type green chile, found only in New Mexico. The chiles are longer and get their unique flavor and hotness from the state’s abundant sunshine, high dry climate and even the water of the Rio Grande and its tributaries which flow from the state’s mountain ranges, Hawkins said. In addition, some farmers even believe the soil of the state gives New Mexico chile its unique flavor.

But there are several hurdles the state’s chile industry faces as it struggles to survive, Hawkins said. Among these are some 20 different diseases chiles are susceptible to, including some caused by the state’s summertime monsoons. Researchers at New Mexico State University are working on finding ”cures” for these diseases which can cause significant havoc on a farmer’s chile crop. And then there is the problem of water and drought. Because New Mexico is part of the southwest, water is always in short supply. Sometimes, the Rio Grande, which flows out of the high mountain country of southern Colorado, is dry by the time it even reaches the Hatch Valley.

This is because of so many demands placed on the Rio Grande by farmers and ranchers in northern and central New Mexico, in addition to water compacts New Mexico has with neighboring states Colorado and Texas, which take a significant amount of the Rio Grande’s water before it gets to the chile farmers of Hatch and Las Cruces.  Other problems for New Mexico’s chile industry includes competetion from foreign countries including Mexico, Peru and China, where labor is much cheaper than it is in the U.S.

Hawkins said that NMSU’s engineering school is working on creating an automated mechanical harvester to allow New Mexico chile farmers to stay competetive with the cheaper labor issues of foreign countries, but such an automated harvester is yet to be perfected for practical use. The state of New Mexico, through the state’s Department of Agriculture and NMSU, work in collaboration with chile growers and industry groups such as the New Mexico Chile Association to help find ways to alleviate the problems being faced by in-state chile farmers, Hawkins said.

This includes appropriations from the state Legislature and research and development efforts. And during the recent 2011 Legislative session, state lawmakers passed the New Mexico Chile Advertising Act, which makes it illegal to falsely claim a chile product is from New Mexico if it really is not. This law was enacted and signed by Gov. Susana Martinez because some foreign competitors have been claiming their chile was grown in New Mexico when it actually wasn’t, Hawkins said. Inspectors from the state Dept. of Agriculture will be empowered to enforce the new law, which will include inspectors being able to inspect chile products being sold and labeled as grown in New Mexico and verifying such claims.

The state and the chile industry hope passage of the new law will at least cut back on imposter chile being sold in New Mexico to the detriment of actual in-state chile growers. For now, Hawkins said the chile industry in New Mexico remains in a state of decline even as efforts continue to help it survive. New Mexico chile remains in high demand among the state’s consumers and even from many out-of-state consumers, so the industry knows they have a very marketable product. The only problem is how to overcome the various hurdles the chile faces.

“Idaho has its potatoes, Georgia has its peaches and New Mexico has its chile,” Hawkins said, adding that while chile growing remains an uphill battle, it is one the industry is willing to wage. And one that New Mexico chile lovers are willing to support, after all, the chile is New Mexico’s state vegetable and the state question is of course, ‘green or red?’.

April 20, 2011

   

The Holy Week pilgrimage to El Santuario de Chimayo: (L-R) In one Hispano New Mexico’s most beautiful and cherished traditions, thousands of the faithful will be making a personal journey of faith to El Santuario; pilgrims walk along the highways leading to Chimayo before finally arriving at El Santuario.

ANNUAL HOLY WEEK PILGRIMAGE TO EL SANTUARIO DE CHIMAYO BEGINS; AS FAITHFUL MAKE THEIR WALK, SHERIFF ADVISES CAUTION

SANTA FE COUNTY– As the annual Holy Week pilgrimage to El Santuario de Chimayo begins this week, an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 of the faithful are expected to make the walk along several highways that lead into the village of Chimayo and to the beloved and revered church known to Hispano New Mexicans and others as ‘El Santuario’. The annual pilgrimage to El Santuario is one of the most beautiful traditions in Hispano New Mexico and for many of the faithful it is a walk and journey of faith that each individual should try to make at least once in their lifetime.

The pilgrims, or pedegrinos, come from all over New Mexico, from the villages, towns and cities to keep their promises or promesas they have made to God for His help with their problems, health, families and whatever other reasons they have to make this most personal journey of faith. The pilgrimage to El Santuario is an old tradition among Catholic Hispanos in northern New Mexico and it is believed to have started in the 1800s.  The origins of El Santuario, the name of the simple adobe church in the center of the village of Chimayo, go back to 1810 when an Hispano farmer found the crucifix of Nuestro Senor de Esquipulas (Our Lord of Esquipulas) on the site of what is now the church.

From the beginning, El Santuario’s Holy Dirt or Tierra Santa, has been known to have healing properties and inside El Santuario is a small hole in the ground called by the faithful el posito, where the Holy Dirt is located and from where the faithful can take some of the Holy Dirt home with them. The annual Holy Week pilgrimage itself became more of a tradition after World War II, when Hispano soldiers returned home to New Mexico from Prisoner of War camps in Bataan and from other theaters of the war. Many of the young Hispano soldiers made promises to God and to the Santo Nino that if God would bring them home to New Mexico to be with their families again they would make the pilgrimage to El Santuario de Chimayo to express their thanks to God and show their faith.

From those humble beginnings, the pilgrimage to El Santuario has grown into New Mexico’s biggest spiritual journey of faith. Although it is essentially a Catholic Hispano tradition, today people of other Christian faiths and even others make the pilgrimage because of the very spiritual and Holy nature of the journey. The church itself has a spirituality and Holy presence that is hard to describe other than to say you know God is present.

Inside El Santuario are countless sets of crutches, baby shoes, even some wheelchairs which have been left behind by the faithful who have been cured of various illnesses, diseases and disabilities. It is truly a remarkable and special place which Hispano New Mexicans cherish and consider perhaps the Holiest site in all New Mexico.

Because so many thousands of the faithful embark on their walk from different parts of the state, local police, including the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department, urge caution to both pilgrims making the walk and motorists who will be driving along the same highways taken by the pilgrims. Capt. Ken Johnson of the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department, along with Santa Fe County Sheriff Robert Garcia, advise pilgrims to wear bright clothing or reflective tape or vests, stay off the roadway and on the shoulder of the road. Also, wear comfortable shoes and clothes and bring some water.

For motorists, the sheriff advises drivers to slow down and be aware and respectful of the pilgrims making the walk. Extra police patrols will also be present along the most popular routes taken by the pilgrims to help ensure safety. A DWI checkpoint is also planned along part of the route, but the precise location is not being revealed.

The most popular routes taken by the pilgrims is NM 503, the highway from Nambe to Chimayo and State Road 76, the narrow highway from Espanola to Chimayo. Many pilgrims, however, begin their walk from farther away. Those making the walk from Albuquerque will walk along I-25 between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Some come from the east, from the direction of Las Vegas, N.M. and the Pecos area and will be walking along I-40 between Las Vegas and Santa Fe. Both these groups will then walk through the city of Santa Fe and then walk north along U.S. 84/285, which is the main highway from Santa Fe to Espanola. Other pilgrims will come from the north, some starting in the villages of Costilla and Questa, meaning they will walk along NM 528, the highway from Costilla (near the Colorado border) which goes through Questa and Taos all the way to Espanola.

And others will come from the west, some from as far away as Grants or Los Alamos and mountain villages around the Tierra Amarilla area. It is common during these next few days–until Easter Sunday–to see pilgrims walking along many different highways and even a few dirt roads in central and northern New Mexico, making their way to El Santuario. Good Friday, the day Christians worldwide remember the crucifixion of Jesus Christ Our Savior, is traditionally the busiest day of the Holy Week pilgrimage and thousands of the faithful will be walking along the many roads leading to Chimayo. Many are carrying crosses and all are determined to reach El Santuario de Chimayo. As Capt. Johnson of the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department said, “Enjoy the event and be safe.”

 

April 15, 2011

   (photos courtesy Pat Montoya Family Orchards)

Fruit orchards in Rio Arriba County: (clockwise from top left) The freeze this winter was one the harshest for fruit growers in decades; what the orchards normally look like in bloom in the springtime; apple products at farmers market from the Pat Montoya Family Orchard in Velarde.

HARSH WINTER FREEZE GIVES CONCERN TO FRUIT FARMERS IN RIO ARRIBA COUNTY; MUCH OF FRUIT HARVEST STILL EXPECTED TO SURVIVE

VELARDE– This time of year, the family-owned fruit orchards in northern New Mexico’s Rio Arriba County are normally blooming as the weather slowly transitions from the winter cold to the warmer spring conditions. However, after the harsh winter freeze that hit much of New Mexico in early February, many of the fruit growers in the upper Rio Grande area around Velarde and Embudo are noticing the effects of the unusually cold weather on their orchards.

Family fruit farmers–which include many Hispanos–such as Pat Montoya of Velarde, are concerned about this year’s fruit harvest. Montoya, whose family has grown award-winning apples, peaches, pears, cherries and more on their 12-acre farm for the past 60 years, is among the family fruit farmers who have noticed a slow bloom in their orchards and are hoping for the best this year. For the apricots, Montoya said he thinks the freeze may have been too much as those trees have not bloomed at all. For other fruits he grows–including the cherries and pears–Montoya said the outlook is not as bad and those trees appear to be doing o.k.

As for the apples, which are the bread and butter of Rio Arriba County’s fruit growing industry, Montoya said the trees should be blossoming from now until about the end of April and he is hopeful the apples will survive. “It’s hard to tell right now to what extent the freeze hurt us,” Montoya said, adding that while many of his trees are blossoming, others have brown flowers, a sign of trouble for his prized orchards.

Montoya, who took over the family farm from his dad, Pat Montoya, Sr., more than 30 years ago, said the cherry, peach and pear trees are the most vulnerable to freezing conditions while the apple trees are more hardy and thus most likely to survive. Montoya said this winter’s freeze, which at its worst hit the Velarde area for about three days, did not damage his trees, which is the most important thing. But still, cold temperatures such as those below zero experienced in northern New Mexico this winter, can certainly cause damage to some of the fruit harvest, which Montoya and other local fruit farmers are starting to notice.

But Montoya said he will not know for sure until after May 15th what this year’s fruit harvest will be like since the area could still have a late season freeze until that date. For now, Montoya and the other fruit farmers in the area are hopeful. And so are the many New Mexicans who enjoy the tasty fruits grown in Rio Arriba County and sold at area farmer’s markets.

Rio Arriba County–in particular the Rio Grande Valley area which begins north of Espanola and meanders through several Hispano villages such as Alcalde, Hernandez, Velarde, Embudo and Dixon–has become famous both in New Mexico and outside the state for its bountiful, fresh and prize winning fruits. Along N.M. 528, the main highway between Espanola and Taos, several of the family-owned fruit farms have roadside stands where the local apples, peaches, cherries and even chile are sold during the summer and fall.

Montoya said the local family orchards–including his–also sell much of their product at several farmer’s markets in the area including the ones in Santa Fe, Taos and Los Alamos. In addition to selling the whole fruits, Montoya and his family also make jellies and jams from their peaches, cherries, blackberries, chokecherries and raspberries and are the only certified apple cider makers in the area. They also make apple cider slushies and sno cones, which they sell at the farmer’s markets and grow several varieties of apples, including Double Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Rome, and Gala to name a few.

The local family-owned fruit orchards in the Velarde area are an Hispano New Mexico tradition, dating to the earliest days of Spanish settlement in the state and Pat Montoya is but one of many Hispano fruit farmers who keep this wonderful and tasty tradition alive for all of us to enjoy. There are several family-owned fruit orchards in Rio Arriba County and in other counties around New Mexico and for more information call or visit the websites of the New Mexico state Extension Service or the state Department of Agriculture.

 

April 10, 2011

   

New Mexico’s Land Grants: (l-r) This photo from 1940 is of the Arroyo Hondo area of Taos County; an Hispano family from northern New Mexico gathers for this photo in the 1950s on their land.

GOV. MARTINEZ VETOES BILL THAT WAS AIMED AT LAND GRANT HEIRS IN TAOS COUNTY AS HISPANOS CONTINUE THEIR STRUGGLE FOR JUSTICE AND THEIR LAND

SANTA FE– New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has vetoed a bill that was aimed at stopping heirs and members of the Arroyo Hondo and Cristobal de la Serna Land Grants in Taos County from filing warranty deeds for their land grants. The bill that Martinez vetoed, HB 653, was introduced by state Rep. Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales (D-Taos) in response to the filing of two warranty deeds by the Arroyo Hondo and Cristobal de la Serna Land Grants late last year. The bill, which was called the “Remedies for Real Property False Documents” would have made it a crime to file “false” warranty deeds, even though many of the Hispano Land Grants were stolen from the Hispano people by the use of these very same kinds of warranty deeds many years ago.

Rep. Gonzales, whom many Hispanos in Taos County believe was acting on behalf of the Taos County Board of Realtors and other business interests in Taos County when he abruptly introduced the bill during the recent Legislative session, is also owner of several commercial properties in and around the community of Taos. Many Hispanos have expressed their disapproval of Gonzales’ introduction of the failed bill and are expected to oppose him if he seeks reelection next year.

In her executive message, Gov. Martinez said she was vetoing the bill because laws already exist to deal with the issue of warranty deeds such as those filed in Taos County. She also urged all parties involved to try and straighten out the situation in Taos County so as to not divide the community. Martinez did not directly mention the Land Grant issue but she seemed aware and concerned with the seriousness of the ongoing Land Grant disputes in Taos County and in other New Mexico communities.

Meanwhile, Taos Mayor Darren Cordova, bowing to pressure from the Realtors and other business interests, announced he has hired (with taxpayers money) longtime Taos attorney Elieu Romero to file a motion against the Arroyo Hondo and Cristobal de la Serna Land Grants in Taos District Court. Romero, who is 84, has been involved in real estate matters in Taos County for decades and he and Mayor Cordova are hoping for a “declaratory judgement” against the two Land Grants. The Taos County Board of Realtors and other business interests have put pressure on Cordova and Rep. Gonzales to oppose their fellow Hispanos because their businesses have been disrupted as a result of the warranty deed filings.

The president of the Taos County Board of Realtors, John Kejr, went so far as to accuse the Hispano Land Grants of “economic terrorism,” a statement which has angered many Hispanos who consider this type of ignorant rhetoric typical of newcomers to New Mexico who do not know anything about the Land Grants or who simply don’t care about the Hispano Land Grants and the Hispano people’s struggle for justice and the return of the Land Grants. In addition, many Hispanos and non-Hispanos consider Kejr’s statements to be counter-productive to the community and insensitive to the Hispano people’s struggle for their Land Grants. HispanoNewMexico.com editor-in-chief Anthony M. Martinez, in a letter published in the Taos News March 31, also criticized Kejr’s statements and said the only economic terrorism in Taos County has been with the greed exhibited by the Realtors in over-inflating the real estate prices in Taos, which has hurt the working Hispano families of the area.

As the Land Grant issue flares up in Taos County, other voices from across New Mexico are calling for dialogue and for constructive efforts aimed at resolving the issue of the state’s Hispano Land Grants. Albuquerque attorney Pete Domenici Jr., who has worked with Land Grant issues over the years, met with Mayor Cordova and Taos County Manager Jacob Caldwell and urged Taos officials to work with the heirs and members of the Arroyo Hondo and Cristobal de la Serna Land Grants to help the Land Grants “achieve their long- term goals.” Domenici urged Taos officials to provide resources to the Land Grants in their quest for a resolution.

The Cristobal de la Serna Land Grant Board has said one of its long-term goals is to preserve approximately 7,000 acres of their Land Grant land which abuts the Picuris Peak area just southeast of Ranchos de Taos for traditional communal uses and to never allow development on the land or for the land to be sold. The Arroyo Hondo Land Grant board also has similar desires to preserve land on their Land Grant for the communal use of all heirs and members.

Still, the matter of the Land Grants remains a mostly federal issue and the offices of New Mexico’s congressional delegation have reported numerous calls from concerned citizens from Taos County and across New Mexico regarding the Spanish and Mexican Land Grants and the current dispute in Taos County. Many Hispanos (and non-Hispanos) have urged Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall and Reps. Ben Ray Lujan and Martin Heinrich, all Democrats, to help the Hispano people of New Mexico in our struggle for our Land Grants and for a fair resolution and settlement.

So far, however, none of the state’s congressional delegation has come forward with a bill or other concrete ideas on how to resolve and settle the Land Grant issue. Most historians, Land Grant scholars and the Land Grant heirs, members and boards all agree that the U.S. Congress will have to help resolve and settle the Hispano Land Grants of New Mexico in order for the issue to be settled once and for all.

April 4, 2011

      

The City of Albuquerque will hold its annual Founder’s Day Fiesta in Old Town this Saturday (April 9), celebrating the 305th anniversary of the founding of La Villa de San Felipe de Alburquerque. In the above photos (l-r) are: an equestrian statue of Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdez, founder of Albuquerque; the Old Town Plaza, with the gazebo and the San Felipe Catholic Church pictured; and some local flowers, called Barras de San Jose, which are common in Hispano New Mexico.

FOUNDER’S DAY FIESTA TO BE HELD THIS WEEKEND IN ALBUQUERQUE’S OLD TOWN; VILLA DE SAN FELIPE DE ALBURQUERQUE NOW 305 YEARS OLD

ALBUQUERQUE– It has been 305 years since Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdez and more than 30 Spanish families founded what is now New Mexico’s largest city, then known as La Villa de San Felipe de Alburquerque. This Saturday in Old Town, the city will honor the founding families of Albuquerque and their descendants with the annual Founder’s Day Fiesta, a celebration which includes many musical acts and other family-friendly events.

La Villa de San Felipe de Alburquerque, founded in 1706, has become New Mexico’s economic and social hub and the rich Spanish and Hispano history of both the city of Albuquerque and the state of New Mexico will be honored at the Founder’s Day Fiesta, which is held in the Old Town Plaza, across from San Felipe Catholic Church. Most of this year’s musical acts, which include many Hispano musicians, will perform in the gazebo in the center of the historic plaza.

Among the musicians featured at this year’s Founder’s Day Fiesta will be Steve Chavez, Los Primos and Mariachis San Jose, among many others. There will also be the popular fiesta parade, which features actual Hispano descendants of the Spanish founding families of Albuquerque, dressed in period clothing from 1706, carrying large banners with the names and family crests of the various founding families of the city.

There will also be a Children’s area, featuring face painting and games and of course, there will be a variety of food available for the public. The Founder’s Day Fiesta has become a popular annual event, attracting thousands of locals to the plaza for a day of celebration of the Spanish founders and the Hispano heritage and culture of Albuquerque and New Mexico. The event is free to the public and is always a fun way to commemorate the Spanish/Hispano culture of our city and state.

The fiesta will also include the singing of the mananitas for Albuquerque’s birthday, reading of proclamations and local singer Jacobo Martinez will sing “America the Beautiful.” There will also be dancers, including the Ballet Folkorico, and a celebration of the many eras of Albuquerue’s history, from the Native American, Spanish, Mexican, Territorial and Statehood Eras. The Founder’s Day Fiesta will run from Noon until 5:30 p.m. and the parade is at 3 p.m. For more information, call the city of Albuquerque or visit the city’s website.

 

March 15, 2011

        

The Merceds (Land Grants) of New Mexico: (l-r), an original Spanish Land Grant document from the NM State Records Office; irrigated fields on Merced land in Taos County in the 1920s; the Sangre de Cristo Mountains outside of Taos, where much of the land grants are situated.

TWO MERCEDS (LAND GRANTS) IN TAOS COUNTY FILE CLAIM TO THEIR LANDS; AREA REAL ESTATE BUSINESSES UPSET

TAOS COUNTY– Recent filings of warranty deeds by two separate merceds (land grants) in Taos County has brought the issue of the Spanish Land Grants in New Mexico back to the forefront in one of the state’s oldest Hispano communities. The two merceds–the Merced de Arroyo Hondo and the Merced de Cristobal de la Serna–each filed warranty deeds with the Taos County Assessor’s Office recently, reasserting their legal claims to their respective lands.

The Merced de Arroyo Hondo’s warranty deed was filed in October 2010 by Manuel Ortiz Jr., an heir and member of the Merced de Arroyo Hondo. The deed filed by Ortiz is for the 20,000 acres of land belonging to the Merced de Arroyo Hondo, located about 10 miles north of the town of Taos. The Merced de Cristobal de la Serna is for about 22,000 acres belonging to the Merced de Cristobal de la Serna and located within the Town of Taos limits and extending southeasterly into the Sangre de Mountains all the way to Picuris Peak. Robert O. Gonzales, an heir and member of the Merced de Cristobal de la Serna, filed the warranty deed on behalf of his land grant group in December 2010, according to records from Taos County and published reports.

Both filings have caused concern among businesses in the booming Taos area real estate market, where the price of land and homes have been inflated for more than 20 years. Because of the filings, the title to more than 7,000 properties within the land grant boundaries have been called into question and banks and mortgage companies have frozen loans for the time being. In addition, local realtors are concerned about deals they have been working on.

The Merced de Arroyo Hondo and the Merced de Cristobal de la Serna each represent hundreds–and possibly thousands–of descendants of the original Hispano settlers and founders of several communities, including Taos, in the area. Both land grants were given to the Hispano families who settled and farmed such communities as Arroyo Hondo, Taos, Ranchos de Taos, Arroyo Seco, and Llano Quemado by the King of Spain. The Merced de Cristobal de la Serna was given to the Hispano people of Taos in 1710 and the Merced de Arroyo Hondo was issued to Hispano families in 1815.

Over the years, land belonging to both land grants has been swindled away from the Hispano people by greedy land speculators, real estate agents and through other fraudalent means. In addition, because of the inflated state of the Taos area real estate market, most Hispano families in the area–including the heirs of the two land grants–have been priced out of the local market for years, a situation which has caused concern among the Hispano people but which wealthy out-of-staters and real estate agents seem to be unwilling to address.

In the case of the Merced de Cristobal de la Serna, much of the land belonging to the land grant was stolen by Alexander Gusdorf, who came to Taos in the late 1800s and who simply wrote warranty deeds to himself for thousands of acres which rightfully belonged to the land grant heirs. Gusdorf, like Thomas Catron and other members of the notorious Santa Fe Ring of the 1800s, took advantage of the fact that most Hispanos at the time could not speak English (much less read or write it) and stole much of the land from the Hispano people without them even knowing it. This land fraud committed by Gusdorf is directly related to the current warranty deed filings by the Merced de Cristobal de la Serna.

Today, Gusdorf’s heirs, including members of the Weimer and Cunningham families of Taos, hold claim to more than 6,500 acres of undeveloped land within the land grant’s southeastern boundary, which includes the merced land which goes into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and up to Picuris Peak. The Weimer family was given a quiet title to the property in 1984 by former state district judge Joseph Caldwell, who ruled erroneously that the Merced de Cristobal de la Serna was private and not commonly owned. The Merced de Cristobal de la Serna–like all Spanish land grants–was in fact commonly owned by all the heirs and members of the land grant.

Caldwell’s decision has been widely criticized ever since and has helped cause considerable problems for the Taos area. Specifically, it allowed the Weimer family to claim ownership of the land grant property which their great grandfather Alexander Gusdorf stole from the Merced de Cristobal de la Serna and its heirs. Several years ago, the Weimer family tried to develop the property into more than 300 luxury homesites but the Taos County Commission rejected their proposed development.

At the time, Hispano land grant heirs of the Merced de Cristobal de la Serna–who have never abandoned their rightful claims to the land–prevented workers hired by the Weimers from drilling on the land for water testing. The Weimers sued and the Hispano land grant heirs were fined more than $90,000 by former state district judge Peggy Nelson for contempt of court after they refused to back down. Nelson’s excessive fine has also been widely criticized by Hispanos and others in Taos County and beyond. Both Caldwell and Nelson’s controversial rulings have only served to make the situation worse as many Hispanos have felt the judges were not recognizing the legitimacy of the Merced de Cristobal de la Serna, which is a legally binding land title under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and United States law. Many Hispanos also consider the whole affair as further examples of possibly racist attitudes by some Anglos towards the Hispano land grant heirs.

After the Taos County Commission refused to allow the Weimers to develop the land grant land, the Weimers made a deal throught the Taos Land Trust–a private organization–by which they were paid for the land which was then converted to the ownership of the U.S. Forest Service. This deal is seen as illegal by many Hispanos since the Weimers never had rightful title or ownership of the land.

Most realtors and others involved in the “land business” in Taos are Anglos and either do not understand or do not care about the land grants and their heirs. Making matters worse, the only newspaper in Taos–The Taos News–has always been biased against the Hispano land grants and heirs in the area and their recent coverage of the current situation has beared that bias out.

Still, the land grant heirs are determined to keep fighting for their legitimate and lawful claims to their lands, which were guaranteed by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in which the U.S. government promised to protect the land holdings–including the land grants–of the Hispano people. For now the situation appears headed to court as Hispanos in Taos and across New Mexico continue to assert their rightful land grant claims and hope for justice some day.

 

 

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