The year of 1881
A rainy San Lorenzo day
The Almighty wanted
To leave me feeling sorry
For my daughter
And my husband.
Farewell I am going
Without doubt to suffer
My parents and my daughters
When will I see them again.
(The second verse of “The Ballad of Plácida Romero”)
“The Ballad of Plácida Romero” is a title with two applications.
It’s the title of the English translation from the Spanish of “El Corrido de Plácida Romero.”
And it is the title of a slender, affecting, well-researched book by A.E. “Bob” Roland.
The book presents the 26 original verses of the corrido in Spanish and in English, side by side, over nine pages. That length in itself would make for an awfully slim pamphlet.
But Roland’s book, 140 pages with appendices and historical commentary, shines a light on many historically important facets of this old ballad.
It recounts the Aug. 8, 1881 kidnapping of Plácida Romero Gallegos, the wife of rancher Domingo Gallegos, by seven Apaches warriors led by Nana, chief of the Warm Springs Apaches, with 12 Navajo allies, from La Cebolla Ranch near Cubero, N.M.
The raiders killed Domingo and a ranch hand, and apparently forced Plácida to give up her 9-month-old daughter to the Navajos.
Nana’s raid was in revenge for the killing of Apache leader Victorio by Mexican soldiers 10 months earlier. It is considered one of the last incursions of the Indian Wars of the Southwest.
The raiders reportedly held Plácida captive for 49 days in a remote camp in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. The story doesn’t end there.
With the surreptitious help of Apache women who gave her a burro and food, Plácida escaped her captors, said A.E. “Bob” Roland, the book’s author, in a phone interview.
Some time thereafter, a civilian Mexican posse searching for Nana encountered Plácida and escorted her to the Mexican consulate in Ysleta, Texas. She eventually making it back to Cubero, though she never located her baby.
“She had to be a very strong woman, for sure. And there had to be a lot of luck involved, too,” said Roland, who lives near Grants.
The story of her capture and escape “was passed from generation to generation and became the subject of one of the most fascinating and captivating traditional native ballads in New Mexico history,” historian Jerry D. Thompson writes in the book’s foreword.
Thompson also gives a broader context to the Apache raid at La Cebolla Ranch. The New Mexico Territory in the 19th century, he writes, witnessed occurrences of “capture and servitude … Slave and livestock raiding became a way of life among the Apache, Comanche, Kiowa, Navajo, Ute and Spanish alike.” And Mexicans enslaved American Indians, Roland noted.
The book discusses Cubero rancher Arthur “Arty” Bibo’s research of Plácida Romero’s abduction and her life story. Bibo’s ongoing research sparked Roland’s interest in piggy-backing his research onto the subject.
Bibo, of German Jewish descent, was raised near where the raid occurred and took a deep interest in the Hispanic and American Indian people of west-central New Mexico.
In the book’s introduction, esteemed historian/folklorist Enrique Lamadrid writes that “the most complex and compelling captivity stories are about women. … Since the often unspoken and unspeakable aspects of the ordeals of women captives are implied, imagined or assumed, their voices disappear almost immediately.”
Not Plácida’s voice. Lamadrid writes that she emerged from the trauma of her captivity and the unsuccessful attempts to reclaim her baby daughter. She realized many people, besides her family and community, would empathize with her ordeal.
Plácida’s family members, Roland said, referred to the ballad as a corrido so he used that designation. But the book also quotes from an unpublished manuscript by Lamadrid that states it would be more accurate to call Plácida’s ballad an Indita because corridos are mostly about men and set in the third person, while Inditas feature first person narration in the voice of a female protagonist.
The book also gives a voice to a Native American perspective with an afterword essay by Laguna Pueblo author Leslie Marmon Silko. On the book’s front cover is a 1986 photograph of Rosa Trujillo holding a framed photo of two women – her mother, Manuelita, left, and her courageous grandmother, Plácida.
BOOK OF THE WEEK