[News] Land Tenure and Resistance in New Mexico

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Sun Sep 23 18:05:15 EDT 2007


September 22 / 23, 2007

 From the Pueblo Indians to Mexican Villagers

Land Tenure and Resistance in New Mexico


Land tenure is primarily a legal concept, a mode 
of holding and occupying land.1 This study is a 
socioeconomic interpretation of the history of 
New Mexico focusing on land-tenure patterns and 
changes. Legal aspects, insofar as they 
influenced or changed socioeconomic relations, 
have also been considered. As an interpretative 
historical analysis of land tenure in New Mexico, 
the study has several goals. The interpretation 
challenges one historical view of the Indigenous 
peoples of New Mexico; a view expressed, for 
instance, by the eminent historian Howard Lamar:

In the picturesque mountain villages a simple 
folk culture and subsistence economy stubbornly 
persisted in the face of the great drive toward 
Americanization. Nearby, in their unique storied 
apartment communities, those grand masters of 
cultural isolation, the Pueblo Indians, exercised 
their own arts of living as if the white man did 
not exist at all. The Penitentes still thrived; 
the moradas and fiestas went on in Chimayo, Taos, 
and Arroyo Hondo; the priest remained a political 
as well as spiritual leader in Spanish-American 
lives. In the brown adobe villages, whether set 
amidst the azured hills or straggling along the 
muddy Río Grande, time still moves imperceptibly. 
Without surrendering her traditions, nonetheless, 
Spanish-American New Mexico had come to 
accept--in the fifty-four years since American 
occupation--certain institutions and to identify 
herself with the national image. While a distinct 
people and a charmingly different region 
remained, the conquest begun so cockily by Kearny 
in 1846 now began to have a deeper meaning, for 
an invisible frontier of misunderstanding had at last begun to disappear.2

Contrary to Lamar's conclusions, a study of 
historical land-tenure development reveals that 
the Mexican villagers and the Pueblo Indians are 
historically dynamic peoples, not static, as they 
have often been characterized. As property owners 
holding land collectively and as irrigation 
farmers, they created social institutions that 
developed their leadership and self-government 
capabilities. With Mexican independence, a 
growing political awareness and drive for 
democratic institutions and equality within the 
Mexican nation produced increasingly assertive 
political involvement by the Mexican and Pueblo 
Indian agricultural producers in the national 
political process. They resisted U.S. conquest 
and assimilation, which accounts for their 
survival as peoples today. Dispossessed of much 
of their land base, or of real control of it in 
the case of the Indians, the Indigenous peoples 
of New Mexico did not accept capitalist 
institutions that contradicted their fundamental 
democratic social and economic institutions.

Through land-tenure history, a different 
perception of the Pueblo Indians emerges. 
Although the Pueblos were profoundly affected by 
Spanish conquest and colonization, it was 
capitalist intrusion that threatened their 
survival as a people. The particular mode of U.S. 
colonization, or expansion of its capitalist 
system, required the taking of Indian lands, 
which were flooded with European and 
Anglo-American settlers. From that base, states 
and institutions were formed. The Land Ordinance 
of 1785 propagated a national land system and was 
the basis for its implementation. The Northwest 
Ordinance of 1787, albeit guaranteeing Indian 
occupancy and title, set forth a plan for 
colonization establishing an evolutionary 
procedure for the creation of states in the order 
of military occupation, territorial status, and 
finally statehood. Statehood would be achieved 
when the count of settlers outnumbered the 
Indigenous population, which in most cases 
required forced removal of the Indigenous inhabitants.

The United States created a unique land system 
among colonial powers. In this system, land 
became the most important exchange commodity for 
the primitive accumulation of capital and 
building of the national treasury. In order to 
understand the apparently irrational policy of 
the U.S. government toward the Indians, the 
centrality of land sales in building the economic 
base of the U.S. capitalist system must be the frame of reference.

In New Mexico, the capitalist mode of production 
and development of land as a commodity came with 
U.S. conquest. Land had not been a commodity in 
the Spanish colonial system. In New Mexico, trade 
was active and vital, but it remained a 
circulation of transportable commodities, and 
little money circulated. The establishment of 
community land grants determined the basic 
land-tenure development of the region. Land 
tenure based on 
cooperation characterized the poor communities of 
New Mexico, while individualism and competition 
for material gain characterized the capitalist mode in the United States.

Certain elements must exist, and did exist in New 
Mexico, to lay the groundwork for the 
introduction of capitalist production.3 The 
interim and necessary transition element is the 
presence of mercantile capital. During a period 
of early accumulation of capital, or of 
mercantile capitalism, competition is active 
among the contending mercantile interests, ending 
in the ruin of many small capitalists, including 
the subsistent farmer who has been transformed 
into a petty capitalist, producing exchange value 
to survive in the money economy.4 The 
money/credit system emerged in New Mexico through 
the already existing partido system of 
sheep-raising, similar to agricultural 
sharecropping. With competition, a money economy, 
and credit, the elemental factors for the 
development of capitalist production and 
accumulation of wealth were present. 
Centralization or capitalization resulted by 
means of the distribution of capitals already 
existing or from an alteration in the 
quantitative grouping of varying parts of 
capital. Capital became concentrated in single 
hands and in corporations as it was withdrawn 
from many individual hands.5 In the process of 
dispossession of the agricultural producers, a 
surplus labor force, a "labor army," emerged in 
the form of all the previous owners of the means 
of production and a resulting pauperism in the excess of that army.6

In capitalist agriculture evidenced in New 
Mexico, the increased productiveness set in 
motion by capital was accompanied by destruction 
of the laborers' individual vitality, freedom, 
and independence. The dispersion of the 
agricultural producers and the resulting social 
dislocation broke down their power of resistance. 
Capitalist agriculture exploits not only human 
resources but also natural resources, which are 
submitted to unplanned exploitation for profits.7

Primitive accumulation of capital, or mercantile 
capitalism, coupled with colonial domination 
played the role of divorcing the producer from 
the means of production in New Mexico. The 
expropriation of the agricultural producers from 
the land was required for capitalist development.

The history of land tenure in New Mexico provides 
a case study of the processes of colonialism and 
the development of capitalism by looking at (1) 
the processes of ancient land tenure and 
economics based on communalism; (2) the 
expression of early modern monarchical 
imperialism with Spanish conquest; (3) the 
development of a precapitalist self-subsistent 
village economy and land tenure; (4) the entrance 
of mercantile capitalism, gradually asserting 
economic control over the agricultural producers 
who had been transformed by capital into petty 
capitalists; (5) the domination by foreign 
capitalists, who began the process of 
expropriating the agricultural producers and came 
to monopolize land and resources; and (6) the 
entrance of industrial capital, backed by the 
national government, completing the process of 
capitalization of land and the transformation of 
the agricultural producers into wage earners.

Beyond the goals of dispelling stereotypes of 
Mexican and Pueblo Indian people in New Mexico 
and providing a case study in capitalist 
development in a colonized area, the fundamental 
goal of this work is to shed light on the land 
question in New Mexico today. Two distinct 
economic attitudes toward land use and land 
tenure continue. The central issue is concerned 
with the particular type of landholding that was 
practiced by the precolonial Pueblo Indian 
communities and colonially created in the 
settlements under the Spanish regime. Mexican 
village and Pueblo Indian land use is 
distinguished by communal property ownership and 
use, in contrast to capitalist private ownership, 
and is further characterized by the predominance 
of use value production in the former as opposed 
to production for market exchange in the latter.

Though both Pueblo Indian and Mexican village 
land use was subsistent prior to the entrance of 
capital, precolonial Pueblo land tenure differed 
qualitatively. Land was vested in the Pueblo as a 
whole and distributed to the members of the 
community with a system of equitable distribution 
of produce. This land-tenure system was altered 
and influenced by Spanish customs and colonial 
institutions; the Pueblos in turn profoundly 
influenced the Spanish village patterns in New 
Mexico. Mexican land-tenure patterns in New 
Mexico, then, were derived from a mixture of 
Iberian village customs and Mexican Indigenous 
customs and Spanish colonial policies and 
practices and were most fundamentally influenced 
by the Indigenous Pueblos. The land-tenure 
customs of the northern frontier villages were a 
synthesis of cultural influences controlled 
institutionally by Spanish colonial regulations 
and policies and by the realities of the frontier.

The means by which the subsistent land-tenure 
system of New Mexico was destroyed under 
capitalist control was through the introduction 
of mercantile capitalism, followed by monopoly 
capital supported by the U.S. government. In the 
process, the agricultural producers were 
effectively stripped of their means of production 
and transformed from the owners of the means of 
production to a laboring class--a surplus, cheap 
labor force, dependent on capital for their 
existence. Loss of land and the introduction of a 
money economy and money taxes dispossessed the 
agricultural producers. Though the Pueblo Indian 
communities retained possession of narrowed land 
bases under U.S. trust, they too were forced into 
wage labor for subsistence in a money economy. 
Much of their land was made unproductive by the diversion of water.

The development of capitalism in the region has 
roots in earlier times, of course. Trade was an 
important part of the New Mexico economy. In 
precolonial times, trade was barter or a 
circulation of commodities. Even when the trade 
network became extensive with the rise of 
Mesoamerican commercial expansion, it was a 
precapitalist form of commerce, lacking 
centralization, monetary exchange, credit, 
specialization, mass labor, and the creation of 
surplus value associated with capitalism. Spanish 
colonial commerce was capitalist oriented but 
precapitalist on the Spanish-American frontier, 
since commerce was centered in the mercantile 
cities of Spain and developed in the context of a 
decaying political economy. In New Mexico, trade 
remained precapitalist throughout the Spanish colonial period.

The Spanish colonial land-tenure policy of 
merced, or land grants, perpetuated and 
strengthened subsistent patterns of land tenure 
and production. An important aspect of the 
community land grant was the inclusion of common 
pasture lands and common rights for using the 
land. As in the countryside of England before the 
development of industrial capitalism and 
enclosure, the common lands were essential to 
subsistent agriculture in New Mexico. An 
authority on the English commons has written: 
"Without these common rights, and the right of 
common pasturage especially, the peasant farming 
economy would have been wrecked."8

The U.S. government supported and sustained a 
capitalist political economy with centralization, 
organized markets, monetary exchange, 
specialization, and organized labor (slave and 
free), which created profits for individual 
capitalists and developing corporations in the 
nineteenth century. The prelude to this mode of 
modern capital first entered New Mexico with the 
mercantile capitalism of the Santa Fe trade 
during the Mexican period. Mercantile capital 
tended to transform the subsistent agricultural 
producers into petty capitalists--that is, 
producing for the capitalist market.9 Mercantile 
capital introduced production for exchange, 
centralization of markets, and credit into the 
New Mexico economy. With U.S. conquest, the 
entrance of land speculators introduced 
capitalization of land. Sheep and land became the 
primary exchange commodities available to the 
farmers who were forced to compete on the 
capitalist market. Indebtedness brought land 
sales. Money taxes were imposed. U.S. government 
policy determined the expropriation of the common 
pasture land from the Mexican land grantees, 
removing their basis of subsistence. This phase 
of land tenure developed in the late nineteenth 
century. The period was marked by oligarchic 
political institutions and uncontrolled 
exploitation of land, resources, and labor by 
outside investors. The conditions thus generated 
were comparable to those created by exploits of 
capitalists, backed by their home governments, in 
other colonized areas of the world during the same period.

Mercantile capitalism and the entrance of 
colonial speculators played the role of divorcing 
the agricultural producer from the means of 
production in New Mexico. The expropriation of 
the agricultural producers from the land was the 
necessary basis for twentieth-century capitalist 
development of land tenure in New Mexico.

In New Mexico, post<n>World War II issues of land 
ownership; land use; control of mineral 
resources, taxation, timber, and water; and the 
controversial production of uranium and atomic 
energy have stimulated a need for a historical 
perception of land tenure in the area.

The geography of the region is itself a part of 
the problem. Northern New Mexico is a mountainous 
region, lying at the tip of the southern Rocky 
Mountain range. Three major river basins with 
eleven principal tributaries originate in the 
area. The Río Grande, Pecos, and Canadian Rivers 
flow from the region to Oklahoma and Texas/Mexico 
and are directly affected by northern New 
Mexico's natural phenomena as well as by the land 
use of the area.10 Lowering of the water level at 
the source, either through lack of precipitation 
or human use, can adversely affect distant areas. 
Therefore, the region is of strategic economic importance nationally.

Northern New Mexico is the region most densely 
settled by the Pueblo Indians and then colonized 
by the Spanish and, finally, by the United 
States. The region runs vertically along the Río 
Grande and fans out along the tributaries between 
Socorro, below Albuquerque, to the Colorado line, 
a three-hundred-mile stretch. The irrigable land 
base is nearly a half million acres; the mesa 
land, suited for year-round grazing, totals over 
four million acres; and the mountain lands, 
summer grazing areas, occupy over eight million 
acres.ll The area south of Santa Fe is commonly 
called the Río Abajo, or the downstream region, 
and the area upstream, north of Santa Fe, is 
called the Río Arriba. The two areas are 
physically different and have engendered variant 
land-use patterns and social relations. The Río 
Abajo receives less precipitation both in 
rainfall and snow coverage and has been used for 
grazing more than for agriculture since Spanish 
colonization. The Río Arriba area was used in 
precolonial times for intensive hydraulic 
agriculture, and in colonial times livestock 
production, which required transhumant grazing patterns, was added.12

The entire area is one of arid and semiarid 
climatic conditions "in which nature survives 
only by effecting a series of delicate balances, 
conditioned by temperature, altitudes, and 
moisture. It is a land full of risks and 
hazards."13 Hydrology is necessary for 
agricultural production in the area. The 
irrigation water supply of the valley comes from 
the river and its tributaries rather than from 
underground supplies. The necessity for 
irrigation, with resulting social interactions 
arising from conflicts and cooperation inherent 
in the operation of the system, has contributed 
substantially to the formation of the social 
structures of the people of the region.

Though the Pueblos had been in the Río Grande 
area approximately three centuries when the 
Spanish invaded, they were part of a larger 
socioeconomic network that had been using 
irrigation for agriculture in the arid southwest 
of the north American continent for twenty-three 
centuries. Hydraulic agriculture produced a 
particular set of social relations that was 
expressed in Pueblo ceremonies and social 
institutions. Never an isolated cultural entity, 
Pueblo communities had long been involved in 
trade with communities from the Pacific Ocean to 
the Mississippi River and to the valley of 
Mexico. At the time the colonialists arrived in 
the late sixteenth century, the Pueblo subsistent 
economy was closely related to trade and social 
interaction with the bison-hunting peoples who 
surrounded them. The ninety-three Pueblo villages 
were politically autonomous but similar in social 
structures, economies, ceremonies, and historical 
development. They were linked by their mutual 
dependency for their livelihood on the Río Grande and its tributaries.

The first colonial period of land tenure in New 
Mexico was characterized by conquest and 
imposition of Spanish colonial institutions. The 
first long-term contact between the Spanish and 
the Pueblo Indians was the two-year stay of 
Coronado's army in the Río Abajo in the 1540s. 
The conquistadores previewed the 
seventeenth-century Spanish colonialism with 
their forced appropriation of Pueblo produce, women, and labor.

The colonization of New Mexico in 1598 was 
accomplished with a few hundred men and their 
families and servants. The conquistadores were 
Iberians born in Mexico; the servants were 
mulatos descended from African slaves and 
mestizos as well as Nahuatl-speaking Mexicans. 
The colonizers were soldiers and friars. The 
mission of colonization was aimed at the dual 
goal of enhancing and enriching the Spanish state 
and church as well as satisfying the personal 
ambitions of the colonizers. The 
seventeenth-century colony was parasitic 
economically, drawing its livelihood from Pueblo 
labor and captive Indian slaves. Spanish colonial 
institutions were applied, and the 
soldier-encomendero became lord over his assigned 
Pueblo vassals, while the friars struggled for 
control of Pueblo souls, supplies, and labor. A 
power play, competition over Pueblo labor and 
time, developed, splitting the colonists into 
antagonistic factions. Spanish governors came and 
went. Each acquired whatever wealth he could eke 
out of the hundreds of captives working in 
sweatshops and through sharp trading practices 
with Indian traders as well as slave traffic. The 
situation was not unusual in the sixteenth and 
seventeenth centuries of Spanish colonial 
experience in America, but it was aggravated in 
New Mexico by the lack of mineral wealth available for extraction.

Settlers established estancias, which may have 
been similar to those of the interior of Mexico, 
about which more is known. They settled along the 
river, encroaching on Pueblo lands. The Pueblo 
revolt brought the colony to a quick end in 1680. 
Some years, at least twenty, of organization 
produced a unified offensive on the part of all 
but a few southern Pueblos and included the Hopis 
and Zunis to the west as well as Apache, Navajo, 
and Ute allies. Many low-caste people--mulatos, 
mestizos, and Indian servants--joined the revolt. 
The settlers were driven into exile to El Paso. 
Recolonization took thirteen years to accomplish.

The results of the eighty-year colonial rule were 
chaos and damage to Pueblo agriculture and 
society. A shrinkage of the Pueblo domain in 
actual number of villages and population 
resulted. Some Pueblo villages were abandoned and 
never reoccupied. Many Pueblos went to live with 
the Apaches and the Navajos in the mountains and on the plains.

The type of land tenure developed by the 
colonists during the first period of colonial 
rule cannot be documented because all records 
were destroyed in the revolt and none have been 
found in colonial archives that would indicate 
the land-tenure patterns of the colonists. 
Colonial laws and institutions provided for 
integrity of Indigenous villages and land tenure, 
and although these were apparently honored in a 
legalistic manner, they were breached in practice.

Spanish recolonization was debated as to its 
rationale and possibility. Spanish authorities, 
alarmed by French expansion to Spain's northern 
and eastern frontiers in North America, 
determined that the northern frontier should be 
maintained for the defense of the wealthy mines 
of the interior. In order to maintain a colony it 
was necessary to quiet Indian resistance to their presence.

The eight hundred colonists recruited for the 
recolonization were a collection of soldiers, 
friars, Spanish born in Mexico from the central 
valley, settlers from Zacatecas, and many of the 
families who had been expelled from the earlier 
colony. None joined the colonization venture with 
a view of gaining wealth because the lack of 
affluence in the Río Grande area was well known. 
Settlers who were prepared to farm, raise 
livestock, and support themselves, then, 
reestablished the colony. A number of the 
original families from the previous colony and a 
few from the new group came to be the political 
and social elite of the society that developed. 
They built their haciendas principally in the Río 
Abajo area. The local political authorities, the 
alcaldes mayores, were invariably drawn from the few influential families.

During the entire remainder of Spanish rule, the 
principal concern of the colonists was 
surrounding Indian resistance to their presence. 
Military expeditions to punish Indian communities 
for alleged raids and attacks on Spanish 
settlements as well as expeditions with little 
pretext except to acquire booty and captives were 
frequent. Pueblo Indian and other Indian soldiers 
were impressed into the colonial military and 
composed the majority of its forces.

A large population of Indians, along with 
mestizos and mulatos, who had been separated from 
their communities lived in the barrio of Santa Fe 
called Analco. Colonial officials conceived a 
policy of settling these people, generally 
referred to as genízaros, on the frontier of the 
colony, granting them land in return for their 
building of fortified villages and serving in the 
frontier militia. By the end of the eighteenth 
century, these settlements dotted the northern 
frontier of the colony. The settlers subsisted by 
agriculture, trade, raising flocks, and 
acquisition of war booty. Colonial officials 
pressured the settlers to build their homes 
around plazas, forming fortified villages, which 
also provided them protection against attack, a 
policy counter to the settlers' tendencies to 
establish small ranchos near their fields or flocks.

The community land grants to genízaros and other 
needy settlers and the concentrated village 
settlement pattern not only expanded the land 
base of the colonial regime and held the frontier 
against Indian pressure but also produced a 
particular pattern of land tenure and 
socioeconomic relations. The lowly and landless 
became independent farmers, albeit generally very 
poor, and settled in communities sharing common 
pasture land and water. The villagers developed 
social relations based, economically, on 
irrigation agriculture, sheep-raising, and trade 
with neighboring Indian communities. The 
settlements, largely in the Río Arriba area, 
produced a distinctive land-tenure pattern in the 
north that contrasted with the more dominant 
hacienda settlement pattern of the Río Abajo.

Pueblo Indian population declined in the 
eighteenth century, partially due to epidemics 
but also to outward migration. The Pueblo 
practice of expulsion of dissidents or dissidents 
choosing to leave the community was a factor in 
the retention of Pueblo social integrity and 
strength. Those who left their communities could 
not build a new Pueblo as they had done in the 
past; rather, they fell into the genízaro caste. 
Despite repeated encroachments on Pueblo lands, 
Pueblo landholdings and land tenure were not 
radically altered in the eighteenth century. 
Pueblos developed a dualistic structure of 
Spanish institutional forms and continued to 
practice their own ceremonies secretly. Through 
exterior institutions, aided by their Spanish 
colonial advocates, they employed their right to 
petition, to fight encroachments, nearly always 
with some success. Community grant lands rarely 
came close to any Pueblos, so offenders were 
influential Spanish hacendados who had private land grants.

The use of the community land grant to settle the 
frontier transformed landless Indians and 
mestizos from a dependent class into a 
landholding class, producing an amalgamation of 
Pueblo and Spanish village land-tenure and social patterns.

During the period in which New Mexico was a part 
of the Republic of Mexico, 1821-1848, the 
villages of New Mexico began to interact with 
their new national government. The birth of the 
Republic of Mexico created a new world for the 
Mexican villagers and Pueblo Indians of New 
Mexico, removing the Spanish colonial regime and 
its repressive church and state controls. All 
inhabitants of Mexico became citizens and the legal caste system was abolished.

Mexican villagers and Pueblo Indians continued to 
go to the plains to trade and hunt buffalo, 
becoming increasingly dependent upon the produce 
from those activities. With the opening of the 
Santa Fe trade, their small-scale trade was met 
with the competition of mercantile capital from 
the United States, which gradually drew them into 
its fold. Similarly, the raising of flocks became 
an increasingly contractual pursuit, the partido 
("sharecropping"), being used more than 
independent ownership with increased indebtedness to the owners of the flocks.

Foreign traders and entrepreneurs entered the 
area while the U.S. government was formulating 
policies designed to carve out the northern 
Mexican territory for acquisition. The elite of 
the colonial province began to emerge during the 
Mexican national period as an entrepreneurial 
class, developing close economic and social ties 
with the foreign merchants. Merchants, artisans, 
and trappers entered New Mexico immediately with 
the opening of the Santa Fe trade, soon 
controlling that trade, altering New Mexico's 
economic relationship with Chihuahua to a 
relationship with St. Louis, Missouri. Taos, 
which was the port of entry from 1821 to 1846, 
became the headquarters of affluent traders and 
trappers, who intermarried with the elite Mexican 
families of New Mexico and formed a small but 
powerful clique known as the "American party." 
The foreigners were able to acquire land grants 
by forming partnerships with Mexican citizens, 
permitting members of the Taos clique to acquire vast landholdings.

Class conflict in New Mexico became very sharp in 
1837 when the conservative faction gained control 
of the national government in Mexico and 
attempted to impose taxation, an outsider as 
governor, and a departmental system of government 
in New Mexico, in effect stripping the area of 
local authority. Members of the governing elite 
of New Mexico were incensed but did not act. 
However, Pueblo Indian and Mexican villagers of 
the Tewa Basin in the north revolted, formed a 
new government, executed the unpopular governor 
and his staff, and ruled from Santa Fe for nearly 
six months. They presented a coherent program for 
a reorganized local government and demanded that 
the national government withdraw its proposed 
plan. They never suggested secession from the 
Republic of Mexico. The revolt, which was crushed 
by the New Mexico elite, revealed a growing 
political consciousness on the part of the 
villagers. Its suppression revealed the class 
consciousness of the elite, who had no intention 
of allowing popular rule in New Mexico. These 
same patriotic forces resisted U.S. military 
occupation in 1846. All but two villages in the 
north declared for resistance. The U.S. military 
governor and members of the American party were 
killed, land-grant papers were destroyed, and 
foreigners throughout the north were attacked. 
The New Mexico elite joined with the U.S. 
military and volunteers from the American party to crush the resistance.

In 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo the 
ceded northern Mexico to the United States. U.S. 
military rule was replaced by territorial rule 
under the U.S. colonial policy spelled out in the 
Northwest Ordinance. Under treaty obligation to 
protect the property and rights of Mexican 
citizens in the conquered territory, the United 
States established a procedure that caused 
delayed settlement of land titles. During half a 
century of political oligarchy, capitalist 
entrepreneurs entered the area and obtained 
titles to land. Lawyers posing as representatives 
of the villagers took land as payment of fees. In 
general, land became a substitute for money for 
the subsistent agricultural producers in the 
growing money economy. Their only other marketable item was sheep.

When Congress did act to settle land titles, 
strict legalistic guidelines were drawn and 
equitable rights of the villagers were excluded. 
Legal procedures were lengthy and expensive. The 
most important policy that emerged was the denial 
of community ownership of the common pasture 
lands. These lands were declared public domain 
and thrown onto the market for homesteading, 
thereby dooming the future of the Mexican 
villages so dependent on pasture lands for their flocks.

Once practically merged politically under the 
Mexican state and an integral part of its 
revolutionary development, the Pueblo Indians and 
Mexican villagers became separated politically by 
U.S. colonialism and capitalist development. The 
crushing of Navajo and Apache resistance by the 
U.S. military ended the centuries of dynamic 
interaction that the resistance of those fiercely 
independent peoples provided. The necessity for 
the Pueblos to win U.S. trust protection 
segregated them from general developments until 
recent years. Since the 1960s, the revival of the 
land and water rights issues by all the colonized 
peoples of New Mexico has brought renewed contacts and both unity and conflict.

The international Indigenous movement has grown 
dramatically over the last few decades and now 
affects Indigenous strategies of resistance in 
New Mexico. It has given rise to questions of 
identity and Indigenousness in the land struggles 
in New Mexico, generating conflict between the 
aspirations of Pueblo Indians and the claims of 
the descendants of the original Hispanic population.

U.S. conquest of former Spanish colonies in the 
second half of the nineteenth century is not a 
subject that has produced extensive historical 
analysis. The military seizure and colonization 
of half of the territory of the Republic of 
Mexico has elicited very little interest and is 
often glossed over as part of the "natural 
expansion" of U.S. capitalism. However, the 
Indigenous peoples of the region have not 
forgotten that they were conquered and that they 
have human and legal rights despite the fact that 
they are now minorities in the area seized.

This essay is adapted from Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's 
new book 
of Resistance.

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz is a longtime activist, 
university professor, and writer. In addition to 
numerous scholarly books and articles she has 
published two historical memoirs, 
Dirt: Growing Up Okie (Verso, 1997), and 
Woman: A Memoir of the War Years, 1960­1975 (City 
Lights, 2002). She can be reached at: 
<mailto:rdunbaro at pacbell.net>rdunbaro at pacbell.net


1. Two approaches may be taken to land tenure 
history: legal and socioeconomic. A legal history 
of land tenure would trace the controlling laws 
of property and their changes through time. Under 
a common law system such as the Anglo-American 
one, the history of pertinent court cases would 
be analyzed to assess the emergence of a new or 
varied property concept or doctrine legislation 
that created means of land distribution would be 
considered. Under a civil law code such as that 
the Spanish and Spanish-American ones, royal 
proclamations and orders and acts of cortes and 
congresses would be studied to establish the 
legal concepts of property-holding and distribution at a given time.

The other approach, a socioeconomic history of 
land tenure, assumes that any change in property 
ownership or property rights produces profound 
social and economic consequences. As an authority 
on land tenure has stated: "The patterns of land 
distribution and ownership reflect the actual 
power structure; and the saying 'whoever owns the 
land wields the power' holds true for entire 
historical epochs." Erich Jacoby, Man and Land 
(London: Andre Deutch, 1971), p. 19.

2. Howard Lamar, The Far Southwest, 1846-1912 
(New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1966), 
p. 201; Herbert O. Brayer, William Blackmore 
(Denver: Bradford-Robinson Publishers, 1949); 
Victor Westphall, The Public Domain in New 
Mexico, 1854<n>91 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1965).

3. In order to locate the roots of capitalist 
development of land tenure in northern New 
Mexico, the distinction between property for use 
and property for exchange as a commodity must be 
sought. Here, the historical materialist analysis 
of Karl Marx is pertinent. Land in noncapitalist 
societies serves use values rather than having 
exchange value. Land, objects, and resources in 
general are not subject to exchange value by 
their inherent nature. A commodity is nothing 
more than "an object outside of us, a thing that 
by its properties satisfies human wants of some 
sort." Only the utility of a commodity creates 
its use value. In capitalist production, unlike 
subsistence, use values are also the material of 
exchange value. In directly satisfying needs with 
the use of his or her own labor, a person creates 
use values but not exchange values. In order to 
produce a commodity for exchange, social use 
value or use values for others must be produced. 
Further, the product must be transferred by means of an exchange.

In an agricultural subsistence economy, articles 
produced within a social unit--the village, 
family, or clan--are not commodities for 
exchange. For these objects to acquire exchange 
value, their producers must be in relations with 
others such that one does not part with the 
object or appropriate that of another except by 
means of an act of mutual consent--a contract, 
formal or informal--in which each party 
recognizes in the other the rights of private 
owners. The commodity then acquires exchange value.

The situation is different in societies based on 
property in common. A precapitalist mode of 
exchange occurs not within the social unit but on 
the outer fringes of the community, at its 
contact point with other communities or 
individuals from other communities. Repetition of 
exchange creates a need for more exchange, and 
some production comes to be geared toward 
producing commodities specifically for exchange. 
 From that point in time, there is a distinction 
between the utility of an object for consumption 
and its utility for exchange. In ancient times 
and in early historic times, nomadic peoples were 
the first to develop the exchange form, their 
worldly goods consisting of moveable objects that 
were directly alienable. Their continual contact 
with foreign communities intheir movements 
engendered trade relations between the nomadic and sedentary peoples.

Money, coined from precious metals, early became 
a convenient means of exchange and was itself a 
commodity that served as a measure of value. 
Having no inherent value, money is pure exchange 
value. However, it is a commodity and has the 
potential of becoming the private property of an 
individual, creating accumulation of wealth. 
Credit money grows out of the function of money 
as a means of payment, becoming the dominant form 
of exchange as capital advances, with coin 
moneythereafter relegated to retail trade. As 
money and credit become the dominant forms of 
exchange, rents and taxes are transformed from 
payment in kind to money payment. The 
dispossession of the agriculture producers of 
their lands historically has been due not only to 
increases in taxes and rents but also to the 
introduction of money payment, money being a 
commodity rare to the subsistent producer.

Capital is not created by money and credit alone. 
Only through the increase over the original value 
when a commodity is bought and when it is resold, 
when surplus value or profit is created, is the conversion to capital made.

The distinctiveness of the capitalist is that he 
or she does not aim to acquire use values from 
commodities or simply profit from a single 
transaction. Rather, the capitalist seeks to 
create surplus value toward the end of 
accumulation of wealth. The key to assuring 
surplus value lies in the acquisition of another 
unique commodity labor power. Under the 
capitalist mode, instead of being in the position 
to sell commodities within which his or her labor 
is a part, the laborer must instead offer for 
sale his labor power as a commodity.

Capital can emerge only when the capitalist has 
attained control of the means of production, 
gathering together the property once held by many 
hands and concentrating it in his or her own 
hands. Once dispossessed of his or her means of 
production, the agricultural producer meets in 
the marketplace with the capitalist to sell his 
or her labor. The laborer no longer directly 
produces his or her actual necessities; he or she 
produces labor power, which he or she sells to 
the capitalist in order in turn to purchase necessities.

Surplus labor time is then generated by the use 
of labor, creating surplus value or profits. 
Surplus labor did not originate with capital. 
Whenever a part of society has possessed a 
monopoly on the means of production, the laborer, 
whether slave or free, has had to add to the 
working time necessary for his or her own 
maintenance in order to produce for the owner of 
the means of production. This was the 
relationship of the landlord and peasant in 
precapitalist Europe. However, where use value 
rather than exchange value predominated, surplus 
labor was limited by a particular set of needs, 
and there was not the thrust for surplus labor 
that exists under the capitalist mode. See Karl 
Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, 
vol. 1, The Process of Capitalist Production (New 
York: International Publishers, 1973), pp. 4-264.

For a case study of the development of capitalism 
in indigenous territories, see Lawrence David 
Weiss, The Development of Capitalism in the 
Navajo Nation (Minneapolis, Minn.: MEP Publications, 1984).

4. William I. Parish, The Charles Ilfeld Company: 
A Study of the Rise and Decline of Mercantile 
Capitalism in New Mexico (Cambridge, Mass.: 
Harvard University Press, 1961), pp. 3, 35-37, 109.

5. Marx, Capital, pp. 626-27.

6. Ibid., p. 644.

7. Ibid., p. 506; Allan G. Harper, Andrew 
Cordova, and Kalervo Oberg, Man and Resources in 
the Middle Rio Grande Valley (Albuquerque: 
University of New Mexico Press, 1943), pp. 28-55.

8. W. G. Hoskins and L. Dudley Stamp, The Common 
Lands of England and Wales (London: Collins, 
1963), pp. 8-9. See also Peter Linebaugh, Magna 
Cart and the Commons: The Lost Charters and the 
Struggle for Liberty and Subsistence for All 
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007).

9. Parish, The Charles Ilfeld Company, pp. 3, 
35-37, 109. Parish discusses the period of 
mercantile capital in northern New Mexico in 
relation to the partido sheep contract between merchants and villagers.

10. Clark S. Knowlton, "One Approach to the 
Economic and Social Problems of Northern New 
Mexico," New Mexico Business 17 (September 1964): 3.

11. Harper, Cordova, and Oberg, Man and Resources 
in the Middle Rio Grande Valley, p. 10. Today, 
the federal government claims 33 percent of the 
land base of the state of New Mexico, or 25.7 
million acres. The state of New Mexico claims 12 
percent, or 9.3 million acres, of the land base 
as state-owned lands; private owners (which 
includes land grantees) hold 46.25 percent, or 38 
million acres; and Navajos, Apaches, and Pueblo 
Indians together hold 8.75 percent, or 7 million 
acres, of the total land base of the state of New 
Mexico. State of New Mexico, Economic Report 
(Santa Fe: State of New Mexico, 1977).

12. William Dusenberry, Mexican Mesta: 
Administration of Ranching in Colonial Mexico 
(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1963), p. 3.

13. Harper, Cordova, and Oberg, Man and Resources 
in the Middle Rio Grande Valley, p.10.

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