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History: Early inhabitants of the Pecos Valley area

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Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Early Dam, Missouri Plaza — persons unknown, Dec. 9, 1934.

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily

Record

Who knew there was a settlement in this part of the state before Roswell? Along with that, who knew that Comancheros roamed this area?

There was once a settlement about 15 miles southwest of Roswell on the north bank of the Rio Hondo, called San Jose, Plaza de Missouri, or Missouri Plaza. Some early settlers called the place Missouri Bottoms.

Its beginnings and demise are a bit of a mystery. One early historian stated that the place was the settling point for a group of immigrants, mostly from Missouri, who found the area promising and maintained the settlement there from 1865 until 1872 when lack of water forced the abandonment.

However, it appears that the true story is more complicated. As early as 1848, it was reported that placer gold mining in the area caused the formation of a small settlement, abandoned after workings ceased. In 1866 or ‘69, some 30 or 40 Mexican families — freighters by profession — settled at the site with the intent of raising food for Fort Sumner and Fort Stanton. Originally from Valencia County, the people had been freighters in a route between Santa Fe and Kansas City, Missouri. With the increasing needs of the soldiers at the forts and Native Americans in the reservations, it was well-known that money was to be made in the feeding of people in the territory. At a point where the valley was wide enough for cultivation, the group set up farms and began organizing minor freight routes. The settlement was thriving until 1872.

Then suddenly the settlement disappeared forever. The theory is that it disappeared because Hondo water ceased to reach the village. The Bottoms, or Missouri Plaza, has to be considered a portion of Roswell’s family tree and history.

The settlement helped supply the early cattlemen, Charles Goodnight, Oliver Loving and John Chisum — all of this leading to the settlement and development of the area called Rio Hondo — the place we now call Roswell.

In doing research on the article, the only Roswell Daily Record newspaper articles I could find on it are dated March 17, 1910, and seems to be that the writer was erroneous in his facts. Following is Parker Earle’s letter to the editor:

“Not ‘Mission’ Plaza

“Editor Daily Record

“I did not find my article in the Roswell Record on the Hondo reservoir until today, and I wish to correct a blunder. Your proofreader makes one use of the term ‘Mission’ Plaza, when it should be ‘Missouri’ Plaza, as I wrote it, when I describe the location of the future great reservoir of the Roswell district, if there is ever to be a great reservoir in this district, with water in it. Missouri Plaza, as the locality well known to all old timers. Though why that beautiful stretch of plain should have been so named, no one seems to know. It is said that there was an ancient settlement here, so the term ‘Mission’ would seem to be a more natural word. But there are no ruins of any ‘Mission’ and no relics of any ‘Missourians’ in that lonely neighborhood. I would not like to mislead the newcomers, or to be thought ignorant by the Old-timers, about a matter of local geography, concerning which there is no importance, whatever, except as it is the site of a well planned reservoir proposition, which would take in, and would conserve, all the waters that would ever come down the mountains to the west of us. Someday it will be built, and it is well for us all to know that it will be at Missouri Plaza.

Yours,

Parker Earle

Now to the fact that there were Comancheros in the area. Credits go to Stu Prichard with permission from his son Guy Prichard.

“One of the strange tales of the West was the Comanchero trade, and a portion of that story occurred right in this area. Back in the days when the waters of the Hondo flowed daily, and the red waters of the Pecos were the life source for the valley, and grama grass was nearly 3 feet high, this intersection of rivers, known as Rio Hondo, was one of the places for strange meetings between the wild, treacherous Comanches and Mexicans, engaged in what is known as the Comanchero trade. Rio Hondo wasn’t a major trade spot, the Bosque Redondo, further north was more so, but both were trade contact points. Although the Comanchero trade was infamous, it was not secret. In fact, trade permits were granted the Indians, by the Indian and military authorities.

“This immense trade encouraged the Indians to steal thousands of cattle, mostly in Texas, and trade them to the Mexicans for goods and provisions and sometimes whiskey and ammunition. The Comanches even stole from the Navajos and Apaches on the reservation. The trade became so important that the Comanche made concessions to the military so as to retain their trade permits. In fact, many Anglo and Mexican captives were released in return for trade concessions. It was a strange, dangerous practice, often beset with murder and treachery. It was based on greed on the part of the areas in habitants and need on the part of the Comanche Indians.

“Eventually, the trade carried on by Comancheros spread to other tribes. The Navajos became very proficient at it; the Mescaleros used a rather large number of John Chisum’s horses and cattle for trading, and the Kiowas became co-partners with the Comanches. It was never effectively quashed until the Indian problem was solved.”

Such is a brief synopsis of some of the earliest settlers/inhabitants of this area.

Note from the editor: In the “Calendar history of the Kiowa” by James Mooney, 1895-1896, which is in the public domain as part of The Project Gutenberg, the peace between the Kiowa and Comanches has its own chapter:

“Peace with the Comanche

“According to the story which the old men (passed down from the elders of the tribe) had from their fathers, who were contemporary with the events, the Kiowa advanced along the base of the mountains and pushed the Comanche from the northern head streams of the Arkansas. When both sides were about worn out with fighting, it happened that a small party of Kiowa on a friendly visit to a Spanish settlement southwestward from that river — perhaps Las Vegas or possibly Santa Fé — stopped to rest at a house, which they particularly state was not a fort or trading post. The house was a large one with several rooms, and by a curious coincidence a party of Comanche had arrived shortly before and were then talking in the next room, all unaware of the near presence of their enemies. Hearing the voices and recognizing the language, the Kiowa at once prepared for battle, and another bloody encounter was about to be added to the long list, when their Mexican host, friendly to both sides, interposed and represented to the Kiowa that now was their opportunity to establish a lasting peace with their foes, offering his own services as mediator. After some debate the Kiowa accepted his proposition, and the kindly Mexican, going into the next room, informed the astonished Comanche that a party of their hated enemies was outside waiting to talk of peace. Being assured that no treachery was intended, they came out and the leaders of the two parties saluted each other. The Kiowa leader, whose name was Guik`áte, “Wolf-lying-down,” and who was next in authority to the principal chief of the tribe, assuming to speak for his people, then expressed their desire for peace. To this the Comanche leader, Päréiyä, “Afraid-of-water” (Toñpeto in the Kiowa language), replied that as this was a matter of grave importance, it would have to be considered by the whole tribe, and invited the Kiowa to go back with them to the Comanche country in order that the business might there be fully discussed. The Kiowa hesitated, not yet being quite willing to trust themselves in the lion’s den, when Guik`áte, anxious to spare further bloodshed, said, ‘I am a chief. I am not afraid to die. 163 I will go.’ A Comanche captive among the Kiowa volunteered to go with him. Turning then to his followers, he said to them, ‘Go home and tell our tribe that I am gone to make peace with the Comanche. Return for me to this place when the leaves are yellow. If you do not find me here, know that I am dead and avenge my death.’ He then dismissed them, and the Kiowa started homeward, while he, with the captive and one or two Mexicans accompanied the Comanche to their camps on Gañta P’a, the Double-mountain fork of the Brazos, in Texas.

“On arriving there with his escort, the Comanche were at first disposed to regard him as an enemy and made a show of preparing to revenge upon him the losses they had suffered at the hands of his people, but finding that he was a brave man not to be easily frightened, they changed their purpose and gave him a friendly welcome. He remained with them all summer, being well entertained by them on the hunt and at their social gatherings, and when at last the leaves began to turn, the tipis were taken down, and the whole band, having long ago decided on peace, moved off to meet the Kiowa at the appointed rendezvous. They had not long to wait, for Indians observe the season changes closely, before the whole warrior body of the Kiowa tribe appeared in sight, prepared either to make a treaty of perpetual friendship or to avenge the death of their chief, as the case might be. As they approached, the Comanche chief and Guik`áte rode out to meet them, somewhat to the surprise of the Kiowa, who had hardly hoped ever again to see their kinsman alive. He told the story of his kind treatment at the hands of the Comanche and their earnest desire for peace, and the result was a treaty of friendship and alliance which endures to this day, the two tribes, with the Kiowa-Apache, having ever since occupied a common territory and acted together on all important occasions, notwithstanding radical differences in language, ceremonies, and temperament. The former condition of hostility is clearly shown by the fact that the common name of the Kiowa for their present allies, the Comanche, is Gyái’ko, ‘Enemies.’

“This treaty with the Comanche must have been made toward the close of the last century, probably about 1790. As there is no tally date in Kiowa history until we come to ‘the year when the stars fell,’ i. e., 1833, a description of the manner in which we arrive at this conclusion may be of interest as a specimen of the ordinary methods of Indian chronology.”

This incident was unusual. According to historians and eye-witnesses, described in “The Rise And Fall Of The Comanche ‘Empire’, by S.C. Gwynne, encounters between enemies of the Comanches, which were everyone that was not Comanche, white or indigenous, all men and women were killed automatically. Small children were killed as well. The only children surviving were between the ages of 3 and 10 — they were often taken as captives and adopted into the tribe. Something that was very hard for Gwynne to face and to come to terms with as it often went hand-in-hand with torture and “grisly practices that scared white people to death.” The end of the Plains Tribes came with the slaughter of the Buffalo in the middle of the 19th century. It was advertised as, “every dead buffalo is a dead Indian.” The organized slaughter was to starve the Native American Plains Tribes into submission.

Janice Dunnahoo is chief archivist at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at jdunna@hotmail.com.