Marcelino Baca was born in Taos, New Mexico, in about 1808 to Mexican parents, a background which he allegedly despised. He first learned beaver trapping while accompanying American groups, as the Spanish government required Mexican citizens to accompany any foreign commercial operation. After the fur trade in the American Southwest declined, Baca trapped in the northern Rocky Mountains along the Upper Missouri River.
Near the end of 1838, Baca entered Pawnee lands near the Platte River and was taken captive. Before he could be killed, the chief’s daughter begged her father to spare Baca’s life, and he was released. He then took the chief’s daughter as his wife and gave her his mother’s name, Tomasa. The couple would eventually have three children.
In the early 1840s, Baca joined other trappers living and working in the El Pueblo and Hardscrabble areas of Colorado. However, when these areas began to decline, he moved his family to the Greenhorn River Valley, where he began cattle ranching, farming, and trading. Unfortunately, his ranch was the victim of various raids and attacks from local tribes, including the Ute and Apache.
In 1853, Baca was hired as a guide to accompany Edward Griffin Beckwith to Fort Massachusetts, Colorado in the San Luis Valley. When he found the Greenhorn settlement, he was greeted by Marcelino and Tomasa Baca, he described her as a courteous lady of “matronly grace and dignity.” At that time, the Bacas were living with several other Mexican families in a cluster of low adobe houses. Each home was enclosed by poles, fastened to horizontal strips of wood with rawhide thongs to protect themselves from Indian attacks.
Under increasing threat from local Indian tribes, Baca moved his family to the small village of Rio Colorado (present-day Red River) in New Mexico in 1854.
With the advent of the Civil War, Baca joined the New Mexico Volunteers and was killed in the Battle of Valverde with invading Texans on February 21, 1862. He was buried at the Santa Fe National Cemetery.