A riot, revolt or revolution never remains complete without a rebel(s) to fuel the situation. These controversial leaders usually maintained an unsavory reputation as “troublemakers” at the time of their escapades. In time, northern New Mexico and southern Colorado history sometimes changes this viewpoint, honoring the leader through public memorialization. The reason for the rebellion, date(s) and leaders’ personalities may differ, but the outcomes and viewpoints of the events remain more positive over time.
Pueblo Revolt of 1680
Native American Popé (also spelled P-O-P-A-Y) of San Juan Pueblo led the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. He perceived the Spaniards as abusers of citizen labor in New Mexico pueblos and enforcers of the Spanish way of life (forcing the Catholic religion vs. Pueblo religion, taking crops and other valuables, cruel and unusual punishment, etc.). He organized Pueblo leaders to end Spanish rule and return to a former way of life. According to the plan, organizers were slated to kill the priest at each pueblo and converge on the capital in Santa Fe to cut off the water supply and capture government leaders. In the end, Governor Otermin abandoned his post and retreated to Mexico. Lieutenant Governor Alonso Garcia left to El Paso del Norte. Twenty-one Franciscan priests and 400 colonists died. By 1692, with the revolt complete, the only signs that remained of the Spaniards were iron, tools, sheep, cattle and fruit trees. Today, a statue of Popé represents the state of New Mexico at Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Padre Antonio José Martinez, born January 17, 1793, wed Maria de la Luz. When she died in childbirth, he decided to study for the priesthood. The padre greatly assisted his people as a parish priest, attorney, legislator, rancher, farmer and community leader. As an educator, he founded the first co-educational school because he realized the necessity for women to possess an education. As a publisher, he owned the first printing press west of the Mississippi and produced the newspaper El Crepusculo de la Libertad (The Dawn of Liberty) and a textbook. The paper included his opinions, some of them unpopular. As a critic of Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy, Martinez criticized the Archbishop about his enforcement of tithes on people who couldn’t afford them. Some people mistrusted the priest, suspecting him of sharing critical information with “the enemy.” Lamy threatened to excommunicate the priest, who left his parish but continued to practice his religion with those who wished to participate. Today, a bronze statue of Padre Martinez exists on Taos Plaza.
Alianza Federal de Mercedez
In the early 1960s, Reies Lopez-Tijerina claimed that the U.S. government violated provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo that ended the U.S. war with Mexico. In New Mexico, he founded the Land Grant Movement (Alianza Federal de Mercedez) in 1962. Tijerina advocated the return of certain lands to the people, heirs of the original owners. The Alianza stated that the U.S. government, through individuals and the Forest Service, occupied lands involved in the Treaty. Tijerina spoke at gatherings, but his best-known act of defiance occurred in 1967, at the Tierra Amarilla Courthouse when followers attempted a citizens’ arrest on an attorney. A gunfight occurred, including the firing of 20 shots and wounding two people. Lieutenant Governor Lee Francis activated the National Guard with the orders, “Shoot to Kill.” Eventually, the raid ended with the surrender of Alianza members. In early 1970, Reies Lopez-Tijerina received a prison sentence for leading the raid. Shortly before his January 14, 2015, death in El Paso at age 88, the activist received public recognition for this work at the University of New Mexico campus in Albuquerque.
Crusade for Justice
Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales was born June 18, 1928. A well-known boxer, poet and political activist from Denver, Colorado, he was concerned about police brutality, especially against people of Mexican descent. He became disenchanted with unsuccessful efforts to organize change within the Democratic Party and eventually led the Colorado branch of La Raza Unida party. Gonzales served as the Director of the War on Poverty Office and founded the Crusade for Justice. He fought for Chicano (Mexican-American) unity, led protests, fought against racism and the politics of poverty. Gonzales lobbied for housing and educational opportunities. The activist founded the first Chicano Youth Conference in 1969 and Escuela Tlatelolco. The advocate of self-determination and community control over all aspects of Chicano life spoke through schools, art galleries, credit bureaus, the newspaper El Gallo and his epic poem “I Am Joaquin.” Gonzales was arrested because of his efforts. The Crusade disbanded because of fear created by rumors of continued government targeting following a raid on the group’s headquarters. “Corky” Gonzales died April 12, 2005. The city of Denver named a public library in his honor.
The Hippie Wars
Lee Bentley discussed the Hippie Wars in Arroyo Seco (Taos County) in the 1970s. “There was a lot of violence then,” he said. Residents described as “thuggish guys” roamed the community. “Outrageous hippies with no sense of manners acted raunchy,” added Bentley. When Bentley moved to Arroyo Seco in 1972, everyone told him, “This is the end of your life. The place is a mess.” Bentley, surrounded by Hispanics, Native Americans and many others, soon realized that “this was a cultural thing – a different sets of values. The wars ended because everyone grew older or was killed.” Two remnants remain from these times. Retired surgeon Robert Fies purchased the former New Buffalo commune and renovated it into a bed and breakfast in Arroyo Hondo. Several years ago, the Town of Taos used the theme “Summer of Love” in its marketing campaign in observance of the hippie movement in Taos.
In northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, these and other riots, revolts and revolutions abound. All of the movements require one or more rebels who may possess a troubled image at the time. However, history is eventually kind to some of the rebellious leaders and regards them as heroes in a positive light.
Dr. Kathryn Córdova is a retired educator, and currently a writer, editor, author, and columnist. She resides in El Prado, NM, with her husband Arsenio and is a member of the Northern New Mexico Press Women, New Mexico Press Women and National Federation of Press Women.