History of Los Alamos, NM Area Land Claims

November 29, 2010

History of Native and Hispanic American Land Claims resulting from
the 1943 U.S. Federal Seizure of New Mexico’s Pajarito Plateau

A Research Paper Presented to
Instructor J. R. GARCIA, MA
New Mexico History #260
By Jeffrey E. Genauer

Introduction – Page 3
Native and Hispanic American Roots on the Pajarito Plateau – 4
History of the “Ramon Vigil” Land Grant – 6
United States Government Controls the Pajarito Plateau – 11
United States Government Addresses Land Claims on the Pajarito Plateau – 13
Conclusion – 17
Endnotes – 19
Bibliography – 20


For a number of years, as a peace and environmental activist supporting groups in New Mexico including Trinity Nuclear Abolitionists, Think Outside The Bomb, and Tewa Women United, my experience with Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) has been one of protest against the ecological devastation and runaway militarism associated with nuclear weapons. This August, for example, marked the 65th anniversary of the atomic bombs that the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in 1945. A coalition of peace groups commemorated this tragic date by holding a series of non-violent protest actions, in Santa Fe and Los Alamos, at which a number of people were arrested for civil disobedience. Although I was not one of those arrested, I participated in these actions by harvesting dozens of beautiful sunflowers – a worldwide symbol of nuclear disarmament and peaceful transformation – from an organic farm in Albuquerque. I then transported the flowers to these protests in order to heighten their visual representation of a peaceful and ecologically sustainable world without war and weapons of mass destruction. Ironically, as I learned by researching this paper, the area of Los Alamos itself was once covered in productive organic farms. But today, the radioactive pollution that seeps from LANL, through the air and from its canyons and watersheds, is a disconcerting source of environmental contamination to farmers downstream. My goal in researching this paper was to become a more informed activist by learning about the history of the land and of the former inhabitants of the Pajarito Plateau, with a focus on the background and results of their struggle for justice following the United States seizure of their properties. Ideally, I hoped to discover information proving that, in the words of LANL whistleblower Joe Guttierez, “the government does not have clear title to these lands.” Although I was not able to definitively verify this allegation – and, in the past decade, settlements by the Pajarito Plateau homesteaders and by San Ildefonoso seem to have granted to the U.S. government the “clear title” that it previously may have lacked – I believe that researching this paper did successfully serve to expand my knowledge of the complex historical background to the establishment of and now-permanent occupation by the U.S. government and military upon the Pajarito Plateau. Thus, it has helped to me become a more informed and effective New Mexican peace activist.

Native and Hispanic American Roots on the Pajarito Plateau

When the Manhattan Project was established on New Mexico’s Pajarito Plateau in 1943 by the United States War Department, this area was chosen to house hundreds of research scientists and their “top-secret” atomic weapons experimentation for some of the very same reasons that it had been only sparsely inhabited by people for hundreds of years. The Pajarito Plateau’s relatively remote geographical location and difficult accessibility, in addition to its frequently harsh climate, had prevented this terrain of canyons, forests, and long narrow mesas from being attractive to settlement by more than small numbers of Hispano and Anglo homesteaders or colonists. Although the Pajarito Plateau and its surrounding vicinity had previously been home to a substantial society of native Indians, who left their permanent archaeological mark on the land in the form of sprawling complexes of built structures, these “ancestral Puebloans” had migrated from (but never “abandoned”) the region in the 1300s – probably due to hardships caused by prolonged drought – and relocated in New Mexico’s more fertile valleys. Their descendants, in particular those who live today at San Ildefonso Pueblo to the near east, have traditionally believed the Pajarito Plateau to be a sacred place where the prayers and spirits of their ancestors are still alive. In addition, from the 1880s into the 1940s, as lands grew more crowded in and a new railroad penetrated into the Española Valley below, the Pajarito Plateau became inhabited by several dozen homesteading families, as well as the 772-acre Los Alamos Ranch School.

These homesteaders were predominantly Hispanic but also included several influential Anglo settlers. By the beginning of World War II, despite its remote location, rugged terrain, and challenging climate, virtually all of the flatland areas of the Pajarito Plateau’s mesas that could be inhabited, cultivated and grazed upon had been claimed as private property. Surrounded by expansive national forests and connected economically to the Española Valley, the Hispano homesteaders who lived there were engaged in hard but productive agrarian lives of ranching and both subsistence and commercial farming. Some of the Hispano farmers seem to have learned to use modern farming implements and advanced organic agricultural techniques from professionally trained and innovative dryland farmer H.H. Brook. Transplanting himself from the Midwest to New Mexico to recover from a bout with tuberculosis, Brook started homesteading on the Pajarito Plateau in 1909 and soon had 400 acres under cultivation, before selling his land in 1917 and becoming the extension agent in Dona Ana County for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Known locally as the “Bean King,” Brook is believed to have sold his modern farm machinery to Hispanos who worked for him, such as homesteader Estanislado Gonzales, and his extraordinarily successful techniques (and possibly also his seed varieties) certainly filtered around the Pajarito Plateau. In the most successful years, certain homesteaders were able to harvest well over 20,000 cumulative pounds of beans, corn, wheat, oats, animal feed, and other crops.

Yet despite this impressive productivity and the extensive material improvements to the land that the Hispano homesteaders had made – including the fences and homes they constructed – their land was officially valued in 1943 at a miniscule fraction of the $335,000 that the Los Alamos Ranch School received from the U.S. government as compensation for the federal condemnation and seizure of their land. Many of the Hispano homesteaders were evicted with no compensation at all, and others were granted just $7 to $15 per acre (compared to the $220 per acre that the Ranch School negotiated). Later, from the late 1990s until 2007, after the Department of Energy was ordered by Congress to divest thousands of acres of its Los Alamos-area lands to Los Alamos County and San Ildefonso Pueblo, this severe disparity would produce the ultimately successful efforts by the Pajarito Plateau Homesteaders Association to achieve legislative relief and retroactive compensation, through lawsuits against and political lobbying to the U.S. government.

History of the “Ramon Vigil” Land Grant

However, in order to understand the full and complicated historical background to these lawsuits and the numerous changes in land tenure that have impacted the Pajarito Plateau, from the Spanish crown’s jurisdiction over the area until today, one must first examine the controversial history and legacy of the “Ramon Vigil” land grant. This history began in 1742, when a former soldier named Pedro Sanchez was living on a small tract of land in Santa Cruz de la Cañada (now a neighborhood in the town of Española) with his wife, twelve children, three orphaned nephews, and three female servants. In his petition to the governor, Sanchez claimed to have so much trouble supporting his family on his tiny acreage that he needed a grant of extra land. At that time, the Spanish crown had a policy of rewarding subjects for their military service and, within limits, sought to encourage Spaniards to settle the remote peripheries of the empire. The land that Sanchez sought was described as being bounded on the north by the lands of San Ildefonso Pueblo, on the south by the lands of Captain Andres Montoya, on the east by the Rio Grande, and on the west by the Sierra Madre. Governor Gaspar Domingo de Mendoza soon granted this substantial area of land adjoining San Ildefonso Pueblo and neighboring Hispanos to Pedro Sanchez, who moved to the land with his family but then abandoned the property after only a few years. Under the laws and customs of the Spanish crown, this abandonment should have meant that the grant was subsequently declared null and void – and, officially, perhaps it was. But more than one century later, in 1851, the heirs of Pedro Sanchez revived their claim to the grant. On behalf of eight out of the eleven heirs – three of whom refused to sell their shares to him – Antonio Sanchez sold the grant to Jose Ramon Vigil, who had recently served as the alcalde (mayor) of Santa Clara. With the United States newly in control of the territory of New Mexico and undertaking an extensive but underfunded, chaotic, and “woefully inadequate” process to survey and demarcate its lands, the time was ripe for Ramon Vigil to attempt to prove and confirm his title to the Pedro Sanchez grant before the New Mexico Territorial Supreme Court.

Although Ramon Vigil was one of the first Hispano citizens of New Mexico who was able to successfully defend a private land grant and have it confirmed by the U.S., contemporary historians have called the validity of his claim into serious question. Following upon the research of Los Alamos resident historian Marjorie Bell Chambers , Malcolm Ebright argues persuasively that the documentary evidence that Ramon Vigil presented in court was, in fact, forged. If the grant had indeed been abandoned by Pedro Sanchez (which is further indicated by his application for another grant in the late 1740s) and subsequently nullified by the Spanish crown, then the original grant document could have been stamped with a notice of revocation, as happened in other cases. According to Ebright, Vigil likely remedied this situation “by copying the entire grant and omitting the notation that the grant had been revoked, thus breathing new life into the grant.” By comparing handwriting samples and analyzing discrepancies between the “forged” Sanchez grant document and its associated deeds of sale – including inconsistent tract boundaries – Ebright provides additional evidence that Vigil was proffering a counterfeit claim. At any rate, Vigil was not only clever enough to pass off the forged documents as legitimate but also ingeniously procured legal representation from J.S. Watts, an associate justice on the first New Mexico Territorial Supreme Court. In 1859, Surveyor General William Pelham recommended to U.S. Congress that the grant be confirmed, and in 1860 Congress finally confirmed it. In 1879, Vigil sold the grant to Father Thomas Aquinas Hayes for $4,000.

But while “the approval of a land grant of this size when the grant documents were forged was highly improper” on its own terms, the validity of Ramon Vigil’s revival of the Pedro Sanchez grant is called into even greater doubt by the early protest against this grant by San Ildefonso Pueblo, followed by the Spanish crown’s partial acceptance of their claim in 1764. Although the laws governing Pueblo land holdings were applied inconsistently throughout the reign of Spain in New Mexico, legal custom and precedent dictated that each Pueblo was entitled to four square leagues, traditionally measured from the cross at the center of the Pueblo cemetery. In 1763, San Ildefonso Pueblo launched a lawsuit that asked Governor Tomas Velez Cachupin to formally measure the four square leagues to which the Pueblo was entitled. They claimed that certain Hispanos (including aforementioned Captain Montoya) were encroaching upon their land from the south and east, and that part of the Pedro Sanchez grant was within their western boundaries. When the alcalde of Santa Cruz measured the lands, he indeed discovered that the house and corral of Pedro Sanchez (which apparently were then abandoned) were well within San Ildefonso’s league. After referring the case to the magistrate in Chihuahua, Governor Velez Cachupin agreed to implement a compromise solution: The encroaching Hispanos on the south and east would be allowed to remain, but the Pueblo was granted “all the land they needed on the west side, including the land previously granted to Pedro Sanchez, for pasturing San Ildefonso’s cattle.” This ruling should have finalized the end of the existence of the Pedro Sanchez grant. Further complicating the matter, Rothman states that “ironically, Vigil’s homestead was outside of the property he owned.” Nevertheless, due to Ramon Vigil’s industry and good fortune, the grant would be resurrected in the 19th century with the U.S. seal of approval. San Ildefonso Pubelo’s position that this grant was unjustly authorized, officially revoked, and then again unjustly confirmed by the U.S. served to bolster their own particular claim in the 20th century to lands in the area occupied by Los Alamos National Laboratory.

In 1877, the history of the Ramon Vigil grant received another fateful twist when U.S. surveyors decided to cut its boundaries roughly in half, down to about 32,000 acres. Similar to many Spanish and Mexican land grants, the Vigil grant had informal borders. Traditionally, its northern limit was the seasonal creek in Guajes Canyon, while its western edge was formed by the peaks of the Jemez Mountains. The U.S. surveyors drew an arbitrary line for the grant’s northern boundary and changed its western boundary to the base of the mountains. In 1881, Father Hayes, the grant’s new owner, challenged this decision in court but lost the case. In 1885, he sold the grant to a duo of Midwestern investors for $100,000, thus accumulating the phenomenal profit of 2,400 percent over his original $4,000 investment. The new owners also protested against the huge decrease in the grant’s acreage, and again lost in court. These decisions effectively classified much of the Pajarito Plateau as public land and opened it to settlement under the Homestead Act of 1862. According to the terms of the Homestead Act, prospective private landowners were required to undergo a prolonged process of filing an application, improving the land, and filing for a deed of title. Successful applicants generally received title to lots of land amounting to 80 or 160 acres. Small numbers of Hispano settlers, mainly Española valley residents who tended to reside in the plateau seasonally in the warm months and utilize the land for agriculture and livestock grazing, before migrating back to the valley for the winter, began to apply for and receive homesteading deeds in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The first homesteaders on record were Antonio Sanchez in 1885 and Donaciano Gomez in 1899 , but they were almost certainly joined by other Hispanos who, for whatever reasons, inhabited the plateau while neglecting to submit to the process of officially filing for land title under the terms of the Homestead Act.

At the same time, the Anglo capitalist owners of the now-diminished Ramon Vigil grant were leasing out the land to a series of efforts to make the land profitable through intensive cattle grazing and logging, all of which ultimately failed. First, large herds of Texan-owned cattle were decimated by the brutal winter of 1886-87. Then, after the Ramon Land and Labor Company (owned by H.H. Brook and partners) went bankrupt in 1913 due to a U.S. Forest Service lawsuit against them which alleged that they had illegally logged on federal land, ownership over the Ramon Vigil grant turned over to the United States Bank and Trust Company. The grant was sold to a consortium of prominent Detroit automobile industrialists in 1914, and then, in 1918, to Española-based businessman Frank Bond, who had grown wealthy from his introduction of a system of credit into the regional economy. By offering credit to the cash-poor Hispanos who shopped and traded at his general store in the newly founded railroad town of Española, Bond soon became one of the region’s richest and most powerful Anglo men. His empire also extended to sheep, a traditional staple of the Hispano subsistence and commercial economy. By leasing sheep to Hispanos and simultaneously acquiring a monopoly over much of the grazing land in northern New Mexico, Bond was able to gain vast profits. Following the New Deal and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s creation of the Soil Conservation Service, Bond profited again by selling the Ramon Vigil grant – now seriously degraded due to a generation of over-grazing by sheep – to the SCS.

United States Government Controls the Pajarito Plateau

Through this sale, by the 1930s, the federal government possessed the vast majority of land upon and surrounding the Pajarito Plateau. In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt established the U.S. Forest Service as a division of the Department of Agriculture. In 1906, the Jemez Forest Reserve (later reapportioned to the Santa Fe National Forest) was created, which included some of the plateau’s most important archaeological sites. Also in 1906, under the terms of the Forest Homestead Act, the government opened arable areas within national forests to settlement, which made more land available on the Pajarito Plateau. Despite this concession to the public, when the U.S. decided to locate the Manhattan Project on the Pajarito Plateau in 1942, the fact that most of the area was already held by the government contributed strongly to its desirability as the site for this wartime initiative. From among the approximately 54,000 acres appropriated for the secretive atomic weapons research program, about 8,400 were owned privately by the Los Alamos Ranch School, Anchor Ranch (owned by Anglos) and various Hispano homesteaders. The government designated a total of $414,000 to purchase this land, over 75% of which was paid to the politically and legally well-connected Anglo owners of the Ranch School.

While seizure of the Ranch School’s property was subject to due process and compensated at fair market value, the Hispano homesteaders received no such judicious treatment. In contrast, in most cases, they were given 24-hour notice that their properties were being condemned and that they were required to abandon the area by U.S. military order. Their buildings were demolished and their livestock was killed, often in the direct view of families and children. After investing years, if not decades, in the creation of productive farming and ranching enterprises under the terms of the Homestead Act, few if any of these Hispano families were able to re-establish equally independent and profitable lives elsewhere in New Mexico. In the wartime climate of patriotic hysteria – which justified a wide range of domestic actions that repressed the rights and liberties of Americans, including the internment of Japanese citizens – these Hispano families had no legal or civil recourse to protest against their treatment or to acquire fair compensation for their extraordinary eviction. Some of them even were even forced to work, against their will and for horribly low wages, in the construction of the Manhattan Project. Only more than a half century later, after many of the original victims of eviction were already deceased, were they afforded the opportunity (through a process of protracted struggle) to win a measure of justice.

Meanwhile in 1943, lands belonging to San Ildefonso Pueblo were also designated for federal seizure. San Ildefonso Puebloans assert that they were assured by the U.S. government that this seizure was merely a “temporary” wartime measure. After the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs precipitated the unconditional surrender of Japan and the end of World War II in 1945, the permanence of the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos was indeed in doubt. With its remote location and expensive cost, many military and governmental leaders preferred to shut down Los Alamos and relocate its infrastructure and scientists to a more centrally convenient site. A number of voices called for Los Alamos to be preserved as a national park, with its ramshackle buildings frozen in time as monuments to the spectacular birthplace of the atomic age. Numerous plans to move the nuclear facilities were proposed, but none gained the consensus of the military establishment, Congress, and President Truman. Furthermore, any move would require at least two years to take effect – six months to plan the move, twelve months to build the new location, and six more months for the actual move. Amid the uncertainty, Manhattan Project director Leslie R. Groves presented his fait accompli in early 1946: “The only solution, therefore, is to stay at Los Alamos for at least the next few years, and to improve the existing facilities to such a degree as is necessary.” Under the leadership of Norris Bradbury, LASL’s next director until 1970, this solution became permanent.

United States Government Addresses Land Claims on the Pajarito Plateau

In 1947, the Atomic Energy Commission took over authority over the town of Los Alamos. In 1962, exclusive government control over Los Alamos ended and the town became a self-governing community; Los Alamos County was founded in 1949 out of parts of Sandoval and Santa Fe Counties. In the 1990s, following the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) entered a period of major flux, which included scientific diversification of its research projects and the political re-evaluation of its raison d'être. In 1997, New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici sponsored federal legislation ordering the Department of Energy (DOE) to divest itself of “excess property” at LANL in order to increase Los Alamos County’s tax base. This legislation also included a return of land to San Ildefonso Pueblo, who had “loaned” land to the federal government in 1943 with the understanding that it would be returned after the war. The loosely organized group of former Pajarito Plateau homesteaders immediately requested 2,500 acres of the DOE’s excess property as compensation for the original land they had lost. Domenici insisted that the land was already earmarked for Los Alamos County and San Ildefonso Pueblo, and he refused to include the homesteaders in the legislation. However, the legislation did specify that the U.S. Secretary of Energy – who then was former New Mexican Congressman Bill Richardson – was required to address the homesteader group’s claims before the land transfer could proceed. Richardson offered the group nine acres for a monument recognizing Hispano contributions to the war effort, plus funds to preserve the original settlers’ cabins and other buildings that had survived Army Corps of Engineers demolition. The homesteaders rejected this offer. Joe Gutierrez, the first president of the Pajarito Plateau Homesteaders Association, a LANL engineer, and an outspoken whistleblower and critic of LANL misdeeds, responded by saying, “We want land, not a monument. We want to prove that the government does not have clear title to these lands.”

Mark Schiller, writing for La Jicarita News, describes in detail the process of what happened next. Organizing itself into a formal non-profit group, the Pajarito Plateau Homesteaders Association filed two lawsuits against the U.S. government: One addressed the injustices associated with the loss of land, and the second alleged human rights violations. The human rights lawsuit argued that some of the homesteaders were falsely imprisoned and forced to work on construction of the Manhattan Project without proper compensation, as well as alleging that some homesteaders were “subjected to medical experimentation by being exposed to high levels of radiation.” Interviews by La Jicarita News with elderly homesteaders revealed that some of them had been forced to live in DOE facilities and to perform construction labor for the wage of one dollar per day. They further claimed that they were not permitted to leave the restricted area, that they were only allowed to shop at the “exorbitantly expensive” DOE commissary, that they were used to transport plutonium without adequate protection, and that they were forced to drink dubious “medicine” that made them sick.

Both cases were dismissed due to statute of limitation violations, and the homesteaders were told that “their remedy lies with the legislative branch.” According to Schiller, Gutierrez claims that the politics surrounding the eventual settlement with Congress were “disturbing” and divisive. Republican Senator Domenici, apparently eager to control the issue by himself and be seen as the “white knight” correcting this historic injustice, used his political influence as a senior member of Congress to limit the involvement of New Mexico’s Democratic Senator Bingaman and Congressman Udall. The homesteader association’s lawyers, hungry for their own share of the settlement, exploited the fear of the homesteaders that they might lose the opportunity to get paid if they refused to “play ball” with Domenici. Thus, despite internal debate and dissension, the majority of Pajarito Plateau Homesteader Association members decided that supporting Domenici’s proposal was their only hope of receiving compensation. On October 28, 2004, Congress passed an act known as “Compenstaion Of Pajarito Plateau, New Mexico, Homesteaders For Acquisition Of Lands For Manhattan Project In World War II.”

This act by Congress did not admit any wrongdoing on behalf of the government, but it provided $10 million to compensate eligible claimants. Judge Joseph Caldwell was appointed Special Master to distribute the funds. After the lawyers were given $2 million, the claimants had $8 million left to be divided among themselves, with the claims pro-rated upon the basis of the size of the original tract, the proximity in generational lineage of the claimant to the original owner, and the number of claims associated with each tract. On average, this settlement gave the homesteaders $3,200 per acre for the 2,500 acres for which they were seeking return or compensation. By the summer of 2007, 762 claims had been authorized for payment out of approximately 1,200 total claims, amounting to $7.8 million. The most substantial claims (to elderly claimants with small families) amounted to about $100,000, while some claimants received as little as $150. Viewing such insubstantial sums as another injustice, Gutierrez believes an “equitable settlement” would have totaled $60 million. His book documenting the entire history of the dispossession of the homesteaders and their efforts to be compensated is forthcoming.

Meanwhile, by settling the last remaining case filed under the provisions of the Indian Claims Commission Act of 1946, the enactment of the return of Los Alamos lands from the DOE to San Ildefonso Peublo represented “something of a milestone in Federal Indian Policy.” Three centuries earlier, in 1704, the Pueblo received their original grant of four square leagues (about 1800 acres) from the Spanish crown. However, the Pueblo maintained that they had traditionally used and occupied a larger area than that contained within the Spanish grant. These larger areas were illegally taken or disposed of by the United States by three methods: 1) Conveyances to various third party grantees under U.S. public land laws; 2) the establishment of the Jemez Forest Reserve in 1905; and 3) by the establishment of the New Mexico Grazing District in 1941 under the Taylor Grazing Act. These findings by the Indian Claims Commission were confirmed by the United States Court of Claims in United States v. Pueblo of San Ildefonso. In 1996, the United States Court of Federal Claims ruled that the U.S. was liable to the Pueblo for these and various other claims. After this, through several years of negotiations between the Pueblo and Federal agencies, a mutually acceptable settlement was reached to convey to the Pueblo approximately 7,100 acres of its aboriginal area from within the Santa Fe National Forest. In addition, the agreement approved the separate transfer in trust to the Pueblo of about 555 acres, known as the “Water System Land,” of land located within the Santa Fe National Forest. As one condition for this complex agreement involving multiple parties, the Pueblo accepted the designation of an evacuation route through Pueblo lands, in the case of an emergency within Los Alamos County.


As of the autumn of 2010, this author is aware of no more remaining extant claims, by prior owners of land on the Pajarito Plateau, for any part of the approximately 54,000 acres that the U.S government seized in 1943 for the Manhattan Project. This does not mean, however, that the status of all lands inside Los Alamos County is now permanently fixed. By the 1990s, “not a square inch of land in the region remained unclaimed; two or more entities argued over any specific piece. Signs forbidding passage and use abounded, and because of the inherent limits in usable space, the market value of the region seemed locked into a perpetual cycle of ever increasing monetary value.” Compared to both the astronomical land values in Los Alamos County today and the $335,000 that Los Alamos Ranch School received as compensation in 1943, the belated compensation that Hispanic homesteading claimaints received in this decade indeed seems small. When we consider that this financial injustice is compounded by the heretofore unrecognized, unpunished and uncompensated violations of human rights that some homesteaders suffered, the anger that many New Mexicans still feel toward LANL (and the U.S. government overseers who created it) begins to become comprehensible. Ebright concludes that “the treatment of these Hispanic property owners is a shameful chapter in U.S. history.” He argues that “the facts of their eviction and the government’s active misrepresentation of the valuation process and willful failure to notify the homesteaders of the condemnation proceedings reveal a flagrant disregard for [their] rights.” (2007 p. 28) In settling their claim, the United States acknowledged only that they had at first been underpaid and did not admit any willful or active intent to harm them. In light of this, plus the U.S. judicial system’s refusal to provide justice for the homesteading claimants upon the basis of a technicality, Native American scholar Vine Deloria’s radical criticism against U.S. law seems to possess more than a kernel of truth. “Law is a formal institution designed to make the arbitrary and whmsical behavior of the governing elite seem to have the aura of rationality and truth,” he said.

Upon a surface analysis, compared to the Hispanic homesteaders, San Ildefonso seems to have fared somewhat better. After all, more than 7,000 acres of the Pueblo’s taken land was returned to them, albeit in part held in trust for them by the U.S. government. But while the homesteaders at least have had the option to potentially move on and rebuild their disrupted lives in new places, San Ildefonso Pueblo cannot move. The Pueblo is stuck in its present location, perilously close to LANL’s ongoing nuclear weapons research and production activities. In negotiating their settlement, the Pueblo gave LANL the right to evacuate personnel through Pubelo lands, in the case of a nuclear catastrophe or other type of crisis (such as the Cerro Grande wildfire that threatened LANL buildings in 2000). As the Pueblo with populations living closest to LANL, San Ildefonso sits uncomfortably on the precipice of disaster. Through my peace work as a volunteer and participant in events organized by Tewa Women United, I have heard stories relating their fear, anger and frustration in regard to the U.S. government’s abuse and despoliation of their sacred lands. But under the vagaries of U.S. law, the Pueblo has little if any recourse to address this historic injustice. Federal laws that were intended to protect Native American religious freedom, including sacred places, have proven to be inadequate because U.S. courts have tended to interpret such legislation far too narrowly. In addition, as of the Thanksgiving holiday of 2010, the United States remains the only major country in the world that has not signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Until now, the full history of San Ildefonso Pueblo’s experience with the Manhattan Project and the subsequent development and ongoing expansion of Los Alamos National Laboratory has not been published. Many questions remain, such as the degree of critical importance to the Pueblo’s religious freedom of the sacred ancestral lands now encompassed by LANL, that can only be answered by the San Ildefonsoans. Unfortunately, in the course of researching this paper, I did not have the opportunity to interview Pueblo members who may – if they are willing – be able to provide such answers. Finally, while the land claims on the Pajarito Plateau have now been settled, a number of fights are still continuing to compel LANL to reduce its environmental risk to present and future generations of northern New Mexicans. From efforts to force LANL to clean up old depositories of radioactive waste from canyons surrounding the Pajarito Plateau, to the multi-party lawsuit that was recently launched with the aim of slowing down or stopping construction of the massive new $4.2 billion Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) which LANL intends to use to update and expand its plutonium pit production, New Mexico citizens are working diligently to confront the broader nuclear issues that the Native and Hispanic American land claims – and this paper – have lacked the scope to address.


1 Several photographs from these protests are posted at www.farmerswithflowers.wordpress.com
2 Anschuetz (2006) p. 57.
3 Martinez, Julian and Joseph H. Suina. (2006).
4 Ebright and Salazar (2007) p. 19.
5 Ebright and Salazar (2007) p. 19.
6 Ebright and Salazar (2007) p. 18.
7 Ebright and Salazar (2007) pp. 10-13.
8 Ebright (1994) p. 228.
9 Rothman (1992) p. 12.
10 Ebright (1994) p. 228.
11 Ebright (1994) p. 230.
12 Ebright (1994) p. 233.
13 Ebright (1994) pp. 37-40.
14 Chambers, Marjorie Bell & Linda K. Aldrich. (1999).
15 Ebright (1994) p. 234.
16 Ebright (1994) pp. 231-37.
17 Ebright (1994) p. 238. Rothman (1992) pp. 24-25 alternatively states that Hayes brought the grant 8 years earlier, in 1871, but does not provide a reference. He also emphatically states that “the motive for the purchase [by Hayes] could not have been speculation. Ebright argues it was speculation, and he provides reference to original document.
18 Ebright (1994) p. 231.
19 Hall (1987) p. 76.
20 Rothman (1992) p. 26.
21 Ebright (1994) p. 230.
22 Rothman (1992) p. 13.
23 Rothman (1992) p. 26.
24 Rothman (1992) p. 26.
25 Hoard (xxxx). p. 21.
26 Rothman (1992) pp. 31-32.
27 Ebright (2007) p. 6.
28 Rothman (1992) pp. 128-131.
29 Rothman (1992) p. 201.
30 Rothman (1992) p. 85.
31 Ebrogjht and Salazar (2007) pp. 7-10.
32 Ebright and Salazar (2007) p. 15.
33 Schiller (2007) p. 5.
34 Masco (2006) p. 118.
35 Szasz (2006) p. 127.
36 Szasz (2006) p. 136.
37 Schiller (2007) p. 3.
38 Schiller (2007) p. 4.
39 Schiller (2007) p. 4-7.
40 Committeee on Indian Affairs. (2006)
41 Committeee on Indian Affairs. (2006)
42 Rothman (1992). p. 2
43 Ebright (2007) p. 28.
44 Ebright (2007) p. 28.
45 Deloria (2006) pp. 94-95.
46 Gulliford (2000) pp. 101-102


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