Tijerina and the Courthouse Raid

by Peter Nabokov
University of New Mexico Press, 285 pp., $6.95

La Raza: The Mexican-Americans (to be published in January)

by Stan Steiner
Harper & Row, 432 pp., $8.50

Uprooted Children The Early Life of Migrant Farm Workers (to be published in February)

by Robert Coles
University of Pittsburgh Press, 100 pp., $3.95

To call Peter Nabokov’s book on Reies Tijerina and his curious and moving career superb—which it is—is in fact to underrate it, or at least to miss the point of its manifold excellence. The complexities of his subject require of Mr. Nabokov a high degree of mastery in several distinct genres. Tijerina and the Courthouse Raid is centrally the history of a social movement: the formation and development, under Tijerina’s leadership, of the Alianza Federal de los Pueblos Libres—the Federation of Free City States—and of the remarkable events in which the Alianza has been involved in its organizing of so called “Mexican-Americans” in the state of New Mexico.

The most dramatic of these have been the occupation, by supporters of the Alianza, during the week of October 15 to 22, 1966, of a natural amphitheater in a campground in Kit Carson National Forest; and the subsequent raid, on June 5, 1967, on the Rio Arriba County courthouse in Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico, in an apparent attempt to seize the Alianza’s bitter enemy, District Attorney Alfonso Sanchez. Sanchez was a hundred miles away in Santa Fe, however; and the immediate effect of the unsuccessful raid was to precipitate an assault by state police and the New Mexico National Guard, under the command of General John Pershing Jolly, on the Alianza’s leaders, who were gathering for a combination barbecue and planning session on a ranch owned by one of them at the nearby mountain hamlet of Canjilon.

As might have been expected, the complex of charges and countercharges that has resulted from these events has by no means been fully resolved. Mr. Tijerina himself has been in and out of jail on a variety of charges and bail-revocations, in response to variations in the intensity of local paranoia and political pressure. On December 13, 1968, he was acquitted of three charges arising from the courthouse raid—one of them a capital charge of kidnaping with great bodily harm. But other charges remained. In November, 1967, he had been convicted of assaulting Forest Ranger Walter Taylor during the occupation of the amphitheater a year earlier, and sentenced to two years imprisonment; last June his appeal bond was revoked and he was jailed.

On September 27, he was convicted of a further offense of aiding and abetting the destruction of federal property—two Forest Service signs—and assaulting a Federal officer during a police stakeout at Coyote, New Mexico, two days before the courthouse raid, which seems to have been precipitated largely by harassment of the Alianza’s efforts to hold an announced meeting at Coyote. This conviction resulted in a three-year sentence; on October 13; the US Supreme Court upheld the earlier two-year sentence, to be served after the three-year sentence has been completed. To help Mr. Tijerina pass the time, the State of New Mexico scheduled a trial on five additional state charges in connection with the courthouse raid. A mistrial was declared in October when one of the jurors was seen talking to a man…

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