Monday, January 29, 2024

El Torreón



The "torreón" or defensive tower at Manzano, New Mexico - Library of Congress

    The "torreón" or defensive tower at Manzano, New Mexico was part of a fortified village, very similar in form and function to the Spanish Borderland's presidios. The difference was that this was a civilian settlement. Manzano's torreon is believed to have been built in about 1840. 

 Wayside from El Rancho de las Golondrinas, New Mexico

    Manzano was just one of several fortified villages in this region, and is located in central New Mexico, in a range of mountains southeast of Albuquerque. According to an article by Dixie Boyle, cited below:

Plan of the village and torreón at Manzano

    "Upon their arrival in Manzano, the first settlers built a torreón and grouped their houses close together with portholes for shooting. While additional settlers built homes and planted crops, several lookouts were posted to constantly scan the landscape for any raiders heading their way.


 Wayside from El Rancho de las Golondrinas, New Mexico

    When a raiding party was spotted, the lookout immediately began beating a drum as hard as possible, alerting the entire village to an incoming attack. Another lookout rushed to the church and rang the church bells until everyone was safe inside the torreón."


 Elevations of the torreón at Manzano


These defenses, of course, were meant to protect against indigenous tribes. Nevertheless, according to Boyle: "Throughout the years, the people of Manzano developed a friendship with the Apache. They traveled to the state’s eastern plains, where they hunted buffalo together. They accepted many of the customs of the Apache, and because of this association they were able to survive in the unruly country."

    For more about the history of Manzano and its architecture, see: "An Early fort on the New Mexico border" by Dixie Boyle

The Torreon, Manzano, Torrance County, NM, Library of Congress (includes plans).

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Chinas Poblanas and Printed Petticoats


     I came across an old photo of mine from the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History showing a mannequin on display in "California Hall" some time in the 1990s. That exhibit is long gone now, but I'd like to use the photo to talk a bit about printed woolen petticoats. 
    I've examined two printed woolen petticoats at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. Both belonged to the Coronel Family, though I don't remember ever seeing in their records where and when they acquired them. Nevertheless, I believe they must have come from Mexico, either as souvenirs of a visit, imports, or as fabric. Petticoats are one of the few "readymade" garments available to women in this era because the waist, at least, was adjustable.
    Though I did some color correction to my old photo, the actual petticoat has brighter colors, closer to what is shown in the Index of American Design gouache paintings made in the 1930s. 
     There is a second woolen petticoat in the Coronel collection, red wool with a white pattern, green top band and hem binding, with gilt brass sequins. Though called a "child's skirt" it fit a full size mannequin, as shown in the museum's 1964 catalog.

     This petticoat is similar to those seen in a number of images from Mexico, including this one (below) by the French artist, Edouard Pingret.
    Patterned petticoats of this style appear to have been associated at first with the "china poblana" fashion, the somewhat disreputable style created by young, free spirited urban women in Mexico who took their lower class clothing and decorated it - a kind of street fashion of the time. 
  The fabric of these petticoats was, as I mentioned above, wool. It is rather lightweight, and patterned with what appears to be resists and block printing. From the available images, this type of fabric may not have existed much earlier than the 1850s, though the basic technique of patterning woolen fabrics with resists and block printing was much older. 
    A note to American historical reenactors and interpreters: the Chinas Poblanas were a Mexican phenomenon, and not a term or style used in the "Spanish Borderlands"* until after the Mexican-American War.
Photograph from the Grupo Presidente website:
    In time, of course, the China Poblana style and spirit became emblematic of Mexican national pride.

 *The Spanish Borderlands is a convenient term used to describe what are today's American Southwest from Texas to Arizona, southern Colorado, and both Baja and Alta California.


Wednesday, January 17, 2024

How to Carry a Lance

Until somewhere about 1815, Mexican horsemen carried lances only with their hands.

    For most of its history, the horsemen of Mexico and what has come to be called the "Spanish Borderlands" (now the American Southwest from Texas to California) carried lances and pole-mounted tools such as the hocking knife (media luna) in their hand. There was at least one exception, the presidial troops described by Zebulon Pike, but that is another story.

Though a bit hard to see, this French lancer of the Napoleonic era uses the most common method of the day to carry his lance. There is a leather cup or "bucket" attached to his right stirrup. French Light horse lancer. From P.-M. Laurent de L`Ardeche's 'Histoire de Napoleon,' 1843.

    By the early-1800s, nearly all European cavalry used a leather cup or "bucket" attached to the right stirrup as a lance support. The butt of the lance was inserted into this cup. But Spain was different.

Flamboyantly uniformed lancers of the Loyal Extremadura Legion. Note how they use a leather cup hanging at the end of a long strap attached to their saddles. The L-shaped hook fits into the cup to support the lance. From "Láminas del ataque y defensa del arma de la lanza”, Madrid 1814 - Repositorio Institucional de la Universidad de Oviedo, 1814.

    In 1810, during Napoleon's attempted conquest of Spain, a volunteer unit was raised and commanded by Sir John Downie, a Briton, and named the "Loyal Extremadura Legion." It included a body of flamboyantly uniformed lancers. Rather than using a stirrup-mounted leather cup as a lance support, the Legion had a cup hanging at the end of a leather strap attached to the saddle's pommel. An L-shaped piece of iron was placed on the butt end of the lance and it was this "hook" that was carried in the hanging cup.

Spanish engraving showing a new method of carrying a lance. Note the L-shaped hooks on the butt ends of figures A. and B. From "Láminas del ataque y defensa del arma de la lanza”, Madrid 1814 - Repositorio Institucional de la Universidad de Oviedo.

My friend, Rene Chartrand, the noted military historian, told me once that this unusual arrangement was due to the fact that the unit's cavalry equipment was supplied out of military surplus by the British, Spain's ally in the war. But, since the British had no regular lancer regiments until 1816, there were no official stirrup mounted leather cups, surplus or otherwise, to give to the Spanish. Instead, the Spanish adapted the hanging cups the British cavalry had used to support carbine muzzles. A 1793 painting of Britain's 10th Light Dragoons shows one of these hanging muzzle cups.

 10th Light Dragoons, by George Stubbs (detail), Royal Collection Trust. Note the leather cup supporting the muzzle of the trooper's carbine.

Though it may seem unlikely to us (at least to me), such an arrangement appears to have worked well. Well enough that its use spread to the New World, probably with the Spanish troops sent as reinforcements in the War of Independence. The French artist Theubet de Beauchamp showed a Mexican fighter of about 1820 with the characteristic L-shaped hook on the butt end of his lance. 


This eyewitness picture of a Mexican lancer by Theubet de Beauchamp shows a "hook" at the end of the lance. This proves that the lancer was using the newly-introduced butt hook on his lance.

And Agustin Arrieta painted a Mexican mounted policeman in the 1840s still using this hanging lance support in the 1840s.

As late as the 1840s, this method of carrying a lance was still used in Mexico.