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Juan Manso de Contreras

Captain Don Juan Manso de Contreras was the seventeenth governor of New Mexico. It is assumed that he came from Mexico City to Santa Fe with the caravan of the Mission Supply Service of 1656.


Captain Don Juan Manso de Contreras

By Grace Meredith

Seventeenth Governor of New Mexico


WPA Biography Project

Captain Don Juan Manso de Contreras was the seventeenth governor of New Mexico. It is assumed that he came from Mexico City to Santa Fe with the caravan of the Mission Supply Service of 1656.

Although Bishop Manso was still procurator‑general during this time, that is up to 1657, it is likely that this caravan was in charge of his agent and that he did not make this journey himself. Bishop Manso was succeeded as procurator‑general of the custodia by Fray Juan Ramirez—though this Franciscan is not to be confused with Padre Juan Ramirez who converted Acoma in 1629 and labored there for over twenty years.

Writing of this important change, Mr. Scholes is quoted as follows:

"Ramirez was the son of a Tasco miner. After receiving an elementary education in Tasco and in Mexico City, he entered the Jesuit college of San Pedro y San Pablo. At the age of sixteen he took the habit of a Franciscan entering the Convento of San Francisco in Mexico City. He took the course in Arts at Toluca and studied theology in Mexico City and Puebla. After his ordination he had a rather wide experience in the service of the church and of his Order, being assigned posts of various kinds in the Conventos of Cuernavaca, Xochimilco, San Juan Temematla, Toluca, etc. In 1653 he became vicar-general of the provincial of the Franciscan Province of Santo Evangelio and of the commissary‑general of the Franciscans of New Spain, and then, about two years later, he was appointed comisario de corte and procurator‑general of all the Franciscan provinces of New Spain by the viceroy, the Duke of Albuquerque.

"Ramirez' appointment as procurator‑general of the Custodia of New Mexico to succeed Bishop Manso was made by the joint nomination of the commissary‑general of the Franciscans on March 12, 1656, and of the provincial of the Province of Santo Evangelio on March 21, 1656. On the sixth of the following May the viceroy accepted these nominations and directed the treasury officials to recognize Ramirez as the new procurator‑general and to negotiate with him for the next dispatch of the supply trains on exactly the same basis that had been customary during the quarter‑century of Bishop Manso's administration. It was not until after the caravan returned from New Mexico in. the spring of 1657, however, that Ramirez actually took over control of the wagons. The treasury officials tried to alter the terms of the original contract by requiring Ramirez to give bond, where Bishop Manso have never been obliged to do so. Ramirez appealed to the viceroy who ordered the officials to come to an agreement with the new procurator‑general without altering the old contract in any sense. This point is worthy of emphasis because the apparent mismanagement of the service by Ramirez later caused the treasury officials some embarrassment. The wagons, mules, end miscellaneous equipment were finally turned over to Ramirez and four of his agents by the dueno of the caravan, the agent of Bishop Manso, on May 29, 1657. During the next year and a half Ramirez made the necessary preparations for the caravan for the triennium., August 3, 1857, to August 2, 1660. The preparations for this triennium took on a special significance. It seems apparent that during that part of the preceding quarter‑century at least, the number of friars serving in the New Mexican missions had not been kept up to the full quota of sixty‑six as fixed by the contract of 1631. For the triennium, 1654‑1657, there had been only forty‑six friars in the field. It was necessary, therefore, to send out twenty more friars to bring the quota up to its full complement of workers.

It was also represented to the viceroy that a special need had developed in order to push forward the work among the Manso and Suma tribes. For this new mission field four more friars were requested … .

"In a decree of December 24, 1657, the viceroy finally authorized the sending out of four friars for the Manso and Suma missions, in addition to the twenty that were needed in order to bring the quota up to sixty‑six …

"The friars were aided by the new governor, Don Juan Mansso, who took a great interest in the work, and who, together with Fray Perez, personally solicited alms in the New Mexican province for the new mission; but, as Fray Perez remarked, 'the people being poor, it was little that I collected."'

Information concerning the activities of Mansso de Contreras strikes a strange note. It seems that even after his successor as governor arrived and had assumed the office, that Mansso retained in New Mexico, in the capacity of alguacil mayor of the Inquisition.

Priestley writes of him as follows:

"Manso, it seems, had had a liaison with a married woman and had induced Father Sanchristian to conceal his crime. Then the conscience‑smitten ex‑governor became the prey of fears and bad dreams, the friar gave him a morsel of the Holy Sacrament to wear as a talisman about his neck. Just at the time Mendizabal (the next governor) first reached New Mexico, Friar Sanchristian, rendered insane by fear and remorse, hanged himself in the convent at Jemes with the cord of his habit. It would seem that to some of these remote adventurers the small voice of conscience was still articulate, though most of those who were brought to testify before the Inquisition maintained a sang froid which betokened a waning of the Power of the Holy Office to terrorize."

There was also the important matter of the residencia, and it seems, that Manso de Contreras in this matter was dealt with undue severity.

Sometime in 1660, he fled from New Mexico to lay before the viceroy and the audencia very serious charges against his successor, Mendizabal. It is stated that the viceroy issued certain orders which Mansso do Contreras was to take with him upon his return to New Mexico, and fearing that Mendizabal might not execute them, the cabildo (town council) of Santa Fe as instructed to do so.

The matter of Mansso's return to New, Mexico, when he no longer was governor, was due to the fact that he had anticipated a change in the Mission Supply Service, and had made a formal bid for a contract for the transportation of supplies from Mexico City to New Mexico.

After a good deal of controversy and delay, a decision on this matter was finally made.

Fray Ramirez having made his accounting to the treasury, and accounting which was most satisfactory, gave up his post on August 31st, 1664, and by the end of September final details of the Mansso contract were finally worked out. The complete contract with Mansso may be found in the Historical Review for October 1930. The most important change in the administration was the abdication of authority over the wagons by the Franciscans; the procurator-general of the custodia was to have power only to oversee the selection arid purchase of supplies. This change was made at the instance of the Franciscans themselves and censure for any of the difficulties which arose later, should be placed on their shoulders.

Mansso de Contreras was the brother of Bishop Manso and he had made several trips to New Mexico in his brother's service before he himself had been appointed governor. At the end of his term, as stated before, he had remained in New Mexico a time in the service of the Inquisition. Upon his return to Mexico City in 1663 he had made his first bid for the administration and transportation of the Mission Supply Service. The first caravan dispatched under him left Mexico in the autumn of 1664. It should be stated that from the very beginning, the friars were dissatisfied with his service.

By the time the caravan reached New Mexico soil in the summer of 1665, dissatisfaction was so widespread among the Franciscans that the governing council of the friars in the custodia, sent a severe complaint to Mexico City when the caravan returned there that autumn. They accused Mansso of using the caravan for his own profit and of making transportation of the mission supplies secondary.

Mr. Scholes states:

"The caravan had consisted of two sections during part of the journey. The first contained sixteen wagons loaded far above the limit of 160 arrobas", (arroba is twenty‑five pounds weight), "which were used for the transportation of Mission Supplies. The second section, also containing sixteen wagons, was used for the transportation of passengers and commercial freight, and left Mexico City several days after the first section. Meeting at San Juan del Rio, the two sections went on to Zacatecas, where the caravan was delayed by the delivery of freight and the loading of iron for the miners of Parral. Another delay was occurred in waiting for Mansso, who had not accompanied the wagons when the left Mexico City. At Parral the freight was delivered, and more taken on for delivery in New Mexico. Sixteen days were consumed in unloading and loading the wagons. Then about ninety leagues beyond Parral, the caravan was reloaded in order to free ten wagons to be sent to a salt field and loaded with salt for the Parral mines. Finally, with twenty‑two wagons, the caravan arrived at the Rio Grande in May 1665, in time for the spring floods. It was not until August that the caravan reached the Pueblo of San Felipe, and then with only fourteen wagons for the account of the friars."

Both Bishop Manso and Fray Ramirez had delivered the supplies to the pueblos and conventos where they belonged, but Mansso de Contreras unloaded them at San Felipe and left it to the individual friars to come for their missions, apportion the supplies, and get them to their destinations as best they could!

Of course, the friars bitterly complained. Mansso merely stated that his contract only required delivery of supplies at San Felipe.

Mansso's contract required that he provide wagons for the return of supplies sent to friars who had died during the preceding period; it also required transportation for other ecclesiastical effects and ornaments for the friars who were leaving New Mexico. It is definitely stated that Mansso did not make the proper provision. It is also a fact that most of the wagons were used to freight salt to Parral to the mines there, for Mansso's personal account. In view of these deficiencies, cancellation of the contract was requested. The definitorio, requesting this cancellation, cited for example the Jesuits in Sonora who managed without a regular caravan service— Could the Franciscans in New Mexico not do the same? "Let the Treasury pay the alms and permit the friars to assume all responsibility for the transportation of supplies to New Mexico!" So it would appear that the Franciscans regretted the change and again desired to have the authority over the caravans in the hands of their Order.

The Franciscans started some sort of litigation against Mansso but this was adjusted sometime during 1671. Sometime later, Mansso was deprived of the responsibility and the authority for transportation of supplies. Definite decision as to whether his contract should be made null and void at once was not reached. Discussion concerning validity of his contract was going on, when in the summer of 1673, the term of it lapsed and Manaso's widow, (Mansso having died in the preceding period), asked for a definite and final settlement of accounts.

In December 1673, the new viceroy, Archbishop Payo de Rivera, ordered a review of all the autos and decrees— and on January 17th, 1674, they were thoroughly discussed in a Junta. Eventually, the viceroy ordered that the wagons be sold, Mansso's accounts be adjusted and any balance paid to his widow. This decision was confirmed by the King of Spain on September 21st, 1674.


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

New Mexico Historical Review for April 1930.

New Mexico Historical Review for October 1930.

Acoma, the Sky City by Mrs. W. T. Sedgwick, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1926.

The Coming of the White Man, by Herbert Ingram Priestley, MacMillan Company, New York, 1929.

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