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Terror on the Santa Fe Trail: Kit Carson and the Jicarilla Apache, by Doug Hocking, TwoDot, Helena, Mont., 2019, $29.95

In use for a quarter century (1821–46) as a route of commerce, the Santa Fe Trail, which marks the bicentennial of its founding this year, was heavily traveled by traders long before the U.S. Army of the West under Colonel Stephen Watts Kearny used it as an invasion route in 1846 to wrest control of the region from Mexico without firing a shot. In the aftermath of the Mexican War the Jicarilla Apaches pressured travelers along the New Mexico Territory stretch of the trail, stopping traffic on it three times, most notably after defeating a detachment of 1st U.S. Dragoons in the 1854 Battle of Cieneguilla amid the ongoing Jicarilla War.

The Jicarillas, less well known than the Chircahua Apaches in Arizona Territory, numbered about 1,000 altogether but lived in small bands of only around 50 people, seldom congregating in larger groups. But on the morning of March 30, 1854, some 250 Jicarilla warriors were encamped along Cieneguilla Creek between Taos and Santa Fe when 1st Dragoons Lieutenant John Davidson, at the head of Companies F and I, and scout Jesús Silva spotted ground churned by many unshod horses—unmistakable sign Indians were nearby. As Davidson’s 60 troopers rode toward the Jicarilla camp, the forewarned warriors set up an ambush. Author Doug Hocking provides rich detail of the ensuing fight that left 22 soldiers dead and 36 wounded.

Hocking relies on archival research and the archaeological record to depict the fighting at Cieneguilla, as well as other places, events and figures tied to that pivotal clash. For example, he elaborates on the central role scout Kit Carson played in the dramatic events. Extensive endnotes, an appendix that highlights the posts and forts in Jicarilla country and another that lists treaties with the Jicarillas make this a useful volume for anyone interested in Southwestern or Apache history.

—Candy Moulton

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