TAFOYA, JOSÉ PIEDAD (c. 1830-?)
Sometimes called the "Prince of the Comancheros," José Piedad Tafoya was born in northern New Mexico around 1830. He was in the Great Plains as early as 1859 with his father, who was scouting for a survey party along the Texas–New Mexico border. Although Tafoya owned a large sheep ranch in San Miguel County, New Mexico Territory, by the early 1860s he was heavily involved in the comanchero trade on the Texas Llano Estacado– comancheros traded livestock, horses, and manufactured goods with Plains Indians, particularly the Comanches. During the Civil War, when the U.S. military and the Texas Rangers had little control over the Southern Plains, Tafoya operated a trading post in present-day Briscoe County, Texas, where he traded stolen Texas cattle and horses.
Comancheros began losing business during the 1870s Plains Indian Wars. Because of their knowledge of the Southern Plains and familiarity with the Plains Indians, the military enlisted or conscripted many comancheros as guides, interpreters, and scouts. In 1874 Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie allegedly forced Tafoya to serve as a scout in the campaigns against the Comanches. At the end of the Southern Plains Indian Wars, Tafoya and other former comancheros, such as Casimero Romero and Juan Trujillo, herded sheep in the Texas Panhandle. By the early 1880s, however, most had been forced out by large cattlemen, and Tafoya moved his wife and four children back to his ranch in New Mexico. In 1893 the U.S. Court of Claims subpoenaed Tafoya and several ex-comancheros as witnesses for Indian depredation cases. Based upon Tafoya's testimony, Charles Goodnight and other Texas ranchers were awarded $14,176. Tafoya probably spent his remaining years on the family ranch and died in obscurity sometime after 1893.
Mark R. Ellis University of Nebraska at Kearney
Kenner, Charles Leroy. A History of New Mexico–Plains Indian Relations. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969.
Rathjen, Frederick W. The Texas Panhandle Frontier. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973.