You are on page 1of 3

THE SANTA FEAN LAGAZINE, May 1993, 18

Chief of all Comanche


THE SANTA FEAN MAGAZINE
Cuerno Verde
Vol.21 No.4 May 1993 Storv. Charles Bennett

One hundred and fifty years after New Mexico just in time to avert the disaster and bring peace to
had been established as a province of New Spain, it the troubled land.
still had all the semblances of a rough-hewn fron- Hostilities began to foment once more when
tier colony. The biggest threat to New Mexicans, Governor Cachupin's successor, Don Pedro Fermin
Spaniards and Pueblo Indians alike was raids con- de Mendinueta, learned that the Comanche intend-
ducted by the nomadic Indian groups living on the ed to attack the settlement of Ojo Caliente, about
surroundingi fringes of the province. Incessant 50 miles north of Santa Fe, and to forestall the
raidingi by Apaches, Utes, Navajos and Comanche attack he led a large force of men in June, 1768,
througihout much of the 18th century brought the against them. The raiders were part of a larger
province to the very brink of extinction. group of more than 400 who had arrived at Taos to
Incessant Governor V6lez Cachupin tried to win the trade. When the smaller party rejoined the main
friendship of the Comanche in the summer of I75I group at Taos, six Spanish settlers who happened to
raiding by by holding a council with a group who had gone to be in the camp doing some unauthorized trading
Apaches, Taos to trade. The governor gave them presents were killed. The Comanche then fled the area.
and told them that peace would prevail unless the Later that summer, scouts brought word to
Utes, Navajos Comanche should steal any horses or attack Pecos the Spaniards that a powerful new Comanche chief
and Pueblo, in which case he would wage war upon had emerged who had assumed control of the entire
them. For a time there were no incidents. In mid- Comanche Nation and who was treated like a king
Comanche autumn. however. 300 Comanche attacked Pecos by all the bands. It wasn't long after this news had
Pueblo. Spanish soldiers stationed there helped the reached the Spaniards that the Comanche again
throughout
Pecos warriors repulse two assaults. attacked Ojo Caliente. In the pursuit that followed,
much of the Governor Cachupin responded two days later 21 Comanche were killed, one of whom it was dis-
l Bth century with a force of 54 soldiers, 30 militia and eight covered had been a close associate of this new great
Pueblo Indians. He was able to catch and defeat a Comanche chief. His death was considered an
brought the group of 145 Comanche. He sent the survivors affront to all Comanche and the new chief personal-
province to home to tell the story of the defeat and to carry ly undertook the campaign of retribution to avenge
back his stipulation that they keep the peace. Fol- his dead friend. This great chief wore an unusual
the very brink lowing this triumph, the first administration of leather helmet or headdress bearing a single buffalo
of extinction. Governor Cachupin (17 49-I7 54) was characterized, horn, painted green, so the Spaniards named him
except for a few isolated incidents, by peace Cuemo Verde which means green horn.
between the Comanche and the New Mexicans. Cuerno Verde was not present at the first inci-
Six years later, in 1760, an insult perpetrated dent in the new campaign, which occurred in early
by the Taos Indians sparked a Comanche attack on October, 1768, but he was very much involved
Taos, in which they took 56 Spanish women cap- when a major attack was mounted, at the end of
tive. An expedition was dispatched after them, but October, by a force of 500 Comanche warriors
with no results. The next year a group of which surrounded and attacked Ojo Caliente before
Comanche went to Taos to talk peace and to trade, dawn. The inhabitants of the settlement fought off
but New Mexico Governor Manuel del Portillo y the first assault and even though Chief Cuerno
Urrisola, in retribution for the previous year's Verde personally led the second assault the settlers
attack, had 200 Comanche men killed and seized again repulsed their attackers. During this fight
the surviving women and children as captives. The Cuerno Verde was killed, to the dismay of the other
Comanche, seethingi with fury, were preparing for a Comanche who, risking their lives, recovered the
general attack against New Mexico when V6lez lifeless body of their fallen chief and retreated in
Cachupin returned for a second term as governor, confusion. The death of the great Chief propelled
THE SANTA FEAN MAGAZINE, May 1993, 19

the Comanche Nation into a total and terrifyingi war September, I774, on a campaign agiainst the
with New Mexico which would last for the next Comanche Nation. They attacked a Comanche
decade. giroup about 125 miles from Santa Fe, killing or
Cuerno Verde had left a son who, dedicating capturing 100, and dividing as booty 1,000 horses
his life to avenging his father's death wore his and mules, 80 tipis, and other Comanche posses-
father's emblem, the remarkable headdress with the sions. The campaign had been successful, but
single green buffalo horn, and assuming his father's authorities in Mexico City worried that it had been
name Cuerno Verde-the-son became the scourge of a peaceful group of Comanche who had been
New Mexico. The audacity of Cuerno Verde-the- attacked.
son's attacks was fueled by his belief in his own Although historians can only speculate today
invincibility as assured him by the tribe's medicine as to whether the camp was hostile or peaceful, the
man. intensity of Comanche response may be an indica-
Soon the northern and eastern frontiers of tion. The next year,1775, brought the fiercest

Unidentified Comanche war chiefs by Georlie Catlin, 1834. courtesyMuEeumorNewMexico,Nes.#t3ees8anrlNeg.#r3ee8z.

New Mexico felt the full impact of the Comanche at Comanche depredations ever. Pecos Pueblo was
war. Settlements, ranches and Indian villages were attacked twice. Sandia, Alameda and Namb6 pueb-
attacked and sacked: Pecos Pueblo suffered six los were also attacked. Taos villagers fought 100
raids, Galisteo Pueblo four, Cochiti Pueblo one and Comanche in yet another raid. Even Santa Fe felt
the entire horse herd was stolen from Nambd the vengeance of the Comanche: one night in May
Pueblo. Santa Clara and San Juan pueblos, and a four warriors slipped into the town and killed a
Spanish settlement in the vicinity were also young boy herding oxen near his home. Pursuers
attacked. Pecos was again attacked on August 15, sighted the raiders, but lost them when they aban-
1774, resultinS in the deaths of nine men, with sev- doned their horses and fled into the mountains.
en captured and the horse herd stolen. The costly and unceasing Comanche war con-
Three days later a party of 100 Comanche tinued the following year, reducing Pecos Pueblo,
struck Albuquerque, killing five, capturing four and once the largest and wealthiest Pueblo Indian vil-
stealing a herd of horses. A force of 600 Spanish lage, to a fraction of its human population, and left
soldiers, militia and Indian allies left Santa Fe in only eight old cows and a dozen old horses remain-
THE SANTA FEAN MACAZINE, May 1993, 20

ing of their once large herds. Galisteo Pueblo was Cuerno Verde's raid at Taos had not been the
similarly affected by the prolonged hostilities. success he had hoped. Alerted by some Apaches to
Finally, in 1,779, the exasperated viceroy of expect the Comanche raid, the inhabitants of Taos,
New Spain, hoping to end the Comanche terror, Spaniards and Pueblo Indians, working topiether,
appointed a new governor for New Mexico: Lieu- had strengthened the stockade around the pueblo
tenant Colonel Juan Bautista de Anza. Anza, a and were ready for the Comanche. When Cuerno
highly capable administrator and proven military Verde arrived to attack, he was repulsed, and much
leader with much experience dealing with hostile to his astonishment, counterattacked by the
Indians, would not arrive in the province for anoth- Taoseflos. The counterattack unnerved the
er year. Meanwhile, the Comanche continued to Comanche, who lost a few warriors before retreat-
ravage New Mexico. ing. After destroying some corn fields, the
Upon his arrival in New Mexico, one of Gover- Comanche left the area, heading north over the
nor Anza's first acts was to consolidate the settle- Sanpire de Cristo Mountains straight toward Gover-
... the ment of Albuquerque, a frequent target of nor Anza and his force.
Comanche Comanche attacks, and improve fortifications at On September 2, 1779, as he crossed the
Taos, the closest settlement to the Comanche fron- Arkansas River on his way south, Anza received
jumped off tier. Other settlements were strengthened as well. word from one of his scouts that a Comanche force
their horses, Governor Anza's arrival brought new hope to was approaching. Anza, convinced it was Cuerno
the settlers. Although he had bolstered the defens- Verde, concealed his men and waited to ambush his
killed them es of the New Mexico settlements, this was only a quarry. At sunset the Comanche advance guard
in order to stopgap measure. He knew that he would have to rode into a narrow ravine where Anza's men
strike the Comanche in their homeland to make attacked them, killing a few warriors before the rest
make a last them think twice about leaving their families and got away. The next morning the New Mexicans
stand behind villages behind to raid New Mexico. Accordingly, he again took to the trail and soon encountered 50
made plans for a major campaign. Comanche galloping toward them with muskets
them and Governor Anza formed his punitive expedition ablaze. Suddenly one Comanche burst forward
fought to the in Santa Fe, regrouping the force near San Juan alone, fearlessly. He was wearingi the extraordinary
Pueblo on August 16, 1779. He had assembled 100 helmet with the green horn: it was none other than
death in a regular soldiers, 200 militia and 250 Narive Ameri- Chief Cuerno Verde.
manner can auxiliaries. Anza organized them into three Cuerno Verde, with only 50 warriors against
companies of about 200 men each, and set out the Anza's 600 man force, charged. Anza directed a
which Anza next day for Ojo Caliente, where the first Cuerno portion of his men to isolate Cuerno Verde and the
would Verde had fallen 11 years earlier initiating the long other warriors riding with him from the rest of the
and bloody war. Ojo Caliente had by now been Comanche, forcing them into the narrow ravine
describe in abandoned as a consequence of continual where the fight the day before had occurred. Real-
his report "as Comanche raids. izing their predicament too late, the Comanche
Anza's army continued north into present jumped off their horses, killed them in order to
brave as it Colorado where it was joined by 200 Utes and make a last stand behind them and fought to the
was glori- Apaches, traditional enemies of the Comanche. The death in a manner which Anza would describe in
expedition, moving at night to avoid detection, his report "as brave as it was glorious."
ous." crossed the Rio Grande at present Alamosa, Col- Falling with Cuerno Verde was his eldest son,
orado then skirted north around Pikes Peak, look- four leading war chiefs, the medicine man who had
ing for Comanche camps. proclaimed his invincibility and 10 other warriors.
A few days later a large Comanche encamp- Cuerno Verde's headdress was now Anza's trophy,
ment was reconnoitered by one of Anza's scouts. which he sent to his superior, Teodoro de Croix,
Leaving 200 men to guard the horse herd and bag- commandant general of the Internal Provinces of
Sage train, Anza led the rest of his men quickly and New Spain.
quietly toward the Comanche camp. The Coman- Following Cuerno Verde's defeat, no new
che fled at once, having detected the force. Anza Comanche leader arose to continue the war against
pursued for eight miles, enEiaging the Comanche New Mexico, but it would be several years before
rear guard and inflicting some losses. Although the Governor Anza was able to negotiate a lasting peace
majority of the Comanche escaped with their lives with the Comanche, an achievement considered by
and the horses they rode on, they had left every- some historians to have been the most significant
thing else behind. Anza counted 120 tipis and 500 accomplishment of his distinguished career. Juan
horses. More importantly, he learned from captives Bautista de Anza, Spain's most notable soldier on
that other Comanche bands were expected to arrive the northern frontier in the 18th century, and
in the camp to welcome Cuerno Verde and a party Cuerno Verde, a driven and dedicated leader, are
of warriors who were returning from a raid on Taos. but two of a myriad of important individuals from
Anza decided to start back for New Mexico, hoping New Mexico's Spanish colonial past.
to catch Cuerno Verde and his raiders on the trail.