Fray Juan Larios was a Franciscan who was commissioned, in response to the request of a group of natives, to undertake the spiritual conquest of Coahuila. This area, to the north of Nueva Vizcaya, had been occupied as early as the 1570s. It was to this frontier land that Viceroy Velasco transplanted loyal Tlascalans as part of a general pacification policy. Unfortunately, the Tlascalans were either killed or else threw in their lot with the wild Chichimecs. Throughout the next century the area was slowly penetrated by miners and a few settlers, but even in the 1660s the land still belonged, in the main, to a large, untamed population, or so the author implies. If this is the case, whence came all the entrenched encomiendas against which Larios so persuasively campaigned? There was probably some assimilation, but the author gives no evidence of it.
Fray Larios was one of those diligent, enterprising clerics who were more common (at least as far as historians have discovered) in the conquest period. But his time and place did not have that heroic element. He suffers from that simplification which describes the seventeenth century as one of stagnation, loss of zeal, and incipient corruption in regard to missionary endeavors. This book might have begun scholarly pursuits about the activities of Franciscans in the north, culminating in the reduction of Texas. But, alas, it does not.
This small book is an uncritical biography of a frontier missionary. Its major weakness is that it suffers from a general looseness. In so short a work, dealing with a rather unfamiliar figure, it would be desirable to omit some of the less pertinent elements. For example, the long preface describing the province of Jalisco (Larios’ birthplace) from the earliest days of the conquest to the day of his birth could well have been cut down to a few paragraphs.
An ancillary feature of the book that encroaches on the narrative is the bibliographical struggle between the early chroniclers and modern historians. A short chapter on the discrepancies would have sufficed, but the author obstructs his narration by periodic “corrections” of the colonial histories. A few of these points are sufficiently negligible to be omitted entirely.
Throughout the book there is a warmth and sense of participation, characteristic of many Hispanic writers, and a refreshing change from the works of many historical “technicians.” One finds himself moving through the vignettes of this pious friar’s life with a sense of enthusiasm. Perhaps this is, after all, what the author wished to achieve.
The paleographical work is very good. There is no bibliography.