Safeguarding artifacts - Gorras Blancas items moved

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By Mercy Lopez

More than a century ago, Las Gorras Blancas or “The White Caps,” rode into town demanding fairness and protesting what they saw as injustice involving land grant litigation in Las Vegas.

Historians have called the Gorras Blancas movement the most significant protest movement by native New Mexicans since the Taos Revolt of 1847, and descendants of the original Gorras Blancas have been safeguarding artifacts from the group for more than a hundred years.

Recently their capes, white hoods, religious saints, retablos and other Morada items were moved to a safe and undisclosed location due to fears that treasure-hunters were looking for the artifacts and had gotten close. The artifacts had been housed in petaquillas or trunks tied with rope somewhere in the San Geronimo area.

Lorenzo Flores said the items were removed after trash, a cell phone and digging tools were found on land in the vicinity of where the petaquillas were being stored.  

Flores said people should be aware that the artifacts have been moved to an undisclosed location, and he asked that the people who had been searching for them to stop. Flores said their efforts are causing a dangerous situation, noting that they have been trespassing on private land and that he fears someone may get shot.

As for the petaquillas, Flores said negotiations are under way with New Mexico Highlands University professor Eric Romero and Cristino Griego of Casa de Cultura to preserve and catalog the artifacts. He added that the original artifacts will only be made available to a few individuals despite numerous requests from historians and scholars.

Las Gorras Blancas was a somewhat controversial group that held numerous violent and non-violent protests in San Miguel County in the late 1800s.

Among the group’s first protests was one on Nov. 1, 1889, when 66 horseman descended upon Las Vegas to meet with then-sheriff Lorenzo Lopez, according to the Office of the State Historian. The group’s protests pertained to land and community rights issues.

The activist group was organized in April 1889 by Las Vegas native Juan Jose Herrera and his brothers Nicanor and Pablo. They had support from their neighbors in El Burro, El Salitre, Ojitos Frios and San Geronimo and gradually increased support to having more than 500 members, according to the Office of the State Historian.

Flores said PBS is planning a documentary on the group.