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Bernardo Lopez de Mendizabal

WPA Writers Project essay of Captain Don Bernardo Lopez de Mendizabal, eighteenth governor of New Mexico.

By Grace Meredith, Field Worker

 WPA Biography Project

Captain Don Bernardo Lopez de Mendizabal, eighteenth governor of New Mexico, left Mexico City for Santa Fe on December 24th, 1658 with the caravan of the Mission Supply Service.

Fray Juan Ramirez was head of this service at this time, and in 1658, had also been elected custodio of New Mexico in addition to his office of procurator‑general. This greatly added to the authority of Ramirez, not to mention heavy responsibility, and it involved him in very serious difficulty in many ways, but especially in relation to the long standing civil and ecclesiastical problems in New Mexico, and at this period the trouble revolved around the new governor of the province, Mendizabal.

Historical documents give considerable information concerning Mendizabal, and portions of it and from well known authorities on New Mexico history follows:

"Mendizabal was the son of an hacendado (man of property) Chietla in New Spain. He was educated at a Jesuit college in Puebla later attended the royal university in Mexico City. At the end of his student career, he left New Spain, going to Havana where he was given a post in the galleons and in which he made seven or eight voyages. His sea career brought him finally to Cartagena de Indias where, due to the influence of his cousins, the bishop, he was appointed visitador (surveyor) of the bishopric. During his stay in Cartagena, be married a daughter of the governor, a man who had held important posts in Spanish Italy previous to his appointment in the Indies. After leaving Cartagena Mendizabal spent some time in Spain and Havana, finally returning to New Spain where he held various offices until he received the appointment as governor of New Mexico to succeed Don Juan Mansso. The period of Mendizabal's tenure of office as governor of New Mexico was characterized by the renewal of that conflict between church and state which was so disastrous to an efficient administration of New Mexico affairs during most of the seventeenth century.

"Difficulty with the clergy and particularly with Fray Ramirez, the custodio and procurator‑general, began even before the 1655 caravan left Mexico City. In his own version of the affair, Mendizabal stated that there was a dispute in the first place concerning provisions for the journey to New Mexico which Ramirez, as administrator of the caravan, had promised to make and then later failed to provide. This was followed by further disagreement concerning the appointment of the military escort for the caravan. Mendizaba]. stated that, finding Ramirez to be discourteous and difficult to deal with, he laid the matter before the viceroy. The viceroy demanded of the commissary‑general of the Franciscans that Ramirez should be disciplined for his discourtesy to an official of the Crown; be also took away from Ramirez some of the authority over the wagons and military escort which had been customarily enjoyed by the procurator-general, placing such authority in the hands of Mendizabal.

"Relations were strained, therefore, when the caravan set out for New Mexico late in December 1658, and they steadily became worse as the caravan slowly made its way northward. The quarrel was not confined to Mendizabal and Ramirez, but soon involved the friars who were making the journey with the caravan to the mission field in New Mexico.

"In his version of the affair, Mendizabal stated that, although he tried to conciliate and to smooth things over, the friar, whose vanity was hurt by the action of the viceroy in backing up Mendizabal, refused to be reconciled, that Ramirez acted toward him with harshness and as an enemy; that Ramirez forbade the other friars to have any relations with him; and, finally, that Ramirez sent false reports concerning the situation to Mexico City. Mendizabal stated also that some of the friars, realizing Ramirez' true character, refused to go on with "such an evil friar", and that they petitioned him to require Ramirez to turn over to them their share of the supplies. Ramirez, on the other hand, testified that Mendizabal exercised his authority with such a high hand, imposing unnecessary and discouraging delays, with the result that some of the friars became discontented. He asserted, moreover, that Mendizabal sowed discontent between him and the other friars, fomenting disobedience, especially among those friars upon whom it had been necessary to impose certain punishment. The result of this enmity and lack of cooperation was the desertion of ten friars during the journey to New Mexico. This was a serious matter, inasmuch, as it reflected in an unfavorable manner upon Ramirez' administration as custodio and procurator‑general, and above all, it raised the question of accounting for the funds and supplies which had been provided for these ten members of the party who never reached their destination.

"The relations between Ramirez and Mendizabal became even more difficult after the caravan arrived in New Mexico in 1659. According to the testimony of the clergy, Mendizabal began to play a rather high handed role, depriving the missions of the services of Indians authorized by royal decree, controlling the primitive commerce of New Mexico to his own advantage, encouraging the resumption of the old ceremonies and pagan practises of the Indians, denying the exemption of the clergy, submitting the clergy to public insult, etc. In short, the old problems of church and state were revived and a period of conflict started of which the ultimate result was the trial of Mendizabal his successor. Peñalosa, and several lesser provincial officials by the Holy Office.

"When the caravan returned to New Spain in the autumn of 1659 Fray Ramirez returned with it, leaving the government of the custodia in charge of Fray Garcia de San Francisco, whom he appointed Vice‑Custodia. Before the caravan left New Mexico certified lists of the friars who were actually in service with the missions in 1659 were drawn up by Ramirez, the Vice‑Custodia, and the governor.

"The caravan arrived in Mexico City in the spring of 1660, and Ramirez soon found himself in further difficulty.

"The desertion of the ten friars seems to have brought down upon Ramirez a considerable amount of unfavorable criticism in Franciscan circles. Moreover, when called upon for an accounting of his administration of the supply train, it was discovered that his accounts were in bad shape. It appeared that some of the wagons had been left behind instead of being brought back to Mexico City; Ramirez was called upon to make an adjustment not only in this respect, but also with regard to the funds and supplies for the ten friars who had deserted before reaching New Mexico and for those friars residing in the Custodia who had died before the arrival of the caravan in 1659. The most severe critics of Ramirez were within his own order, his superiors taking the stand that his apparent mismanagement of the caravan and his inability to make an immediate settlement brought discredit upon the Order, and that rather severe disciplinary measures were necessary in order to save its reputation. During the autumn and winter of 1660‑1661 a very peculiar situation was created, with the Franciscans undertaking to discipline Ramirez, whereas the officials of the audencia and treasury supported him against what was deemed the hasty and inexpedient actions of his superiors.

"In September 1660, Ramirez called the attention of the viceroy to the fact that the three‑year period, August 3rd, 1657 to August 2nd, 1660, having passed, it was necessary to begin preparations for the next caravan …"

Meanwhile it is of interest to note that with all the controversy between Ramirez and Governor Mendizabal, even before they left Mexico, Mendizabal and his wife did not forget their positions!! They brought with them on this long journey to Santa Fe, a carriage, a fine bed and hangings for it, gilded writing desks, silver plate, expensive clothes, linens, silks, velvets, cordovan boots and other things!

It may be that the governor had an eye out for business—for it seems that he did not fail to make a neat profit on some of these things by bartering for goods or property of local New Mexican origin, which he felt would find ready sale in New Spain. It is stated that a battered writing desk was worth at least one Apache slave girl, perhaps even more in a land where the capture of an Indian or two meant little effort.

The Casa Real, where the governor and his staff lived, was the social center of the community. Soldiers and citizens spent many a long winter evening there, listening eagerly to tales the governor told of other lands, of Havana, Cartegnna, and of his encounters with buccaneers in the galleon service. Those whom Governor Mendizabal favored were allowed to borrow some of the books he and his wife had brought with them to Santa Fe, and among them, were Don Quixote, Lebrija's Grammer and some religious publications.

He was a soldier of wide experience it is true, but more than that, Mendizabal was "a roistering frontier trader" who was going to do his best to see that his term of office as governor, would hot be unprofitable to himself From the beginning of his term, he forced native carpenters to make him nine wagons for his trading business; others he made knit for him over six hundred pairs of socks, which incidentally, he sold in New Mexico!.

From some of the convents and farms of the Spaniards, he seized over two hundred head of cattle for his own freighting use. When he wanted his wagons loaded, he compelled Indians to carry salt on their shoulders for over twenty‑five leagues to the place of departure of the wagons. Indians received nothing for this save violence and oppression. Not only that, he required them to follow as teamsters and shepherds, and after they reached Parral. Mexico, the freight cattle and wagons were sold, and the Indians had to get back home the best way they could.

To keep a monopoly on this business, Mendizabal stopped other traders from coming to New Mexico, or if they did happen to get in, he detained them after their arrival. It was stated that this injured the missions that needed to sell cattle in order to purchase ornaments for their churches and musical instruments. Mendizabal always claimed that the Franciscans traded in excess of their needs, and that the missions had over seventy servitors who were kept weaving cloth to sell in other provinces.

It is written of Mendizabal that he caught Apache Indians and sold them as slaves to the miners in Parral, Mexico. Indeed, it is stated that he sent as many as seventy of such slaves to Parral at one time. This of course, was strictly forbidden under penalty of loss of office and estates, and the Franciscans justly characterized it as the real cause of the mortal hatred against the Spaniards among the warlike Apache Indians. It would certainly seem to be the explanation for their alliance later with the Pueblo Indians to completely exterminate every Spaniard in the province. One thing is sure: the slave‑catching expeditions menaced the safety of New Mexican establishments—as for instance, late in 1659, forty Spaniards and eight hundred Christian Indians went out at the behest of Governor Mendizabal, leaving their homes and farms without proper protection, and inviting reprisals at a later time. Governor Mendizabal thought nothing of summoning encomenderos from their homes in the country to Santa Fe, much to their disgust, because it so greatly inferred with tie management of their farms and herds.

The policies of the governor aroused the bitter opposition, not only of the church but also among some of the soldiers and citizens. It was not long before the Cabildo (town council) of Santa Fe and Mendizabal were on very bad terms; and the procurator of the villa presented a bitter denunciation of the governor before his judge of the residencia. It is also true that the "land question" was the cause of serious trouble, it being a major issue between the clergy and the governor, as was his treatment and exploitation of the Indians.

Quoting from Civil Government in New Mexico in the Seventeenth Century, France V. Scholes, writes as follows:

"The friars stated that the governor's policy on Indian labor and pueblo administration had deprived them of the necessary herdsmen, and that they had suffered a loss of more than six thousand head of stock at fourteen pueblos. At the mission of Santo Domingo (the ecclesiastical capital) alone the loss had been more than one thousand. Those figures indicate either a gross exaggeration on the part of the friars with respect to their losses, or that they actually possessed livestock in great quantities."

It has been established that Governor Mendizabal certainly had acquired cattle, horses and mules, and that he grazed them at Taos or very near Taos. And Mendizabal himself claimed that he either owned or had an interest in almost a hundred Apache slaves.

The Franciscans were within their rights when they protested against illegal encroachment of the estancias on the pueblo lands, and were inspired by a real desire to protect the Indians; but it is equally easy to see why the estancieros were embittered when they saw the Friars in possession of large herds which grazed on the pueblo lands and ranges. Land and water rights—how many many disputes they have caused!

During Governor Mendizabal's tenure of office, Mr. Scholes writes:

"From about 1660 onward it was customary to divide the province into two major subdivisions or administrative districts. These were known as the Rio Arriba and the Rio Abajo, i.e., the upper and lower portions of the Rio Grande valley and the neighboring districts. This administrative innovation was the result, in part, of the increasing non‑aboriginal population in the middle and lower portions of the valley, and, in part, of the need for a more defensive policy in the lower area where the Apaches were especially active. The governor commanded the Rio Arriba, and the lieutenant‑governor the Rio Abajo.

"The alcaldes mayores administered lesser rural districts or sub‑divisions called jurisdictions (jurisdicciones). There were at least six, perhaps eight, of these units into which the entire provincial area, with the exception of the Villa de Santa Fe and its district, was subdivided. The alcaldes mayores were members of that soldier‑citizen‑encomendero group that formed the core of the local military establishment. Their functions were of considerable importance for they were men who came into direct daily contact with the Indian villages, the missions, and the estancias of the non‑aboriginal population. Their most important duties were probably police and judicial, viz., to administer petty justice, to adjust differences concerning lands and water rights, to assist the friars in maintaining mission discipline, to oversee the employment of Indians as house servants, farm laborers, and herdsmen by the Spanish and caste ranchers, and to supervise the routine of pueblo life, working with and through the petty Indian magistrates and officials. The character of local administration carried on by these men varied according to the policies and instructions of the governors who appointed them, for although there were certain cases in which alcaldes mayores resisted what they believed to be an evil and detrimental policy of the central provincial government, these men were obliged, in the main, to carry out the orders which came to them from Santa Fe. In certain instances, moreover, they were nothing more than tools of he governors, not only in exploitation of Indian labor, but also in an open and avowed policy of opposition to the friars and their work."

It seems advisable to speak of one of the alcaldes majores, one whom Governor Mendizabal had appointed: Captain Nicolas de Aguilar.

Aguilar was in charge of the alcaldia which comprised Tajique, Chilili and Senecu—east and southeast of what is now Albuquerque. This country had large salt deposits which were worked by the governor and a prosperous encomendero named Diego de Guadalajara, who in 1654 had led an exploring party to the southeast of Santa Fe. This salt was valuable because the use of it was indispensable to the patio extraction process in operation at the silver mines in Parral, Mexico. Aguilar was a half breed and notorious—it was alleged that he had murdered his uncle at Parral, Mexico, and that he fled to the province of New Mexico to escape justice. He was the man through whom Governor Mendizabal delighted to pester and harass the Franciscans.

Quoting from Priestley's: The Coming of the White Man, regarding the activities of the governor and his agent:

"The pair took puerile delight in encouraging the natives in their heathen rites, especially the dances known then and now as the Catzinas—ceremonies to invoke the benign interest of the gods of the crops. Led by medicine in masks or horrifying aspect, the dances included flagellation and incestuous orgies; of course they were strictly forbidden by the missionaries as demoniacal and superstitious in character. The alcalde mayor, obeying with zest the commands of the governor, insisted that there was no harm here but mere barbarous diversion, and gave the Indians permission to continue the practise. Here was a challenge to be met by no hesitation. At Cuarac Friar Diego de Parrega tried to stop the rites by whipping the dancers. In Isleta Father Salvador Guerra went out to meet his disobedient neophytes with a cross upon his back, a crown of thorns upon his brow and a rope about his neck, lashing his naked flesh as he walked about the town. Thereupon his disciples gave up their celebration, tearfully assuring him that the governor had ordered them to dance. In the town of Chilili, it was averred, the alcalde threatened the natives with from fifty to one hundred lashes if they refused. One winter when the snow was deep they went up to the porch roof of the very church in Chilili, and while the scandalized friar looked on, the alcalde pretended to believe that his reverence had ordered them to do the dance there.

"Nettled by the opposition of the friars, the alcalde forbade the Indians to assist them in the menial service of the convents, and threatened them with lashes if they should disobey. As a result, poor Father Juan Ramirez (who converted Acoma), now nearly eighty years old, had to totter out into the snow to gather fagots to keep from freezing at Christmas time. Father Perraga himself had to cook the meals at Chilili because he could get no help. When the Indians of Curac went to Jumanos at the request of the friars to sing high mass on the patron saint's day, they were given fifty lashes each by Aguilar for going into enemy country. He prevented the use of an interpreter to translate the service of the mass at Abo, thus impeding the exercise of the sacred cult. For these sins, committed about 1660, Aguilar was arrested by the commissary and sent to the Inquisition in Mexico, though he claimed the status of a pious Christian. Among his literary or religious effects when he was incarcerated were a small catechism in two languages, a very small book of instructions for examining the conscience, a bag of reliquaries containing a memorandum of a restitution to be made, a copy of the four Gospels, a rosary with a little silver cross and a little worn book of "exercises and considerations."

"His personal appearance when placed in the dungeons in revealed by the court inventory of his effects. He wore a faruadina or short cloak of buff and black wool, decorated with fine points of black, a white jacket dotted with blue wool, a scarf of cotton drawn work, and a raincloak of deerskin. In his box were several woolen jackets bedecked with colored spots, some fine shirts, some common ones of Rouen linen, a mixed assortment of socks, a pair of cordovan shoes, a cake of soap, and a little lavendar wrapped in an old black rag, a leather cover for mustches, herbs to cure mountain spotted fever and to heal wounds, an old black hat, and a quantity of bedding.

"Aguilar's defense is of chief interest for its intimate picture of seventeenth‑century life in New Mexico. He testified that he believed that false witness had been brought against him by his enemies, among them Father Parraga, whom he had accused of libertinage, and Father Frietas, who had once drawn a pistol on him in an altercation. Many of the friars, he said, were immoral and cruel to the Indians. In Moqui, they had encouraged flagellations of Indian Penitentes. They hindered him in his incessant effort to prevent Apache inroads, when these Indians, coming from Siete Rios to trade, stole into the woods near Tajique and carried off Christian captives. They would tie them to huge burning fagots and dance about them, cutting off slices of flesh which they cooked and ate while their victims were perishing. It was to prevent such acts that he had forbidden his charges to go to the woods for fuel. For this, Friar Fernando de Velasco had upbraided him, and in a quarrel tried to kill him with a knife. Though the glib alcalde never admitted an accusation nor retracted a charge, he was found guilty to scandalous language and lukewarmness in the faith, and was banished for ten years."‑

Well had the friars named him—Attila.

It is necessary to remember however, that Aguilar was merely “a tool of the governor” Mendizabal. Apropos of this, one of the Franciscans writing from Isleta in 1660, stated:

"There is no way whereby to mitigate the aggressions of this governor. I cannot conquer him with patience. He does not investigate the Spaniards or Indians, but only the friars..."

This was because of a general inspection of the province which Governor Mendizabal had made, during which he visited many of the towns. Sitting in the open plaza of each place before a table with pen in hand, he sought information concerning the misdeeds of the friars. The unfortunate effect of this on the Indian population was summed up by Father Francisco de Salazar of Senecu, when he declared:

"The Indians are totally lost, without faith and without devotion to the church or respect for its ministers, nor do they obey them."

Matters became so serious that the Franciscans threatened to abandon New Mexico.

Mendizabal required that no alcalde or any other judge should punish the Indians for any misdeed. Of this Priestley states:

"This he especially enjoined in Las Salinas, even against the prevalent sin of adultery, in which the missionaries averred that many of the Indians habitually lived, rejecting the Christian marriage ceremony. It gave the governor infinite delight when he found on his tour of inspection that many of the friars were guilty of moral lapses. Himself a notorious roue, his official appointees were of his own ilk. One of them, Diego Romero, first an alcalde and then an encomendero was also tried by the Inquisition. He had created a scandal in the province by paying a trading visit to the Apache, where, like his father before him, he married an Apache maiden by the heathen rites so that he might leave a son among them to be their chief; this flouting of ecclesiastical precepts endeared Romero to the governor. But the guilt, as has been hinted, was not all on one side. The governors incrimination of the friars indicate that the atmosphere of the entire province was tainted with the offences of people in every rank and calling.

"Mendizabal justified his hostility to the friars on the ground that they controlled the settlers and frequently incited them to rebel against both the governor and the king. They had shot at Governor Arguello, they had arrested Governor Peralta, they killed Governor Rosas, "and they would have done the same with me but for the punishment meted out." Possessing no legal training, Mendizabal confessed that he was continually in trouble over points of law, for there was not a letrado or asesor in the entire province to advise him. Concerning the furor over the Catzinas dances, Mendizabal was frivolous if not contumacious. He declared that when the Indians came out to sing in this dance they said nothing but "Hoo, hoo, hoo; and these thieves of friars call that superstition!" As a matter of fact, the dance did embody the chief features of the indigenous cult; its celebration was a symptom of resistance to the Christian religion and the Spanish domination; and the governor, whatever his attitude toward the friars, should have been too intelligent to permit it."

Mendizabal was bold and laid bare many aspects of life in New Mexico which the Franciscans seem to have always discreetly omitted.

The viceroy in Mexico City meanwhile, had referred the petition made by Fray Juan Ramirez to the treasury officials for their opinion, and on October 5th 1660 they made their report. In this the essential facts concerning the grant of funds and supplies for the previous three‑year period of the Mission Supply Service, were re‑stated. They referred also to the desertion of the ten friars and to the necessity of requiring Ramirez to make an accounting. Since he had not been placed under bond, it was recommended that he remain in charge during the next three years, in order to give him an opportunity to make a complete adjustment of his accounts.

This action insinuated that if Ramirez was compelled to make an immediate accounting, the treasury might be the loser. Strange to say, the Franciscans were unwilling to grant Ramirez the time and opportunity td make a final adjustment. Indeed they undertook to remove Ramirez, and by joint action on the part of the commissary‑general and of the provincial of Santo Evangelio, on October 19th or 20th, 1660, Fray Francisco Perez was appointed procurator‑general of New Mexico!

Presenting his appointment to the viceroy, Perez requested recognition as the new procurator‑general, and also made formal petition for the proper legal action to be taken, so that he would have charge of the wagons and supplies. This petition of Perez was referred to the fiscal, the officials reales, and to the audiencia, and all of them took the same position; that is, that although the commissary general and the provincial had the right to appoint a procurator‑general of New Mexico, they could not in any manner bind the action of the viceroy concerning the actual administration and use of the wagons of the Mission Supply Service. The one was an ecclesiastical matter, the other a financial matter and certainly in the latter, the viceroy had the only power. In other words: it was the viceroy's privilege to continue or discontinue the agreement with Ramirez as he saw fit, and the superiors of the Franciscan Order had absolutely no authority whatever in this respect!

Fray Perez refused to accept this—he insisted that an appointment by the commissary and the provincial should automatically be accepted by the viceroy, and that therefore, the viceroy should certainly dispose Ramirez and place him in charge! More than this, Perez acting under the authority of the commissary-general, arrested Ramirez, confined him in Convento of San Francisco, and hoped by this action to put Ramirez in such a position that he could in no wise defend himself.

Ramirez, however, was represented by his brother, who complained to the viceroy of Perez’ action and petitioned that Ramirez be set free so that he might present his accounts to the treasury. For more than a month the Franciscans temporized, offering one excuse after another, and eventually the viceroy getting tired of the confusion, invoked the name of the Crown, and ordered that Ramirez be released. The viceroy ordered more—that is, that the administration could not be placed in charge of Perez, in fact the viceroy characterized him as a restless and seditious influence in the Franciscan Order and ordered him sent to Vera Cruz to be at the disposal of the authorities there until his various actions could be reported to the Council of the Indies.

Although the commissary‑general Fray Zapata, was defeated in his purpose of placing Perez in charge of the Supply Service, he did not give up his battle with Ramirez. He ordered Ramirez to renounce his office as custodio, or return to New Mexico immediately. Ramirez renounced the office rather than give up the fight concerning the Supply‑train, and his place as custodio Was taken by Fray Alonzo de Posada.

Meantime, relations between Zapata and Ramirez grew steadily worse, and during the spring of 1661 Zapata tried his best to have the organization and management of the caravans changed … to have the famous and well‑working Contract of 1631 for the Mission Supply Service, brought to an end. He enlisted the assistance of various authorities and finally he and his Franciscan associates pointed out the many disadvantages of having an ecclesiastic at the head of the Supply Service.

While this is too lengthy a matter to go into, in order to reach a final decision, a junta general de hacienda was held in May 1661, and the result was that it was held that if Ramirez was given time he could adjust his accounts in a satisfactory manner. It appeared advisable therefore to allow Ramirez to remain in charge during the triennium (1660‑1663) in order to give him the opportunity to make a final and full accounting on his return from the next journey to New Mexico. By a majority vote the Junta decided to have the 1660‑1663 caravan sent out in the usual way under the direction of Ramirez—then, in the future, the Service would be put up at auction. Fray Zapata was forced to accept this decision and to grant Ramirez the authority to receive the royal alms, to proceed with the organization of the wagons and be in charge of the service for that time.

In New Mexico meanwhile, Fray Garcia de San Francisco, the vice-custodio in charge (after Ramirez had left the province in 1659), had made formal complaint against Governor Mendizabal to the authorities in New Spain, and in 1661, Fray Alonso de Posada, who had succeeded Ramirez as custodio and also held an appointment as commissary of the Inquisition, carried on a thorough investigation of Mendizabal's actions.

Posada examined dozens of witnesses against the governor, and these findings were reported to the Holy Office in Mexico City.

Orders for the arrest not only of Governor Mendizabal, but also his wife, as well as three or four lesser provincial officials associated with he governor during his term, were issued.

When orders for the arrest of the governor became known in 1662, all of New Mexico hummed with exciting gossip! Mendizabal, and his wife and his associates were placed under arrest and their properties placed under embargo by the Holy Office. Plans were afoot to send these prisoners, and a part of their property to Mexico City.

Ramirez meanwhile had returned to Santa Fe, and he found it increasingly difficult to play a neutral role in the matter. As administrator of the caravan, his was the responsibility for the prisoners getting to Mexico City and the portion of their property that was to go along with them. Naturally, at this time, any action taken by Ramirez was under close scrutiny and certain things so aroused suspicion that he was later accused of thwarting the lawful exercise of the Inquisition. The caravan including Governor Mendizabal, his wife and the other prisoners, made the trip to Mexico between the autumn and spring of 1662 and 1663. The Holy Office took charge of the prisoners upon their arrival in Mexico City and their formal trials began soon afterward.

The charges against Mendizabal were numerous and varied, end in some cases, ludicrous. For example, Priestley states:

Mendizabal was "charged with practising such Jewish rites as putting on clean clothes on Fridays after having his feet bathed. He was a descendant of Juan Nunez de Leon, who had been convicted of Judaism, and his acts, it was alleged, showed that he despised the Christian religion, hated the friars, and said scandalous and heretical things about the privileges of the church. The evidence of his trial affords a luminous picture of the society he tried to rule. His hostility to the missionaries, it was testified, was manifest from the outset. When he arrived, the friar of one of the towns on his route to Santa Fe sallied forth to meet him with the formal manifestations of hospitality in vogue at the time; he went to the gate of the cemetery on the edge of town with a tall cross, glad ringing of the church bells and gala music, only to be reproached by the object of these honors because he had not gone out to the more respectful distance of two leagues to render his homage. Reaching Santa Fe, the governor refused the request of several friars to allow them to use Indian singers for the mass, though the king's order permitted it. He also denied them the exercise of the ecclesiastical jurisdiction in spite of the king's declaration and the apostolic bulls..."

It was also stated that he neglected to provide the town council in Santa Fe with decent quarters. The Casa de Cabildo was “a ramshackle affair.” It was reported that he one time had said that any place was good enough—for he considered the town council, his mule and his negress of equal importance!

The most detailed Residencia report of any Spanish governor is that of Mendizabal, and it was conducted by his successor as governor, Don Diego Dionisio de Peñalosa Briceno y Berdugo, and Fray Alonso de Posada, who quarreled over the disposition of Mendizabal’s property that was left in New Mexico, and did not fail to take advantage of his difficulties for their own selfish ends.

Mendizabal was far from humble before the Inquisition and his trial lasted more than a year. By March 1664 he had fallen very ill; he was ruined financially and prison life had greatly undermined his already delicate health. He died in the dungeons before the Inquisition had decided his case, sometime in September of 1664. His wife was kept in prison until the following year.

The costs of this suit which was over twelve hundred pesos, were paid from Mendizabal's estate—and yet ironically enough, in 1671, six years after his death, be was found innocent and his bones were reinterred in consecrated soil!


The Coming of the White Man, by Herbert Ingram Priestley, The Macmillan Co., New York, 1929.

New Mexico Historical Review for April 1930.

New Mexico Historical Review for January 1932.

New Mexico Historical Review for April 1935.

History of Arizona and New Mexico by Hubert Howe Bancroft, The History Co. San Francisco 1890.

Southwestern Historical Quarterly for January 1918. Texas State Historical Association, Austin Texas.