Inspired by a mystical dream in which he saw frozen horses melting in the sun, lay preacher Reies López Tijerina moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1963 and founded the Alianza Federal de Mercedes (The Federal Alliance of Land Grants) whose purpose was to reclaim title to land grants that had once belonged to Hispanos of New Mexico but which had been expropriated in previous years by the federal government and private land owners.

In Tijerina’s mind, the frozen horses of his dream were the land grants that must be freed and returned to the heirs of the Hispano families who had once owned these lands.

His efforts to reclaim the lands– through the court system and through organizing the heirs of the original land owners–met with opposition from land owners and governmental agencies. Before long, the charismatic organizer had a large following. In 1967, Tijerina tried to hold a public meeting in the town of Coyote, New Mexico but the District Attorney of Rio Arriba County, Alfonso Sanchez, prohibited the event.

Tijerina and his followers felt this was an abrogation of their constitutional right of freedom of assembly and on June 5, 1967 went armed to the courthouse at Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico to make a citizen’s arrest on the district attorney.

The ensuing shootout left a jailer and deputy wounded and Tijerina and his followers kidnapped a deputy and a court reporter and fled into the New Mexico countryside sparking the largest manhunt in New Mexico history. The two hostages were soon released and Tijerina was eventually captured, tried and convicted of assault for which he received a two-year prison sentence.

At a time when Mexican Americans were universally referred to as “the sleeping giant,” the militancy of Tijerina’s wild west shoot-out inspired a whole generation of Mexican Americans young people who suddenly saw that it was possible to protest the injustices under which they lived.