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The Captivity of Macario Leal: A Tejano among the Comanches, 1847–1854

From: Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Volume 117, Number 4, April 2014
pp. 372-402 | 10.1353/swh.2014.0043

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The deposition of Macario Leal, which relates his time in captivity among the Comanches. Courtesy of the Archivo Histórico Municipal de Monterrey.

In 1847, a raiding party of Comanches captured a boy named Macario Leal on the outskirts of Laredo, Texas. Macario lived with the Comanches until the spring of 1854, when he ran away from them in the course of another raid, turning himself in at the Hacienda del Gallo, in the Mexican state of Durango. Macario was quickly sent via Durango City to Monterrey, Nuevo León, where military authorities interrogated him about his life among the Indians. His deposition, available here in English for the first time, sheds light on pre-reservation Comanche culture, and opens a unique window into Comanche captivity.1

In the last few years, a number of scholars have highlighted the importance of captivity as a fundamental practice in interethnic relations throughout the southwestern borderlands.2 In the particular case of the Comanches, several authors have emphasized the important roles that captives played in their political economy, in their relations with other groups, and in Comanche ethnogenesis (the process through which Comanches came into being as a distinct people).3 Relatively little is known, however, about what life in captivity was like.4 Macario Leal’s testimony complements the stories of other Comanche captives published in English, largely because it differs from them in two essential aspects: the identity of the captive, a Tejano, and the nature of the document, a formal deposition taken in Mexico.5

Comanches and other independent Indians captured scores of people of diverse ethnic and geographic origin on both sides of the Rio Grande for much of the nineteenth century.6 Even though scholars agree that Hispanics constituted the bulk of Comanche captives, most discussions of Comanche captivity depend heavily, and sometimes uncritically, on captivity narratives written by, about, and for Anglo Americans.7 The stories of Hispanic captives, on the other hand, remain under-researched despite the abundant documentary evidence available on them.8 Whether this

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“His-oo-sán-chees, Little Spaniard, a Warrior,” by George Catlin, 1834, oil on canvas. This is the earliest known painting of a Comanche captive, presumably a Hispanic by the name Jesús Sánchez. Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

neglect is due to the inability of some scholars to read Spanish-language sources or to a sheer lack of interest in non-Anglos, it betrays an ethnocentric bias. The annotated translation offered here is a step towards addressing that imbalance.

Macario Leal, a Hispanic boy, was thirteen years old when Comanches kidnapped him in 1847. Conversely, the Anglo protagonists of Comanche captivity narratives were typically young adult women or little children at the time of their capture, which occurred in most cases before 1840 or after 1860.9 Macario might therefore have experienced a peculiar captivity by virtue of his ethnicity, sex, age, and the time period of his capture. Overall, however, little in his captive experience seems unique, there being abundant similarities with the stories of some Anglo captives, particularly other boys captured after infancy.

Presumably, Macario’s account is a more accurate rendition of the facts than captivity narratives typically are. These narratives were normally literary works written to generate revenue for their authors and publishers. By the 1820s, when the earliest biographical accounts of Comanche captivity were published, such stories had long been a popular genre among Anglo American readers.10 To guarantee their sales, these narratives typically reproduced plot lines and stylistic conventions peculiar to the genre, which often resulted in some distortion of the facts. Thus, some narratives of Comanche captivity are entirely apocryphal, while others are interspersed with so many spurious passages that it is hard to distinguish what is true from what is not.11

The document containing Macario’s testimony, on the other hand, is not a literary composition conceived to be sold for economic gain, but rather a formal deposition: a legal-political text produced in an institutional, bureaucratic context. Shortly after Macario fled the Comanches, General Pedro de Ampudia, commander in chief of...

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