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Tome: The Town of the Broken Promise

WPA Writers Project essay on the Town of Tome and how it got its name as the "Town of the Broken Promise."

The Town of the Broken Promise

Tome, New Mexico

 by A. A. Carter, WPA Writers Project, ca. 1935

Some time early in seventeen hundred Don Ignacio Baca came from Spain to Tome with a grant ceded by the King. He brought with him fifty families and settled at Tome by the Rio Grande where the land was fertile, and they built their houses and had plenty to eat and were happy and contented. Yet their’s was not an easy life by any means for the country all about them was wild and filled with many dangers. The worst of these dangers were the Navajo and Apache Indians, against whom they had ever to be on their guard, for these war-like marauders were ever ready to fall upon an unguarded village to kill and burn and destroy.

True it was that there were soldiers at Santa Fe, but Santa Fe was a long way from Tome, and the Indian attack was always so sudden that there was never time to obtain help from the nearer towns of Socorro or Albuquerque let alone from Santa Fe. Therefore each little village had to depend entirely upon itself, and for this reason the churches were built in such a manner that they could be used as fortresses as well as houses of prayer. Their walls were thick and their windows small and high, and they were located in the centers of the towns so that at the first warning of impending danger the people could hurry to them. Many times Don Ignacio and his people fought desperately for their lives, and it was only that they were careful to be always on the alert that they were able to exist.

 The Beginning of a Friendship

Then one day the settlers of Tome gained an unexpected ally, for into their village rode a Comanche Chief making the signs of friendship. The Comanches and Navajos were sworn enemies, and so Don Ignacio received the visitor with cordiality. The Indian remained several days as the guest of the Spaniard, and a warm friendship sprang up between the two. To add to this, it so happened that the ten-year-old son of the chief had accompanied his father, and that Don Ignacio had a little girl of seven summers, and the two children romped and played together about the village.

“See how happily our children play together,” remarked the Indian to Don Ignacio, “you have spoken words that bring joy to my heart. ‘Amigo mio’, it shall be as you say. Let us drink to the health of our children and the happiness of our people.”

The years passed, and often the Comanches came to visit and to trade with the Spaniards, and many times the latter went to the Comanche country. Maria Baca, the Spaniard’s daughter, had grown to be a beautiful girl and the young Comanche was tall and handsome and as fearless as a lion. The chief looked at his son with pride and joy, and he noticed too the beauty and sweetness of the Spanish girl.

“My son,” he said, “the heart of your father is glad when he looks upon you. It is time now that the woman of your heart came to your lodge. Let us go to the Spaniard and tell him that we are ready to keep the pledge that we made, that his people and ours may be one.” And with many gifts they took the trail to Tome.

But the years work many changes in the hearts of men. The people of Tome had prospered; a long time had passed since the Navajos had molested them, and Don Ignacio no longer felt that an alliance with the Comanche was desirable, especially since it must be brought about by his daughter marrying into their tribe. He was very fond of her and he felt that she could do much better than marry the Indian.

Now it happened that the girl had gone to visit relatives in the neighboring town of Valencia, and so was not at home when the Comanche and his son arrived. Don Ignacio received them with a sad countenance.

“Querida Amigo,” he said, “a great misfortune has fallen upon us since we saw you last. The smallpox came to our town and many of our friends have passed into the other world. See the many graves that now fill the ‘campo santo.’ My own heart is broken. Come with me until I show you.”

Don Ignacio led the way into the little cemetery. It so happened that a relative of his, whose name was also Maria, had died, and the Spaniard led the Indian and his son to her grave and pointed to the epitaph upon the tombstone. Silently the three stood gazing at the grave and then the Comanche Chief put his arm around Don Ignacio, and in his eyes was a look of pity and compassion. All the sympathy of the Indian went out to his brother in distress. For a moment they stood in silence and then, without a word, the Comanche turned and walked away. The younger Indian did as his father had done, and then he too passed through the little gate.

Sadly they mounted and rode toward the distant mountains. They would not add to the grief of their friend by remaining in his house to remind him of what might have been. Don Ignacio stood gazing after them until they disappeared among the cottonwoods, and then with a shrug of his shoulders, he walked across the plaza to his home.

They had been good friends, these Comanches, but why should they expect to take his daughter to their lodges? True enough he had given his word, but that was long ago, and for that matter one did not always keep his word with an Indian.

            “It was the only thing I could do,” he said. “They would take Maria to a Comanche londge. ‘Que barbaro’.

            How little did he realize the terrible retribution that was to come on account of that broken promise.

 Result of a Broken Promise

Some say it was an enemy of Don Ignacio who told the Indians how they had been deceived, but others tell a different story. They say that a party of traders from Isleta visited the Comanche country, and when the Indians spoke of the sad death of Maria they were much surprised, and they told the Indians that the girl was not dead but alive and well, for they had seen her but a short time before. What a calamity they were bringing upon the village of Tome by their words.

The Comanche Massacre

It was the feast of Santo Tomas, the patron saint of Tome, and all the people were at mass. The evening before there had been a great fiesta in the village, and they had sung and danced and feasted until a late hour. Now they were gathered in the church to pray that Santo Tomas would continue to intercede for them, and that the blessings of peace and plenty might still be theirs.

Suddenly from outside came the sound of galloping hoofs mingled with Indian war whoops. The doors were thrown open, and the Comanches [sic], hideous in their war paint, pounded into the church and fell upon the defenseless people. Once they would have prepared to offer stout defense, but many years had passed since the last Navajo raid and they had grown careless and were taken completely unawares. All the men were slaughtered where they stood. The priest, turning to raise his arms in protest, fell from the steps of the altar pierced by an arrow. The church and the houses of the village were set on fire, and soon Tome was but a heap of blackened ruins.

The women, including the daughter of Don Ignacio, were carried away, and it is said that Maria, the innocent cause of that bloody day, after a time did marry the son of the Indian chief and lived for many years among the Comanches [sic]. It is also a known fact that one of her great-great grandsons, himself a chief whose name was Puercus, while on a visit to the Spaniards years later was attacked and killed by the war-like Navajos, against whom his ancestors and Don Ignacio had sworn an everlasting treaty of defense.

Thus Tome is known as “The Town of the Broken Promise.”


Source of Information

Rev. Alberto Castañes, Pastor, Church of the Immaculate Conception, Tome, New Mexico.

WPA Files, Box #25, Folder #242, Courtesy of the State Records Center and Archives.