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Church-State Relations in the Early Nineteenth Century at San Carlos Presidio

By Rick Hendricks

The matter began simply enough. In early 1802, Captain Antonio García de Tejada informed Commandant General Pedro de Nava that the chaplain of San Carlos presidio, fray Luis Salgado, had denied the sacrament of the Eucharist to several young women. Father Salgado responded that the captain was interfering in a church matter. There followed an investigation into Father Salgado’s fitness as a priest, revealing his alleged fondness for strong drink and involvement in a local silver mine. Captain García de Tejada called for the chaplain’s removal. Church officials were shocked at the prospect of a repetition of the expulsion of a Franciscan from his mission, which had just happened in New Mexico. A question of honor became a serious conflict between church and state, involving the Bishopric of Durango and the Audiencia of Guadalajara. This episode reflects the struggle among diocesan clergy, the Franciscan Order, and the civil-military authorities for control of the populace, which characterized the late colonial period on the northern frontier of New Spain.[1]

A native of Logroño, capital of the Spanish province of La Rioja, Antonio García de Tejada was born there in 1761. By the time he became captain of the presidio of San Carlos de Cerro Gordo, he had already enjoyed a long and distinguished military career. At the age of nineteen, Antonio enlisted in the Infantry Regiment of Asturias, but before two months passed, he became regimental portaguión or standard bearer in the Regiment of Spanish Dragoons. After serving in that post for a little more than a year, García de Tejada became an alferez with the dragoons, a position he held for more than seven years. In June 1788 he was promoted to lieutenant, and two years he made the rank of ayudante mayor. Antonio served in the Spanish Dragoons in this capacity for the next seven and a half years. In January 1794 he was named captain of the first flying company.

When he left the Spanish Dragoons, Lieutenant Colonel don José MuZoz, certified that Antonio García de Tejada had fulfilled his duty in each post he had held, as well as in other commissions given him. One such commission required him to investigate the health of the governor of Durango and report to the king. This assignment required García de Tejada to travel three hundred leagues. He had applied himself with zeal and integrity. When his first year as captain of the flying company came to a close, García de Tejada, a bachelor, was described as a good officer who deserved to be obeyed. It was further noted that he had demonstrated his bravery.

In September of 1795, Antonio García de Tejada was named captain of the presidio of San Carlos. As a presidial captain, he was a very active campaigner, frequently leading his troops to such places as the Bolón de Mapimí, the Sierra del Carmen, and the Río Colorado in pursuit of the indefatigable enemy Apaches. In addition to these typical duties, García de Tejada carried out several special commissions. One of particular note was an inspection of all the presidial companies and flying companies in Nueva Vizcaya, as well as that of Álamo de Parras. The completion of this task meant that García de Tejada had to ride nine hundred leagues.

A word must be said about the presidio of San Carlos, one of the most peripatetic on New Spain’s northern frontier. Established in 1773 near a point where the arroyo of the same name converged on the Rio Grande, San Carlos presidio was located some eleven miles southwest of the present-day Lajitas, Texas. In 1782, it was withdrawn to the site of the abandoned pueblo of Chorreras on the Río de los Conchos. The reestablished pueblo took the name of Cerro Gordo. San Carlos remained at Cerro Gordo until 1798, when the presidial company moved to the pueblo of San Jerónimo, a short distance from Chinarras near a large bend in the Rio Chuviscar, approximately twenty miles northwest of Chihuahua. Thus, at the time of the confrontation between Captain Antonio García de Tejada and fray Luis Salgado, the former was captain of the San Carlos presidial company (lately of Cerro Gordo) located at San Jerónimo, while the latter was still considered the military chaplain of the San Carlos presidio.

At present, much less is known about the other protagonist, fray Luis Salgado. It is clear that he joined the Franciscan order in Spain. During the course of his dispute with Captain García de Tejada, Father Salgado mentioned that he had obtained permission from his superiors in the archbishopric of Burgos to serve in New Spain, which would seem to indicate that he too was a native of northwestern Spain. Apparently, he had served the presidial company as its chaplain for thirteen years, as of the spring of 1802. There is no indication that Captain García de Tejada and fray Luis Salgado had any problems working with each other, and they may well have served the San Carlos presidial company together for more than seven years.

Their conflict arose on 28 March 1802. Writing to Commandant General Nava the following day, García de Tejada related the following events. During mass several individuals had approached the steps of the altar to receive communion. Father Salgado gave it to two Opata soldiers, but refused communion to all the rest, seven people, all females. He then returned to the altar with the remaining hosts and ate them. According to Captain García de Tejada, such an act had never been witnessed in San Jerónimo. As a result, the town was scandalized, and the captain was personally horrified. The individuals who had been refused communion were publically shamed, their reputations besmirched. How could they dare appear in church again when they ran the risk of further embarrassment? For García de Tejada, the only solution was to remove the chaplain from his post. This episode, and earlier, unspecified behavior, the captain darkly hinted, demonstrated clearly that Father Salgado was ill suited to be a minister. García de Tejada appended a list of the individuals who were denied communion: the wife of Corporal José Corona from Álamo de Parras; Amada Martínez Hurtado; Josefa, the wife of the soldier Puentes; the wife of the soldier Mejía; the wife of the soldier Francisco Lara from San Carlos; Señora Guadalupe, the cook of the company captain; Candelaria, the daughter of the rifleman Juan Quirós; and the daughter of the solder Manuel Herrera.

In response to an order from Commandant General Nava, Father Salgado answered the charges on 21 April 1802.  In the words of the chaplain, Captain García de Tejada’s accusation was very false. His letter was a sin of excess and the accompanying list a sin of omission. He denied the claim that he had consumed extra hosts, stating that he had removed only two from the sacristy. Father Salgado suggested that Nava question the sacristan who had assisted at the mass or any of his parishioners who were present, as Captain García de Tejada was not. In fact, the captain was not a regular at mass, attending only when he felt like it. How dare him make statements with such certainty about things that the priest saw with his own eyes and touched with his own hands in the presence of so many others who were in attendance because it was a feast day? What royal orders did the captain have to interrupt the ministry of a chaplain? What authority had the pope, patriarch, and vicar general or the honorable bishop of Durango given him as vicar general of the royal armies? Everything he did was against the royal ordinances, royal orders, and the instructions to chaplains. Surely an honorable officer could not make statements that were so far from the truth, trying to fool his superiors. Could it be that since he was so false in this instance, he had tried to fool them on other occasions as well?

As for the fear of further embarrassment, the very day that the captain wrote to Nava, three of Salgado’s parishioners who had been denied communion were reconciled and received holy communion, having lost nothing of their reputations. A female member of García de Tejada’s household chose to go to another parish to receive communion, doubtless on the captain’s advice. As for the others, those who could confess did so.

The priest humbly admitted that he was not very skillful and ill suited to direct the consciences of his flock. Who could in these times? Would that he were St. Thomas or St. Bonaventure and free of error. But, he asked, Who had given Captain García de Tejada the title of Synodal Examiner? If he was so inept a priest, why had García de Tejada not mentioned it before? If he held such title, Father Salgado would like to see it. Then, he would show the captain the one he had from the archbishopric of Burgos, Palencia, León, Sagún, and so forth. García de Tejada had made his charges so that Salgado’s parishioners would not follow his counsel or attend mass to hear the word of God from the mouth of their priest. His charges denigrated not only the priest, but also the commandant general whom he served in that company for thirteen years. Salgado added that the María Jacinta Artiaga, the wife of the soldier Buey, was omitted from the list of those denied communion.

Finally, Salgado begged that Nava act as an impartial judge. If Nava found against him, he would agree to leave his post. But, he asked, should he be proved innocent, what would be equal punishment for a false accuser who was supposed to represent the flower of truth, honor, and justice as the judge of that community?

On 6 May 1802, Commandant General Nava ordered Captain García de Tejada to respond to what Father Salgado’s statements. Two days later, García de Tejada forwarded to Nava a list prepared by Sergeant Vicente Tarín. On the captain’s orders, Alférez Francisco Adán of the flying company of Parras, questioned the seven women who were denied communion by fray Luis Salgado, summoning them to his house and taking their testimony as each responded to a series of questions. First to testify was Martina Hurtado, forty-eight, the wife of Corporal José Corona of the Parras company. She stated that because it was Sunday, she had gone to mass to receive communion. She had not asked the sacristan, Juan Trujillo, to inform Father Salgado that she intended to receive communion, but she had overheard Trujillo ask Guadalupe Casimira, the captain’s cook, whether she was going to receive communion. Martina stated that she had not been on the altar steps; rather she was near them waiting for room to climb them to receive communion. When she saw that the priest gave communion to the two Opatas but not to the other women, she left. When asked, she responded that she had not seen the priest with more than two hosts on the paten because she was kneeling down, but she did see him consume something after returning to the altar. 

Next to testify was María Josefa Flores, seventeen, the wife of the soldier from Álamo.  José Puente. Responding to the same questions, María Josefa indicated that she had informed the sacristan of her intention to receive communion and had been on the altar steps, but the priest had only given communion to the Opatas. She had not seen extra hosts on the paten or witnessed him eat the leftover hosts. Gertrudís Reyes, twenty, the wife of Máximo Mejía, a soldier from the Parras company, testified that she had informed the sacristan, been on the steps with the two Opatas, had seen extra hosts, and had witnessed Father Salgado consume them. María Andrea, the wife of Francisco Lara, a soldier from the Parras company, testified that she had not told the sacristan she intended to receive communion, but that she had climbed the altar steps. She admitted that she had not paid attention to what was on the paten, but she had seen the priest eating the hosts when he returned to the altar.

Guadalupe Casimira, a forty-eight-year-old widow, stated that the sacristan had asked her whether she had come to receive communion to which she had responded affirmatively. He later returned to say that Father Salgado was not going to give her communion, and she had responded that she was there to fulfill the church’s precept whether he gave her communion or not. After giving communion to the two Opatas, the priest cleaned the paten, but she could not see how many hosts there were. Candelaria Quirós, the fourteen-year-old daughter of the rifleman from San Carlos de Cerro Gordo, Juan Quirós, stated that not only had she informed the sacristan of her desire to receive communion, but also that he had then returned to the sacristy. She had climbed the altar steps but had not noticed whether there were extra hosts or whether he had eaten them. María Antonia, twelve, the daughter of Manuel Herrera, a soldier from the company of San Carlos de Cerro Gordo presidio, gave the same testimony as the previous witness.

Juan Máximo Trujillo was the next witness to testify. He stated that when the women had indicated their intention to receive communion, he had informed Father Salgado. The priest had sent him to inquire whether Guadalupe Casimira had come to mass as an act of devotion or to fulfill the precepts of the church. In the case of the latter, she was not to climb the altar steps, because he would not give her communion. For this reason, he had placed only two hosts on the paten.

Finally, Francisco Adán gave a statement. He indicated that he had been present at mass on 28 March and had seen Father Salgado give communion two Opatas, denying it to seven women. This action had scandalized the community. He had not seen whether the priest had extra hosts, but several people had affirmed it. Moreover, when Father Salgado had returned to the altar, he looked like he was eating.

At the conclusion of the investigation, Captain García de Tejada directed a private letter to Juan José Ochoa, the administrator of the mail for San Jerónimo, soliciting testimony about alleged misconduct on the part of Father Salgado. His aim was to gather this information and deliver it to Commandant General Nava. In the letter, he cataloged seven specific instances, about which he had heard or had knowledge, in which fray Luis Salgado had engaged in improper behavior for a priest.

Ochoa was asked to give a statement regarding the priest’s lack of interest and failure to fulfill his duty during his ministry at San Jerónimo, but he had no specific recollection about Father Salgado’s ministry. He had only preached one free sermon and those for which he was paid. Ochoa had never heard Father Salgado explain a point of Christian doctrine on Sundays. As far as the fees the priest charged, Ochoa thought they were about right.

García de Tejada had heard of two instances when Father Salgado refused to hear confessions, and Ochoa was to relate the particulars. Ochoa stated that he had only heard of the instance of a young man being denied confession, but he had first-hand knowledge of the second occurrence. His servant, Candelaria González, had come to him saying that his wife was dying. He had asked the priest to hear her confession, but Father Salgado had sent him to Ochoa who lent him a horse so that he could go to Chihuahua for a priest. González returned with a fray Vicente, but Ochoa did not know whether they arrived before González’s wife died. The captain also wondered how the priest’s vigil over Ochoa when he was ill had been conducted. That time, Ochoa had provided whole candles, but only stubs were burned during the vigil.

Ochoa fully corroborated the fact that on the Día de la Encarnación, 25 March, after mass, Father Salgado had said in the presence of Captain García de Tejada and many others that he knew many people possessed by the devil, and that his parishioners would confess to anyone but did not dare to receive communion from him. And even if they did, he could not give it to them until he had tested them on the knowledge of Christian doctrine. 

When García de Tejada restated the central accusation that on the following Sunday, the priest had given communion to the two Opatas and denied it to the women present, Ochoa testified that he was present and saw Father Salgado give communion to the Indians and deny it to the Spaniards, but he did not know first hand whether there were extra hosts, but he had seen him appearing to eat something and had heard there were extra hosts.

Ochoa then responded to a series of questions. During the last five years had the priest frequently preached, explained doctrine, and said mass on work days when poor health did not prevent him for doing so? Was it true that during the last four Easter seasons the assistant priest, Miguel Salas Valdés, had heard the confessions of the troops and their families without the slightest concern on the part of Father Salgado about whether they were properly instructed in Christian doctrine or whether they had received communion from last Easter to this one? Ochoa stated that Father Salgado rarely said mass on work days and never explained points of doctrine in chapel. In past Easter seasons, Father José Miguel Salas Valdés, heard confessions of the troops and their families. Father Salgado had never bothered to see whether his parishioners were properly instructed in Christian doctrine as preparation for confession.

Ochoa indicated that the priest had constructed at his own expense a water powered hacienda for smelting ore near the alameda of San Jerónimo. Some silver-bearing ore had been processed there by Pedro Rodríguez Rey and Anacleto Miranda, who acted as a front man for the priest who owned the operation.

Finally, Ochoa testified that for the last several years Father Salgado was in the habit drinking large quantities of aguardiente. The priest purchased the brandy in Ochoa’s store on a daily basis at the rate of one cuartillo in the morning and one in the afternoon. Ochoa concluded his testimony by recommending Miguel Molinares and Luciano González as men who could testify about Father Salgado’s character and actions. They had lived in San Jerónimo the longest and had many servants who would have paid fees to the priest and would know of his ministry.

When he forwarded Ochoa’s testimony to the commandant general, Antonio García de Tejada penned a long letter in which he set out to prove that fray Luis Salgado was not fit to be a priest, by reexamining all the testimony. García Tejada began his summary by pointing out that the priest admitted denying communion to the seven women. As for the matter of the extra hosts and their consumption, the captain pointed out that the first, third, fourth, and fifth witnesses, the report of Alferez Adán, and Ochoa’s statements asserted the truth of the captain’s accusation. He assumed that the three women who said they could not remember had been advised by Father Salgado not to testify against him on that point. The captain explained his reasoning as follows. The third and fifth witness saw extra hosts and the priest eating them. The first and fourth say him eating hosts. Adán and Ochoa saw what appeared to be the priest eating something and heard from others that there were extra hosts.

With regard to the eighth witness, the sacristan Juan Trujillo, he had been dependent on Father Salgado for thirteen years, and his testimony was influenced by his desire not to harm his benefactor. Still, if his testimony was true, that there were more hosts in the sacristy than the two he placed on the paten, then it was clear that Father Salgado’s act of denying the women communion was premeditated, calculated to expose them to public shame.

The captain then turned to another, very serious matter. Surely Father Salgado’s vigorous self-defense was a falsification of the facts, an attempt to stain the reputation of the leader of his presidial company and town. Yet, he wanted to be generous to the priest. Even if there had been no extra hosts, could the priest understand what it would feel like to climb the altar steps and see only two hosts and then see them given to two individuals who were not even first in line? Did he not know that any man of God in such a situation would divide the hosts so that everyone would get a piece that become the whole body of Our Redeemer Jesus Christ? This was a practice that the faithful see every day in other churches. Why had he not do this and avoid the ensuing public scandal? How would he respond to these questions? With regard to Guadalupe Casimira, García Tejada asked additional questions. How did taking communion inspired by devotion differ from taking communion out of a sense of duty? As an ignorant person, he begged that Father Salgado explain what he was supposed to believe.

Surely, García de Tejada had proven that Father Salgado should be recalled to his province where he could enjoy the cenobitic life to which all true priests aspired. The priest had had many very long periods of good health during which time he was seen at fandangos, riding horses, hunting, and going all over the place. His temperament was known to all to be harsh and immoderate. He had threatened the commandant general in unspecified claims the captain had already sent to headquarters, and called García de Tejada a liar, using expressions that were very foreign to the mouth of a parish priest and very denigrating to the distinguished class of officer to which the captain belonged.

Upon reflection, García de Tejada put most of the good father’s problems down to liquor. Maybe aguardiente had not made fray Luis a drunk, but it had strongly influenced his nature, upsetting his bodily humors. Perhaps against his will, it had led him to use immoderate language, for which the captain pardoned him from the bottom of his heart. Without wishing to insult the most illustrious honorable bishops who granted him permission to carry out his ministry, his sacred order, or any royal ordinances, García de Tejada reiterated that Father Salgado was ill-suited as a presidial chaplain and should be permitted to return to his province.

On 25 May 1802, Bishop Francisco Gabriel de Olivares y Benito received copies of all the documents sent to the general command and ordered an immediate investigation. The investigation was carried out by Doctor Sanirrañia who determined that the matter was more of a spiritual question that a legal one. The ecclesiastical tribunal should examine the case since Captain Antonio García de Tejada had already presented it to the general command. Given the scope of the accusations against fray Luis Salgado, it was clear that both parties had acted scandalously. To avoid further scandal, the commandant general was of the opinion that it would be better to move the chaplain to another posting or return him to his province.

The good doctor was in agreement with the commandant general that removing the priest would be the best war to halt the problems were they bound by common law, but his majesty the king had issued a order governing just such instances. By cedula of 1 August 1795, it was declared as a general rule that priests who taught Christian doctrine and were installed according to canon law could not be removed without filing suit against them and hearing their testimony according to the law. Also on point was a recent ruling by the Audiencia of Guadalajara. In proceedings of 23 January 1800, the high court ordered fray Isidro Cadelo returned to New Mexico, ruling that the custos and governor of New Mexico had acted illegally in forcing the priest from his mission of San Diego de Jémez.[2] In fact, the argument that Dr. Sanirrañia made was so similar to the audiencia ruling, that it seem clear that he had before him as he prepared his report.

The case of fray Isidro Cadelo was an interesting one. In 1798, the custos of New Mexico, fray Francisco de Hozio, and the governor, Fernando de Chacón, had colluded to exile Father Cadelo from New Mexico. Governor Chacón requested his removal, and Custos Hozio acquiesced. In explaining his actions to Commandant General Pedro de Nava, Governor Chacón stated that fray Isidro was arrogant, impetuous, and rash and given to actions unbefitting a priest. In his years of service in New Mexico, he had caused problems with the Indians, local officials and citizens, his superiors, and even the bishop of Durango. Father Cadelo appealed the decision to force him out of his mission to the General Command in Chihuahua. Authorities there ruled that this was a matter for the bishop to decide and forwarded the case file to Durango. When no response was forthcoming from the bishop, the General Command sent all the relevant documentation to the Audiencia of Guajalajara. The fiscal of the Audiencia of Guadalajara delivered his opinion in the case regarding Cadelo's removal from Jémez in early November 1799, copies of which went to Governor Chacón and Commandant general Nava. The fiscal cited cedulas of 13 November 1795, 1 August 1795, and the bull Misionare, of Innocent XI (1676-89), in his finding. The cedula of 1 August 1795 repealed 1.6.38 of the Recopilación de leyes de los reynos de las Indias,45 which held that a doctrinero could be removed by agreement of the prelate and person who exercised the patronato real. It stated that in general in the future, curas and doctrineros who were instructed according to canon law could not be removed without framing an indictment against them and taking their testimony as provided for by law.


As had Father Cadelo before him, fray Luis had conducted a spirited defense and had contradicted the testimony against him, filing his own report on what had occurred. A royal cedula and an audiencia ruling were not to be flouted. Father Salgado also deserved a fair hearing, and diocesan authorities should be involved. Nothing more could be done about his removal until this took place. If they were to believe the captain, fray Luis only administered communion to two Opatas and denied it to the others, returning to the altar and eating the remaining hosts. If they were to believe the priest, he had given communion to the two Indians because he had only consecrated two hosts. In addition, the captain extended his accusation to include such charges as denying confession to the ill, failing to preach Christian doctrine when he should, owning and operating a hacienda for producing silver, and that Father Salgado was given to drink.

Father Salgado was given no opportunity to respond to these charges, which were received by an incompetent judge and in any case were lacking every formality. Therefore, the only valid charges were of a spiritual nature. And those were laid without summoning the minister to respond. All that remained was a purely informative report about which the commandant general sought some remedy that would put a stop to the scandal and return peace to that place.

What should be done was to commission the nearest ecclesiastic to go to San Jerónimo and gather Father Salgado’s response to the additional charges. He should be given the opportunity to present as many witnesses as he wanted, as should Captain García de Tejada. The commission went to Father José Serampión del Prado, vicar and ecclesiastical judge of El Paso del Norte. Writing from Chihuahua in February 1803, Father Prado informed the bishop that he had named Antonio García de Arenas to assist him in his investigation. In early March, Father Prado again communicated with the authorities in Durango about his commission. He had learned that Captain García de Tejada was traveling through the province under orders from his superior. Apparently concluding that he could not fulfill his commission, he returned the case file to Durango. And there the documentary record in the diocese ends.

The story, however, continued, although Captain García de Tejada and Chaplain Salgado were fated to part company. A single mention in an index of the chaplain’s archive at San Carlos for the year 1818, offers tantalizing evidence that the protagonists might have renewed their struggle at a later date, but only for a brief time. Or perhaps, Father Salgado got into difficulty with García de Tejada’s successor. In rather vague entry for 1806 lists “Reciprocal complaints by the captain and chaplain of the company of San Carlos over points of jurisdiction.” Whatever can be made of this entry, it is clear that fray Luis Salgado was not removed from the chaplaincy of San Carlos as a result of his conflict with Captain Antonio García de Tejada.

On 21 July 1806, fray Luis Salgado informed Commandant General Nemesio Salcedo that by virtue of the royal order of 27 August 1805, his majesty the king had granted his request to retire as chaplain of the presidio of San Carlos de Cerro Gordo with the annual salary of 240 pesos.[iii] The priest was in broken health and had decided to go to Jalapa in the plaza of Veracruz where the Holy Gospel Province maintained residences in order to spend there is final days. He therefore requested that the commandant general inform the viceroy of New Spain so that he could have the treasury of Veracruz pay the salary to which he was entitled. Salcedo duly forwarded Salgado’s request to the viceroy, and the treasury officials in Veracruz eventually got the word from Mexico City. But a quiet retirement was not to be the end for Father Salcedo.

In early June in 1808, fray Luis petitioned the viceroy for permission to return to Nueva Vizcaya.[iv] He stated that he had departed for Veracruz on 26 August 1807 with the hope of restoring his health. His convalescence had not gone well, although and he had remained there until the following spring when he had made his way to Mexico City. By way of response, the viceroy informed Salgado that he should ask the commandant general, for the decision was his to make. With that in mind, the priest asked the viceroy for the return of all the documentation he had submitted so that he could prepare to depart for the north. On July 26 1808, the viceroy informed the commandant general that he had complied with Father Salgado’s request and issued him a passport. With that, fray Luis Salgado finally left the scene.

The priest had locked horns with the captain when the former was nearing the end of his career, while the latter was to log many more years of distinguished service to the crown on the northern frontier. At the end of August 1817, Antonio García de Tejada summarized his long military career. Picking up the story of his service begun earlier, we note that in February 1805, he was given the official title of adjutant inspector, a position he had filled ad interim since the previous July. In this capacity, García de Tejada had conducted numerous inspections of such presidial companies at Príncipe, San Elceario, Carrizal, Janos, San Buenaventura, and the second flying company. Also in February 1805 he was ordered to New Mexico to inspect the company of Santa Fe where he drafted a set of recommendations regarding ways to bring the Santa Fe presidio into line with the practices followed in Nueva Vizcaya. After completing his assignment in New Mexico, García de Tejada was off to fill the post of military of provinces of Sonora and Sinaloa. Then, on 4 October 1816, he was named interim governor of the province of Coahuila.

The occasion for detailing his service was a request for promotion. Back on 20 May 1813, then Commandant General Nemesio Salcedo had recommended Captain Antonio García de Tejada for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel and appointment to the governorship of either Coahuila, Texas, Nuevo Santander, or New Mexico, whichever was vacant at the time. Viceroy Félix Calleja, who did not know García de Tejada, had not acted on Salcedo’s recommendations; rather he had placed his cronies in the available posts. An earlier attempt to bring this matter before the king in Madrid by way of a dispatch dated 16 October 1816 had gone array when pirates intercepted the mail on the high seas.

By the end of August 1817, the fifty-five-year-old García de Tejada was the senior military man in all New Spain in terms of time of service, thirty-seven years, seven months and sixteen days, almost twenty-four of them as an active-duty officer, troop inspector, and provincial governor. At this time he asked for a promotion to lieutenant colonel to be made retroactive at the discretion of his superiors. He also requested that he be recommended for a further promotion, to the rank of full colonel, given his seniority and years of faithful service. Finally, he asked to be named to any vacant governorship on the northern frontier, barring that, he asked to be a suitable post in his native Spain. When his promotion to colonel eventually came, Antonio García de Tejada doubtless believed he had attained the reward he so richly reserved. Perhaps his struggle to protect his honor was at an end.

While the protagonists, the presidial captain and his chaplain, may have been primarily fighting over a question of honor, in the wider world those issues hardly mattered. What was at stake in the cases of fray Luis Salgado (and of fray Isidro Cadelo before him) was much more than a mere question honor or even jurisdiction and authority. Although calmly expressed in dry legalistic terms, hanging in the balance was the effective control of the citizenry on the northern frontier. There were three contenders, all fighting each other for the dominant position in the hearts, minds, and, for two of them, the souls of the people. This triangular struggle pitted the civil-military leadership, the diocesan clergy, and the Franciscans against each other.

In the late colonial period on the northern frontier officials such as provincial governors and presidial commanders represented the vanguard of Bourbon reform. One of the most fundamental reforms that they were expected to implement was a reduction in the influence of the church over the populace. Chosen from the military elite, these men wielded weighty authority and demanded respect. In most cases, however, their posts were located in what had been Franciscan territory for several hundred years. While there were doubtless good priests and bad priests, just as there were good and bad commanders, the Franciscans exercised a remarkable degree of control over their parishioners, literally from cradle to grave.

The third side of the triangle was the diocesan clergy, which was engaged in much the same competition as the other two sides. According to the mission ideal, priests from the mendicant orders, such as the Franciscans and Dominicans, were to establish missions among the heathen to whom they would teach the fundamentals of Christian doctrine. Evangelization, the saving of souls, was the goal the missionaries pursued, but Christianization remained an elusive goal in much of the Southwest. Theoretically, the friars were to give way to diocesan priests after sufficient time, perhaps a decade, had passed and the Indians had become adequately instructed in the mysteries of the faith. Language difficulties, impossibly small numbers of priests, and resistant indigenous cultures made this transition challenging. Then too, the Franciscans made a special pleading to remain in their missions to minister to their charges. By early in the seventeenth century, the see at Durango was calling for the secularization of the missions of the north and the replacement of the friars with diocesan priests. Beginning in the 1730s, and again with more vigor at the end of the century, the bishopric of Durango acted to place diocesan clergy in the far north, in New Mexico and other locations in the region. At the very least, the bishop posted a priest to act as his representative in the capacity of vicar and ecclesiastical judge in strategic locations. And as the fortunes of this three-sided war dictated, the diocesan clergy occasionally had to make common cause with a foe, such as the Franciscan fray Luis Salgado, when the actions of a Bourbon officer created a church versus state conflict at the San Carlos presidio.



[1] The case file is found in Antonio García de Tejada v. fray Luis Salgado, San Jerónimo, 1803, Archivos Históricos del Arzobispado de Durango (AHAD), 209, f. 443-72.

[2] Rick Hendricks, "The Exile and Return of Fray Isidro Cadelo, 1793-1810," New Mexico Historical Review 70:2 (April 1995): 129-57.

[3] Fray Luis Salgado, Petition, Chihuahua, 23 July 1806, Archivo General de la Nación, Provincias Internas, 21.

[4] Fray Luis Salgado, Petition, Chihuahua, 13 June 1808, Archivo General de la Nación, Provincias Internas, 21.