Cibolero: A Novel by Kermit Lopez
Review by: Maurilio E. Vigil*
February 7, 2008
In the tradition of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, the 1986 Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the American west which was later reprised in a popular television mini-series is a new novel by a Hispano New Mexican writer, Kermit Lopez titled Cibolero. As in Lonesome Dove the plot of the book evolves around the activities of some Texas Rangers, but in this case the Rangers are the villains.
The story line evolves around the life of Antonio Baca, a one time cibolero, or buffalo hunter, who settles down with his wife in the high plains of New Mexico to raise a family and extract a living in a small family farm. But his idyllic life is rudely interrupted when his 17 year old daughter Elena, an aspiring country school teacher, is kidnapped by a rowdy bunch of Texas Rangers or Rinches, as they were derisively known by New Mexican Hispanos.
After it becomes clear that law enforcement authorities will not intervene, Baca sets out, on his own, to track down the kidnappers. In the course of his travels across the plains of eastern New Mexico and into Texas, Baca’s reminiscences of his earlier life transport the reader through the events, characters and circumstances of some of New Mexico’s most controversial history when the territory was invaded by the United States, occupied under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and governed as a territory of the United States.
Among the events included in Baca’s first hand narrative are the land grant conflicts and the resistance of such groups as Las Gorras Blancas, the insurrection against American rule in the Taos rebellion, the Civil War in New Mexico with engagements such as the Battle of Glorieta and ongoing racial and ethnic conflicts between native Hispanos and the interloping Anglos. In the process, Baca discovers how profoundly his homeland has been transformed by the Americanos.
The novel is refreshing in that it offers a long neglected Hispano perspective of that colorful history of New Mexico. His characters are real people with hopes, dreams, aspirations, troubles and struggles of typical Hispanos of that era and not the negative stereotyped images created by biased Anglo writers. The story is engaging and while it is fiction, the events described could easily have occurred in real life considering the history of the territory.
And, in the end, Antonio, by sheer guile and sagacity is able to rescue his daughter and the reader is treated to a happy ending. While the organization of the book with its alternating sequences of past and present and subplots and story lines is sometimes confusing, the overall result is an interesting and enjoyable novel. Kermit Lopez who is a lawyer in Albuquerque, New Mexico is quite knowledgeable about New Mexico history and its people and thus offers a realistic and sympathetic perspective of the Hispano experience in the state which is genuinely reflected in Cibolero.