Though not the first regional history of Spanish-Indian hostility on New Spain’s northern frontier, La frontera con los indios de Nueva Vizcaya en el siglo xvii stands alone as an original examination of seventeenth-century Nueva Vizcaya. It is not a conventional treatment of the gap between two divergent cultures. It is too exemplary of the critical scholarship currently being developed by Mexican scholars for that: Guillermo Porras Muñoz gives almost as much space to the Spanish military mission in the Mexican north, for example, as to the missionary orders’ noble experiment, without harping on the unreal romanticism of Spanish expansion northward. Nor is this book a sweeping chronicle of flaming battles among Indians, Spaniards, and assorted allies. La frontera is detailed narration and thought-provoking explanations of policies that governed relations between Spaniards and Indians; and if these explanations have any interpretative connection, it is that each complex of events is interrelated.
The author discusses five major areas: the northern frontier, in terms of geographic and demographic expansion; the socioeconomic setting; conquest society, including religious and military figures, stockmen, merchants, farmers, miners, and governmental administrators who represented the imperial aims of Spain; Indian society, including the Acaxees, Xiximes, Tepehuanes, Tobosos, Conchos, Salineros, and Tarahumaras; and the Spanish practice of war and diplomacy. Each area is treated as a sequel to the Chichimeca war and peace, or notable events and characteristics of later frontier expansion. In short, the story of fighting and peacemaking in the province of Nueva Vizcaya was a constant repetition of Indian hostility, punitive campaign, appeasement, and strident complaints of missionaries and others who thought military officials were much too lenient with indios enemigos.
Porras has a simple thesis: before creation of the Provincias Internas, the crown witnessed resistance that seriously drained the frontier economy. Despite a lack of resources, however, Spain rarely retreated in the face of Indian opposition. Porras elaborates and documents in a thoughtful manner the mechanism of Spanish bureaucracy and its effects on native people. For example, his discussion of tribal responses to increased governmental pressure and their resort to rebellion is a good one. The topic is complex, but his understanding of the Spaniards’ long-term organizational superstructure provides great insight into Hispanic perseverance.
The book has its shortcomings. One is the author’s failure to integrate adequately the social, political, and economic subordination of Indians into the broader conception of Nueva Vizcaya’s marketplace. Although Porras masterfully discusses the important elements that contributed to subordination of Indian society—mining, ranching, and defense spending—he fails to offer an integrated view of how these processes were organically interrelated. Here, a sustained analysis of social transformation on the frontier would have been helpful. Another problem area is the author’s tendency to present a wealth of new historical information drawn from primary sources rather than using that information to build a framework of both covert and overt resistance. In a sense, the documentation speaks for itself, but insightful analysis, especially by way of a stronger conclusion, would have made a more powerful book. Whatever criticisms one may have are merely exceptions, for this study is an excellent presentation of war and peacemaking in the Mexican north.