Las Gorras Blancas
Las Gorras Blancas (Spanish for "The White Caps") was a group active in the New Mexico Territory and American Southwest in the late 1880s and early 1890s, in response to Anglo-American squatters. Founded in April 1889 by brothers Juan Jose, Pablo, and Nicanor Herrera, with support from vecinos in the New Mexico Territory pueblo communities of El Burro, El Salitre, Ojitos Frios, and San Geronimo, in present day San Miguel County.
After the northern Mexican frontier became part of the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) and the Gadsden Purchase (1853), Anglo Americans began immigrating in large numbers to the newly acquired territories. Anglos began taking lands from both Native Americans and Hispanos by different means, most notably by squatting. Squatters often then sold these lands to land speculators for huge profits, especially after the passing of the 1862 Homestead Act. Hispanos demanded that their lands be returned to them but the governments did not respond favorably. For example, the Surveyor of General Claims Office of the New Mexico Territory would at times take up to fifty years to process a claim, meanwhile, the lands were being grabbed up by the newcomers. One tactic used to defraud Hispanos from their lands was that they needed to present English language documentation of ownership, which, due to previously being part of Mexico, could only present Spanish language documentation. While the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway was built in the 1890s, speculators known as the Santa Fe Ring, orchestrated schemes to disland natives from their possessions. In response, Hispanos gathered to reclaim lands taken by the Anglo−Americans. Hoping to scare off the new immigrants, they eventually used intimidation and raids to accomplish their goals. They sought to develop a class-based consciousness among local people through the everyday tactics of resistance to the economic and social order confronting common property land grant communities. The name comes from the white head coverings many wore.
In the early 1890s, a depressed sheep and wool market affected the Northern New Mexico economy adversely. Communal lands dictated by the original land grants were increasingly being split up and fenced off as private land, and pastures were not as plentiful. This was most felt by the Hispano farmers who relied on the communal lands to raise their stock. Las Gorras Blancas tore down fences, burned barns and haystacks, scattered livestock and threatened worse if justice did not prevail. Additionally, a group of Las Gorras Blancas under the direction of Juan Jose Herrera "set thousands of railroad ties afire when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad refused to raise the low wages it paid" Hispano workers. Moreover, there were numerous demonstrations by men wearing white caps, who rode through the Las Vegas, New Mexico streets at night on horseback, typically ending at the courthouse.
In August 1890 several members of Las Gorras Blancas ran for the New Mexico Legislature in a new populist People's Party under the name El Partido del Pueblo Unido. Pablo Herrera, Nestor Montoya, and T.B. Mills were all elected and most forms of direct action that the group was known for ceased. All three were unsuccessful in passing populist legislation, however, and left the state government disillusioned with political reform. Pablo Herrera, in a speech to the State House of Representatives in February 1891, stated:
|“||Gentleman, I have served several years time in the penitentiary, but only sixty days in the legislature. I have watched the proceedings here carefully. I would like to say that the time I spent in the penitentiary was more enjoyable than the time I have spent here. There is more honesty in the halls of the Territorial prison than in the halls of the legislature. I would prefer another term in prison than another election to the House.||”|
Pablo Herrera returned to Las Vegas and attempted to revive Las Gorras Blancas but was murdered by sheriff Felipe Lopez. Some time after the movement died, Juan Jose Herrera left New Mexico and settled in Utah, where he died several years later.
In the March 12, 1890, issue of the Las Vegas Optic, Las Gorras Blancas−The White Caps members issued the Proclamation of Las Gorras Blancas:
|“||Not wishing to be misunderstood, we hereby make this our declaration.
Our purpose is to protect the rights and interests of the people in general; especially those of the helpless classes.
We want the Las Vegas Grant settled to the benefit of all concerned, and this we hold is the entire community within the grant.
We want no "land grabbers" or obstructionists of any sort to interfere. We will watch them.
We are not down on lawyers as a class, but the usual knavery and unfair treatment of the people must be stopped.
Our judiciary hereafter must understand that we will sustain it only when "Justice" is its watchword.
The practice of "double-dealing" must cease.
There is a wide difference between New Mexico's "law" and "justice." And justice is God's law, and that we must have at all hazards.
We are down on race issues, and will watch race agitators. We are all human brethren, under the same glorious flag.
We favor irrigation enterprises, but will fight any scheme that tends to monopolize the supply of water courses to the detriment of residents living on lands watered by the same streams.
We favor all enterprises, but object to corrupt methods to further the same.
We do not care how much you get so long as you do it fairly and honestly.
The People are suffering from the effects of partisan "bossism" and these bosses had better quietly hold their peace. The people have been persecuted and hacked about in every which way to satisfy their caprice. If they persist in their usual methods retribution will be their reward.
We are watching "political informers."
We have no grudge against any person in particular, but we are the enemies of bulldozers and tyrants.
We must have a free ballot and a fair count. And the will of the majority shall be respected.
Intimidation and the "indictment" plan have no further fears for us. If the old system should continue, death would be a relief to our sufferings. And for our rights our lives are the least we can pledge.
If the fact that we are law abiding citizens is questioned, come out to our homes and see the hunger and desolation we are suffering; and "this" is the result of the deceitful and corrupt methods of "bossism."
Be fair and just and we are with you, do otherwise and take the consequences."
The White Caps, 1,500 Strong and Growing Daily
- Las Gorras Blancas: The Roots of Nuevomexicano Activism by Michael Miller
- Rosales, F. Arturo Chicano: The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement (Houston, TX: Arte Publico Press, 1997) p. 7-9
- Davidson, James West, et al. Nation of Nations, Vol. II. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2008.
- 1890 - Proclamation of Las Gorras Blancas - New Mexico Office of the State Historian
- Las Gorras Blancas of San Miguel County. New Mexico Office of the State Historian.
- Speech by Felix Martinez regarding land and Las Gorras Blancas, Las Vegas Daily Optic, August 18, 1890.
- Arellano, Anselmo F. The Never-Ending Land Grant Struggle.
- Correia, David. (2010) "Retribution Will Be Their Reward": New Mexico's Las Gorras Blancas and the Fight for the Las Vegas Land Grant Commons. Radical History Review, 2010:108, 49–72. Abstract retrieved November 29, 2010.
- Miller, Michael. Las Gorras Blancas: The Roots of Nuevomexicano Activism