Inside New Mexico, 1726


In May 1726, Brigadier Pedro de Rivera, accompanied by a large military escort, showed up at El Paso, then the southernmost town in the province of New Mexico.

Under royal orders to inspect the defenses and civil government of northern New Spain (Mexico), Rivera was now midway through his task.

At El Paso he paused briefly to confer with retired governor of New Mexico, Antonio de Valverde, who was residing there in luxury on his huge-landed estate.

Then, Rivera continued up the Rio Grande to Santa Fe. There he spent the summer months going over the books and interviewing the men stationed at the royal presidio attached to the Palace of the Governors.

What he discovered were “pernicious abuses” in the handling of presidial funds and the treatment of enlisted men. The annual salary of the common soldier was a mere 450 pesos, scarcely enough to feed his family and acquire a horse and weapons at his own expense.

Officers and the governor, Rivera learned, were charging the men excessive prices for food and equipment purchased through the company paymaster and were levying fees upon them for assorted services.

The current Gov. Juan Domingo de Bustamante, whose uncle was ex-governor Valverde, had hired relatives and friends as bogus “reserve officers,” paying them with government money.

That practice, as well as the defrauding of soldiers, were not rare occurrences on the Spanish frontier.

It was to correct such abuses and also to find ways to save money for the royal treasury that the king and his viceroy in Mexico City on occasion sent out high-ranking and knowledgeable inspectors, such as Rivera, to put things right.

Of greatest interest to us today, however, was the activity of one of Brigadier Rivera’s subordinates, the map maker, engineer and surveyor Pedro Alvarez Barreiro. Upon the expedition’s arrival in Santa Fe, he was given his own protective escort and sent into the countryside to gather information on geography and the people.

Alvarez Barreiro’s separate report of his observations provides us an interesting glimpse of the province 34 years after Gen. Diego de Vargas began the reconquest following the Pueblo Revolt.

In an opening statement, he declared that New Mexico contained some of the most fertile lands he had seen anywhere during the course of the general inspection, adding: “As a whole, they are more like those of Europe.”

It would appear that the engineer viewed a landscape that was experiencing a wet cycle. He mentions that the pueblos of Pecos, Galisteo, Acoma and Zuni in cultivating their fields were “rewarded by large crops with no more water than that which falls from the sky.” In other words, they lacked ditch irrigation.

On another subject, Alvarez Barreiro wrote that in an earlier period (before the Pueblo Revolt), Spaniards had worked some mines between the pueblos of Santo Domingo and Galisteo. That would have been in the Cerrillos Hills, below Santa Fe.

This very area would later see a mineral boom, 1879-1895, with development of the Cerrillos Mining District. But as Alvarez Barreiro noted in his day, the rich ores were not easily extracted, and even though copper was accessible, it did not pay for the cost of recovery and all mines were abandoned.

The most generous praise he reserved for the Pueblo Indians. “They go about clothed and with shoes (many tribes in Mexico did not). Also, they are hard workers and even the poorest have enough to live comfortably,” he said.

Further, Rivera’s man in the field credited the Pueblo people with assisting the regular presidial troops in campaigns against hostile tribes. In his words: “Each pueblo provides the number of men assigned it by the governor at no cost to the treasury. Their deeds have proved their loyalty.”

Likely, the largest contribution Alvarez Barreiro made to the Rivera inspection was his map of New Mexico, perhaps the first to depict the province alone, apart from adjacent regions.

His map was included with Rivera’s initial report, a document that formed the basis of the Reglamento of 1729. That law governed military activity in northern New Spain for several decades.