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Wild West

A letter from the editor of 5280's December 2019 issue.

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When Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president, he notoriously called Mexicans and Mexican immigrants “criminals” and “rapists,” and his relentless calls for a border wall and bigoted rhetoric unleashed a long-hidden strain of prejudice in America. Trump’s racist views, of course, are not without precedent in this country’s history. Indeed, as 5280 senior staff writer Robert Sanchez describes in “The Long-Forgotten Vigilante Murders of the San Luis Valley,” when the Colorado Territory absorbed part of New Mexico in the 1860s, the government treated its new citizens—most of whom were Hispano—“as a necessary nuisance.” Sanchez continues: “It’s difficult to overestimate the level of disenfranchisement the valley’s Hispano residents felt in the early days of Colorado’s existence…the white Protestants now immigrating into the territory were akin to an invading force.” As pioneers used territorial law to take over the Hispano residents’ lands, a series of brutal murders terrorized the region; white settlers began turning up shot, mutilated, and sometimes beheaded. Sanchez tells the remarkable story of Felipe and Vivián Espinosa, the presumed assailants, who sought to avenge the mistreatment of their families—and perhaps of an entire people—through a series of vigilante killings that have largely been relegated to the margins of American lore. Sanchez’s piece, which at times reads like a Quentin Tarantino script, seeks to reframe these murders in an unromanticized version of frontier history that provides important context and lessons at a time when Mexicans and Mexican Americans are facing aggressive tactics from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and continued, ugly verbal attacks from the president of the United States.

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