More to Explore

Mulatos of Cochiti

The Mulatos of Cochiti

By Robert D. Martínez

On 21 March 1777 at the Pueblo church of San Buenaventura at Cochiti in the Province of Nuevo México, a baby boy was baptized by the parish priest. The child was named Julián Ramón Salas and was the son of Alonso Salas and Juana María Gómez Páez. The parents were residents of La Cañada de Cochití, a village of Hispanos in the area since the 1720s. What stands out in the record is the priest noting that the couple and the child were “de calidad mulatos,” that is mulatos, of that status or quality. The term mulato referred to a person who was of mixed blood ancestry, and who clearly had, or was known to have, a certain degree of African blood. It was a loaded statement indeed, given the race sensitivity in Spanish Colonial societies at that time. Also, as will be shown, the whole community, which was initially and primarily perceived as vecinos, implying more or less Spanish and not Indian, became mulato. The priest’s name was fray Estanislado Mariano de Marulanda, a native of Ozumba in the Valley of Mexico. What happened at Cochiti Pueblo in the 1770s that would turn a community of Hispano vecinos into mulatos?

Fray Estanislado Mariano de Marulanda

Estanislado Mariano de Marulanda y Ramírez was from Ozumba in the district of Mexico City, where he was born about 1734 to José Antonio Marulanda and Estefanía Ramírez. Estanislado was a criollo, a Spaniard born in the Indies to Spanish parents. The earliest surviving sacramental records for Spaniards living in Ozumba begin in 1735, so a baptismal record for Estanislado has yet to surface, but there are records for his siblings and cousins. Apparently, the Ramírez family had a tradition of producing priests, for one of Estanislado’s first cousins was the renowned priest, scientist, historian, and writer José Antonio de Alzate y Ramírez. Estanislado and Jose Antonio’s mothers were sisters.

Growing up in the areas surrounding Mexico City would have exposed Marulanda to the Spanish colonial casta or caste system with all its subtle variants. The caste system of New Spain in the eighteenth century was a system of documenting, cataloguing, and managing the diverse peoples and the different levels of Spanish Colonial society throughout Spain’s vast world empire. Extant records indicate that fray Estanislado was capable of discerning the different levels of the casta system at large, as well as the simplified local variant applied in New Mexico where the term "Vecino" was used almost interchangeably with español, such that vecinos were at the top of the social order. It did not necessarily mean an individual with that designation was from Spain, nor did it mean an absolute absence of Indian or African blood. Still, in 1777, an abrupt change occured in fray Estanislado’s way of classifying the Hispano vecinos of La Cañada de Cochití.

In 1759 fray Estanislado made his way north along the Camino Real to take his assignment as a missionary priest in New Mexico. He had a varied career in New Mexico, as many Franciscan priests did. Fray Estanislado had assignments at Zuñi, Laguna, Picuris, Pecos, Zia, Santa Ana, and Isleta before arriving at Cochiti Pueblo 22 May 1776. Seventeen years of missionary work among the Pueblos and vecinos of New Mexico would certainly have given the friar an education in the local society, in the ethnic backgrounds of his diverse flock, and in which families belonged to what caste designation. His tenure as a missionary would probably have been fairly unremarkable save for the fact that, in 1777 his entries for sacraments at Cochiti, abruptly begin to refer to the members of the local Hispano population as mulatos or de calidad mulato. A careful analysis of the written record bears this out.

His career in New Mexico as a Franciscan missionary priest was described this way in 1776.

Father Fray Estanisla[d]o Mariano Marulanda exercises the apostolic misión in this mission [of Cochiti]. He is a native of Ozumba, forty three years of age, twenty six in profession, eighteen years as a missionary in the Custody, as follows: Pecos, one year; Zuñi, two years; Picuris, three years; Zia, seven years; Isleta, two years; Cochiti, where he is living, three years.[1]

From this description it can be deduced Marulanda was born around 1733 at Ozumba in the Valley of Mexico. He professed in 1750 at age seventeen, and arrived in New Mexico circa 1758.

On 10 January 1777, Marulanda marked an entry in the baptismal book at Cochiti for José Antonio, vecino, son of Gregorio Apodaca and Diega Montaño. The child was then given the casta description “de calidad mulato.” The parents were residents of La Cañada de Cochití. Marulanda's first entry at Cochiti was five years earlier, in 1772, when he baptized Antonia Rosa, vecina, legitimate daughter of Juan Antonio Luján and Rosa Montoya.

La Cañada de Cochití

La Cañada de Cochití was first settled in 1728, when Antonio Lucero petitioned Governor Juan Domingo de Bustamante (1723-1731) for a land grant just to the north of Cochiti Pueblo. The grant was ultimately made by Juan Antonio Cabeza de Baca, the alcalde of Cochiti.[2] Lucero was the first individual to petition government officials of New Mexico for land due north of the Pueblo of Cochiti. The Hispano community was made up largely of families who had been in New Mexico for many generations. The records for the area reveal no presence of individuals from New Spain to the south or from Spain. In 1776 fray Francisco Atanasio Domínguez described the community thus.

This mission has charge of the administration of a settlement which is located to the north in a cañada which the aforesaid hills and small mesas offer from west to east. It is 2 long leagues from the mission and is called Cañada de Cochiti. It is a settlement of ranchos throughout the canyon, with lands of good quality by nature, but since the very small river that runs through the middle of the said canyon in the same direction always fails at the best season, as a result the farming is usually in vain. This leads to scanty crops, and the people are obliged to seek grain elsewhere. The settlers are of all classes and walks of life and speak the usual Spanish. Of all those who live here today, only twenty-two families are old residents; the rest are newcomers, but they are included in the present. [3]

Domínguez noted that there were 52 families consisting of 307 persons.

This description by a Franciscan priest of the mid 1700s from New Spain gives some insight into the social and ethnic quality of the people of La Cañada de Cochití. First, Domínguez did not distinguish between Hispanic inhabitants of the community and those of other New Mexican towns. Second, he said that they spoke the “usual Spanish,” which he described in another document as “speak[ing] the Castilian language simply and naturally among themselves, with the exception of the Europeans and other people from lands educated in speaking with courtly polish.”[4] Third, he stated that all classes from all walks of life in New Mexico were represented in the town. Again, using Domínguez’s words, this meant they “pass for Spaniards.”

It is interesting to note that Domínguez did not single out La Cañada de Cochití as a community of mulatos, something he no doubt would have noticed and written down. It can be deduced that the population of La Cañada de Cochití in 1776 was a community of New Mexico Hispanos who had been in the region for at least three generations.

Salas and Gómez Páez Families

At Santa Cruz de la Cañada there is a burial record for a baby named Alonso Salas, a son born to Sebastián Higinos de Salas and Francisca de Salazar. As was the custom, if a child died, the next newborn was named after the deceased baby. In this way, another Alonso Salas was born around 1736 to Sebastián Higino de Salas and Francisca de Salazar. This Alonso grew up to marry Juana Paula María Gómez Páez. The couple was married by 1767, when a daughter, María Matiana Salas, was born at La Cañada de Cochití. It is significant to note the couple and their new daughter were classified as españoles in the record. The child’s grandfather, Sebastián Higino de Salas, was the son of a Spaniard named Sebastián de Salas, born around 1668 in Seville, Spain. Francisca de Salazar had roots in New Mexico going back to the Oñate expedition of 1598. Juana Paula María Gómez Páez had a murkier ethnic background. By all accounts, she was the daughter of Joaquín Gómez and María Rosa Páez who resided at La Cañada de Cochití by the early 1760s. In July 1763 this couple acted as padrinos for a baby boy baptized at Cochiti. They are referred to as españoles in the record. In 1764 the same couple stood as padrinos to a Salas baby, showing a compadrazgo (godparenthood)relationship between the Salas clan and the Gómez-Páez family. By 1765 Juana María, future wife of Alonso Salas, was a godmother and her father Joaquín was godfather to a baby born in the community. She and her father were recorded as españoles. All indications point to Alonso de Salas marrying Juana María Gómez Páez in about the year 1766.

On 26 February 1767, Alonso Salas and Juana Paula Gómez had a baby girl baptized at Cochiti. She was named María Matiana, and her padrinos were Toribio González and María de la Luz Gallego. The child and her parents were recorded as being españoles. A careful reading of the previous and post baptismal records shows all the families, with surnames such as Archuleta, González, Sandoval, and Padilla, being recognized as españoles in the community

By 1774 Alonso and Juana had another baby girl, María Rosa de Jesús. She was baptized on 14 March of that year, and the family was referred to in the records as vecinos. By 1777 the Salas-Gomez Páez family had become, according to baptismal records, mulatos in the local caste system. So had most of the families at La Cañada de Cochití. The Apodacas, Aragones, Barelas, Luceros, Gonzálezes, Peñas, and many more, abruptly became categorized as mulatos by their priest, fray Estanislado Mariano de Marulanda. What could cause such a demographic shift in the small Hispanic community that lie north of the pueblo?

The Blind Franciscan and the Mulatos of Cochiti

On 16 August 1777, fray Atanasio Dominguez wrote a letter to Provincial fray Isidro Murillo. In the letter he presented a list of friars who were resident in the Custody of the Conversion of Saint Paul to which New Mexico belonged. Among the friars listed is Father fray Estanislao Marulanda, described as “blind and therefore incapable of administering.”[5] Although it is tempting to put Marulanda’s dramtic shift in describing the ethnic makeup of the Hispano inhabitants of La Canada de Cochiti down to a case of vanity, even elitism taken to institutional levels, the fact that the old Franciscan friar was blind by 1776 certainly might have been a major factor contributing to his inaccurate classification of the whole society of Hispanic New Mexico. It is impossible to dismiss completely the idea that Marulanda might have had a grudge against the people of La Cañada de Cochití brought on by some feud or a conflict that might have tarnished his honor and reputation. But no document or testimony has come to light that would inform such a hypothesis.


Fray Estanislado Mariano de Marulanda died in New Mexico in 1779. A generation later, Julián Ramón Salas, described by Marulanda in his baptismal record as “de calidad mulato,” married Francisca de Jesús Padilla on 20 April 1800 at Cochiti.[6] In the record, Salas was listed as single, español, the legitimate son of Alonso Salas and Juana María Gómez, both deceased.


[1]. Fray Francisco Atanasio Domínguez, The Missions of New Mexico, 1776, trans. and eds. Eleanor B. Adams and Fray Angelico Chavez (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1975), 157.

[2]. T.M. Pearce, New Mexico Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1965), 24.

[3]. Domínguez, 159.

[4]. Ibid., 42.

[5]. Ibid., 300.

[6]. Archives of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, roll no. 27, Cochiti Marriages, frame 128.