"They were ciboleros"
A cibolero painted on a wooden panel from a house at Santa Cruz de la Cañada
Public DomainA cibolero painted on a wooden panel from a house at Santa Cruz de la Cañada - Credit: National Park Service

Ciboleros (from the Spanish cíbolo meaning 'buffalo') were Hispanic buffalo hunters who operated on the Llano Estacado for nearly two centuries.

They learned to hunt buffalo from Native American neighbors in order to provide winter meat for their home villages (although, at the same time, the great number of buffalo killed by the ciboleros often led to confrontation with Native American tribes). Like the Pueblos and Plains Indians, New Mexican Hispanos depended on bison during the late Spanish colonial, Mexican, and territorial eras. The volume and extent of the ciboleros' hunts peaked in the first half of the 19th century and declined thereafter as the bison were taken to the brink of extinction.

 

German explorer Frederick Adolphus Wislizenus offers this description of ciboleros he encountered in northern Mexico in the late 1840s:

 

While we were travelling to-day over the lonesome plain, men and animals quite tired and exhausted, on the rising of a hill before us quite suddenly appeared a number of savage looking riders on horseback, which at first sight we took for Indians; but their covered heads convinced us soon of our mistake, because Indians never wear hats of any kind; it was a band of Ciboleros, or Mexican buffalo hunters, dressed in leather or blankets, armed with bows and arrows and a lance – sometimes, too, with a gun – and leading along a large train of jaded pack animals. These Ciboleros are generally poor Mexicans from the frontier settlements of New Mexico, and by their yearly expeditions into the buffalo regions they provide themselves with dried buffalo meat for their own support and sale. Their principal weapon is the lance, which in riding they plunge so adroitly into the buffalo’s flanks, that they seldom miss their aim. They are never hostile towards white men, and seem to be afraid of the Indians. In their manner, dress, weapons, and faces, they resemble the Indians so much, that they may easily be mistaken for them. The company which we met with consisted of about 100 men and some women, and they felt rather disappointed when we told them how far they had to travel to find the buffalo.

(Memoir of a Tour to Northern Mexico)