This paper shall concern itself with the sixty-four year controversy between the Taos Pueblo Indians and the United States Forest Service over the question of who should control the Blue Lake area in northern New Mexico.
To the Taos Indians, Blue Lake was their most sacred religious shrine -- the place or their emergence and re-entry into the earth after death. Also of importance because of numerous religious shrines were the 48,000 acres of wilderness watershed land adjoining the lake known as the Blue Lake area. The Indians had to convince Washington of this religious importance -- it was only by a congressional act that the land could become their own.
In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt had withdrawn the Blue Lake area from entry and placed it under the administration of the Forest Service, the newly created branch of the Department of Agriculture. At first the Indians did not mind the administration and management of the land by this organization, but as time went on they insisted on more of a say-so in the policies of administering the area.
It was this change of attitude that started the controversy. Personality conflicts developed between the Indians and the Forest Service. The Indians charged that there was harassment, the Forest Service made countercharges. The Indians made petitions to anyone who could help their cause, and by 1968, they had left no stone unturned from the Department of Interior to the President. Finally, on December 2, 1970, with the aid of loud and supportive public opinion, a strong lobby, and a presidential endorsement, they won trust title to the Blue Lake area. Their precedent setting victory became national news.
Information for this paper was gathered through interviews with the Indians, the Forest Service, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Many contributors wished to be quoted anonymously. Both the Forest Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs permitted this writer access to their records whenever necessary.
Results of this study revealed the impossible situations incurred by both the Forest Service and the Indians. Both knew the difficulties of dealing with governmental beaurocracies, politics, and the changing tides of public opinion.
When research on this paper was first begun, the sympathies of this writer lay strongly with the Indians, as indeed they still do: however, now they are not exclusively so. The Forest Service and its strongest supporter in the controversy, Senator Anderson, are no longer the villains they once seemed to be, acting with less than compassion for a group of victimized Pueblo Indians. Instead, all the figures in this controversy have emerged as real people with unusually strong convictions which they were driven to pursue.
Level of Degree
First Committee Member (Chair)
Donald Colgett Cutter
Second Committee Member
Richard Nathaniel Ellis
Third Committee Member
Robert William Kern
Archibeck, Ronald P.. "Taos Indians and the Blue Lake Controversy." (1971). https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/hist_etds/257