REPATRIATION AND BLOCKADE IN 1930s COLORADO:
AN EXPLANATION OF THE EVENTS
Valorie Jo Maes
B.A., University of Northern Colorado, 1973
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Social Science
This thesis for the Master of Social Science
Valorie Jo Maes
has been approved
Maes, Valorie Jo (M.S.S., Social Sciences)
Repatriation and Blockade in 1930s Colorado: An Explanation of
Thesis directed by Professor Jana Everett
This paper presents the events that led to the repatriation
of Mexicans and Mexican Americans and blockade of Colorados
southern border in the 1930s. It gives a history of their presence
in the state and how the Americans growth into the state brought
a conflict of culture and life style. The paper points out that in
the 1920s the Ku Klux Klan rose to power and left its imprint on
the state which was felt by the minority population in the 1930s.
The paper points out that while the repatriation and blockade
were couched in terms of being beneficial to the state and the
citizens, it was really nothing more than an attempt to get rid of
a group of people who were perceived as a threat. These events
were also used by Governor Edwin Johnson to help him win
election to the United States Senate in 1936.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the
candidates thesis. I recommend its publication.
I dedicate this thesis to my family. Without the stories,
there would be no paper. My thanks to them for their
understanding and encouragement.
My thanks to my committee members for their help
preparing this paper and their very helpful ideas.
Exploration and Settlement........................7
Problems and Laborers in Colorado.................10
2. COLORADO IN THE 1920s AND 1930s......................16
3. THE ALIENS PLIGHT...................................37
Loss of Jobs......................................37
Denial of Relief..................................38
Targeting the Mexicans............................44
Who Oppossed the Governor.........................58
Effectiveness of the Governors Plan..............60
In 1916, seventeen year old Jose Martinez and fifteen year
old Trinidad Villegas immigrated to the United States, with their
families, to escape the effects of the Mexican Revolution and to
help their respective families. Though both came from the same
village in Mexico, they did not know each other until they met in
Colorado. Jose had worked on the railroads immediately upon
coming into the United States, but eventually found himself
working in the mines of southern Colorado near Trinidad.
Trinidads father also worked in the mines and this is how the
couple met. They married in 1920, and in 1922 their first child,
Charlotte, was born.
The life of this immigrant couple was fairly typical. There
were good times and bad times, but always a desire to make a
good life for their family. However, the Great Depression began,
and this brought about major changes for the Martinez family. By
1932 Jose was working only one day a week because the mines
and mining companies were affected by the Depression. His
brother-in-law convinced him to move to Greeley to work in the
fields, since there were children to help him make a decent living.
By this time Jose and Trinidad had three children of their own.
They were also taking care of Joses younger brother and sister
because both parents had died and had adopted another child
whose only relative, a grandmother, had died after asking Jose
and Trinidad to care for her grandson. In Greeley, Jose along with
his brother, Mercy and sister, Betty, worked the fields in season.
During the winter, Jose found work at the coal mine in Monarch
and stayed there until the field work began again. In 1935 the
Martinez family made another move to Wyoming where they
stayed and grew.
This family history is not unusual, except that one reason
for the moves appears to have been directly related to events
occurring in Colorado and being directed against the Mexican and
Mexican American community.
This family history and other family stories always
intrigued me. My grandparents had very little schooling, and there
are no written records, no diaries, or letters of their life. During
family get togethers, stories were often told of how Tio, my
grandfather, and Granny survived the Depression; how Tio worked
in the mines and how he barely missed being caught in a mine
accident; how the family worked the beet fields; and countless
other stories. In all the stories I heard, I always saw a family
that began with very little but struggled to make a better life,
even though others often tried to keep them from succeeding. As
I grew older I read books and found out that my familys history
paralleled the history of this country; that they had a right to
claim this history as theirs. The events of the Great Depression
and its effects in Colorado and on my family history are a part of
During the Great Depression, the governments of Colorado
and many other American states attempted to solve some of their
economic problems by targeting immigrants, particularly
Mexicans and Mexican Americans. In Colorado this targeting of
the immigrant population included repatriation of immigrants
who had lost jobs and applied for welfare, or who were turned in
to various agencies as not being able to support their families. It
also included the blockading of the southern border of the state to
keep out people who attempted to immigrate to the state without
jobs. The events that took place are not unique to Colorado. Many
other states, including California, used repatriation of
immigrants to relieve the welfare rolls of the Mexicans and
Mexican Americans who applied for help. Abraham Hoffman has
detailed how California got rid of the unwanted Mexicans.1 The
one event that seems to set Colorado apart from other states is
1 Abraham Hoffman. Unwanted Mexican Americans in the Great Depression:
Repatriation Pressures. 1929-1939. (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press,
the blockade of the border by Governor Edwin Johnson in 1935.2
Colorados record of the Great Depression is told in various books
such as Colorado in the Great Depression. Trial and Triumphs, and
some articles in newspapers and journals, but in most of these
accounts there is very little mention of the repatriation or the
blockade.3 However, the repatriation and the blockade had a
strong impact on many families. I chose this topic because I feel
that it is important to see how the Mexicans and Mexicans
Americans were treated and to show that this pattern of
mistreatment continues even today.
My interest in the repatriation grew out of my curiosity to
find out what government had given money to my grandfather so
the family could go back to Mexico. I always thought that the
Mexican government had been the government that had lost money
on the deal. I never knew exactly what happened, nor even what
this move was about until I took a class in graduate school and
read a few paragraphs in a book about the repatriation of
Mexicans and Mexican Americans in the 1930s. It was at that
time that I realized that the family story and the repatriation
2 California also had a blockade which was set up to keep the Oakies out. Colorados
blockade is different in that it was set up to keep out the Mexicans and Mexican
Americans out, not just the unemployed.
3 James F. Wickens, Colorado in the Great Depression. (New York: Garland
Publishing, Inc., 1979), Stephen J. Leonard, Trials and Triumphs: A Colorado
Portrait of the Great Depression, with FSA Photographs. (Niwot: University Press
of Colorado, 1993).
were related. But all the material that I could find had to do with
the repatriation and its effects on California. This led me to try
and find out specifically what had happened here in Colorado and
to write this paper. The material that I have used consists of
books about Mexicans and Mexican Americans, books about the
Great Depression, governors papers from the Colorado State
Archives, newspaper articles, government reports, and personal
interviews with family and friends who experienced what
happened. As I continued to research what happened in Colorado, I
found that there were many reasons advanced for the
repatriations and the blockade, some appearing just and virtuous,
but all of the reasons may have been a screen to hide the real
reason for targeting alien immigrants. During the 1930s with the
Colorado economy suffering as the rest of the country suffered,
the overt reason for repatriation and blockade was that it would
help the states economy, but another explanation may be that it
was a useful means to propel Governor Edwin Johnson into the
United States Senate On the surface this may seem to be very
unusual, but the history of Colorado shows that discriminating
against Mexicans and Mexican Americans is not very unusual,
particularly since they have been the largest non-white minority
group in the state.
In the paper there are several very distinct groups that are
affected by the repatriation and the blockade, and it is important
to understand the distinction between these groups. The first
group is the Spanish. In this paper Spanish will refer to those
who were the original non-native or European settlers or the
descendants of these original settlers of Colorado who consider
themselves to be Spanish and not Mexican; in other words, those
who claim Spanish ancestry. In 1848 when the Treaty of
Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, they became citizens of the United
States if they chose to stay in the country. The term Spanish will
also include the Spanish Americans, the descendants of the
Spanish settlers, as they would have been treated in the same
manner as the Spanish. The second group of people is the
Mexicans who entered the country both legally and illegally.
Mexicans will refer to those people of mixed ethnicity who are
most prevalent in Mexico.4 Some of these original European
settlers of Colorado were Mexicans or of mixed blood, and the
Mexican immigrants who came into the United States after the
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo were considered to be Mexican and
not Spanish. The Mexicans who were part of the original European
settlers were granted citizenship by the Treaty of Guadalupe
Hidalgo, but many found that they were not treated in the same
manner as Anglos; therefore, they will not be referred to as
Mexican Americans. The third group of people is the Mexican
4 The mix that was most prevalent was Spanish and Indian, but also could include a
mixture of Blacks. Later this mixture could also include other European
nationalities such as the Germans and French.
American. Mexican American will refer to the second generation
of the original settlers and the second generation of the later
Mexican immigrants, who by virtue of birth in this country, were
American citizens even though they were often treated in the
same manner as the recent Mexican immigrants. Another group
that will be referred to and must be defined is the term
Americans. In this paper Americans will refer to the non-
Spanish Europeans. The last term that will be defined is Hispanic.
In the last part of the paper the term Hispanic will be used to
define all peoples who share the common Spanish heritage,
regardless of their country of origin or race.
Exploration and Settlement
To further understand the situation in the 1930s, it is
necessary to examine the early history of Colorado and the
Mexicans and Mexican Americans. Colorados history is a history
of the Indian, Spanish, Mexican, and Mexican American people. The
first European explorers to Colorado were the Spanish. This early
exploration led to the establishment of settlements. Santa Fe,
New Mexico was founded in 1609 and served as a center for
further exploration. The exploration of Colorado may have been
the result of expeditions after runaway Indian slaves and against
the hostile Indians such as the one led by Juan de Archuleta to
recapture Pueblo Indians. During this expedition Archuleta
explored regions of the Arkansas River between 1664 and 1680.
In 1706, Juan Ulibarri claimed the same southern area in a formal
ceremony against French threats while trying to bring back
another group of runaway Indians.
The result of Spanish exploration of Colorado is quite
evident with the multitude of Spanish names for many areas of
the state especially in the southern area of the state. Even the
name of the state is Spanish for red colored or ruddy. The Sangre
de Cristo mountain range, the San Luis Valley, Pueblo, and
Trinidad are some example of the 150 names that are Spanish in
Despite these early explorations, settlement of Colorado did
not take place until after Mexico achieved its independence from
Spain in 1821. At this time the Mexican government began to
encourage settlement farther northward in an attempt to keep the
Americans, who were looking westward, from taking over the
land that the Spanish Conquistadors had explored and which now
belonged to the Mexican people. The Mexican government gave
Mexican settlers the Tierra Amarilla and the Conejos Grant in the
1830s, the Maxwell Grant, the Las Animas Grant, the Sangre de
Cristo Grant, and the Nolan Grant in the 1840s. These grants led
5 Evelio Echevarria and Jose Otero, eds., Hispanic Colorado: Four Centuries:
History and Heritage. (Fort Collins: Centennial Publications, 1976), 11.
to the eventual permanent settlement of Colorado.6 In 1842 Fort
Pueblo was built as a trading center, but it was not a long lived
settlement, because on December 25, 1854, Ute Indians
massacred all the inhabitants of the fort.7 The first permanent
settlement took place in 1849 in the Costilla Valley, which was
followed by the establishment of San Luis in 1851. San Luis was
founded by colonists from the settlement of Taos and had been
planned as part of a series of listening posts to warn New Mexico
of Indian raids. Land grants were given to individuals and
families in an attempt to encourage settlement of this lonely
Life for the Spanish/Mexican settlers was not easy. The
colonists were plagued by Indian attacks, and they fought without
the aid of the Mexican government which was unable to provide
adequate protection for the Colorado settlers. The first homes
were log cabins or jacales. The settlers built adobe houses later.
A lack of wood meant the floors were of hard packed dirt, even
for the wealthy. Furniture, what little there was, was often hand
made as was clothing. Farming was difficult since the tools were
6 Carl Ubbelohde, A Colorado History. (Boulder: Pruett Press, Inc., 1965), 50.
7 Joanne West Dodds, Pueblo: A Pictorial History. (Norfolk: Donning Company
Publishers, 1982), 16-17.
8 Carey McWilliams, North From Mexico: The Spanish-Speaking People of the
United States. (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1990), 93. At the time of the
settlements, Colorado and New Mexico were still part of Mexico.
primitive and often hand made.9 This was the way of life for the
early settlers of the San Luis Valley before the Americans began
to come and take the land from the Spanish/Mexican settlers.
Problems and Laborers in Colorado
As the Americans began to move into the area, problems
began to arise. Some problems were the result of different
cultures. Echevarria and Otero citing the Silva Diary, one of the
few Spanish diaries available, ask:
What happened to the...families who had come seeking
happiness and contentment, not through quick wealth, but
hard work; who faced Indians instead of having them
removed; who built homes and a place of worship instead of
saloons; who built mills to grind their flour instead of
breweries; who shared the land and wealth instead of filing
claims and building toll roads?10
The central problem that led to many subsequent problems was
that of the legalization of land ownership. Under the Mexican land
grant system, most land was held in common for the people who
came as a group. Normally land was not given in the name of an
individual, except for the leader of the group. When the
Americans came and finally took control of the area, the original
9 Echevarria, Hispanic Colorado. 59-60.
10 Echevarria, Hispanic Colorado. 49, citing San Luis Valley Historian, Ed., The
Silva Diary. San Luis Valley Historian. V.4 (1973), 35.
settlers were often unable to prove ownership of the land and
lost their claims. Even if individuals were fortunate enough to be
able to prove ownership, they were often unable to pay the taxes
and sometimes they even lost the land to the lawyer who had
helped prove ownership, because they were unable to pay the
lawyers fees. As a result of legal trickery, only 2,051,526 acres
of land remained in the hands of the original settlers from the
original 35,491,020 acres claimed in New Mexico, Arizona, and
This loss led to the development of the Spanish/Mexican
laborer. Unable to support themselves as farmers and ranchers,
many were forced by economic consideration to work for the
white settlers who had taken over their land. Sarah Deutsch
pointed out that, By 1880 the Hispanic frontier and the Anglo one
interlocked rather than merely met. It was at this joint frontier
that the Anglos arrived in force in the 1880s, with railroads,
lumber mills, coal mines and commercial agriculture and stock
enterprises.12 These displaced landowners eventually found
positions in the mines, with the railroads, or in agriculture or as
sheepherders, but they never forgot that the land had once been
11 Sarah Deutsch, No Separate Refuge: Culture. Class, and Gender on an Anqlo-
Hispanic Frontier in the American Southwest. 1880-1940. (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1987), 20, citing Beck and Haase, 21. Some Americans were
given land grants, primarily in Texas, but had to become Mexican citizens and
become Catholic as a condition to recieving the land.
12 Deutsch, No Separate Refuge, 13.
theirs. As Carey McWilliams concludes, The Spanish-speaking
have an identification with the Southwest which can never be
broken. They are not interlopers or immigrants but an indigenous
By the early 1900s the need for cheap labor had increased
with the growth of the state. Agriculture and industry began to
recruit Mexicans actively to come and work in the area. Colorado
Fuel and Iron Company brought in the first Mexican immigrant
laborers from Mexico in 1900. They came to work at Primero in
coal mines west of Trinidad. Later jobs in lumber or the
railroads began to attract people. By 1916 the Great Western
Sugar Company, Holly Sugar Company, and the American Sugar
Beet Company were recruiting Mexicans for the beet fields. By
1926 they were 60% of the sugar workers in Colorado. From 1900
to 1920 the number of Mexicans in Colorado rose from 300 to
more than 11,000. The largest contribution to this increase was
the states sugar beet crop. By 1930 the number of Mexicans
increased to almost 60,000.14
With the increase in the numbers of Mexicans, difficulties
began to increase. Under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe
Hidalgo, the original Spanish settlers of southern Colorado were
13 McWilliams, North From Mexico. 8.
14 John Baron, Depression, War Helped Shape Hispano Destiny, Rocky Mountain
News, February 19, 1979, 6.
guaranteed citizenship and all its attendant rights and privileges.
However, it did not take long for Americans to begin to deny these
rights. The first complication was the land issue which
eventually left little in the hands of the Spanish/Mexicans.
Following this were attempts to deny citizenship to the settlers.
Martha Menchaca shows that throughout the southwest, Mexicans
were often denied citizenship and voting rights because of their
Indian blood. While the United States Supreme Court held that
states could not do this, cities and towns often were allowed to
set voting requirements and often Mexicans were denied this
right. Those who were allowed to vote were forced to deny their
Indian heritage and claim Spanish blood only.15
The most common problem for the majority of the
Spanish/Mexicans was an inability to work in jobs other than low
paying menial work. This inevitably led to problems of
stereotyping. McWilliams points out:
Traditionally, Mexicans have been paid less than Anglo-
Americans for the same jobs. These invidious distinctions
have reinforced the Mexican stereotype and placed a
premium on prejudice. By employing large numbers of
Mexicans for particular types of work, employers have
arbitrarily limited the immigrants chance for the type of
15 Martha Menchaca, Chicano Indianism: A Historical Account of Racial Repression
in the United States. American Ethnologist. 20 #2, August 1993, 587-591.
acculturation that comes from association with other
workers on the job.16
The Americans soon began to believe that Mexicans were perfect
workers for certain jobs.
Other forms of discrimination impacted the Spanish and the
Mexicans. Mexicans were not allowed into certain establishments,
but Spanish and Mexican were often the same. Paul Taylor found
that Mexicans were barred from barbershops, drugstores, and
restaurants and segregated in theaters. Farmers were even
warned, in letters, to house them away from the main house as
protection against disease.17 The legislature even passed laws
which discriminated against aliens. To become a lawyer, a
Mexican had to be a full citizen or have first papers.18
Accountants had to meet the same requirements. Even getting a
hunting license required full citizenship.19 These laws denied
some people the right to work in areas that they had trained for,
keeping the Mexicans in the lower paying jobs that they were
16 McWilliams, North From Mexico. 196.
17 Leonard, Trials and Triumphs. 71.
18 First papers were the documents that immigrants took out prior to becoming
citizens. These papers simply signified that the persons intention was to become a
citizen and begin the naturalization process. However, many immigrants did not
understand the process and thought that first papers were the same as citizenship
19 Hoffman. Unwanted Mexican Americans in the Great Depression, 18.
assumed ideally suited for. These are the conditions that the
Spanish, Mexicans, and Mexican Americans faced as the 1920s
Colorado in the 1920s and 1930s
In 1920 Colorado had a population of 939,629 according to
the United States Census records.20 Colorados main industries
were farming, mining, and related manufacturing. These three
industries were heavily dependent upon a cheap labor force which,
in this case, meant immigrant labor. A large part of this cheap
labor in Colorado consisted of Mexicans and Mexican Americans.
But Colorado was not alone in its need for a cheap labor force; the
entire country was undergoing growth and industrialization and
this demand for workers was more than could be provided by the
natural growth of the population.21 In the western part of the
country, agricultural growth and land owners demanded cheap
labor.22 As Mexican immigration increased so did the agitation
20 U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the
United States: Colonial Times to 1970, Part 1. Bicentennial ed., (Washington D.C.:
Government Printing Office, 1975), 8.
21 Our Immigration Dilemma in the New York Times on May 2, 1920 pointed out
that the war had interrupted immigration, but that unskilled labor was still
necessary. Mr. MacStay of the Inter-Racial council noted that it wants more
immigration, because its industrial members desire larger supplies of labor. It
favors the reduction of deportations to a minimum and the review of decisions and
the elimination of discrimination against the foreign born and of racial
denunciations for the same excellent reason and for others.
22 Welcomed Mexican Invasion in the New York Times on June 20, 1920 reported
from nativists. Nativists perceived aliens as a threat to cultural
and racial integrity. However, employers did not want to lose
their valuable labor supply. Lobbyists for agricultural and mining
interests persuaded Congress not to include the Western
Hemisphere in the National Origins Act of 1924.23 The 1924 Act
set quotas, but the two groups not covered were persons born in
the Western Hemisphere countries and their families...and
visitors.24 Western farmers needed immigrants to take care of
their crops and to work the fields because Americans were
unwilling to do the work as cheaply, and other immigrant groups
were not as numerous in the state as Table 2.1 shows.
that in the southwest the Mexican worker was welcomed and that it did not matter if
they were legal or illegal. It further stated that Texas, once a joke agriculturally,
was now the number one state in the union even surpassing Iowa with a total crop
value of more than one billion dollars and this was all due to the Mexican laborer.
23 Nicolas Kanellos, The Hispanic American Almanac: A Reference Work on
Hispanics in the United States. (Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1993), 38.
24 U.S. Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service, An
Immigrant Nation: United States Regulation of Immigration, 1798-1991.
(Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1991), 11.
Table 2.1 -Minority Population of Colorado25
1910 1920 1930
Total State population 799,024 939,629 1,035,791
Blacks25 26 1 1,453 11,318 1 1,828
Chinese 373 291 233
Japanese 2300 2464 3213
Foreign Born White 126,851 1 16,954 85,406
The large influx of immigrants into the country and into the
state may have been one of the reasons for the revival of the Ku
Klux Klan during the 1920s. In Colorado the Klan had a fairly
large membership, estimated to be about 35,000 by 1924, and had
a very definite impact upon the politics of the state.27 The Klan
appealed to different people for many reasons, including
prejudice. Foreign-born Mexicans does not include native-born
Mexicans but they were a considerable group as Table 2.1 shows.
Furthermore, Anglos made little distinction between immigrant
Mexicans and Mexican Americans.
25 Tolbert R. Ingram, ed. & comp., Yearbook of the State of Colorado 1932. (Denver:
The Bradford-Robinson Printing Company), 17, Mexicans were not counted as a
separate group until the 1930 census; they were included in the foreign born white
26 Henry L Larsen, ed. & comp., Yearbook of the State of Colorado 1945-1947.
(Denver: The Bradford-Robinson Printing Company), 161.
27 Robert Alan Goldberg, Hooded Empire: The Ku Klux Klan in Colorado. (Chicago:
University of Illinois Press, 1981), xi.
Table 2.2-Foreign born population of Colorado28
Country 1910 % of pop. 1920 % of pop 1930 % of pop 1940 % of pop
Mexico 2543 2 10,894 9.3 13,125 13.4 6360 9
Germany 16,908 13.3 11,992 10.3 9988 10.2 7017 10
Italy 14,375 11.3 12,579 10.8 10,670 10.9 8352 11.9
Spain 174 0.1 297 0.3 224 0.2 164 0.2
Canada 8744 6.9 7203 6.2 5249 5.3 3799 5.4
South America 124 0.1 178 0.2 201 0.2 207 0.3
Central America 8 5 - 18 - 14 -
Cuba 32 - 51 - 29 - 20 -
Russia 12,979 13.2 1 1,185 15.9
Denmark 2374 2.4 1843 2.6
As the above table shows by 1920, Mexicans were coming into the
state in large numbers. Germans, Italians, and Russians also
were large immigrant groups, but did not pose the same threat as
Of course there were many reasons for the rapid growth of
the Mexican population, but the most important was the growing
farming industry, specifically the sugar beet industry. Table 2.3
shows the growth of the sugar beet crop and its importance to the
state. Sugar beet cultivation was very labor intensive, and many
workers were needed in the fields. Labor on the beets included
thinning, hoeing twice to control the weeds, and the harvesting of
the beets in the fall. Many of Colorados Spanish/Mexicans and
Mexican Americans worked in the beet fields. 28
28 Tolbert R. Ingram, ed. & comp., Yearbook of the State of Colorado 1943-1944.
(Denver: The Bradford-Robinson Printing Company), 21.
Table 2.3 Sugar Beet Production in Colorado29
Year Acre (1000 tons) Production (1000 tons Price per ton
1910 398 4,1 38 $5.45
1915 611 6,51 1 5.67
1920 872 8,538 11.63
1921 815 7,782 6.35
1922 530 5,183 7.91
1923 657 7,006 8.95
1924 816 7,508 7.95
1925 648 7,381 6.39
1926 677 7,223 7.61
1927 721 7,753 7.67
1928 644 7,101 7.1 1
1929 688 7,315 7.08
1930 776 9,1 14 7.14
Another reason for the growing Mexican population was the
growth of the mining industry, especially coal production. By
1920 the tonnage mined in the state was 12,519,693.29 30 Again
this was a field where many Mexicans worked. The third area of
importance for Colorado was manufacturing. Most manufacturing
29 U.S. Department of Commerce, Historical Statistics of the United States. 516.
30 U.S. Department of Commerce, Historical Statistics of the United States. 370.
in Colorado was related to agriculture and mining. In Pueblo, C.F.
&l Employed 6000 of the total population of 43,050. Most of the
workers were recent immigrants and a large second generation
population. The largest groups were the Mexicans and the
Italians. Both these groups were often targeted for violence. As
the Klan came into power, it took advantage of this and linked the
immigrants to crime.31 This was one method that the Klan used to
gather its membership.
National Klan leaders, Edward Young Clark and Mrs. Elizabeth
Tyler told recruiters, or Kleagles, to explore any issue or
prejudice that would draw men into the organization.32. In
Colorado this meant targeting the immigrant groups, particularly
the Mexicans and Mexican Americans. However, the Klan was not
blatant in its calls for purity of the American ideals. The Klan
played to other areas of concern. The Colorado Klan was a
populist not a nativist movement for the most part. It was
comprised of average citizens who were attempting to resist
elite political domination and make local and state government
more responsive to popular interests. According to Shawn Lay it
is in this way that the Klan can not be considered to be an
aberrant movement, but a movement whose time had come.33
31 Robert Alan Goldberg, Hooded Empire. 60-61.
32 Robert Alan Goldberg, Hooded Empire. 4.
33 Shawn Lay, ed., The Invisible Empire in the West: Toward a New Historical
The Klan portrayed itself as being patriotic and dedicated to
the preservation of Americans institutions and ideals. The Klan
stood for fair elections, honest leaders, efficient government and
against unresponsive and corrupt politicians. It was also the
savior of old time religion, meaning Protestantism. Therefore, in
Colorado it was Catholics who were the targets, but they were
scattered throughout the state, not just in one area.34 While these
were the stated goals of the Klan, different regions were
targeted with various appeals.
In Canon City the appeal from the Klan was for better
schools, better streets and more parks. The Klan also campaigned
on getting more business and industry to locate in the city. In
Denver the local Klavern used the grievances of the Protestants
and manipulated problems with minorities. In Pueblo the call was
to law and order and anti-Catholics were also recruited. As
Goldberg points out, the Klan did not have to manufacture any
issues, it simply manipulated the concerns of the local citizenry
whether it was crime waves, immigrant criminality, Catholic
Appraisal of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press,
1992), 34. Lay argues that the Klan did not use its white supremicist ideas to get
members and it attempted to downplay this side of its history. Instead, it portrayed
itself as being progressive and working to improve society.
34 Robert Alan Goldberg, Hooded Empire, 7-8.
organizing, Jewish distinctiveness, or Blacks attempts to escape
their inferior status.35
It was this broad base which gave the Klan such importance
in the state. The Klan had two different types of members. One
group thought they had to protect the world from Catholics, Jews,
and Blacks. The other group was reacting to the perceived threats
in their homes and neighborhoods. Alone each group was
powerless, but together they fought to restore law and order and
became a formidable group.36
The impact of the Klan was felt in the 1924 elections. The
Denver Post wrote The victory yesterday proves beyond any
doubt that the Ku Klux Klan is the largest, most cohesive and
most efficiently organized political force in the State of
Colorado today.37 The Klan was quite successful in local
elections, especially in Boulder, Pueblo, and Weld counties where
many Klan backed candidates won legislative and judicial office.
Statewide offices won with Klan aid included the Governor,
Lieutenant Governor, both senate seats and the Attorney Generals
office. Denvers mayor Benjamin F. Stapleton was also elected
with the help of the Klan to a fellow Klansman. His election may
35 Robert Alan Goldberg, Hooded Empire. 128,12, 170, 166.
36 Shawn Lay, ed., The Invisible Empire in the West. 28.
37 Denver Post. August 13, 1924.
also have been the result of beating an incumbent who was linked
to organized crime.38 With these victories, the Klan was able to
institute its agenda.
The Klan was not extremely successful in delivering on its
agenda, but in two areas it was quite effective. In Denver, Mayor
Stapleton named fellow klansman, William Candlish as Chief of
Police. Candlish began to change the department. He passed out
Klan membership cards, and anyone who signed up was given
preferential treatment and better areas to work. He also issued
an edict which was based on an old law that prohibited Greek,
Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, and Black businessmen from
employing white women. He then had a reason to harass these
businessmen. Stapleton also made fellow Klansman Rice Means
the manager of safety and appointed others into minor positions.39
Another other area where the Klan was successful was in
the National Guard. Governor Clarence Morley, soon after taking
office, attempted to dismiss the Adjutant General of the National
Guard, however he was unsuccessful. The Colorado Supreme Court
ruled he was unable to dismiss the Adjutant General without
cause. Even though Governor Morley was unsuccessful, he did
mange to use the same technique with the junior officers and the
men of the Guard. His success was so apparent that when the
38 Shawn Lav, ed.. The Invisible Empire in the West. 56,30.
39 Shawn Lay, ed., The Invisible Empire in the West, 30-33.
Guard sent a delegation to a convention in Texas it read like a
whos who of Colorado Klandom.40
Statewide the Klans victories were short-lived. One of the
Klans promises was for prohibition, but it was unsuccessful in
implementing this policy. Governor Morley revived a forgotten
anti-liquor law and appointed Klan members to a task force. The
task force began to raid homes, but without criminal or search
warrants. They also used the law to harass anti-klan leaders.
The irony of this is that many of the agents were not of good
moral character themselves. One agent was a convict later
arrested for accepting a bribe, another was a convicted burglar,
and another was a deserter from the U.S. Army. As a result the
Governor was forced to revoke the agents commission..41
The Klan also lost credibility with use of common tactics.
The tactics were designed to strengthen its hold on minorities
and consolidate its power. In 1923 the Colorado Klan was
involved in a kidnapping and another in 1924. There were also the
usual cross burnings with eleven occurring in Denver in 1923, but
no one was ever caught.42
Another reason for the Klans downfall was Dr. Galen
Lockes problems. Colorados large membership entitled it to its
40 Robert Alan Goldberg, Hooded Empire. 86.
41 Robert Alan Goldberg, Hooded Empire. 92-94.
42 Shawn Lav, ed.. The Invisible Empire in the West. 32,31.
own Grand Dragon, Dr. Galen Locke. As a result of the success of
the Klan in the 1924 elections, there were investigations by the
federal government into the activities of its leaders, and Dr.
Galen Locke became the primary target. He was investigated for
tax evasion and was ordered to pay back taxes on unreported
income. However, legal fees had left him with little money and
he had to ask for help in paying the back taxes.43
However, the most important reason for the failure of the
Klan was its inability to pass most of its legislation in the
Colorado legislature and the severing of ties of some of the Klan
leaders such as the Attorney General. As John P. Dickinson, a
state legislator wrote:
I took part in some very important legislation by helping to
defeat bad legislation. I was next to the high man on the
important State Affairs Committee when the Ku Klux Klan
was in power. The committee held nearly all the Klans
bills and they were never let out of committee.44
With this inability to pass its legislation, the scandals
associated with Klan members, and the scandal surrounding Grand
Dragon John Galen Locke, the Klan was not able to repeat its
victories in later elections. But the Klans impact would continue
43 Shawn Lay, ed, The Invisible Empire in the West. 59-60.
44 John P. Dickinson, Life in Eastern Colorado, The Colorado Magazine 19
(September 1942), 195.
to be felt because of the appointments that had been made and the
continuing legacy of fear and intolerance of Colorados citizens.
The Ku Klux Klan did not disappear after the 1920s. Lloyd G.
Chavez, owner of the Burt car dealerships, in a Rockv Mountain
News interview in 1993, recalled that in the 1930s the Klan was
quite active and targeted Mexican Americans. The Klan burned a
cross on the front lawn of the home his family rented in Littleton.
As a result, the landlord asked them to move.45 After John Galen
Lockes problems, he split from the Klan, and with some
supporters he organized the Minute Men of America. Locke and the
Minute Men never achieved the same standing as the Klan, but the
split also hurt the Klan. Both organizations survived, though with
lesser influence. In 1934 Locke attempted to organize the Order
of Equals, but before the organization got going, he died.
However, the Klan had not forgotten Locke, and the night after his
burial a cross was burned in front of his crypt. 46
The 1930s in Colorado were very difficult times.
Colorados three major sectors were severely influenced. Coal
45 Gutierrez, Hector, Latinos Energys Behind the Burt Name, Rockv Mountain
News. 11 July 1993, 4n.
46 Robert Alan Goldberg, Hooded Empire. 105-113.
mining production dropped, and employment was severely
affected. Often miners worked only one or two days per week.
Agriculture was also severely influenced but not just from the
Depression; a drought and an invasion of grasshoppers caused
serious damage. The Depressions effect on these two industries
also affected manufacturing. Under these conditions targeting
Mexicans and Mexican Americans became easy. As Abraham
Hoffman points out:
Mexicans became the scapegoats for the economic crisis in
America. Then, President Hoover initiated a repatriation
program aimed at returning the Mexican-origin population to
Mexican....Much of this was voluntary, but social pressure
and the countrys mood influenced the return of many
Mexicans, even some who had been born U.S. citizens.47
Colorado was no different than the rest of the country in its
Depression era desire to get rid of Mexicans and Mexican
Americans. The differences are in the numbers of people
involved, and how the public was manipulated. As Chart 2.1
shows, Mexicans were the largest minority in 1930, the only year
they were not counted as part of the white population.
During the Depression the mining industry was severely
impacted. Table 2.4 shows that tonnage was down, men lost their
jobs, but more mines were opened.
47 Abraham Hoffman. Unwanted Mexican Americans in the Great Depression. 170.
table 2.4 Coal Production During the 1930s48
Coal Tonnage Men Employed Number of Mines
1930 8,238,094 10,683 275
1931 6,605,063 10,015 318
1932 5,616,525 8,786 345
1933 5,284,872 8,179 375
1934 5,251,003 8,138 429
1935 5,948,681 8,401 367
1936 6,845,837 9,005 329
1937 7,215,916 9,449 382
1938 5,722,899 8,663 385
1939 5,991,022 8,413 382
1940 6,673,359 8,217 358
A decline in coal production had begun in the 1920s with the
highest production in 1920 with over twelve and a half million
tons, but from that point on coal production decreased. Coal
production in the 1920s was near ten million tons per year, it
was not until 1930 that coal production took a sharp drop. As a
result employment dropped from a high of over fourteen thousand
to a low of just over eleven thousand. The Depressions effect on
the mining sector was quite severe. 48
48 Larsen, ed. & comp., Yearbook of the State of Colorado 1945-1947. 227. The
numbers for men employed does not distinguish between part time and full time
employees and does not really show the full impact of the Depression.
The Depression also affected agriculture, particularly sugar
beet production which was variable and received low prices.
Table 2.5 Sugar Beet production in 1930s49
Year Acre (1000 tons) Production (1000 tons) Price/ton
1930 776 9,114 $7.14
1931 713 7,903 5.94
1932 764 9,070 5.26
1933 983 1 1,030 5.13
1934 770 7,519 5.16
1935 763 7,908 5.76
1936 776 9,028 6.05
1937 753 8,759 5.26
1938 925 11,497 4.65
1939 918 10,781 4.76
1940 912 12,194 5.11
As can be seen from the table the need for sugar beet workers
varied throughout the 1930s but dropped from what had been
needed in the 1920s as Table 2.3 shows.
Manufacturing in Colorado in the 1930s was dependent upon
both mining and agriculture. Since both industries were hard hit
by the Depression, manufacturing was also affected. Table 2.6 49
49 U.S. Department of Commerce, Historical Statistics of the United States. 51 6.
shows the number of employees in the three major areas and the
decline in all three areas .
Table 2.6 Employment Figures50
1920 1930 1940
Agriculture 100,153 104,413 73,911
Mining 23,382 20,702 15,897
Manufacturing 35,673 34,266 32,687
Total Employment 366.457 391,102 346,535
Colorado did not feel the full effects of the Depression until 1931
and in some cases until 1932; therefore there is not much
difference from 1920 figures. The 1940 figures are more
representative of the impact of the Depression on Colorado.
Colorados unemployment meant that there was a great need for
relief, but Colorado had limited sources.
Relief in Colorado was not widely available at the beginning
of the Depression. There were some private sources, and church
aid, but these sources were insufficient for the many people who
needed them. In 1931 Denver charities handled the demands for
assistance, but by 1932 these charities had exhausted their
limited funds.50 51 The states funds also were insufficient for the
50 James F. Mahar, project supervisor, Dean C. Coddington & John S. Gilmore,
research economists, Economic Forces Behind Colorados Growth. 1870-1962 with
Projections to 1970. (Denver: Denver Research Institute, 1963), 3.
51 James F. Wickens, Colorado in the Great Depression. 11.
numbers of people who needed help. Federal aid was not
immediately available, nor would it be available for all those who
Not all unemployed people were eligible to receive aid.
Immigrants were reluctant to apply for aid because they believed
they would then become eligible for deportation under the
immigration laws. Immigration laws stated that deportation
could be used to protect the public against crime or economic
burden or to protect national security by removing subversive
elements or disloyal aliens. Immigration law specifically stated
that if an immigrant fell into distress or needed public aid within
three years of entering the country, the Commissioner General of
Immigration could, with the permission of the immigrant, return
them to their country.52 It is for this reason that immigrants
were reluctant to ask for aid of any kind for fear that they would
be deported, even after the three years had passed. However,
there were some immigrants who were forced to apply for relief
and risk being deported. Sugar beet workers were often forced
into the relief system by the sugar beet companies and by
merchants from whom they bought food and supplies, who often
took them to the relief offices to get aid.
52 U. S. Department of Justice, An Immigrant Nation, 37.
To understand how this situation worked it is necessary to
look at the conditions of the beet workers. In a 1934 pamphlet
the United States Department of Agriculture stated that:
Beet workers have been forced into a cycle of working for
low wages during the spring and summer and then going onto
relief during the winter because they are unable to support
their families on the low wages. They are often forced to
accept low wages or be forced off the relief rolls by the
It also states that the average family income from beets is
$53.00 per person per year or less than $.15 per day per person
and that all necessities must be met from these wages. With
such low wages the beet workers were forced to go on relief or
risk starvation. Often the store keeper would bring in the beet
worker after all the credit had been used.54
Another point that this report brought up was the use of
child labor in the fields. The report pointed out that children
were an important element in the growing of sugar beets, but that
even using children did not help the beet workers family. Even
with the income of the children, the wages were still at the
starvation level and the consequences for the children were
devastating. The report also mentioned that the children had poor
and unwholesome food, inadequate clothing, little recreation, lost
53 United States Department of Agriculture, Adjustment for Sugar Beets
(Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1934), n.p.
54 Ibid., n.p.
time from school, and lived in crowded and unsanitary
conditions.55 What this report failed to address is the real reason
for the low wages and the poor conditions.
The real reason for these conditions was the political
situation that existed in the state. During the 1930s the political
scenario was not much different than it had been in the past. The
big participants in the political scene were mining, agriculture,
and manufacturing. Lobbies for these three industries had lobbied
in the 1920s to keep the cheap labor supply safe at the national
level, and their success helped Colorado. Within the state the
sugar companies were also quite effective in getting what they
wanted. George Kaplan of the International Labor Defense wrote
to Ed Johnson that It is well known that the Great Western Sugar
corporation and the rich growers Associations are importing
cheap unorganized laborers into Colorado...56 The sugar
companies also managed to get the workers onto the relief rolls
to help subsidize the low wages they were paid. Charles E.
Hansen former Weld County CWA administrator stated that
applications for relief were processed by his committee only
after the approval of the Great Western Sugar officials had been
55 Ibid., n.p.
56 George Kaplan to Ed Johnson and Cordell Hull, n.d., Governor Edwin Johnsons
Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26916, #236 Denver.
given.57 This was the sugar companies way of supplementing the
meager income that they paid the beet workers.
The sugar beet farmers themselves also benefited since
they had their cheap labor supply. Fred Borejo in a letter to Henry
A Wallace states that:
The Mountain States Beet Growers Association--an
organization supported by funds collected for it and payed
[sic] to it by the Great Western Sugar Company~and used
principally for lobbying purposes~is trying to force the
laborers to sign a wage contract it has prepared that by its
terms will compel them to live and work under even more
degrading conditions than in the past. 58
The conditions would have worsened for the beet workers because
under the new contracts the workers and the growers would be
forced to help finance the growing of the crop rather than the
banks.59 For the laborers, this meant their wages would be
dependent upon the crop and its value regardless of the amount of
work that had been put into the field.
One situation that was different was the power play that
was going on between Governor Edwin Johnson and the federal
government in its various forms such as Works Progress
Administration (WPA), Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and the
57 James F. Wickens, Colorado in the Great Depression. 114.
58 Fred Borejo to Henry A. Wallace, August 22, 1934, Governor Edwin Johnsons
Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26888, #212, Denver.
59 Ibid. n.p.
other agencies set up to help with the Depression. Johnson was so
upset with the work of Paul D. Shriver of the WPA, who was
hiring aliens before American citizens, that he used a section of
H.R. 9642 to fire Shriver and then notified Washington to send
another person to oversee the agency.60 In the end Governor
Johnson got someone whose views were more compatible with his
own. These are the conditions that prevailed in the 1930s and
helped to make it easier to target the Mexicans and Mexican
Americans for repatriation.
60 Governor Edwin Johnson to Governor Clyde Tingley, December 18, 1934,
Governor Edwin Johnsons Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26885 #127, Denver.
The Aliens Plight
The plight of most aliens during the Great Depression was
exacerbated beyond their usual condition because they were seen
as the cause of the Depression and because they were not
American. John Higham in his preface to the second edition of
Strangers in the Land points out that, generically, nativism is a
defensive nationalism that is used against religious,
revolutionary, and sometimes racial peril.61 Perhaps he should
also have added economic peril. Aliens, because they have not
become completely Americanized, are easy targets, especially
during economic crisis. In Colorado the target was frequently the
Mexican and Mexican American because they still attempted to
preserve their culture and identity. As a result, they became an
easy scapegoat for anyone who lost their job, anyone unable to
find decent work, and anyone unable to get federal aid.
Loss of Jobs
In Colorado, Mexicans and Mexican Americans held jobs in
the three major sectors that were hardest hit by the Depression.
61 John Hiaham. Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism. 1860-
1 925. 2nd Edition, (New York: Atheneum, 1966), n.p. While Higham does not
specifically state economic peril as part of his definition, he does point out that
economics is frequently a major contributor to these conditions.
As a result they were also the first to lose their jobs since they
were considered expendable. It was morally easy to fire or lay
off Mexicans, because it was generally believed that they held
jobs at the expense of American citizens.62 The only area where
they were really necessary was in the sugar beet fields, but even
in this area they were liable to suffer consequences.
Denial of Relief
Wages for the sugar beet workers were very low, and many
of the workers were forced to seek relief simply to avoid
starvation. The threat of deportation often kept some families
from seeking this aid, even though they often needed help. A
family friend recalls that instead of asking for aid, some women
would go and scavenge in the dump. Some even went to an area
where a local milk canning company threw away the bad canned
milk and would then bring home the milk to feed their babies. She
recalled that many babies got sick and died from the milk.63
Relief was often dependent upon where one lived. In some
areas, getting relief was not a real problem, while in others
relief was unavailable for immigrants. J. R. Ruberson, an
investigator for the Industrial Commission of Colorado, wrote to
62 Abraham Hoffman. Unwanted Mexican Americans in the Great Depression. 33, 1.
63 Betty Remijio, interview with author, November 24, 1995, Commerce City,
the Industrial Commission of Colorado that while in La Junta he
had been told that Mexican beet workers throughout the county
were receiving charity....64 Albert Dakan also wrote to Governor
Johnson saying You know that a large number of Spanish speaking
laborers were kept thru the past winter on charity. They are now
on relief.65 The problem of Mexicans on relief may be explained
by the fact that to many Spanish speaking meant Mexican, and
some on relief may have been Spanish or Mexican Americans
entitled to relief.
Another reason aliens were reluctant to seek aid is that
state law mandated the superintendents of all public hospitals,
insane asylums, or other public institutions kept and supported by
public funds...report to the state board of charities and
corrections in writing all indigent persons.66 These people were
then reported to the United States Bureau of Immigration for
64 Letter from J. R. Ruberson to Industrial Commission of Colorado, May 12, 1933,
Governor Johnsons Papers, Colorado State Archives 26888 #212, Denver.
65 Letter from Albert Dakan to Governor Johnson, May 11,1934, Governor
Johnsons Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26888 # 212, Denver.
66 Colorado Statutes Annotated Chapters 1-57, Abatement-Drainage, (Denver:
Bradford-Robinson Printing Company, 1936), n.p.
Public opinion was almost totally in favor of the
repatriation and blockade policies. Most Americans were very
much in favor of repatriation, and Governor Johnson was very
much aware of this feeling. His papers show that he received
quite a few letters stating support for the repatriation of
Mexicans and Mexican Americans back to Mexico. Just as many
people wrote to support Governor Johnson in his plan to deport
aliens, they supported his stance for a variety of reasons.
The main reason for supporting the Governors action seems
to have been hatred of immigrants, even though many Americans
attempted to hide their hatred in other motives. While
immigration laws were not meant to single out any one group,
most of the people writing to the governor meant Mexicans and
Mexican Americans. Albert Straight writes It was the Mexican
problem and now your[sic] are routing the Pests out. Our relief
load is one half Aliens, and in event you can find all the skunks it
will be a God send to our country.67 Mae Bartley also wrote in
support of the repatriation by saying I see by the paper the
deportation of aliens on relief are considered. There would never
be a better service rendered to this country.68
67 Albert L. Straight to Governor Johnson, n.d., Governor Johnsons Papers,
Colorado State Archives, 26903 #212, Denver.
68 Mae Bartley to Governor Johnson, January 4, 1935, Governor Johnsons Papers,
Colorado State Archives, 26903 # 212, Denver.
Another popular theme was to get aliens off the relief rolls
or to protest that they were taking jobs away from American
citizens. Mrs. Amanda Fredlund wrote:
There are men who are not AMERICAN citizens and they have
had work, and are not more entitled to it than this young
man is as he has a mother to support.
I have lived in COLORADO 54 years and never saw the time
when an AMERICAN DENVER born was put behind a FOREIGNER
getting jobs, but that seems to be it now, and it is not
setting very well with some of us now.69
But, individuals were not the only people who wrote in to support
Many groups also wrote in support of repatriation, the
effort to get aliens off relief, or the blockade. Many groups even
went so far as to send in documents signed by members in support
of the efforts of the Governor. Vernon A. Cheever sent in a letter
giving the support of the V.F.W. 70 Another group that wrote to
support and even help if necessary, was the Ku Klux Klan. C. W.
Cole of the Progressive American Klan wrote:
Our organization has read with interest and discussed with
enthusiasm, the press reports of your policy of refusal of
State relief to aliens, and deportation of those who have not
acquired or sought to acquire citizenship.
69 Mrs. Amanda Fredlund to Governor Johnson, February 15, 1934, Governor
Johnsons Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26888 #219, Denver.
70 Vernon A. Cheever to Governor Johnson, June 3, 1935. Governor Johnsons
Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26903 # 212, Denver.
We are most heartily in accord with your attitude on that
important issues, which so strongly bespeaks your genuine
Americanism, and desire to express to you our sincere
approval and support.71
Another Klan group #81 wrote to say You have but to command
and we shall move in any assistance we can give.72
There were others who wrote in for a variety of reasons.
John N. Huett of Ft. Lupton wrote The majority of them can not
be trusted to do any kind of work, without close watching, and
they insist on the highest wages.73 S. F. Salchow wrote in to tell
the Governor how some foreigners spent their relief money to
stage regular Saturday night drinking parties.74 For some it was
a way to solve the problem of crime. The American Citizens
Association of Fort Collins Local #3 said It is the consensus of
opinion that in our large alien population lies the crime
problem.75 For some it seems that all aliens were a problem. An
Interested Citizen of Brush, Colorado wrote that The Mexicans
71 C. W. Cole to Governor Johnson, August 22, 1935, Governor Johnsons Papers,
Colorado State Archives, 26903 #212, Denver.
72 Klan #81 to Governor Johnson, n.d., Governor Johnsons Papers, Colorado State
Archives, 26903, #212, Denver.
73 John N. Huett to Governor Johnson, April 18, 1935, Governor Johnsons Papers,
Colorado State Archives, 26903, #21 2.
74 S. F. Salchow to Governor Johnson, March 28, 1935, Governor Johnsons
Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26903, #212, Denver.
75 American Citizens Association of Fort Collins Local 3# to Governor Johnson,
Governor Johnsons Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26903, #212, Denver.
are only a small part of the aliens with whom we have to contend
in our country. There are a great number of Russians living
For a few, Governor Johnsons policies simply did not go far
enough. H. L. Robertson wrote:
There is one way to rid this state and country of them and
that is to pass a bill to sterilize every Mexican on relief
who has more than two children. There would be a mad
scramble to get out of here if such a measure could be
enacted as that is all they think of from childhood to the
I am sorry to say they will never make good citizens as long
as they go to the Catholic schools and churches.
All Mexicans who refuse to work in the beet fields should be
cut off from aJJ relief. We have coddled them entirely too
long and they think they have us bluffed.77
The irony of this letter is that Robertson wants to get rid of the
Mexicans, but seems to understand that Mexicans are needed to
work the sugar beet fields.
Another sector that supported the move against the
Mexicans and Mexican Americans was from within the Spanish
speaking community itself. The Spanish American League told the
Governor that No good can result from having the country full of
76 An Interested Citizen of Brush, Colorado to Governor Johnson, March 27, 1935,
Governor Johnsons Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26903, #212, Denver
77 H. L. Robertson to Governor Johnson, April 29, 1936, Governor Johnsons
Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26916, #236, Denver.
foreigners in time of crisis, while the native citizens find no
work to do. They also pointed out that the aliens work for lower
wages than the Spanish Americans could, and this hurt them.78
The Spanish American Citizens Association of Grand Junction also
wrote to tell the Governor that the D. &R. G. W Railroad was
bringing in aliens from other parts of the state to work at low
wages. The wages were so low that citizens could not live on
this wage, and they urged every state, county official, and every
organization to work to get rid of all indigent and undesirable
immigration regardless of race.79 It would seem that these
hostile feelings made the repatriation and the blockade very easy
Targeting the Mexicans
Targeting the Mexicans and Mexican Americans was not very
difficult since there was such prejudice against them even before
the Depression. The Depression made it easier to get rid of many
people who were not American. As table 2.1 shows, the
population of the state in 1930 was 1,035,791. Mexican
78 Spanish American League to Governor Johnson, March 21, 1935, Governor
Johnsons Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26903,#212, Denver. The Spanish
American League probably represented the descendants of the original European
settlers of the state.
79 The Spanish American Citizens Association Local #7 to Governor Johnson, April
24, 1935, Governor Johnsons Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26903, #212,
population was counted at 57,676 which was the largest minority
group in the state. Foreign born Mexicans were counted at 13,125.
The second largest group of foreign born aliens was the Russians
with 12,979. Perhaps this is why the Interested Citizen from
Brush was so worried about this group of people. However, one
reason that it was easier to target the Mexicans for deportation
was the closeness of the border. The cost of deporting Mexicans
was much cheaper than sending home the Russians, the
Japanese, or any other group.
Governor William Adams used repatriation to get rid of
some of the Mexicans and Mexican Americans on relief in 1932.
As J. R. Ruberson reported, I was informed that some 1300
Mexicans had been shipped back to Mexico from this county last
year.80 It is at this time that my grandparents, Jose and
Trinidad, moved from southern Colorado to northern Colorado to
avoid being sent back to Mexico. However, not all of the family
stayed in the United States. One of Joses sisters returned to
Mexico with her husband and their two children who had been born
here in Colorado. The breaking up of families was not uncommon.
In Decade of Betrayal. Balderrama and Rodriguez give other
examples of families that were torn apart by the repatriation,
80 J. R. Ruberson to Industrial Commission of Colorado, May 12, 1933, Governor
Johnsons Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26888 #212, Denver.
sometimes teenage sons and daughters staying behind alone while
the other family members returned to Mexico.81
In 1933 Edwin Johnson became governor of the state, after
having served as Lieutenant Governor under Billy Adams from
1931-1933. In March of 1935, Governor Johnson proposed
rounding up all aliens in the state to aid the federal government
in deporting them. The Denver Post reported that Johnson quoted
St. Paul in saying He who is not good to his own is worse than an
infidel.82 The article further states that the reason for the
round up is that a drought in 1934, dust storms, and increasing
relief costs, along with the steady flow of outsiders from
southwestern states and from Mexico into the state have made
this action necessary. The report asserted that hundreds of
Mexicans held jobs that Americans should have. Governor Johnson
also stated that he had the support of many organizations and
even of Spanish American citizens who wanted speedy action and
wanted to help send the aliens back where they belonged.83
The apparent reason for Johnsons move to repatriate aliens
is that they were using too much of the limited relief funds.
81 Francisco E. Balderrama and Raymond Rodriguez, Decade of Betrayal: Mexican
Repatriation in the 1930s. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995),
82 Frances Wayne, Colorado Aliens Will Be Deported, Denver Post. March 23,
83 Wayne, Colorado Aliens Will Be Deported, 1, 3.
According to D. S. Howard in the Statewide Social Welfare Survey
of Colorado, only 7.8% of the 1930 population received relief in
October of 1933. Of those receiving aid 84.2% were white, 11.5%
were Mexican, 4.1% were Negro and other races were 0.2%.
Howard also pointed out that Mexicans and Negroes appear two
and four times more frequently on relief rolls than the general
population, but explained this as due to their social and economic
disadvantage because of low wages, fewer employment
opportunities, and being the first to lose their jobs.84 However,
in a telegram to the Philadelphia Record. Governor Johnson said
that on January first of 1934, Colorado will have sixty thousand
on relief and another thirty thousand unemployed who are not on
relief. 85 Whether the governors figures were used or the figures
from Howards report, it is clear that the Mexicans were not
getting all the aid. It is also difficult to tell if Mexicans really
meant Mexicans, or Mexican Americans and Spanish. The last two
groups would have been very much legally entitled to aid. The
question, is would the removal of Mexicans, defined as foreign
born, have made that much of a difference to the aid situation?
84 D. S. Howard, Statewide Social Welfare Survey of Colorado, Unemployed Relief in
Colorado News Bulletin #1, June 6, 1934
85 Telegram from Governor Johnson to the Philadelphia Record, November 20,
1934, Governor Johnsons Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26885, #108,
The first step in Governor Johnsons plan was to put the
aliens in a concentration camp. The Denver Post reported that the
first part of the plan intended to put aliens in a concentration
camp at the Rifle Range on Golden Road. Relief workers would
help in the round up of the aliens, and any alien refusing to go
would be denied relief. The governor also stated that citizens did
not have to be afraid. In the words of the governor, families
would not be able to get multiple relief orders or to go on
committing wholesale fraud as moochers, as has been the case in
the past, according to reports of Intelligent American citizens
[emphasis mine]. The article also pointed out that Albert S. La
Mar of the Coronado Club says that Spanish American Citizens had
suffered most even though they belong here and that they support
the governor and will do all we can to see that the invaders
[emphasis mine] are sent back where they came from.86
To implement his plan, Governor Johnson asked Neil Kimball
to make plans for the camp and repatriation. Neil Kimball had
been the governors secretary before returning to the Colorado
National Guard. Kimball had been a sporadic member of the
National Guard since 1918 and eventually achieved the rank of
general. To plan the repatriation, Kimball was moved to the
Adjutant Generals office where he was in charge of the planning,
and the later blockade by the National Guard.
86 Aliens on Relief To Be Put in Camp Denver Post, March 27, 1935, 1.
In a memo to the governor, Kimball stated that the Relief
Administration could furnish food for Mexican aliens in
concentration or deportation camps, but a final decision was
pending. He also stated that Miss Van Diest, a Relief
Administrator, would have an estimate of how many Mexican
aliens were on relief and their addresses. Kimball also pointed
out that the Federal Government had to make the funds available
for deportation and that the deportation would have to be
voluntary. The report also stated that according to Mr. Sullivan of
the United States Immigration service only one per cent of the
Old Mexico Mexicans were deportable and he estimated that there
were only about 40,000 Mexican aliens in the state. Kimball also
pointed out that according to the Immigration Service an alien
who was on relief was not considered to be a public charge and
therefore, did not qualify for deportation. The only way an alien
became deportable was to have been committed to an institution.
Kimball also told the Governor that both the Immigration Service
and the Mexican Consul believed that a large number of Mexicans
would return to Old Mexico if transportation were available, but
it would be necessary for a policy ruling to be made as to whether
or not funds could be used from the Relief Administration.87
87 Neil W. Kimball to Governor Johnson, March 26, 1935, Governor Johnsons
Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26888, #212, Denver.
In this same memo Kimball also tells Governor Johnson
what infractions made an alien deportable. The only aliens
deportable were aliens who entered the country illegally without
getting a visa or paying the Head Tax, stowaways or deserting
seamen, aliens who were prostitutes or pimps, aliens who within
five years of entry committed crimes other than liquor violations
and were imprisoned, any alien who had been twice imprisoned
for other than liquor violations, and any alien who had been
deported.88 Certainly the numbers of Mexicans who fit these
categories would have been quite limited. Since only a few
Mexicans were legally deportable, and being informed that
deportation was not feasible, it appears that Governor Johnson
was really trying to frighten Mexicans so they would accept
voluntary deportation and he was somewhat successful in this
endeavor.89 In May of 1935 workers from Walsenburg sent the
governor a resolution protesting his action which they decried as
a fascist attack on foreign born workers, particularly the Mexican
beet workers. The resolution stated We protest the recent
action of deporting 32 families from the state of Colorado
without even the pretense of legal action.90 Most Mexicans and
89 Paul P. Prosser, Attorney General to Neil Kimball, March 28, 1935, Governor
Johnsons Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26903, #224, Denver.
90 Letter from Beet Workers 321 of Walsenburg to Governor Johnson, May 18,
Mexican Americans did not know that they were not subject to
legal deportation and would have agreed to deportation out of
Governor Johnson was unable to carry out his plan of
concentration camps. Federal laws made mass deportation
impossible. As Governor Johnson told Governor Clyde Tingley of
New Mexico, only voluntary deportation was possible because of
treaties with foreign countries. He also stated that it would have
been possible if Federal Agencies would simply cooperate and
withhold or threaten to withhold relief.91 However, there were
still cries for getting rid of the Mexicans. Unable to deport the
Mexicans legally, Governor Johnson decided to try another tactic.
In April of 1936, under martial law, the Governor set up a
blockade of the southern border of the state with the National
Guard enforcing the blockade. The purpose of the blockade was to
keep unemployed from entering the state because there were few
requirements for getting relief. However, the question that must
be asked is, why was it only the southern border that was
blockaded? In May, of 1935, a group of beet workers from
1935, Governor Johnsons Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26903, #224,
Denver. Reports were carried in both the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post
of what Governor Johnson was planning to do and what actions were being taken. His
plan to deport Mexicans and aliens was even carried in the New York Times.
91 Telegram from Governor Johnson to Governor Clyde Tingley of New Mexico, April
5, 1935, Governor Johnsons Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26903, # 224,
Sedgewick asked the Governor to help keep Nebraska beet workers
out of the state and help them keep their jobs.92 Unemployed
could enter from any other border, yet the National Guard was
sent only to guard the southern region of the state.
The blocakade of the state was ordered on the 18th of April
and by the 29th it was over. The blocakdes success was very
limited. Not all Mexicans were kept out. Governor Johnson sent
members of the 157th Infantry and the 168th Field Artillery to
establish roadblocks along the southern border at Cortez,
Durango, Pagosa Springs, Conejos, Raton Pass, Branson and Campo.
While some people were kept from entering the state because
they did not have enough money to support themselves or could
not prove that they had jobs in the state, it was also clear that
Mexicans were being selected. The National Guard was to stop all
cars and trucks and make sure the occupants were entering to the
state with adequate funds. The Guard checked auto registrations
against license plates and engine numbers; other considerations
were the appearance of the vehicle, characteristics of the
occupants and whatever else could be thought of. Those who
could not give valid proof of sufficient funds, or a job were told
to turn around and go back to New Mexico.93
92 Sedgewick Beet Workers to Governor Johnson, May 6, 1935, Governor Johnsons
Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26888, #212, Denver.
93 Blockading of theAlienHispanics, Colorado Heritage. Winter 1994, 41-44.
It also soon became apparent that Governor Johnson did not
have enough support to make his plan work. 94 One of the
problems that the governor faced was people did not know if they
could enter the state or if they would be forced to turn back.
Visitors wrote asking if they needed permission to visit family,
businessmen were unsure if they would be allowed entry or what
they needed to prove they had business in the state, and people on
their way to other states wanted to know if they would have to
avoid coming through Colorado. John Lowman wrote to the
governor to ask if a pass would be needed to enter the state,
because he was moving to San Luis with his family and a
truckload of cows. The Governor wrote back saying that a pass
was not necessary.95
Another problem that the blockade brought up was whether
seasonal laborers from New Mexico would be allowed entry into
the state. The Hixson brothers wrote asking the Governor to
allow five Mexicans from New Mexico in to help them with their
lambing operations. They explained that they had been using these
men for the past four years and these men knew the operation
used by the Hixson brothers and that there were no other locals
94 James F. Wickens, Colorado in the Great Depression, 44.
95 Governor Johnson to John W. Lowman, May 1 9, 1936, Governor Johnsons
Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26916, #236, Denver.
available with experience.96 The use of Mexicans seemed to be
necessary. According to A. B. DeGraw white men would not herd
sheep. He stated that he paid fifty dollars per month and board,
but these laborers preferred to take relief and work only a few
hours a day at less pay than to work on a ranch or the range.97
Another problem was that some people were being hurt by
the blockade. George A. Ullrey wrote in behalf of his brother who
raised potatoes in Antonito, Colorado. Because of the blockade,
his brother could not take his potatoes into New Mexico and could
not plant another crop. His brothers actions hurt others who
depended upon him, and he also said that this action would create
unfavorable publicity and hurt the state.98 The same sentiment
was expressed by J.W. Goss, a Commissioner of District 3 in
Pueblo. Goss explained that the farmers needed the workers and
that the WPA could not force laborers off the job unless they
were guaranteed more than $52 a month in cash and kind.99 It is
clear that Governor Johnsons plans for rounding up the Mexicans,
96 Hixson Brothers to Governor Johnson, April 30, 1936, Governor Johnsons
Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26916, # 236, Denver.
97 A. B. DeGraw to Governor Johnson, April 21, 1936, Governor Johnsons Papers,
Colorado State Archives, 26916, 236, Denver.
98 Geo. A. Ullrey to Governor Johnson, May 7, 1 936, Governor Johnsons Papers,
Colorado State Archives, 26916, # 236, Denver.
99 J. W. Goss to Governor Johnson, April 29, 1936, Governor Johnsons Papers,
Colorado State Archives, 26916, #236, Denver.
putting them into concentration camps, and keeping them out of
the state were not as successful as he had wished.
The most important reason for these acts is that Colorados
economy was suffering. Colorados major industries were still in
trouble in the mid 1930s. Governor Johnson was aware of this
and knew that unemployment was high within the state. He also
knew that the state could not adequately help all the unemployed
who needed aid just to survive.
Another reason is that workers were coming to the state in
hopes of finding work, but Colorado was not the only state that
was seeing an influx of unemployed seeking work. In 1935
Governor Johnson sent a telegram to Secretary of State Cordell
Hull saying that a group of forty destitute men, women and
children had been escorted to the Colorado-Wyoming state line
because they were begging and could not support themselves.
Johnson tells Hull that Unemployment is very great in Colorado
and there is no work for any of these people in our state.
However, twenty of the people who were escorted out of the state
were American citizens.100
Another reason for Governor Johnsons stance was his
disagreement with the federal government. WPA projects seemed
to be the area of greatest discontent. Under the federal
too Governor Johnson to Cordell Hull, Secretary of State, May 10 1935, Governor
Johnsons Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26903, #224, Denver.
guidelines, the WPA was allowed to employ anyone over 18 who
was capable of working, unless they were serving a sentence.
Preference would be given to persons certified in need of relief
by a public relief agency, and only one family member could be
employed on projects. The guidelines also specifically stated
that discrimination on any grounds whatsoever, including race,
religion, or political affiliation would not be tolerated. The
guidelines pointed out that illegal aliens would not be knowingly
hired to work on projects, and if found to be working on projects,
they would be discharged.101 Under these guidelines it was
possible for Mexicans to work on WPA projects and many did.
Governor Johnson and many others objected that aliens, even
though they were entitled to work, were taking jobs away from
WPA Director Paul Shriver, followed these guidelines and
gave jobs to Mexicans who were on relief. Governor Johnson,
however was not satisfied with this. He wrote Shriver a letter
and explained his sentiments:
On behalf of Colorado taxpayers, our unemployed citizens,
patriotic organizations and good citizens generally, I most
respectfully demand that no alien and no person not a
citizen of this state be given employment in the Public
Works Program under your direction and that every person
101 Harry Hopkins to Governor Johnson, n.d., Governor Johnsons Papers, Colorado
State Archives, 26916, #236, Denver.
seeking Public Works employment be required by you to
conclusively prove that he is a citizen of Colorado and of
the United States.102
In another letter to Shriver, Governor Johnson expressed his
disappointment in Shrivers continuing to give preference to
aliens over American citizens even though the Americans had not
been on relief in May of 1935 as federal regulations stated. He
also told Shriver that Colorado was willing to transport aliens
back to their homeland and was upset when Shriver suggested
that Colorado would starve or abuse aliens.103
Another reason that Governor Johnson took this stance is
that he planned to run for the United States Senate in 1936. In
Many letters to the governor expressed support for the governors
actions and for his impending run for the Senate. They encouraged
him to run and to do whatever was necessary to get rid of the
aliens. Governor Johnson would also be able to build upon the
good he was doing for the Mexicans. In a letter to Reverend
Edgar Wahlberg he wrote:
I wish that you knew how these poor peons [emphasis mine]
are brought in here and required to pay tribute to the
racketeers who hire then out at so much a head with a rake-
102 Governor Johnson to Paul D. Shriver, August 9, 1935, Governor Johnsons
Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26903, #206, Denver.
103 Governor Johnson to Paul D. Shriver, August 16, 1935, Governor Johnsons
Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26916, # 236, Denver.
off on each person. Lincoln didnt free all the slave in 1863.
We have slavery in Colorado today competing with free
The governor must have felt that all this support would definitely
win him the Senate seat in 1936. But there were a few who did
not totally support the governors actions.
Who Opposed the Governor
Most letters voiced support for the governor, but there were
some people who opposed his action. Colorado was the leading
sugar beet producing area. It was estimated that in 1934 with
government payments and tax refunds, farmers would receive
about $13,400,00 for the sugar beet crop.105 Sugar beet producers
knew that they needed the Mexicans and Mexican Americans to
plant, thin, weed, and harvest the crop. The sugar beet companies
also wanted new Mexicans to come in because they would be
ignorant of the unions and be willing to accept even lower wages,
thereby increasing their profits. Farmers knew that they needed
the Mexicans and Mexican Americans to work the fields because
104 Governor Johnson to Reverend Edgar Wahlberg, May 4, 1936, Governor
Johnsons Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26916, #236, Denver.
105 United States Department of Agriculture, Adjustment for Sugar Beets,
(Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1934), 4-5.
they could not get enough Americans to do the work or do it
My mother tells the story of a farmer for whom the family
worked who refused to contract for the wages that my mother
felt were fair. She decided to sign up other farmers who would
pay what she was asking, and as a result the first farmer ended
up with no one to work his crop. He finally got the local high
school to come out and work the crop, but they did more damage
than good. The farmer came and asked my mother to come and
help him with the crop, but she refused. As a result the farmer,
who really did have a fantastic crop that year, lost much of the
crop and did not get what he should have for his sugar beets.
There were also some individuals who were opposed to the
governors plans for various reasons. The Pueblo Cosmopolitan
Club sent a telegram saying they were against the apparent
racial discrimination in the governors plans for concentration
or deportations as it would break up homes and racial conflict
would follow.. They also told the Governor that the participation
of the foreign born in building up Colorado needed to be
recognized rather than just their race or nationality.106 Julia A.
ONeill also wrote on behalf of the Altar and Rosary Society of St.
Philomenas Church to condemn the Governors actions of
106 The Pueblo Cosmopolitan Club to Governor Johnson, March 28, 1935, Governor
Johnsons Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26903, #206, Denver.
deporting Mexicans without investigating whether they were here
legally. She also tells the Governor that she hopes he will see
that no injustice is done to these poor people.107
Effectiveness of the Governors Plans
It is very difficult to tell how effective the repatriation, the
round up, and the blockade were in relieving the relief rolls of
Mexicans. It is also difficult to say how effective these actions
were in getting Mexicans to return to Mexico. The problems arise
from lack of records. Another important element in this problem
is that there was no clear delineation of what Mexican meant in
the 1930s. Did this term mean only the people who had entered
the country from Mexico, did it mean anyone who claimed a
Mexican heritage, or did it also include the Spanish who did not
even acknowledge a Mexican lineage? Another aspect of this is
that Mexicans were counted separately in the Census only in
1930. Of course the question that comes to mind is why were the
Mexicans singled out only for that one census? Records of
numbers of Mexicans on relief and Mexicans deported are vague or
nonexistent The only statistic that can be consistently used is
Spanish as the mother tongue of the foreign born as shown in
107 Julia A. ONeill to Governor Johnson, June 12, 1935, Governor Johnsons
Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26903, #206, Denver.
Table 3.1 population and I immigration Statistics
Year U.S. Population (In thousands)108 109 National Mexican Immigration 109 Colorado Population110 Spanish as the mother tongue of the foreign born in Colorado111
1920 106,461 52,361 939,629 11,260
1930 123,188 12,703 1,035,791 13,413
1940 132,122 2,313 1,1 23,296 6,640
These figures indicate that while the population of the United
States and Colorado grew from 1920 to 1940, Spanish speakers
did not increase at the same rate. Mexican immigration dropped
drastically from 1920 to a mere trickle by 1940. The
immigration figure represents the legal immigration and not the
illegal entries which may have been greater. However, the telling
statistic for Colorado is Spanish as the mother tongue of the
foreign-born. Assuming that death would account for some
change, there is simply no way that death would account for the
almost fifty per cent change that takes place at this time. It is
108 U.S. Department of Commerce, Historical Statistics of the United States. 8.
109 Ibid., 422.
110 Thomas G. Tyler. Statistical Abstract of Colorado. (Denver: Transrep
Bibliographies, 1977), 3.
111 U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. United States Census of
Population 1960 Colorado: General Social and Economic Characteristics.
(Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1961), 98.
also possible that some may have denied that Spanish was their
mother tongue, but would this be enough to account for the fifty
It appears that the repatriation efforts of Governor Adams
and Governor Johnson were effective to some degree. This
statistic, of course, does not show the change in the overall
Mexican American or Spanish population, but since little
distinction was made as to who was Mexican and legally
deportable, it can be assumed that these policies also affected
these groups. There is no way of knowing just how these events
contributed to the campaign, but since many people were in favor
of deporting or keeping Mexicans out of the state, the governors
action probably helped him in his successful bid for the United
The repatriation and the blockade are historical events that
occurred in Colorado. That these two events were specifically
aimed at the Hispanic community should not be doubted. The
reasons for these events are varied and some of the reasons even
appear to have merit, but the underlying cause was prejudice and
Governor Johnsons use of prejudice to help him win election to
the United States Senate.
Prejudice against the Mexicans started when Americans met
the Spanish/Mexicans. Mexicans had Indian blood and were too
dark to be white. They practiced Catholicism, they had a strange
culture, and they ate strange foods. However, Mexicans were good
workers and their ability to work the fields in the hot sun made
them a valuable asset in the expanding country. Mexicans were
acceptable as long as they kept their place, and if they did not
remain subservient, it was always possible to get them to return
to their home in Mexico. After all the border was not far away.
Mexicans came to the United States to improve their lives.
Many came to the United States because of the better wages.
Many came with the idea of making some money and then
returning home with enough money to buy their own land or start
a business. Some came to escape the turbulent conditions of
Mexico with the hope of some day returning. Some came to the
United States in hopes of making a better life for themselves and
their families. The one common denominator they all faced was
prejudice. When they tried to become American citizens, they
were told to deny a part of their heritage or simply told no. There
is no mystery as to why so few Mexicans sought naturalization;
they were denied the opportunity and learned it was easier simply
to remain Mexican citizens.
During the Depression, Mexican Americans learned that they
were not really American. Just as their parents had faced
prejudice, so did they. Many unable to prove their citizenship,
were forced to return to Mexico. Often they were not allowed
into public places for no other reason than they were not white.
The irony, of course, is that in the United States Census they
were counted as white.
The Spanish did not fare much better. They were finally
granted their citizenship, but only because it had been guaranteed
under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Many faced the same
prejudice as Mexicans during the Depression. They also suffered
because they often lost jobs to Mexicans who were willing to
work for less. This often created tension between the two groups
and helped create a division that was used by the Americans and
Within the Hispanic community there was a distinction
between the Surumatos and the Manitos. Surumatos referred to
the Mexicans and their offspring. Manitos referred to those who
were born in the United States, but in reality it meant those who
claimed Spanish ancestry. When the Manitos called for the return
of the Surumatos they did not realize that Americans did not
make the same distinction. Many learned to regret their call for
help in getting rid of the Surumatos because Americans did not
make the same distinction.
Governor Johnson knew that the state had no right to
interfere in federal policy. In 1934 he wrote that the state had
no authority in the administration of the Civil Works
Administration.112 But in 1936, during the blockade, he was still
talking about how Mexicans were taking jobs away from American
citizens. In another letter to C. W. Varnum Johnson wrote No
other country treats aliens better than its own citizens....What
disgusts me is that aliens are given preference to WPA jobs and
American citizens are denied this work.113 If he knew his
actions were illegal, why did he persist?
112 Governor Johnson to Mrs. Fredlund, February 19, 1934, Governor Johnsons
Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26888, #219, Denver.
113 Governor Johnson to C. W. Varnum, March 23, 1936, Governor Johnsons
Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26916, #236, Denver.
Perhaps the answer is that he knew he had the support of
many and this would help him in his election to the U. S. Senate.
Stephen J. Leonard pointed out that Colorado farmers, railroad,
and sheep raiser had all welcomed the labor of Mexicans for quite
some time, but others including Governor Johnson viewed them
with alarm.114 The alarm that the governor felt was also felt by
others and this is what may have prompted him to continue with
his actions. The Denver Post wrote The governors stand will be
widely commended. What he is undertaking should have been
started a long time ago. Aliens...who have made no move to obtain
citizenship should be deported without any delay.115 The
governor opposed many of the policies of the federal government
and this worked to his advantage. As he said in a letter to Philip
I do not think that Mr. Hopkins or Mr. Goldberg, or any other
relief people are politically partisan. They are social
workers full of theories on humane welfare of the parlor
socialist type. This is the first time that they have ever
had an opportunity to attempt to put their theories into
practice. I have tried very hard to be considerate of their
viewpoints, but for some reason or other I cannot seem to
agree with them.116
114 Stephen J. Leonard, Trials and Triumphs. 70.
115 Thats That, Denver Post. March 26, 1935, 2.
116 Governor Johnson to Philip D. Norvell, March 24, 1934, Governor Johnsons
Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26888, # 224, Denver.
If this is nothing more than a historical event, why should
we bother with finding out about it? It is over and done with just
as any other historical event, and perhaps makes an interesting
footnote in some history book. I believe that we have not learned
from this lesson and that we continue to do the same, with a
slightly different twist. Hispanics continue to come to the
United States seeking a better life in the fields. They continue to
be paid wages that are barely above starvation levels. Children
continue to work with their parents in an attempt to make more
money to support the family even though they should be in school.
Hispanics continue to see prejudice in many different forms.
In the 1992 elections, California passed Proposition 187.
Under this law, illegal aliens would be denied government
services such as health care, education, and relief. Government
officials would be legally obligated to turn in the names of
anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. The reason
given for the necessity of this law was that the illegals were
bankrupting the state. Why should the good people of California
be paying for these illegals.
My answer is very simple. The illegals have put the food on
our tables, they have built the houses, they have worked for the
lowest wages, they have taken the jobs that many Americans
refuse to do, all in the hopes of bettering their lives and maybe
becoming Americans. They live in fear of being caught and
returned to their homeland where they can not find work. But,
even with this fear they continue to come in, and we allow them
to come. We allow them to do the work we do not want, and when
they have served their purpose, we send them back. If we really
want to stop illegal immigration, there are better ways than not
to give them service after they have done the work we need them
to do. Perhaps it is time to bring back the Bracero programs that
the government used from 1940 to 1960. With a Bracero program,
the intent would be very clear to everyone. Today we sound like
Governor Johnson when he wrote to Reverend Wahlberg about the
I have tried in every way to work out an understanding with
the Governor of New Mexico, the railroads, and the beet
industry, but the railroads and the beet industry people have
violated every agreement and so I have finally resorted to
this very drastic action.117
In 1936 my grandparents left Colorado for Wyoming in the
hope of finding better opportunities and to escape the prejudice
that seemed to be directed against them. In Wyoming they raised
nine children of their own and helped to raise seven other family
members. Five of those children finished college, two went to
career colleges, and the rest found work in various occupations.
My grandparents never went on relief and my grandfather finally
117 Governor Johnson to Reverend Edgar Wahlberg, May 4, 1936, Governor
Johnsons Papers, Colorado State Archives, 26916, #236, Denver.
became a citizen in the late 1950s. They worked hard and became
Americans who never forgot their Mexican heritage. They
believed in the American dream, and given the same opportunity,
many of the Hispanics who come here today can achieve the same
Today we need to lose our fear of those who are different
and have courage to change. Reverend Edgar Wahlberg in an
opening prayer to the 1935 Colorado legislature gave this prayer
which is still appropriate today:
0 God, make the more intelligent among us strong to lead.
Give those who are afraid courage. Save us from the
temptation and sin of selfishness. Make us see the
foolishness of dodging the real issue with petty interests
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