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For 150 years descendants of Mexican settlers in Costilla County, Colorado have claimed communal rights to graze livestock, hunt and fish, and gather firewood on La Sierra. The 1844 Sangre de Cristo Land Grant guaranteed these land rights to settlers in order to build their communities and to sustain future generations of families. The US government confirmed these rights in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
In 1960, North Carolina timber baron Jack Taylor purchased 77,500 acres of land on the mountain the community calls La Sierra. Taylor fenced off access to the mountain and hired gunmen to keep local residents out. He began a large-scale logging operation that threatened the health of the mountain tributaries, the sole water source for the community. The Land Rights Council was formed in 1978 to fight for the rights to access food, water, grazing, and other resources vital to the economic and cultural stability of this agrarian community. A litigation battle began that has lasted many decades involving four separate landowners.
A visitor entering El Pueblo History Museum’s Community Gallery is greeted by seven recorded voices that quietly fill the gallery space. Conversations overlap one another as the beneficiaries the 1844 Sangre de Cristo Land Grant tell their personal stories involving the ongoing 50-year range war with the landowners of the Taylor/Cielo Vista Ranch.