By Lisa Kindrick, Librarian
Genealogical research often sparks the imagination. What are the stories and personalities behind those names and dates? Kermit Lopez used his research into his family’s four hundred year history in New Mexico to develop Cibolero: a Novel. The story focuses on Antonio Jose Baca, a nuevomexicano farmer forced to cope with the changes brought by the Americans to his homeland, especially after 1846 when the area became a United States territory.
Baca feels the impact of gringo intrusion into his world in many ways, but never more so than when a group of Texas Rangers kidnaps his daughter. As he tracks them across the Llano Estacado, the vast plateau east of the Sandia Mountains, his mind journeys back over his life and the changes he’s seen in New Mexico. The landscape brings back his experiences as a Cibolero, or buffalo hunter, tracking the large herds of buffalo roaming across the same countryside where he is now searching for his daughter. Baca was present at many key moments in New Mexico history. Among other memories, he recalls his childhood in Atrisco near the small town of Alburquerque, his life in Taos where he met and married his wife, the Taos Rebellion of 1847, and how his family’s land grant in Atrisco was stolen from him, which forced his family to move to the La Cuesta area in northern New Mexico.
Cibolero is a very personal account of New Mexico history as seen through the eyes of a nuevomexicano. The descriptions of the Ciboleros hunting buffalo with lances and mastering the llano are especially interesting since that is a little-known aspect of life in New Mexico. The narrative moves quickly – sometimes too quickly. The story is generally told in a direct manner and could use more detail and character development at times. The aspect of the book dealing with the daughter’s kidnapping adds excitement and a reason to return the farmer to the llano, but isn’t as compelling as the portions of the narrative that bring Baca’s past, and through him the history of New Mexico, to life.
One of the most fascinating aspects of this novel is the contrast of the Anglo and Hispanic cultures through their response to the land, and especially the llano. For the tejanos (Texans) the llano is ominous and undifferentiated and they quickly become lost. “The Llano Estacado was too large and mysterious to fathom. . . . the area was devoid of life or utility.” Baca is perfectly at home on the llano. He knows the terrain well and is able to easily navigate and find everything he needs to survive. “To Antonio, the llano was a mystical land that filled him with a sense of freedom.” After reading this book you will never travel across eastern New Mexico without imagining those herds of buffalo roaming across the llano and having a whole new response to the landscape yourself. Cibolero is a great read for anyone looking for an intimate account of New Mexico history from a Hispanic point of view.