Reies López Tijerina (King Tiger) (1926– ) social activist

2011-03-01 11:11:43

Born in Falls City, Texas, to a family of migrant workers who claimed to be heirs to an old land grant, Tijerina became one of the earliest Chicano activists in the United States. After a brief career as a minister with the Assemblies of God (1946–50), in the early 1950s he founded the utopian community of Valle de la Paz on 160 acres of land in Pinal County, Arizona. After a hostile community burned the settlement, in 1957, Tijerina jumped bail while awaiting trial for charges stemming from the jailbreak of his brother. While a fugitive in California, he claimed to have a messianic vision that impelled him to take up the cause of land grant restoration. In the late 1950s, he began to research the question of land grants that had been made by kings of Spain and guaranteed to Mexican landholders following the U.S.-Mexican War. He was most interested in the 594,500-acre Tierra Amarilla land grant in northern New Mexico. In 1963, he founded the Alianza Federal de Mercedes (Federal Alliance of Land Grants, later known as the Federal Alliance of Free City States). After years of local campaigning and speaking to politicians with little effect, on October 1966, Tijerina led an armed takeover of a campsite in the Kit Carson National Forest. After the filing of federal charges, tensions escalated with numerous cases of arson and vandalism against Anglo ranches and federal lands. On June 5, 1967, Tijerina led the Alianza in an armed raid on Tierra Amarilla and occupied the Rio Arriba County courthouse. In 1974, Tijerina was sentenced to two years in prison. With Tijerina’s imprisonment, the Alianza Federal de Mercedes dissolved. Tijerina was paroled in December 1974 and received an executive pardon in 1978. Thereafter he led a secluded life, occasionally speaking out on behalf of social causes but largely avoiding the public stage. In the early 1990s, he moved to Mexico, where he continued to work on behalf of early land-grant claimants. In 2001, he donated his archive of papers, photographs, diaries, and other materials to the University of New Mexico.