Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


This secretive association of hooded nightriders operated in San Miguel, Santa Fe, and Mora Counties, New Mexico, from 1889 to 1891. Comprised of neomexicanos (Spanish-speaking New Mexicans), the Gorras Blancas took their name from the hooded White Caps of Tuscola, Illinois, who in 1889 made headlines for their destructive raids on the property of local commissioners who were proposing an unpopular drainage canal in their community. Believed to have numbered between 700 and 1,500 members, the Gorras Blancas launched a militant campaign of threats and intimidation against individuals who allegedly had encroached on community land and made that land inaccessible by fencing it off.

In an 1890 publication, the Gorras Blancas declared themselves defenders of "the rights of all people in general, and especially the rights of poor people." They sought favorable adjudication of the contested Las Vegas Land Grant to protect the community's right to use and occupy the land. When legal action failed, however, the Gorras Blancas vowed militant retribution. They cut miles of fence lines, destroyed buildings and farm equipment, and threatened the lives of presumed encroachers and their sympathizers, some of whom were fellow neomexicanos. These actions prompted Governor Lebaron Bradford Prince in 1890 to denounce the Gorras Blancas as a vigilante mob and to take measures securing the safety of local officials. Although at least four dozen of the Gorras Blancas were eventually indicted for their activities, none was convicted.

The Gorras Blancas were reportedly headed by former U.S. Indian agent and Knights of Labor organizer Juan Jose Herrera (affectionately known as El Capitan) and his younger brothers Nicanor and Pablo. It is believed that Juan Jose may have been inspired by the tactics of the above-mentioned White Caps; however, a surviving family member suggests that Herrera took his inspiration from the hooded Ku Klux Klan.

John Nieto-Philips New Mexico State University

Arellano, Anselmo. "The People's Movement: Las Gorras Blancas." In The Contested Homeland: A Chicano History of New Mexico, edited by Erlinda Gonzales-Berry and David R. Maciel. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2000: 59–82.

Larson, Robert W. "The White Caps of New Mexico: A Study of Ethnic Militancy in the Southwest." Pacific Historical Review 44 (1975): 171–85.

Rosenbaum, Robert J. Mexicano Resistance in the Southwest: "The Sacred Right of Self-Preservation." Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981.

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