Biography of Don Pedro de Peralta

Don Pedro de Peralta was the third governor of New Mexico.

Third Spanish Governor 1610-1614

By Grace Meredith
Field Worker

Edited by:
Carlotta Warfield
Ina Sizer Cassidy

WPA Biography Project

Don Pedro de Peralta was the third governor of New Mexico. Information concerning his parentage, dates of his birth and death, and. whether or not he was married, do not seem to be now available; nothing of importance, in fact, concerning the man himself, save that which here­after follows. His appointment as Adelantado in 1609, however, marked a unique step in the development and fate of New Mexico.

At this time, Don Luís de Velasco, who had been so kindly disposed toward the first and second governors of the province, was again viceroy in Mexico City. He had informed the King of Spain that a governor with a suitable salary would have to be provided for New Mexico, and he went on to add that he was diligently searching for a capable man.

By early March of 1609 he had chosen Don Pedro de Peralta and issued instructions to Peralta to leave Mexico City in the shortest time possible and not to delay his march enroute, as it was considered momentous importance that he reach New Mexico quickly. By the end of the same month, formal in­structions were given him. The viceroy particularly impressed him with the urgent necessity of favoring in every way he could the conversion of the Indians, and of avoiding expeditions against those who had not yet been pacified nor converted. Peralta was informed. that only the friars were to be permitted to visit such tribes; and, furthermore, he was urged to establish a new capital speedily (as had been previously discussed and advocated by Velasco), so that all the colonists in New Mexico might live in greater security and confidence, and the province be placed on a sounder basis economically.

However once arrived in the new land, Don Pedro was personally to acquaint himself, as soon as humanly possible with conditions there and according to Dr. Hammond in Don Juan de Oñate the Founding of New Mexico, as well as earlier historians, “before everything else carry out the founding and establishing of the villa contemplated.” (Instruccion a Don Pedro de Peralta, governador y capitan-general de la Nueva Mexico en lugar de Don Juan de Oñate, March 30th, 1609—Instructions to Don Pedro de Peralta, governor and captain-general of New Mexico in place of Don Juan de Oñate, March 30th, 1609.)

The date when Don Pedro left Mexico City is not now available, but he had left there, though the place he had reached is not named, when in September 1609, the viceroy again instructed him to proceed with his journey to New Mexico.

Peralta was to have a salary of two thousand pesos. Sixteen soldiers were to accompany him, and these were paid four hundred and fifty pesos each. Some of these men had been in New Mexico before; indeed on of the reasons that Peralta received additional advices and instructions to proceed, was due to the report brought to the viceroy from New Mexico by Fray Josepe Tavera and Ensign Juan de la Torre.

It was not until after Peralta became governor of New Mexico that the villa of Santa Fe was permanently established. The new governor's in­structions had been so very definite that it is probable that this trans­fer was actually accomplished soon after his arrival in the spring of the year, 1610. It is probable that he founded La Villa Real de Santa Fe de San Francisco de Assisi, (The Royal City of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi) in the summer of 1610.

The date of the founding of Santa Fe has long been the subject of controversy among historians. It is related by many historians that Don Juan de Oñate moved from San Gabriel to the site of the present city of Santa Fe, pitching camp on what is now the present plaza. It is doubtful that he attempted to establish a town at this time. This transfer from San Gabriel to Santa Fe may have been in 1609.

Peralta, when he established himself on the same site, did so with the definite objective of establishing a new capital. As stated above, Peralta presumably founded the city in 1610, although this date is still very much open to question.

Peralta was apprised that a plaza was to be selected where public buildings were to be erected, and very detailed and specific orders regarding the organization of the new city were outlined to him. The governor was to permit the inhabitants to select four regidores (magistrates), and they in turn were annually to choose two alcaldes_ordinarios (judges or justices with lesser authority than the Alcalde Mayor). Moderation was urged in collecting tribute; and serious, strenuous efforts were to be made to teach the Indians the Spanish language, in order to overcome the grave handicap of the many native tongues. At this time, incidentally, Padre Alonso Feinado was comisario or custodio in the Franciscan order (guard or keeper) and it is related that over eight thousand natives had been converted to the Holy Catholic Faith.

Before Peralta’s appointment as governor, it is likewise interesting to note that the abandonment of New Mexico had frequently been discussed. The copst of supporting the isolated communities was enormous. During Don Juan de Oñate’s period, the two viceroys, Monterey and later Montesclaross, had been unsympathetic toward the colony, and it was due mainly to the different influence of Luis de Velasco who returned as viceroy for a second term, that matters concerning New Mexico took a better turn. The King had left the problem of determining the fate of this province entirely in the hands of the viceroy for solving. Velasco's good attempts to strengthen the settlements by sending soldiers and some supplies with the new governor (Peralta) were approved by the Council of the Indies in September, 1609, and. Orders were likewise issued at about the same time for a continuation of exploration northward from New Mexico with it as a base. The Spanish population during this trying period was somewhere between one and. two thousand, so that it may readily be seen that there were no large and prosperous communities.

Perhaps the worthy Velasco remembered Don Juan de Oñate's laborious and persistent efforts and his huge expenditures of money, as well as that of his friends, and perhaps the viceroy thought of the protection New Mexico afforded against Indian raids for the mining states farther south, in what is now the north central part of Mexico. At any rate, Velasco was insistent that New Mexico be retained, and thus its future was more or less guaranteed at this time by the appointment of Don Pedro de Peralta as governor.

Alrnost from his very arrival serious difficulties arose, and the nature may well be traced to what might be termed four different factions: first, the missionaries; second, the secular ruling class, which of course, included the governor and soldiers, etc.; third, the civilians, meaning the colonists themselves; and lastly, the natives. It seems that all the varied emotions known to humanity ran through these different groups. Courage and cowardice walked side by side. High spirituality an d moral baseness were neighbors. Petty as well as atrocious oppression stalked unselfish service and devotion. Looking back more than three hundred years, though would be dull indeed did it not picture drama, and. sometimes melodrama! The whole period was rich in romance and. blithe with adventure, and yet more dominant than these was the strident, tragic note of inharmony. Rivalry, contention, and dissension among the Spaniards themselves!

Commenting upon this, Bandelier in his Final Report says: “Dissentions between the clergy and. the governors of New Mexico began at an early day, and very soon after the installation of Pedro de Peralta as successor to Juan de Oñate …” and he then adds this further note: “The violence of the strife was such that the custodians, Fray Bernardino de Aguirre and chiefly Fray Cristobal de Quiros, were so jealous of every, perogative of their Order, that the King had to interfere.”

Such was the state of affairs during Peralta’s term, and. Sometime in the autumn of 1612, came an unusually dramatic and terrifying event.

With the caravan from Mexico a Franciscian named Ordonez returned to Santa Fe, and almost immediately upon arrival he claimd to represent the Inquisition (tribunal for examination and punishment of heretics). It was perhaps only natural for Governor Peralta to request that the Franciscan show his credentials, but the friar very flatly refused. The governor then interfered, with the activities of Ordonez, . end very shortly afterwards Don Pedro was excommunicated!

Standing upon his own authority as Adelantado of New Mexico, Peralta was impenitent and unyielding: and so, with the aid of some of the soldiers and colonists antagonistic to the governor, he was forthwith arrested and. sent to Sandia Pueblo for fear other citizens and soldiers in sympathy with him would attempt to release him.

Ordonez then spoke from the pulpit of the church in Santa Fe. With a crucifix in his hands, and in a strident voice, he placed the whole community under a prohibitive order, and proclaimed that he hoped to be rewarded, to be made a bishop, for imprisoning the governor.

Peralta's imprisonment lasted almost a year, but for a few days he did escape and. was able to return to Santa Fe. In some manner, during this time, he managed to dispatch a message to mexico City, which in due time resulted in his release.

Quoting from Bloom and Donnelly in NEW MEXICO HISTORY AND CIVICS: “Escaping from his prison in the dead. of winter (December 1612) the said governor and captain‑general went on foot and half naked, covered with buffalo‑hide like an Indian, to a ranch about five miles from the said pueblo. His jailer, who was the Padre Pray Estevan de Perea, learned that he was there and went with a great number of Indians armed with bows and arrows and surrounded the ranch; and although they did not find him then, they (the religious) seized him again in this villa and again carried him off to prison at Sandia with irons (on his legs), seated on a beast like a woman.”

It is strange that, regarding this unusual affair no statement from the Franciscans is available. Certain other records show however, that investigations later in Mexico City exonerated Peralta; Ordonez was disciplined by his Order, not ofr treatment of the governor, but because he had claimed to represent the Inquisition!

The marked antagonism of Church and State revealed here, involves almost every governor who followed Don Pedro de Peralta. In 1613, another governor for New Mexico was appointed, and it is reasonable to assume that Peralta returned to Mexico when the new Adelantado arrived in 1614.


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Don Pedro de Peralta; Colonial New Mexico; Spanish Governors; WPA Biography Project