HERRERA, JUAN JOSÉ (ca. 1840s-1902?)
In the late 1880s Juan José Herrera rose to prominence in San Miguel County, New Mexico, as district organizer for the Knights of Labor, or Los Caballeros del Trabajo. Known as El Capitan by his followers, Herrera's efforts to organize labor and vigilante groups earned him great respect among poor and dispossessed neomexicanos (Spanish-speaking New Mexicans), as well as disdain among many Anglo-American settlers, local officials, and landed neomexicanos. From April 1889 and into 1891, he reportedly led the Gorras Blancas (White Caps) in an armed campaign against Anglo-Americans and neomexicanos who had presumably encroached on community lands. Although he and several of his followers were arrested for vigilante activities in 1889, none was convicted. Herrera denied association with the Gorras Blancas.
Two years later Herrera was elected probate judge of San Miguel County. His varied background prepared him for popular organizing. A captain in the Union army, Herrera departed from New Mexico in 1866, leaving his wife, Luisa Pinard, and became an Indian agent, traveling among various western states. By the time he finally resettled in New Mexico in 1887, he had learned to speak several Native languages or dialects, as well as French. His command of English, his growing knowledge of the law, and his political instinct served him well in his brief organizing career. According to his descendants, Herrera, who was born sometime in the 1840s, died in relative obscurity in Utah in or about 1902.
John Nieto-Philips New Mexico State University
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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.