Reies Lopez Tijerina, (1926 - ), born in Laredo, Texas, was an Episcopalian
preacher and US chicano land-rights activist in New Mexico in the 1960s.
Tijerina helped form the Alianza Federal de Mercedes or the Federal
Alliance of Land Grants, a group which sought to force the United States
government to respect the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in which the
US was required to respect the property rights granted to
Mexicans by the
Mexican government. The federal government at the time was acquiring large
tracts of land to form National Forests, which made it difficult for smaller
cattle operations to graze on the land. This forced many of these operations,
predominantly poor and Hispanic, into bankruptcy. While much of the land
acquired by the government had been sold or lost to (often less-than-ethical)
banks long before the 1960s, the Alianza wanted these federal lands returned
to private, Hispanic ownership, claiming that many of the heirs to the
land had not received fair compensation from land sales and foreclosures.
The Alianza was active and militant in New Mexico throughout the
mid-1960s, and staged several protests, including one in 1966 when they held
National Park rangers hostage for several days. Several white ranchers also
had their properties vandalized or burned in northern New Mexico. On
June 5, 1967, Tijerina and a group of supporters stormed the courthouse in
Tierra Amarilla in Rio Arriba County in response to court summons which
they believed were deliberately interfering with their right to hold a rally
on the same day (which was likely true). They planned to "arrest" DA
Alfonso Sanchez for issuing the summons, but events got out of hand, and a
jailer and a state police officer were shot and wounded and a judge and
news reporter were taken hostage. Eventually Tijerina and the others
escaped, resulting in the calling out of the New Mexico National Guard.
Tijerina was caught in Albuquerque and charged with attempted murder and
kidnapping in connection with the Tierra Amarilla raid, but was acquitted
in the jury trial. However, the federal government obtained a conviction
on federal charges related to the 1966 incident, and Tijerina spent several
years in federal prison. Sanchez, the Tierra Amarilla jailer, and a police
informant were later beaten to death, and the murderers were never found.
Tijerina largely dropped from the public eye after leaving prison, and now lives in Mexico. The University of New Mexico library established a historical archive a few years ago, and in 2001 he visited Albuquerque to view the archives and give a few interviews.
Weekly Alibi, June 13, 1997 (available electronically at http://www.weeklywire.com/ww/06-13-97/alibi_feat1.html)