A Swallow Press Book
By Marc Simmons
Manuel Antonio Chaves’ life straddled three eras of New Mexican history: he was born (1818) at the tag end of the Spanish colonial period, he grew to manhood in the rough and heady days of the Santa Fe trade during the quarter century of Mexican rule (1821–1846), and he spent his mature years under the territorial regime established by the United States. Manuel Chaves’ long career (died 1889) was interwoven with almost every major historical event which occurred during his adult life—the Texan-Santa Fe Expedition, the Mexican War, the Civil War, skirmishes with Utes, Navajos, and Apaches. He was called El Leoncito, The Little Lion, having earned the name as an Indian fighter. He lived for two years in St. Louis and was a well-travelled man, doing business in New Orleans, New York, and Cuba.
A hundred years ago when men still gathered around campfires and storytelling was a well-developed art, Chaves’ exploits were known to all New Mexicans. But history has a capricious memory and his name became virtually forgotten. Around the turn of the century, Charles F. Lummis’ flowery pen recalled brief attention to Chaves’ life, and in 1927 he appeared as a minor character in Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop—but otherwise was virtually forgotten. Alas. Too few of our Spanish frontiersmen have been studied in depth. Manuel Chaves and his life should not be lost. He was one of the legendary but real men who pioneered and built the 19th century Southwest. Howard R. Lamar laments: “The Spanish-American population of New Mexico still lacks a historian.” Marc Simmons’ biography of Manuel Chaves helps fill that gap.
Marc Simmons was called by another writer “one remarkable caballero.” He certainly is. He has been a Wyoming ranch hand, a movie extra with Warner Brothers, a Peace Corps training officer, a horseshoer, and has taught history at the University of New Mexico. Simmons is probably the only professional farrier in the Southwest with a Ph.D. He now lives in Cerrillos, New Mexico in an adobe house he built himself, and concentrates on horses, mules, research, and writing. He is at work on his next book, Trailing the Long-Ears: An Informal History of Mules and Burros in the Southwest. More info →
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New Mexico was a frontier to the wilderness, for Europeans, for almost three hundred years. No other frontier history in the area of what is now the United States can support such continuity, or even come close. It was the outside edge of the northern borderlands of New Spain, that later became the northern borderlands of Mexico. It was the western rim of the world for the French explorers and fur traders in the Mississippi valley and for the English who followed them there.
At the age of 27, Fannie Sedlacek left her Bohemian homestead in Nebraska to join the gold rush to the Klondike. From the Klondike to the Tanana, Fannie continued north, finally settling in Katishna near Mount McKinley. This woman, later known as Fannie Quigley, became a prospector who staked her own claims and a cook who ran a roadhouse. She hunted and trapped and thrived for nearly forty years in an environment that others found unbearable.
Ann and Josie Bassett were members of Butch Cassidy’s inner circle, ranchers, and cattle rustlers. Based on interviews, written records, newspapers, and archives, The Bassett Women is an indelible portrait and one of the few credible accounts of early settlers on Colorado’s western slope, one of the last strongholds of the Old West.