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Biography of Captain Don Francisco de la Mora y Ceballos

Biography/WPA Writers' Project of Captain Don Francisco de la Mora y Ceballos, eighth governor of New Mexico.

By Grace Meredith
Field Worker

Eighth Governor of New Mexico


Sometime during the month of March 1632, Captain Don Francisco de la Mora y Ceballos arrived in Santa Fe from Mexico City, and became the eighth governor of New Mexico.

Old Spanish documents recently brought to light and translated, show that in so far as the antagonism between state and church was concerned, the appointment of Mora Ceballos as governor of the province did nothing to help matters. It is stated that he actually took the office with the general idea of gaining wealth for himself by enlisting the assistance of the friars in order to dispose of a vast number of articles which he had brought with him from Mexico to trade with the Indians. A large stock of knives was one of the items he expected to use for barter. Even before Ceballos reached Santa Fe in March 1632, enroute north he left various articles at some of the missions which the Franciscans had established at some of the pueblos along the way, and he endeavored to get the different friars to act as his agents in bartering with the natives. When the ecclesiastics were loath to enter into such arrangements, Ceballos met their objections with dire threats if they refused to agree to further his trades with the Indians.

Thus it is quite evident that Ceballos "started something" even before he was governor—because, while the appointment was made in Mexico City, the actual term of office did not commence until his arrival in Santa Fe and upon receipt of the baston of office from his predecessor.

In justice however, it is also to be stated that almost immediately after Ceballos had formally taken over the office of governor in March 1632, one of his first official acts was to sanction an effort to avenge the death of the two missionaries, Friars Letrado and Aivide, who had been killed at Zuni. Apropos of this George Wharton James writes:

"Francisco de la Mora Ceballos, Governor at the time, despatched a handful of soldiers under his Maestro de Campo, Tomas de Albizu, together with a few priests. As they stopped at Inscription Rock over night, doubtless one of the soldiers, Lujan, carved the two lines." The two lines referred to, translated into English, Read: "They passed on the 23rd day of March 1632 to the avenging of the death of Father Letrado. Lujan."

The success of this expedition is attested to by the fact that although the Zunis had fled to Thunder Mountain after they killed Father Letrado, they returned to the valley to live sometime in 1634 or 1635, and again gave their allegiance to the Spaniards.

While doubtless the Franciscans appreciated this avenging of the death of their two friars, it was but a brief time before further difficulties arose between them and Ceballos.

Ceballos began almost at once, to sow discord and anger by seizing Indian orphans to work on his own ranches, and these orphans for the most part according to the Franciscans, had no need of guardianship. It was declared also that Ceballos encouraged the establishment of stock‑farms on the fields of the natives, at times on the only ground the natives had on which to sow their corn; that he forced some of the Spanish soldiers to leave their own small properties to work on his personal estates. The ecclesiastics asserted that there seemed to be no end to the ingenuity of Ceballos at the expense of the Indians, and Father Perea in a letter to the Holy Office in Mexico City, dated October 30th, 1633, bitterly, denounced Mora Ceballos and some of his soldiers.

Indeed, the Franciscans were swift in denunciation of any encroachment on the communal holdings of the Indians, and the land‑problems was the basis of bitter disputes between the civil and ecclesiastical jurisdictions. There can be little doubt that both the spirit and the letter of the general legislation of the Spanish kings to protect the Indians, was all‑too‑frequently violated. It is a fact also that at times Indian‑lands were deliberately occupied with the consent and knowledge of the governors and the lesser provincial officials. Ceballos himself engaged in herding. And, the Franciscans were by no means entirely innocent, for at some of the pueblos plots of land were set aside to be cultivated for the friar, and quite large herds of stock owned by the missions certainly shared the grazing of the pueblo‑lands. The civil authorities refused to be reconciled to the fact that the soldiers could not legally use the pueblo‑lands, when the friars had the use of both cultivable lands and ranges.

Father Perea in letters to the Holy Office at this time, deplored the general conditions in New Mexico relative to ignorance and superstition; and he somehow subtly conveyed the impression that the real fault was with the civil, and not the religious authorities.

Mention is also made in sworn declarations about this period, with reference to the use of peyote which was being recommended as a potion to give a bewitched person, as this was supposed to enable such persons to have a vision in which the identity of the sorcerer would be revealed, following which the health of the one bewitched would be restored. It was further asserted that in a vision induced by peyote taking, a person was able to tell what persons or parties might be enroute to Santa Fe from Mexico City!

A case of some interest concerned a certain mulatto named Juan Anton. It seems that a friend had told Anton that peyote was good for a broken arm and that Anton had in no way disputed this, but had said that he knew peyote had far more important uses—He then related that certain of his belongings had been stolen and that he had been unable to recover them, so he proceeded to take a big dose of peyote and in the stupor it induced an old man and an old woman had appeared before him and inquired his trouble. After he had told them, they replied that he need no longer worry, for if he went to a certain locality he would find all he had lost. Upon awakening from the peyote stupor, he followed this advice and found his belongings.

The same mulatto got into difficulties through his marriages and was investigated by Father Perea. Anton had married an Indian named Ana Maria in New Mexico, but in the summer of 1633, two soldiers, Tome Dominguez de Mendoza and Hernan Martin, who returned from Mexico City to Santa Fe informed Father Perea that when they were in Cuencame in New Biscay, they learned that Anton was married to a negress, a slave living in that town. Both soldiers said they had seen this woman, and Martin declared that she had four or five children of whom Anton was asserted to be the father. Anton upon learning that his marriages were known, fled from the province of New Mexico. Father Perea transmitted the information given him to the Holy Office, and that Office advised him to present formal proof of Anton's marriage to the Indian, Ana Maria. Perea complied with these instructions, but the record of the case ends at this point.

Other declarations were made to Perea concerning witchcraft, Bigamy, superstitions and native ceremonials, the use of peyote, powders and potions, during the time Ceballos served as governor. The governor himself went to Father Perea sometime in March 1634 to testify that there were rumors that Juan Lopez, one of the soldiers in New Mexico, was guilty of bigamy; Ceballos had been informed that Lopez had a wife in Havana, but Lopez had married Ines de Zamora, a Santa Fe girl and the daughter of Alferez Diego de Montoya on February 27th, 1634. Perea communicated this to the Holy Office but no formal action appears to have been taken regarding it.

Meanwhile another Franciscan, Father Benavides, had gone to Spain to make a personal report on New Mexico to the King. While Benavides never returned to New Mexico, it is probably through his efforts at the meeting of the General Chapter of the Franciscan Order in Toledo in 1633, that the erection of the Custodia of New Mexico was confirmed. In 1634 Benavides presented a revised edition of his Memorial (concerning New Mexico) to Pope Urban VIII. This script has never been published, but the Quivira Society planned its publications in 1932 or 1933, so that it may have been published by this time, though at present a copy is not available.

It has been declared that all of the governors of New Mexico, with few if any exceptions, were subjected to covert if not open opposition, destructive criticism, and at times even violence on the part of their own Spanish comrades in the province, both lay and ecclesiastical. It is asserted that Mora Ceballos was so persecuted that he had to take refuge in the convent at Galisteo.Bandelier writing of this, states:

"It must be admitted that these governors, after Oñate and previous to Alonso Pacheco de Heredia in 1643, deserve little sympathy and still less credit. As for the military proper, it was mainly rabble, and sometimes of the worst kind! Of their free will and accord, very few decent people went to New Mexico to stay." And then looking at the deplorable condition from another angle, he writes as follows: "On the other hand, the missionaries were extremely jealous of their prerogatives and of their power over the Indians, and tolerated none of the encroachments upon the rights of the natives which colonists, of whatever nationality or creed, have always attempted to commit. Their jealousy for the rights of the Indian and for his peaceable living under the protection of the church went often to extremes, and the greatest bitterness prevailed in consequence between the governors and a part of the Spaniards on the one hand, and the clergy and their adherents on the other."

Since another governor arrived in New Mexico in 1635, it is reasonable to assume that sometime during that year, Ceballos returned to Mexico.

Appendix ‑ Mora y Ceballos ‑ 1632‑1635

Much has been written and more insinuated concerning the laws of both church and state pertinent to New Mexico. A great many of these laws had to do with the natives of the province. It seems advisable then to quote from Bourne in : Spain in America, where he states:

"The Indian legislation of the Spanish kings is an impressive monument of benevolent intentions which need not fear comparison with contemporary legislation of any European country affecting the status of the working classes."

In a much more recent article by Ruth Barber on Indian Labor, is found the following, which occurred during the term of Ceballos as governor of New Mexico:

"In 1633 workshops in the encomiendas and personal service was prohibited, and under Charles II, a decree was issued against labor by Indian women and sons who had not reached the tribute‑paying age. One difficulty with the regulations was that there were many loop‑holes. The colonists were permitted to force the Indians to work for pay, and they deducted the amount of the tributes from the wages or kept the Indians in debt to them. The alcaldes and jailers forced the Indian prisoners to render personal service in convents.

A law of 1633 provided for the paying of tribute in wheat, corn, yucca, fish, cotton, vegetables, or anything else suitable to the place, "that there are some provinces in which personal service still exists with grave harm and vexation to the Indians." It was recommended that the officials in charge of the government in each locality call together the prelates, the royal officials, the bishop, and some disinterested persons to consider the matter and to estimate a just amount to be required in tributes. It was ordered that the encomenderos should abide by the decision and not collect any more than the amount set."

That laws were disobeyed was due to selfishness on the part of the civil authorities and jealousy on the part of the ecclesiastical.

As has been stated previously, during the term of Ceballos, Father Perea took a most active part in the affairs of the province, either as Commissary of the Inquisition or as a member of the Definitors, the standing committee, of the custodia. Meanwhile Father Fray Francisco de Porras was offered the post of Custodian in Perea's place, since Perea was agent of the Inquisition, but preferred to remain in Moqui to continue his work of conversion there, and he was killed at Moqui sometime In June 1653. Fray Juan de Salas was therefore Custodian.

To eliminate some of the confusion regarding the titles Commissary and Custodian, Mr. Scholes states in Early Ecclesiastical History, the following:

"The Custodians were sometimes friars who had never served in New Mexico prior to their election and sometimes friars who had seen years of service in the Custodia. The powers exercised by the Custodian in New Mexico were wide. He was chief and leader of all the friars, directed their activities, and represented them in all their relations with the State. In fact, the Custodian enjoyed, in relation to the custodia, the same authority that the Provincials enjoyed in their provinces. Besides, the Custodian was prelate of the entire community, civil and ecclesiastical, for no bishop exercised active authority over New Mexico prior to the first quarter of the eighteenth century. The Custodian, therefore enjoyed quasi‑episcopal powers, as granted by the bulls of Leo X, Adrian VI, and Paul III. To him the non‑oboriginal members of the community paid tithes. He was ecclesiastical judge ordinary for the entire province, and records of trials of laymen by the Custodian, or his delegates, for ecclesiastical offenses have been preserved. Finally, the Custodian was sometimes Commissary of the Inquisition, with authority to investigate error and heresy. Such a wide variety of authority gave the Custodian great influence; in fact, except for the civil governor of the province, the Custodian was the most powerful personage in New Mexico, and, in some cases, he was in reality more influential then the governor.


Historical Documents relating to New Mexico, Nueva Viscaya and Approaches Thereto to 1733, collected by Adolph F.A. Bandelier and Fanny H. Bandelier. Edited with Introductions and Annotations by Charles Wilson Hackett. Carnegie Institution of Washington DC. 1925. Volume I.

Journal of American Ethnology and Archaeology. Volume III.

New Mexico by George Wharton James. The Page Co. Boston 1920.

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

The Spanish Pioneers and the California Missions, by Charles F. Lummis. A. C. McClurg & Co. Chicago. 1929.

New Mexico History and Civics by Lansing B. Bloom, A.M. and Thomas C. Donnelly, Ph.D. University Press, Albuquerque, New Mexico 1933.

Desert Drums by Leo Crane. Little, Brown, and Co. Boston 1928. (The Pueblo Indians of New Mexico 1540‑1928)

Land of Sunshine. Volume XV. Edited by Charles F. Lummis. 1901.

Land of Poco Tiempo by Charles F. Lummis. Charles Scribner's Sons. New York 1933.

Colonization of North America. 1492‑1783. By Herbert Eugene Bolton, Ph.D. and Thomas Maitland Marshall Ph.D. Macmillan Co. New York 1922.

Blood‑Drenched Altars by Most Rev. Francis Clement Kelley with Documentation and Notes by Eber Cole Byam. Bruce Publishing Co. Milwaukee, 1935.

New Mexico Historical Reviews for April 1930, July 1932, July 1933, April 1935, July 1935, January 1932, October 1930.

Spain in America 1450‑1580 by Edward Gaylord Bourne, Ph.D. Harper and Bros. New York and London 1904.

The Colonies 1492‑1750 by Reuben Gold Thwaites, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Ph.D. Longman, Green and C0. New York & London 1893.

The Coming of the White Man by Herbert Ingram Priestley, 1492‑1848. Macmillan Co. New York 1929.

New Mexico Historical Review for 1932.