A cibolero (plural: ciboleros) was a Spanish colonial (and later Mexican) buffalo hunter from New Mexico. The Spanish word for buffalo as used in New Mexico was cibolo; hence, the name cibolero for buffalo hunter.
Ciboleros hunted the American bison on the plains of what is now eastern New Mexico and Texas, in the areas approximately known as the Llano Estacado and Comancheria. Their domain ranged as far east and north as Nebraska. The Ciboleros would hunt buffalo typically in late Fall once the summer crops had been harvested. Many Ciboleros from New Mexico lived along or near the Pecos River from the villages of San José and Tecolote and south toward La Cuesta (now the town of Villanueva, New Mexico).
As we were proceeding on our march, we observed a horseman approaching, who excited at first considerable curiosity. His picturesque costume, and peculiarity of deportment, however, soon showed him to be a Mexican Cibolero or buffalo-hunter.
John Miller Morris explained the historical significance of the ciboleros:
Juan de Oñate's colonists and the later settlers had introduced domesticated horses, cattle, pack animals, crops, fruits, goats and sheep into New Mexico, beginning a significant transculturation process for regional food supplies and transportation. The natives of the bison plains, for example, quickly exchanged information with the frontier Hispanos about the sport of buffalo hunting. This process developed one of the most symbolic of the 18th- and 19th-century frontiersman in the Southwest: the thrilling, sportive, distinctive cibolero of the eastern bison plains. The Llano served as the chief acculturation point for many ciboleros, a point where ideas, words, goods, and practices flowed between east and west. The cibolero also facilitated the survival of whole populations, augmenting the ancient flow of bison meat from plain to valley, gradually supplanting and transforming the many hundreds of former native traders.
The cibolero way of life ended by the late 1870s with the destruction of the American bison. Ciboleros are still remembered in New Mexican folk songs, cultural events, and family oral traditions.
Ciboleros are an integral part of some works of fiction dealing with the Southwest and the American West. For example, José's Buffalo Hunt: A Story from History recounts a cibolero buffalo hunt c. 1866. The novel Cibolero, set against the backdrop of Spanish to Mexican rule, includes descriptions of early 19th century buffalo hunts.
- Cobos, Ruben (1983). A Dictionary of New Mexico and Southern Colorado Spanish. Museum of New Mexico Press. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-89013-453-5.
- Gregg, Josiah (1941). Fulton, Maurice Garland, ed. Diary and Letters of Josiah Gregg: Southwestern Enterprises, 1840-1847. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press. doi:10.1177/000271624121800188.
- Morris, John Miller (1997). "11. Cibolero Caravans of the Llano Estacado". El Llano Estacado: Exploration and Imagination on the High Plains of Texas and Mexico, 1536-1860. Austin, Texas: Texas State Historical Association. pp. 155–166. ISBN 978-0-87611-154-3.
- "Habitats of the Llano Estacado (subtopic - Ciboleros)". Midland, Texas: Sibley Nature Center.
- Padilla, Jerry A. (1 September 2004). "Ciboleros". In Wishart, David J. Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. University of Nebraska Press. p. 354. ISBN 978-0-8032-4787-1.
- Simmons, Marc (30 September 2003). José's Buffalo Hunt: A Story from History. Children of the West. University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 978-0-8263-3315-5.
- Lopez, Kermit (3 August 2007). Cibolero. iUniverse. ISBN 0-595-43567-X.
- "The Cibolero Trail, Across the Plains of Eastern New Mexico".
- Anderson, H. Allen. Ciboleros. Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. ISBN 0-87611-151-7. Retrieved 26 December 2011.
- Shinkle, James D. (1970). New Mexican Ciboleros of the Llano Estacado. Hall-Poorbaugh Press. ASIN B001PLINPC.
- Simmons, Marc (1991). "New Mexican Ciboleros on the Buffalo Plains". Coronado's Land: Essays on Daily Life in Colonial New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 978-0-8263-1313-3.