Comanches Dance on New Year’s

It was around noon on New Year’s Day and I was driving along through Talpa on the 518 looking for some sign of the Comanche dancers. In luck, I approached a line of vehicles going the opposite way, headed by a truck with young feather-groomed people in the back. I pulled off the road and turned to join the line of cars and trucks. Following suit I pulled over and parked, got out and walked following those ahead of me. Everyone walked down this road to a residence. By the time I got there the drumming and dancing had begun and several photographing spectators were taking their shots.

What diversity of age and costumes here! Not to mention a great spirit of participation. These dancers and drummers started out at the St. Francis church in Ranchos de Taos at sunrise (around 7:30). The tradition is to dance from dawn to sunset on New Year’s Day. One could likely write a book explaining what this is all about and probably someone has. I found an article online that appeared in the 07/08 print issue of Ski Country magazine that I will offer as a link. It seemed to tell the story better than I could.

Here’s my short version:

Before the Spanish and Mexican colonists arrived in New Mexico there was a mix of Pueblo Indians and the wilder Plains nomadic type natives like the Comanches and the Apaches, to name a few. There were even some trappers and such in the mix. The Comanches (and Apaches) had horses before anyone else and they were, well, warlike and dominating in their ways. When it seemed a good idea to them they would steal from anyone, food or people as needed. So there was conflict in the region even before the Spanish and Mexican colonists arrived. Kidnapping and hostage taking was common and led to a blurring of original identity. In present time those living in the towns of Llano Quemado, Ranchos de Taos and Talpa participate in these Comanche dances in a spirit of reconciliation among those involved in past struggles.

I walked over to the west edge of the property and took this photo looking across a flood plain over to the town of Llano Quemado. The three towns, Talpa, Ranchos and Llano form a kind of horse shoe shape around this depression. The Rio Chiquito, which runs along near where I live flows into this area and eventually into the Rio Pueblo (which flows through the Taos Pueblo) and naturally ends up in the Rio Grande.

I drove around to Llano Quemado and took this photo looking east toward Taos. The residents of Llano get some great views of the Taos mountains. As you can see from the photos we’ve had some snow and it’s cold enough that it’s staying around. The high today was supposed to be below freezing, in the upper 20s. Still it was clear and bright, a sparkly day for starting a new year with optimism. I hope this blog will inspire many of you to do some independent research on the origins of this Comanche dancing tradition. I read that there is a resurgence of attention and energy going into its celebration in recent history and I can only say that I felt that in my limited participation today.

On my way home I noticed this group dancing in front of the Talpa church (which has services once a month). Turns out this was a different group. I had heard there was more than one.

Just before sunset I was sitting near a window where I could see the setting sun, and heard the unmistakable sound of drumming. I went outside to determine how close it was and which direction. As I stepped out the sound of the drums mixed with the crow of a rooster (from next door). I thought to myself, “where am I?” But I was pleased to be there wherever “there” was. Once the sun set the drums stopped, signaling the end of this year’s Los Comanches dance.