Valverde is a novel about the Civil War in New Mexico that begins in Texas. This location may seem odd to you unless you’re familiar with the relationship of Texas and New Mexico. You see, the Texas Republic tried to invade New Mexico twenty years before the Civil War, and it didn’t go well.
His father’s involvement in that earlier invasion plays a role in teenage Texan Jemmy’s decision to join the Confederate Texan forces. It also affects New Mexico teenager Raul’s attitude toward the invading forces.
Valverde follows each boy as he experiences the beginnings of the Civil War in New Mexico and as their paths cross at the battle of Valverde in February 1862.
The characters are well drawn, the situations are believable, and the battle scenes are handled nicely—there’s enough detail to make the reader feel the characters’ pain but not more than is strictly necessary.
This book is the first in the trilogy Rebels Along the Rio Grande, a series of Middle-Grade novels about the Civil War in New Mexico. The next in the series is Glorieta and I’m looking forward to reading it, too!
You don’t have to be a Middle-Grader to enjoy and learn a little something from this book. I recommend Valverde to young and old!
On Thursday, March 30, 1854, in the mountains of New Mexico, the U.S. Army experienced its worst defeat at the hands of Native American warriors up to that time, west of the Mississippi. It would be another twelve years before larger losses occurred at the 1866 Fetterman defeat near Fort Phil Kearny, and another twenty-two before the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
The New Mexico clash wasn’t what the top brass had ordered. The dragoons from Cantonment Burgwin near Taos had been sent out under Lt. John W. Davidson to monitor the Jicarillas camped west of the traditional Spanish village of Cienequilla (today’s Pilar, New Mexico), not attack them.
There was a history of conflict between the Spanish settlers in the fertile little valley along the Rio Grande and the Jicarilla Apaches. The Jicarilla had been farming and hunting in the area well before 1795, when the Spanish governor granted land there to his settlers. The Apaches protested his decision and, in 1822, petitioned for their own grant of land in the area, but the settlers in Cienequilla and in Taos vigorously opposed the idea and the request was denied.
So the Jicarillas were left to farm and hunt where ever they could find space. By 1854, this was becoming more difficult, as American settlers moved into New Mexico and further reduced the supply of arable as well as hunting land.
Early that year, complaints against the Jicarillas had increased in the area east of the Rio Grande. The Territory’s top military officials were skeptical about the validity of many of these complaints, but in February credible reports began coming in that the Jicarillas were stealing livestock north of Fort Union. A few weeks later, a group of 45 Jicarilla lodges were reported to be camped near Mora, west of the Fort.
When soldiers led by West Point graduate Davidson went to investigate, they discovered that the Apaches had moved away from Mora and were headed west through the mountains. Davidson noted the “miserable quality of their arms and their mean shrinking deportment” and returned to Cantonment Burgwin, where he and his men were stationed, convinced the Apaches weren’t a threat.
Eight days later, he and his U.S. Second dragoons were ordered to the Cieneguilla area to observe the movements of the same band, but not to attack.
On March 30, two hours east of the Rio Grande, the dragoons found the Jicarilla camp. The order not to attack was apparently not obeyed. Someone fired a gun and by nightfall, at least a third of Davidson’s men were dead, with another third wounded, and 45 horses lost.
It must have been a shock to realize that the Jicarillas’ weapons weren’t quite as miserable, and their warriors nearly as shrinking, as Davidson had thought.
Source: David M. Johnson, Chris Adams, Larry Ludwig, and Charles C. Hawk, “Taos, the Jicarilla Apache, and the battle of Cienequilla,” Taos: A Topical History, Corina A. Santistevan and Julia Moore, Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, 2013; David Grant Noble, Pueblos, Villages, Forts And Trails A Guide To New Mexico’s Past, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1994; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History Of The New Mexico Volunteers And Militia, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 2015.
The girl lifted her skirts away from her feet and eased toward the small brown-mottled duck on the creek bank. It was busily investigating a small marshy area where water had seeped past the bank. Alma wished she’d brought her bow and arrows, but she’d been sent out to collect greens, not meat.
The duck had its back to her. Alma eased forward and crouched, getting into position. Her right foot pressed her skirt into the mud, but she didn’t notice.
The duck turned slightly. Alma lunged forward. As her hands touched the bird’s smooth feathers, her foot ground into her skirt, yanking her off balance. The duck flew off with a panicked series of quacks and Alma pitched forward into the mud.
“Hell and damnation!” she said angrily. “I hate dresses!”
She got to her feet and looked down ruefully. Her mother was not going to be happy.
On Saturday, March 20, 1830, former New Mexico Governor Antonio Narbona died in Arizpe, Sonora, Mexico.
A well-traveled and educated man, Narbona was born in 1773 at Mobile, in what is now Alabama, when it was still under Spanish control. He left when he was sixteen, heading to Santa Cruz, where he was a cadet in the army and a protégé of the company Commandant, who also happened to be his brother-in-law.
Narbona rose steadily through the ranks and had made lieutenant by 1804, when he was sent north to the Canyon de Chelly area as part of an effort to squash Navajo raiding at its source. His name is still associated with the primary battle of that raid—an attack on a group of women, children, and elders in what is now called Canyon del Muerto. His men killed 115 people that day. Some say their cries can still be heard in the canyon.
The next January, as part of the continuing effort against the Navajo, Narbona led his men into New Mexico. He would return there in 1825, when he was appointed political governor. He served in that capacity from September 1825 to May 1827 and earned a reputation as a reasonable man. He met with George Sibley during Sibley’s Santa Fe Trail mapping expedition, raised money for public schools, and expressed concern to his superiors about the influx of Anglo-Americans into Taos and Santa Fe.
There is no evidence that he ever expressed concern about the elders, women, and children he and his men killed in 1804.
Sources: Dr. Rick Hendricks, Antonio Narbona Talk at NM Archives, Sept. 18, 2019; Joy L. Poole, editor, Over The Santa Fe Trail To Mexico: The Travel Diaries And Autobiography Of Doctor Rowland Willard, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2015; Jerry D. Thompson, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 2015.
I don’t know much about Pancho Villa. At least, I didn’t until I read Knight of the Tiger. I knew Villa was one of a group of generals who competed for control of Mexico in the early 1900’s and that he led a raid into New Mexico in March 1916. I knew nothing about his background or his personality.
This third volume of the Legends of the Desert didn’t disappoint me. I did follow Henry on his further adventures. But I also learned about Pancho Villa.
At its finest, that’s what historical fiction does. It tells us a good story and also teaches us something along the way. However, Knight of the Tiger does more than that. It also explores the concept of revenge—when it’s appropriate, when it’s counter-productive, and what exacting it can do to the human soul.
Knight of the Tiger did a great job of telling a great story, teaching me some history, and giving me something to think about. I recommend it!