Tafoya, Jose Piedad (ca. 1830–unknown)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: August 1, 1995

Updated: April 27, 2019

José Piedad Tafoya, a Comanchero who often traded in stolen livestock and other contraband items with the Comanches and their allies on the Llano Estacado before 1875, was born in northern New Mexico around 1830. Tafoya owned a sizable spread in San Miguel County, New Mexico, on which he raised mostly sheep. Records show that on September 17, 1860, he enlisted for service against the Navajos. Throughout most of the next decade, however, he engaged in a lucrative, often extralegal, trade with the nomadic Indians of the Texas Panhandle. Often backed by army officers and frontier merchants, Tafoya quickly rose to prominence among the Comancheros. From 1865 to 1867 Tafoya maintained a crude stone and adobe dwelling on Las Lenguas (Los Lingos) Creek near the breaks of the Quitaque valley in what is now Briscoe County, Texas. There he acted as a middleman by trading thousands of stolen livestock, many of them bearing the brands of Texas ranchers like Oliver Loving, Charles Goodnight, and John W. Sheek. At one time his retainers hauled trade goods in caravans and trailed cattle on the Fort Smith-Santa Fe road via Fort Bascom. From this ill-gained supply of stock, which was distributed among the ranges near the settlements of northern and eastern New Mexico, Tafoya and his allies realized a handsome profit. After 1867 Tafoya ceased his operations in the Quitaque valley because of attempts by federal officials in New Mexico to crack down on the illicit trade. Nevertheless, he apparently continued making occasional trips to the Llano Estacado as circumstances permitted. Though he did not mention it in his official report, Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie is reputed to have captured Tafoya in 1874 and forced him, at the end of a rope, to reveal the Quahadi Indian stronghold in Palo Duro Canyon. This story is not supported by contemporary records, but it coincides with the end of Tafoya's career as a Comanchero.

Tafoya resumed sheep ranching in San Miguel County. According to his own testimony, however, he served intermittently until 1882 as a government scout under Mackenzie, Col. Nelson Henry Davis, and Gen. Edward Hatch. He participated in Capt. Nicholas Nolan's fabled Lost Expedition across the parched South Plains area in the summer of 1877 (see NOLAN EXPEDITION). In 1878 Tafoya settled his wife, Julia, and four children on the Puenta de Agua, near its junction with Rita Blanca Creek, in Oldham County, Texas. Apparently, however, their stay in Texas was brief; they retreated to their old San Miguel County homesteads after William M. D. Lee and other Texas cattlemen bought, or perhaps bribed, the pastores to leave in the early 1880s. José Tafoya probably spent his remaining years on his sheep ranch in San Miguel County. In June 1893 he and three other onetime Comancheros were called to testify before the United States Court of Claims as a result of Goodnight's attempts to secure damages for livestock he and John W. Sheek had lost to Indians during the 1860s. In his sworn deposition on June 23, Tafoya described his activities on the Quitaque and admitted that many of the horses and cattle he had traded carried the brands of the plaintiffs, who were eventually awarded $14,176. That trial apparently was his last public appearance, since no further records have been unearthed in regard to Tafoya's later activities and death.

Ernest R. Archambeau, "The First Federal Census in the Panhandle, 1880," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 23 (1950). H. Bailey Carroll, "Nolan's `Lost Nigger' Expedition of 1877," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 44 (July 1940). Lowell H. Harrison, ed., "Three Comancheros and a Trader," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 38 (1965). Charles Leroy Kenner, A History of New Mexican-Plains Indian Relations (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969). Frederick W. Rathjen, The Texas Panhandle Frontier (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973).

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Outlaws, Criminals, Prostitutes, Gamblers, and Rebels
  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Exploration
  • Traders
  • Mexican Americans
  • Military
  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Landowners and Land Developers
  • Sheep and Goat Ranchers

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

H. Allen Anderson, “Tafoya, Jose Piedad,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/tafoya-jose-piedad.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995
April 27, 2019

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: