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Manuel Portillo Urrisola

Governor Manuel Portillo Urrisola, 1760-1762
by RickHendricks, Ph.D.

Manuel Portillo Urrisola was a native of Valencia, Spain.[1] He entered the royal service in 1717 army and continued as a soldier and cadet in the Dragoons of Belgium until 20 January 1735. During that time he participated in the Navarra and Catalonia campaigns in 1719. The following year he formed part of the expedition to Ceuta. In 1732, Portillo took part in the capture of Orán, whence he went from garrison duty to the plaza of Ceuta. There he remained thirty-three months with his regiment. Portillo retired with the permission of José de Flodorp, colonel of the regiment, on 20 January 1735.

After traveling to New Spain, Francisco de Aísa, the Marqués del Castillo de Aísa, governor and captain general of Nueva Vizcaya, former president of the Audiencia of Guadalajara, named Portillo corregidor of the pueblos of Colimilla and Matatán on 4 September 1738 for one year. Colimilla and Matatán were located in the southwestern  part of the jurisdiction of Tecpatialán, which was just east of Guadalajara.[2] He was so punctual and efficient in the collection of royal revenues that on 8 October 1739 he was extended in office for another year.[3] When that second year was up, Portillo continued until 25 May 1741. At the conclusion of his residencia, the Audiencia of Guadalajara pronounced him a loyal and able official on 29 August 1741.

The Marqués de Castillo de Aísa named Portillo alcalde mayor of the villa of Santa María de los Lagos and Pueblos Llanos in Nueva Galicia on 4 September 1741 for the period of one year. He was also alcalde of the Santa Hermandad, the rural constabulary, for the villa of Santa María de los Lagos and its jurisdiction.[4] In the jurisdiction of Santa María de los Lagos were many haciendas where livestock was raised. Because of the considerable distance from there to Guadalajara, many stock owners did not obtain the appropriate licenses for brands or for butchering.[5] The same was true for wool producers and people curing hides. The effect of avoiding licenses was a loss of revenue for the crown. On 14 September 1741, Portillo received a commission to see to it that the royal treasury was not defrauded of license fees.

Portillo made a significant contribution to the construction of a new church in Santa María de los Lagos. The Bishop of Nueva Vizcaya praised his efforts in a letter of 7 November 1741.

When the president of the Audiencia of Guadalajara issued an order to ready horses to be sent to Veracruz, Portillo gathered 238 horses from his and other jurisdictions and  dispatched them to their destination. The president thanked Portillo for his efforts in the name of the king on 10 January 1742. Subsequently he prepared a hundred lances for the Valle de Banderas. Portillo's term was extended on 4 November 1742.

After that term concluded on 4 December 1743, Portillo underwent his residencia. He became an alcalde ordinario in 1746.[6] Again the Audiencia of Guadalajara found him to have been an upright official and approved his conduct in office on 17 August 1746.[7]

Fray Francisco de la Resurección, president of the Bethlehemite Hospital of Guadalajara, certified Portillo's charity to the poor, noting on 6 June 1749 that during the general epidemic of Matlazahuatl back in 1738, he had spent an entire year caring for the ill day and night. In November 1754 he was residing in Guadalajara.

Portillo received the title of corregidor of Nochixtlán and Peñoles in New Spain in 1757.[8] On 2 August he was granted permission to sail for the Indies with one servant and his personal belongings. The servant who accompanied him was a twenty-three-year-old native of Barcelona, Ramón Berges Grau, son of Juan Berges and Ines Grau. Nochixtlán is located in north central Oaxaca, referred to in the Mixtec language as Ñuñuma, the cloud country.[9]At some point after 1743 the jurisdiction of Iscuintepec Peñoles was annexed to Nochixtlán, which doubled its size.[10] During the period Portillo served there Nochixtlán and Peñoles had very few non-Indian inhabitants.

Portillo arrived in New Mexico to take up the post of interim governor to replace Governor Francisco Antonio Marín del Valle in 1760. One of his first acts may have been to direct Manuel Antonio San Juan, captain of the El Paso presidio, to carry out appropriate ceremonies to acknowledge the death of the queen of Spain, María Amelia de Sajonia.[11] Services were held at Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe mission on 14 October.

 In December 1761a band of Comanches led by Onacama came to Taos to negotiate with the governor about Spanish captives from the August 1760 Villalpando raid. Portillo met with the Comanche captains who offered to return seven Spanish captives, three women and four boys, in exchange for the resumption of trade with the Spaniards. In response, Portillo demanded the return of all captives from the Villalpando raid. A nine-year-old boy refused to leave his captors. When Comanche chiefs refused the governor's offer, Portillo siezed the boy had all the Comanche negotiators taken prisoner.[12]

Governor Portillo’s subsequent report claimed a glorious victory, but his actions seemed treacherous. Portillo left ten Comanche captains under guard and directed Lieutenant Tomás Madrid and his troops surround the Comanche encampment of sixty-eight tipis. The following morning a Comanche emissary appeared carrying a cross and a white banner apparently seeking peace. He asked for the return of the captains and for trade to resume. By this time the ten Comanche captains could not be returned unharmed; one had been killed, and most of the rest were wounded. Rather than provide this information to the main body of Comanches, Portillo demanded that they Comanches hand over their horses and remain on foot until the fair concluded and a peace agreement was reached. Then the governor would return their horses so that the Comanches could leave. The Comanches refused and Portillo turned cannon and musket fire on them. Approximately four hundred Comanches, including women and children, were slaughtered. The Spaniard's Ute allies carried off more than a thousand horses and three Comanche women. In the aftermath of the massacre, the thirty-six Comanche survivors burned their possessions, killed their remaining horses, cut their ears, and fled.[13] With them went any immediate hope for peace.

Portillo left written advice for his successor, Tomás Vélez Cachupín, who replaced him in February 1762, that during trade fairs no horse, mule, or firearm should be traded to "barbarous Indians."[14] Given Governor Vélez Cachupín's subsequent successful peace negotiations with the Comanches, it seems unlikely that he paid much attention to Portillo's admonitions.


[1] Manuel Portillo Urrisola, Service record, Madrid, 29 November 1754, AGI, Indiferente, 154.

[2] Peter Gerhard, The North Frontier of New Spain, rev. ed. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993), 135.

[3] Portillo Urrisola, Service record.

[4] Celina G. Becerra Jiménez, Gobierno, justicia e instituciones en la Nueva Galicia: la alcaldía mayor de Santa María de los Lagos, 1563-1750 (Guadalajara: Universidad de Guadalajara, 2008), 232.

[5] Portillo Urrisola, Service record.

[6] Becerra Jiménez, Gobierno, justicia e instituciones en la Nueva Galicia, 343.

[7] Portillo Urrisola, Service record.

[8] José de Goyeneche to the President and Advisors of the Tribunal of the Casa de Contratación, Sailing permission, Madrid, 2 August 1757, AGI Contratación, 5500, No. 3 R.  32.

[9] Peter Gerhard, A Guide to the Historical Geography of New Spain, rev. ed. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993), 199.

[10] Ibid., 201.

[11] Manuel Antonio San Juan, Proceedings, El Paso, 12-15 September 1760, Ciudad Juárez Municipal Archives, r. 6, bk. 1, 1761, f. 34-56.

[12] Manuel Portillo Urrisola to Bishop Pedro Tamarón, Santa Fe, 24 February 1762, translated  in, Eleanor B. Adams, Bishop Tamarón's Visitation of New Mexico, 1760 (Albuquerque: Historical Society of New Mexico Publications in History, 1954),  58-62cited in Malcolm Ebright and Rick Hendricks, The Witches of Abiquiu: The Governor, the Priest, the Genízaro Indians, and the Devil (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006), 81-82

[13] Pekka Hämäläinen, The Comanche Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 52.

[14] Manuel Portillo Urrisola, Instructions to his successor, N.P, N.D, AGN, Provincias Internas, 102, exp. 10, f. 321r-26v, cited in Martín González de la Vera, "¿Amigos, Enemigos o Socios?: Comercio con los 'Indios Bárbaros' en Nuevo México, Siglo  XVIII," Relaciones, Vol. 23, Núm. 92 (Otoño 1992): 123; and Ebright and Hendricks, Witches of Abiquiu, 83.