“Skullduggery,” the word graces the cover and the third paragraph of the introduction to this detailed study that highlights a very niche component of the American Civil War and the frontier establishment of the American southwest. Authors and historians James Bailey Blackshear and Glen Sample Ely bring to the forefront impeccable research and a tightly written narrative that encapsulates what life was like in the hinterlands of Texas and New Mexico during the decades of the 1860s and 1870s.
Examining the “cat-and-mouse, rebel-Union-skullduggery occurring in the shadowy Texas-New Mexico borderlands during the Civil War as well as the Comanchero-Comanche traffic” the historians depict what life was like in this remote section of the United States. (pg. 1-2). Agents and militaries of the United States and the Confederacy pursued their goals and ambitions creating turmoil that unfolded on both sides of the border with Mexico as well.
Furthermore, “this is the story of American expansionism, indigenous resistance, cattle drives, and cattle thefts” that this work “endeavors to provide multiple perspectives, thus providing a richer, fuller, and more complete history of these borderlands during this period” (pg. 16). That is exactly what the authors complete in very detailed account, looking at a plethora of primary sources to construct what this two-decade period was like for the inhabitants of the area and the forces that maneuvered within.
Throughout the text the authors bring to life the various personas that influenced the area and not just the household names in the American Civil War most attributed to this area of operations like Henry Sibley and James Carleton. But digging deeper into the local role players; men like Henry Skillman, a Confederate partisan, spy, and guide who was killed in 1864 and greatly reduced any remaining chance the Confederates had in the southwest Texan to gather intelligence or facilitate supplies from Mexico. Or Comanchero Jose Piedad Tafoya who traded with the Comanche, Kiowa, and Apache and would rendezvous with the former at one of their main trading headquarters (pg. 144-145).
Although this academic and thoroughly researched book may not appeal to the wider audiences that are interested in a general study of the American southwest or the Civil War in this arena, the history does deserve a spot on the bookshelf. Especially if one is interested in another component of the west, guerrilla or partisan warfare of the Civil War era, or the continued friction of the westward expansion and its relation to Native Americans.
Wrapping up the book the historians provide a lengthily compiled list of passes, bonds, and employees pulled from the archives and highlights “how this trade involved all strata of New Mexican society. (pg. 177). The widespread application shows how indelible trade was to the prosperity of the locals and continued to stay a hallmark of life in New Mexico and Texas regardless of what outside influences was swirling.
In conclusion, this book sheds light on a lesser-known arena of the American Civil War and the immediate aftermath of life in the American southwest. If traveling to the area or interested in this geographic area this book is a complete look at life in the 1860s and 1870s.
Confederates and Comancheros, Skullduggery and Double-Dealing in the Texas-New Mexico Borderlands
James Bailey Blackshear and Glen Sample Ely
University of Oklahoma Press, $32.95