Fray Angelico Chávez once noted in a review of the late Tom Bahti’s works on Southwestern Indians that he wished someone would produce a similar study for Hispanos. Marc Simmons, perhaps the only professional historian pursuing a farrier’s career, may not have produced the pictorial extravaganza that Bahti did, but he has provided an outstanding book on a little-known Hispano personality and has made a positive contribution to a slowly growing collection of materials on the frontiersmen of Spanish and Mexican America.
In The Little Lion of the Southwest, Simmons capably proves his thesis that Manuel Antonio Cháves (1818-1889) was a prominent frontier figure in Spanish-speaking New Mexico during a lifetime spanning nearly three-fourths of a century. Called “El Leoncito” for his prowess in Indian campaigns, Cháves obviously made great contributions to public and private life within New Mexico, while establishing its relations with the United States in both the war with Mexico and the Civil War.
The text is written in a lively, interesting style, yet is supported by careful documentation. The narrative constantly whets the reader’s appetite. Even when the author speculates to fill in gaps, the reader is aware that his observations are based on sound knowledge of New Mexican conditions and environment. The book is based largely upon primary sources, including manuscripts, and personal interviews with surviving members of the Cháves family. An understanding, balanced preface on the perils of writing biography, excellent maps on the end-papers, numerous fine photographs, chapter notes, and a classified bibliography complete the volume. In short, this is a splendid addition to the study of Latin American and Western histories, providing insight into both the man and his era.
Apache Lightning, although informative and interesting, touches only slightly upon Latin American history. Stout’s book summarizes the Apache-White confrontation and the organization of the frontier military after the Civil War, but concentrates upon the events and personalities of the Victorio campaigns after 1877. Where he treats briefly of Apache-Mexican relations in Chihuahua, he does not go into Mexican primary sources. There are good maps, photographs, and a bibliography, but the work is generally under-documented and overpriced. Students of Southwestern Indian wars will be interested in this slim volume.