by Chris Wilson (link to book on Amazon)
When the Spanish arrived in the American Southwest, the King of Spain claimed all the lands. Lands that belonged to the native peoples became the property of the Spanish crown, at least in the eyes of the Spanish. The king awarded land grants to individuals and groups of people who were willing to settle and populate the region. On these lands they built houses, dug acequias or irrigation ditches, farmed, and grazed their stock. As the years passed, other people moved into the region and sometimes claimed land that the king had given to earlier grantees. The American occupation of the territories in 1848 and the arrival of many Anglo settlers sparked numerous conflicts and lawsuits over land ownership that continue to the present day.
In 1860 and 1861, Francisco Martínez received a grant of lands in Tierra Amarilla. Hispanic families had already been living in the area for many years. Newcomers later called into question the legality of the land grant. They claimed that the grant had been made to an individual, not to the community, and that many of the inhabitants did not have legal title to their lands. For many years the original Hispanic families and their descendants fought legal battles trying to hold onto their lands. Meanwhile, outsiders moved in and tried to buy up the land. These purchases involved them in court proceedings to nullify the original Martínez grant.
Here is an account of the dispute.
No history of the area would be complete without mentioning the Court House Raid of 1967. Reies Tijerina, a major personality in the Chicano Movement, and other determined members of the Spanish American community fought for land and other rights. To this day the people of the area remain fiercely independent and proud of their heritage.