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Los Comanches-The Play

Rare cast portrait of the folk play Los Comanches, in Ensenada, NM in the early 1930s.  This equestrian auto de entrada was probably written between 1774-1780, most probably by don Pedro Bautista Pino of Galisteo, who participated in the Comanche campaigns of the 1770s and who wrote admiringly of his former foes in his 1810 report on NM he wrote for the Cortes de Cádiz.

This photograph is amazing.  It is indeed a rare cast portrait of the folk play Los Comanches, in Ensenada, NM in the early 1930s.  This equestrian auto de entrada was probably written between 1774-1780, most probably by don Pedro Bautista Pino of Galisteo, who participated in the Comanche campaigns of the 1770s and who wrote admiringly of his former foes in his 1810 report on NM he wrote for the Cortes de Cádiz.  The settlers of the Ensenada, Tierra Amarilla, Chama area most certainly had family memories of the Comanche wars since they came mostly from areas further down the Chama valley which were mostly abandoned in the 1770s since the warfare there was so intense.   Dr. Roberto Vialpando informed me back in the 1980s that he had seen Los Comanches in the upper Chama valley when he was growing up.  He was a revered teacher and superintendant who taught in the Chama and Española valleys.  Did he have a camera back in the 1930's?  He is my best guess for the photographer.

The fanciful military uniforms of the “Spanish” soldiers are based on 19th century models.  The actual 18th century militia were soldados de cuera (leather soldiers) who used leather armor and broad hats. The “Comanche” warriors are dressed in buckskin or rough cloth with stereotypical plains headdresses. The characteristic single row headdress common in all New Mexico is not present in this picture. The Comanche or Numuhnuh war chief,  Cuerno Verde, has the most distinctive, with its presumably green horn. His Nuhmuhnuh name is Tabivo Naritgante (brave and handsome) and he was from the Yamparica (root eater) group from north of the Napeste (Arkansas) River. He along with 40 of his most able warriors and shamans were killed in an ambush by Governor Juan Bautista de Anza and a combined force of 600 presidial soldiers, militia, Pueblo auxiliaries, and Utes near present day Colorado City (between Colorado Springs and Trinidad) in late August, 1779.  Green Horn Mountain, which towers west of the site is named for the chief.  The victory play “Los Comanches” conflates episodes from this final campaign and other previous campaigns.

Identification of the characters is based on the manuscript of Los Comanches  published by Aurelio Espinosa in 1910 (Amado Chávez gave it to him). The 1930s era El Rancho production described by Lorin Brown in the WPA files uses a script very similar to Espinosa’s. Local productions often used scripts that were modified according to the needs and desires of each community. Names of secondary characters can vary.

Here are the cast members I can identify, beginning with the two protagonists:

 -Don Carlos Fernández - uniformed, 4th from right, holding his sword in front of Cuerno Verde, 5th from right, who does indeed seem to have the horn on his headdress, hanging down and to the right.

 -Las Pecas - the children captives from Pecos Pueblo from the name, 3rd from right (male?), 5th from left (female), whose costumes and age are consistent with other performances. They are often two females.  The battle is fought over them.

 -Barriga Duce - the clown figure with gray beard in the front.  He is a greedy camp follower who pillages battlefields and makes fun of other characters.  The hilarious tone of his comments and behaviour in the play contrast with the heroics of the other characters. His wife lies next to him.

Based on existing scripts, the other 4 Comanche warriors are most often referred to by these names.  Aspects of dress or physical appearance were used for naming Indians:

 -Cabeza Negra - Black Head (probably 3rd from left with black smudge on cheek?)

 -Oso Pardo - Grey Bear

 -Tabaco - Tobacco

  -Zapato Cuenta - Beaded Shoe

The other 4 Spanish soldiers are based on actual historical figures with the following names.  Some productions refer to them with terms of rank like Teniente (lieutenant) or Capitán  (Captain):

-Don José de la Peña (2nd from left, a major character)

-Don Tomás Madril,

-Don Toribio Ortiz

-Don Salvador Ribera

The character wearing a cape 7th from right may be an ambassador or officer character.

The 2 figures on far right are “arrimados” (hangers on or helpers) perhaps characters in training or new members of the cast who do not have uniforms yet.

The musicians with guitar and accordion provide music for the entradas, and when Cuerno Verde calls for music in the play.  They are comparable to the musicians which play guitar and violin in Alcalde.  In Ranchos de Taos, the Comanches music is played with the single headed tombé drum accompanied with Native American style vocable or syllable singing.

What is fascinating about the characters are their attachments to each other.  In the play, Comanche and Spanish characters pair off to deliver boasts and threats face to face.  You can tell that Cuerno Verde is with Don Carlos Fernández.  Don José de la Peña squares off with Zapato Cuenta. The raised swords are a sign of victory.  This is one way to identify characters.  The actors are obviously enjoying themselves.   I would guess the photo was taken after the performance, given the degree of enthusiasm on their faces.  It would be great to learn more about the identity of the players.  Perhaps a copy of the picture can be posted in Tierra Amarilla for this purpose.  Perhaps Dr. Lamadrid and his colleagues from the Office of the NM State Historian would be willing to lecture at the school or community center there.

Thanks to Joey Martínez and his first cousin Inez Perea, we have identified the kneeling accordion player who is their uncle, Dedacio Valdez (born in 1915) and raised in Ensenada, NM.  Joey estimates his age as 18 years, tentatively dating the photograph to 1933.  The looming peñasco of Brazos peak in the photo’s background indicates it was taken in either Ensenada or Tierra Amarilla.  Joey writes “The photo was discovered in my Grandma Josefa's steamer trunk after her death in the 1970s.  It was passed onto my aunt and finally to my first cousin, Inez Perea.  I'm our families self-proclaimed historian and genealogist.  I recently began publishing a quarterly family newsletter I call "Los Primos Hermanos".  It only goes out to my first cousins in an effort to keep in touch with one another.  It includes family stories, photos, and genealogy info.  I'm always begging everyone for access to their old photos.  My cousin Inez shared the Comanches photo with me.  She didn't know anything about it other than the fact my Uncle was in the photo.  Inez was hoping that my Mom, Dedacio's sister, could tell her more about the photo.  My Mom immediately thought it was either Los Comanches players or Matachines.”

For more on the play and the inter-cultural traditions of Comanche celebrations in New Mexico, see Enrique R. Lamadrid’s Hermanitos Comanchitos: Indo-Hispano Rituals of Captivity and Redemption (UNM Press, 2003).  Because of the interest of Joey and Inez in their family and community history, the photo (owned by Mr. Martínez), has been released to Professor Lamadrid (who sent them his book) and the Office of the State Historian for research purposes.  Requests for permission to publish the photo will be processed through the Office in accordance to their policies and procedures.  The family’s only request is that the photo be formally acknowledged as part of the “Josefa Cupertina Valdez Collection.”    Please note that the scanned photo mailed on the internet is cut back from an original more panoramic print which is a good 15% wider.

Comments on the photo and further analysis or identification of the people in it are more than welcome.  Direct them collectively (with cc’s) to Dr. Lamadrid at UNM, Dr. Dennis Trujillo at the Office of the NM State Historian, and Mr. Joey Martínez in San Antonio, Texas.  Please distribute for comment to everyone you know who is interested in these fascinating inter-cultural traditions. Contact information follows:

Prof. Enrique Lamadrid

Chicano Hispano Mexicano Studies

University of New Mexico MSC02 1680

Albuquerque, NM 87131

505 269-5569


Mr. Joey Martinez

26319 Jason Avenue

San Antonio, TX 78255

210 375-6927