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Records of the Land Rights Council

 Collection
Identifier: WLRC

Scope and Contents

The Records of the Land Rights Council consists of documents dated 1958 to 2009, with the bulk falling from 1966 to 1999. The collection documents the Council's activities, research conducted for the initial court case, and the series of resulting cases. The Council's activities are documented through meeting minutes, reports, letters, clippings, grant proposals, and legal documents. Documentation is not comprehensive in part due to the varying level of activities of the Council over the years and the volunteer nature of the board. Most documents included in the research files are photocopies of original documents that date back to the mid-1800s and serve as the basis for the litigation. The court case files are not a complete record of the proceedings, but do contain extensive documentation of the plaintiffs. Note that some materials, especially among the research files, are in Spanish.

Dates

  • 1958-2009
  • Majority of material found within 1966-1999

Creator

Restrictions on Access

A few folders are restricted because of the presence of attorney-client materials and are open only to Council board members and attorneys.

Restrictions on Use

Not all of the material in the collection is in the public domain. Researchers are responsible for addressing copyright issues.

History

Based in San Luis, Colorado, the Land Rights Council was formed in 1978 as a grassroots advocacy organization to protect the community's rights originally received under the Mexican land grant system. The Council has been committed not only to regaining historic rights to La Sierra through a series of court cases, but also to maintaining its ecological health. This mountain tract east of town is the source of three rivers and many tributary streams, used for the area's acequia-based agriculture. The group has been part of both the Chicano rights movement in Colorado and one of the longest running court cases in the country.

The Land Rights Council, run by a volunteer board of directors, was founded by Apolinar Rael, Ray Otero, and Shirley Romero with a grant from the Catholic Church's Campaign for Human Development. Their main initial activity involved conducting research and gathering documentation related to the land grant and descendants of the original settlers. This laid the groundwork for a class action lawsuit filed in 1981 on behalf of more than 100 successors. Rael v. Taylor made its way to the Colorado Supreme Court where it was reversed and remanded to the trial court in 1994. The primary attorney representing the plaintiffs pro bono from 1978 until 2002 was Jeffrey Goldstein.

The land in question, in what is now Costilla County at the southern end of Colorado's San Luis Valley, used to be Mexican territory. In 1843 it was established as the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant. Mexican land grant laws recognized the land and its natural resources as communal in use, and its later owner, Carlos Beaubien, guaranteed in writing the inhabitants' rights to pastures, water, firewood, and timber. In 1960 North Carolina lumberman John T. (Jack) Taylor purchased more than 77,000 acres of the grant, including the 14,069-foot mountain Culebra Peak, with the intention of logging it. He established the private Taylor Ranch immediately east of the town of San Luis.

Over the decades, the Land Rights Council has worked to defend the rights of the descendants of the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant by organizing the community, publishing educational materials, establishing a communication network, and holding conferences and workshops. Their actions have also been essential to the protection of the ecological health of the water, grazing land, and timber.

In 1998, the Lobato v. Taylor trial retried the Rael case in the Costilla County District Court. It ascended to the Colorado Supreme Court, which rendered a decision in favor of the plaintiffs in 2002, issued in 2016. Taylor passed away in 1988 and the land, now known as Cielo Vista Ranch, changed hands several times, with the current owner having chosen to appeal the case no further, as of fall 2018. The Land Rights Council continues to work on expanding rights and ensuring equitable environmental governance.

Extent

6 linear feet (4 record cartons)

Language of Materials

English

Spanish; Castilian

Abstract

Based in San Luis, Colorado, the Land Rights Council was formed in 1978 as a grassroots advocacy organization to protect the community's rights originally received under the Mexican land grant system. The Council has been committed not only to regaining historic rights to the mountain tract called La Sierra, but also to maintaining its ecological health. The collection primarily consists of administrative records, research files, and court case files.

Arrangement

Only the research files were donated with a clearly discernible order. The other materials were separated into series by documentation type.

The collection consists of 4 series in 4 boxes:

Series 1: Administrative documents, 1978-2008 and undated

Series 2: Activity files, 1977-2009 and undated

Series 3: Research files, 1958-1994 and undated

Series 4: Court case files, 1962-2009 and undated

Acquisition

The Records of the Land Rights Council was acquired by the Water Resources Archive in August 2017 from the Land Rights Council. Shirley Romero Otero, president of the Council, donated the collection on behalf of the organization.

Online Materials

Most materials have been scanned and are available through the Colorado State University Libraries website. In the electronic version of this document, direct links appear in context.

Processing

Processing was completed in October 2017. Materials were rehoused in acid-free folders. All metal fasteners were removed and replaced with archival fasteners as needed. Photographs were placed in archival sleeves. Duplicates beyond the first two copies were removed, and files were rearranged into series order. Some folder titles were clarified to better indicate contents.

Creator

Title
Guide to the Records of the Land Rights Council
Status
Edited Full Draft
Author
Prepared by Patricia J. Rettig and Steven Emmen
Date
Copyright 2017
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the CSU Libraries Archives & Special Collections Repository

Contact:
Fort Collins Colorado 80523-1019 USA
970-491-1844