presidios and missions of california and texas -- 12/3/19

Today's selection -- from Early Latin America by James Lockhart and Stuart B. Schwartz. The presidios and missions of California and Texas, the institutions by which native Americans ("Chichimecs" to the Spanish) were subdued by either selling them into slavery or converting them to sedentary life:

"In the sixteenth century a set of institutions and practices grew up which would characterize the north Mexican frontier permanently, but the locus gradually changed from Queretaro and Zacatecas to Nuevo Leon and Sonora and then to the Californias and Texas. ...

"The Spanish military techniques which so quickly subdued central Mexico or Peru were not at all suited to combating the peoples of the north. The 'Chichimecs' included many unrelated ethnic groups, some of which were more agricultural than others, but all were excellent bowmen, skilled in ambuscades and sneak attacks, able to break off contact at any moment. The first Spanish expedient, entra­das with ad hoc recruits, had little effect; the Indians would evade them and then harass the weary Spaniards on their way home. After a few decades of contact the Chichimecs became even more formid­able. They formed larger, if fleeting, confederations, what the Span­iards called the 'Chichimec League'; they adopted the horse; strong messianistic leaders arose, some of whom had been among the Spaniards and understood their strengths and weaknesses. ...

The Goliad presidio in Texas

"The most essential part of the Spanish military response to the Chichimecs was the creation of a paid, standing soldiery housed in fixed installations -- forts or presidios. In the great conquests of the previous generation there had been no such thing, and the Span­iards did not come to it easily. The force was still far from truly professional. ... The soldiers were marginal Hispanics, just one step from the kind of late arrivals, transients, and potential troublemakers who had been hustled out of the central areas in the conquest period on this or that hopeless entrada into the wilds. By the mid-eighteenth century, half of the presidio forces were castas or Hispanized Indians. The men did receive pay from the viceregal government, but hardly enough to live on, and they had to provide their own horses, weapons, and armor. ... Above all, they lived from selling as slaves the Chichimecs they captured, for after some debate, selling Chichimecs into a twenty-year term of slavery was allowed; most were destined for central Mexico or at least some place far distant from their point of origin. The presidios of the Zacatecas environs gradually became unnecessary, but by 1723 there were nineteen such garrisons on the northern frontier, manned by more than a thousand men.

"Presidios were important not only for military purposes but as the nucleus of subsequent civilian settlements. Indeed, ways of making the north Mexican peoples sedentary were the other main branch of the frontier complex. ... The primary instrument was the mission, the creation of new, more concentrated Indian settlements under the auspices of one of the regular orders, the better to disseminate Christianity, European culture, and sedentary life. "


James Lockhart and Stuart B. Schwartz


Early Latin America


Cambridge University Press


Copyright Michael Bratton and Nicolas van de Walle 1983


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