Pleas and Petitions: Hispano Culture and Legislative Conflict in Territorial Colorado

In her recently released book, Virginia Sanchez presents new information about early southern Colorado during the territorial period (1861-1876). She discusses little-known topics such as political obstacles, cultural conflicts, and institutional racism experienced by Hispano legislators. She also answers the question, “Why does Colorado appear as a square state on the U.S. map?”

The two Hispano territorial assemblymen elected in Colorado’s first election in 1861 found it difficult to create opportunity and a better life for their Spanish-speaking constituents. The essential House Rules that explain the procedures used in the Territorial House of Representatives, were not translated into Spanish and there was no interpreter available to them when they arrived in Chamber. Further, the territorial statutes, were not published in Spanish until 1864. This meant these U.S. citizens living in the southern Spanish-speaking counties were not informed of the new laws and the reasons for the several new taxes imposed upon them.

Nearly 7,000 Spanish-speaking U.S. citizens from northern New Mexico Territory woke up on Feb. 28, 1861 to discover they were now in the newly created Colorado Territory. These citizens were accustomed to a bilingual legislative assembly in New Mexico’s Territorial Legislature that had the office of official translator for the monolingual English legislators and a budget for legislative printing.

Colorado Territory was scrambling to pass laws and enact taxes without the full representation from Conejos, Costilla and Huerfano counties – the three southern counties of the time. Sanchez also includes a biography of the early Hispano legislators and introduces new historical research about the violence against Hispanos, including the Espinoza brothers who were named mass murders in 1862.

The book, Pleas and Petitions: Hispano Culture and Legislative Conflict in Territorial Colorado, is the first in-depth history of Hispano sociopolitical life during this period. Former U.S. Secretary of the Interior, U.S. Senator, and Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar wrote the foreword to the book. “Until Virginia’s book, no other author has explained the early territorial law from the Hispanos’ point of view… Her story tells us that [the Hispanos annexed to Colorado Territory] wanted to be returned to New Mexico; however, Congress and the territorial executives would not hear their pleas.” In his review of the book, former State Historian William Convery wrote, “Sanchez given Spanish-speaking leaders their overdue credit for fighting for Hispano rights and contributing the creation of Colorado.”

Sanchez is an independent scholar who lives in Denver. She was preparing a book signing of Pleas and Petitions in Conejos and Alamosa when the Covid pandemic struck. This is her second book about Colorado’s Territorial Period, and it was published last March by the University of Colorado Press. An article she co-authored about the 7,000 Hispanos who were “displaced in place” won a monetary prize as best article published in 2018 by the New Mexico Historical Review. Her book, Pleas and Petitions, is available from local and online booksellers. 


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