Tigua Indians

.. uld not have been allowed to vote. Indians were denied voting rights by law on the basis that they were wards of the government. This was true despite the fact that the Tiguas had been Mexican citizens and should therefore in accordance with the Treaty of Hidalgo been made citizens of the United States. The act gave Ysleta the power to regulate “tippling houses, dram ships, and groceries.” It also explained how land could be granted or sold by the town, ” to any person or persons who may desire to become citizens of Ysleta.” Indians, as you may have guessed, could not become citizens, and so even though the law was an illegal law since the patent that was granted by the Fifth Legislature could not be sold, the Tiguas could no hold land titles.

Tays prepared a map, which combined the Ysleta Grant with other properties. The map is dated 1872 and the act to incorporate seems to be drawn on the same parameters. Tays’s original map is still on file with the El Paso County Clerk. It reveals a substantial amount of land as public land, when in fact it belonged to the Tigua. This map is radically different form one made in 1825.

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This is the first map of the Tigua lands. The first rule to surveying land is to follow the surveyor before you. Tays’s boundaries cut out the vast majority of the land traditionally allocated to the Tigua. Additionally Tays’s survey allocated lands to J.P Hague, who had been a clerk of the states senate from 1867-1871 when he became the first district attorney to El Paso. This was during Fountain’s tenure in the Senate. Part of the Hague property also has the name of J.A.

Buckler a notorious real estate developer. After three years much of the Tigua land had disappeared by way of 304 conveyances to individuals who wished to be citizens of Ysleta. Vast amounts of this land were later conveyed to friends of Fountain, including Ben Dowell. This took place despite the fact that a lawsuit reaffirmed the original Spanish grants made to the Indian tribes confirmed that the state had no authority in regards to the sale of Indian lands, and that the incorporation act was illegal. Ben Dowell was assigned by the incorporators to be one of the five commissioners to set up an election for officers of the city council. Dowell himself was elected Mayor.

During the second meeting Fountain was elected city attorney. This prompted questions of appropriateness by three members of the aldermen. Within a month the tree naysayers were silenced, and resigned from office. An election was held to replace the aldermen. Among those elected was none other than Joseph Tays. The “Fountain Ring” had become the most powerful in the country. The Supreme Court soon stepped in and declared the Act to incorporate unconstitutional.

I May of 1874 Fountain pushed through another bill, “An Act to Repeal an Act to Incorporate the Town of Ysleta in El Paso County”. The law was a formal apology, but tact onto the bill was a provision that the law would take effect 60 days after enactment. In this time another 350 conveyances took place. The laws were declared unconstitutional and repealed, but the damage was already done. The Tigua had lost their land. To address claims that these acquisitions were just normal business it is necessary to point out again that an Indian can not sell land that is being held in trust by the state.

The only land that an Indian could sell he land that he himself had purchased. Therefore, all the transfers of property made of land that belonged within the original grant were illegal. They were made by individuals who had no right to sell them. Furthermore, the people who purchased the land made and illegal purchase. Considering the fact that most of the names that appear on the titles are land dealers, the suggestion of fraud is overwhelming. Land dealers surely would have known the law.

This does not completely clear up the question of whether or Fountain’s ‘ring’ was involved in a conspiracy. Upon looking at further evidence, however, it is all but impossible to deny. S.H. Newman, a newspaperman, had made these observations of El Paso in 1876. He was impressed by the vision the townspeople had of “a Great Day coming when the railroad would arrive and untold riches would reward the faithful ..

” At this time Ben Dowell, Joseph Tays, and Colonel Zabriskie had already accumulated considerable acres of land in anticipation of the coming railroad. Newman later wrote, “I can remember how the same Colonel Zabriskie pointed out the exact spot where the railroad would cross the Rio Grande, and I smiled and accused him of drawing upon his imagination. Years afterward when the Southern Pacific Railroad Company built its bridge above the city I smiled again and in imagination took of my hat to Colonel Zabriskie. It was the exact spot he had pointed out. Zabriskie knew that site had been chosen long before the railroad ever arrived.

It seems reasonable that Zabriskie would have shared this information with powerful friends even if only enlist them in helping him purchase the land. A single man would have had a hard time buying all of the land necessary. In order to bargain for a desired price with the railroads, one would need to own enough land that the railroads could not simply build around his land. In order to tie up that much land, Zabriskie would need help. Who better to turn to than powerful politicians? The other question that might arise is how did Zabriskie obtain this knowledge? That answer is easily suggested. Railroad companies depended upon the cooperation of both federal and state governments.

Route proposals had to be ratified through government action. If the routes crossed government land or land being held in trust by the government, such as reservations, it would require Legislative approval. Fountain, being Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee and President of the Senate, would have been consulted on proposed routes on Indian land. We do not know that Fountain passed any information on to Zabriskie, but he certainly had the opportunity. Seeing as how Fountain is a man who enjoyed a rapid ascent from poverty to power and wealth through underhanded dealings with the El Paso elite, it is safe to assume that he wouldn’t pass this opportunity up. Fountain was power hungry and had quickly manipulated individuals in El Paso’s elite from early on.

It was clearly through both of the acts he pushed through the Senate that he was intent on continuing to do so as long as he could profit from it. Those who were in on the scandal and bought the lands became extremely wealthy over the years and the Tigua fell deeper and deeper into poverty. Eventually it was claimed by anthropologists and others that they had disappeared. The Tigua went largely unnoticed for most of the 20th century. It wasn’t until 1965, when El Paso started proceedings to recover back taxes from the individuals where the Tigua had ‘once’ lived, that they drew the attention of attorney Tom Diamond.

Tax foreclosures threatened to destroy the last remnants of the Tigua. Diamond became interested in them and began their fight for survival. In the summer of 1966 anthropologist Nick Houser spent three months studying the Tigua. In October of that same year the Tigua refused to pay taxes. Diamond filed suit on behalf of the Tigua against the city. He claimed that the original grant had been recognized by Texas, and therefore the land belonged to them as a sovereign nation and could not be taxed.

At this time the Tigua were the only Indian group not recognized by the U.S. government. This all began to change on November 23rd of 1966, when the Texas State Historical Survey Committee passed a resolution recognizing the tribe based on Nick Houser’s reports. In April of 1967 their call for recognition was again answered after much work by Tom Diamond. The Sixtieth Texas Senate Legislature recognized the Tiguas’ existence as a tribe in House Bill 888.

One year later in 1968 the Congressional Record sated: “Considering how many other tribes and bands of Indians in this country have been recognized by the United States, it is virtually impossible to explain how the Tigua have been missed up to this time .. ” In July of 1967 the Tiguas received their first allocated funds totaling $35,000. In August the same year The House Indian Affairs Subcommittee approved a bill to designate the Tigua Indians of El Paso as an official Indian tribe. In February of 1968 after much prodding by Diamond and after a visit to Ysleta revealed the poverty of the Tiguas there stipend was increased to $146,424 a year. In April of 1968, one year after Texas had recognized the Tigua, President did the same with Public Law 90-287.

It read: “Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that the Indians now living in El Paso County, Texas who are descendants of the Tiwa Indians of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo settling in Texas as Ysleta in 1682 shall from and after the ratification of this Act, be known and designated as the Tiwa Indians of Ysleta, Texas, ad shall continue to enjoy all of the rights, privileges, and immunities enjoyed by them as citizens of the State of Texas and of the United States before the enactment of this Act and shall continue to be subject to all the obligations and duties of such citizens under the laws of the State of Texas and the United States. . Section 2. – Responsibility, if any for the Tiwa Indians of Ysleta del Sur hereby transferred to the State of Texas. Nothing in this Act shall make such tribe or its members eligible for any services preformed by the United States for Indians because of their status as Indians nor subject the United States to any responsibility, liability, claim, or demand of any nature to or by such tribe or its members arising out of their status as Indians and none of the Statutes of the United States which effect Indians because if their status as Indians shall applicable to the Tiwa Indians of Ysleta de Sur. Nothing herein shall preclude the application to the people of Tiwa Indians of programs undertaken pursuant to the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 (78 Stat. 508), as heretofore or hereafter amended.” Basically the federal government recognized the Tigua, but took no responsibility for them.

They instead relinquished their welfare to the state, who now had to take of them. To this day unfortunately there are those who do not believe that the Tigua are an Indian tribe. They right them off as poor Mexicans who have manipulated the system. The fight for the Tigua is far from over. Since there recognition, the Tiguas fight to maintain their culture and acquire their tribal lands has been an uphill battle. Red tape and bureaucracy have bogged down advancement.

The Tiguas filed claim in 1983 to reclaim in accordance with the Indian Claims Limitation Act of 1982. They wanted a return of lands still being held by the state and financial compensation for their other losses. In 1987 the law changed allowing the sale of state land to raise money for the Permanent School Fund. The land that is most speculative is the Indian land. Protests made by Diamond on behalf of the Tigua were acknowledged then discarded.

They tried to protest again in 1991 to Stroud Kelly, the head attorney at the General Land Office. Diamond says that Kelly told him that several closings were about to take place. Later, however, denied any knowledge of transactions that were taking place in El Paso County. Diamond wrote a letter to Garry Mauro, The Texas Land commissioner, on March 3rd 1991 informing him “that the tribe will hold the state accountable for any conveyances by the state within the claim area to third parties.” Mauro replied that since the Tigua had a pending suit he did not wish to discuss except that he would defend title to state lands. The Tigua continued to build their case cave paintings and other historical evidence.

The Tigua claim was outlined by Diamond in December of 1992. It included twenty sections of land at Fort Bliss, twenty sections on the Hueco Mountains, forty thousand acres in Hudspeth County, as well as large tracts in Culberson, Jeff Davis, Brewster, and Presidio counties. The Hueco Tanks were of the most concern, as they are ancient burial grounds. “We do have valid deeds to the land,” said former Tigua governor Miguel Apedraza, “We don’t really want it back. What we want is to be compensated for it.” In 1992 the Tiguas decided to consider putting in casinos this would prove to be another legal battle.

The casino came into being with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which permitted Class II gambling – anything under a slot machine, such as bingo and cards. The Act gave the commission authority to open those kinds of games in any state. The Tigua found someone to run the casino, submitted an agreement and was approved by Indian Gaming Commission. Then they sued the State of Texas to be allowed to upgrade to Class III. Those include roulette, baccarat, craps, blackjack, and slot machines. They filed in Pecos, because it was the least busy and they wanted speedy reply.

The judge found in favor of the tribe stating that these games were allowed in Texas. The government had denied a Class III contract on the basis that they were illegal in Texas. Diamond and the Tigua pointed out that there were slot machines at almost every truck stop in the state and in some shopping malls. The state appealed the ruling, but for all intensive purposes it was upheld. The Tigua are careful to keep the operation on trust grounds.

Life for the Tiguas is beginning to take an upturn. They have come out from extinction and are beginning to flourish. The quality of health and the level of education have begun to rise. The tribe is currently building many welfare programs, educational programs, establishing health benefits, plus laying aside money to distribute to the entire tribe. The money is currently collecting interest in a trust until the Bureau of Indian Affairs gives approval to a distribution plan.

The lawsuits to reclaim the land have been put on hold. The Tigua are getting what they want through the casino. They are by choice quietly buying land that is legally theirs anyway. Though they are the rightful owners, the Tigua do not wish to make a big scene. They prefer to achieve economic independence on their own, hopefully reducing the chances of being taken advantage of again.

Only six full-blooded Tigua remain, and they still plow and keep their traditional lands. They continue to teach children and grandchildren how to be Tigua. American History.


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