Luis Navarro belongs to the younger generation of historians of the Seville school. This work of his constitutes one of the major efforts of recent Spanish historiography. If it were necessary for a critic to find fault with the book, he could cite no greater “weakness” than an overdose of well-documented facts throughout its five hundred pages of text.
The work is of special interest for the history of northern Mexico and the Spanish Borderlands of the United States in the eighteenth century. It is based on a meticulous use of primary sources, in particular of the Guadalajara section of the Archivo General de Indias. The period most thoroughly covered corresponds to the years 1765 to 1783. Although the book ends with the last years of the century, the story is completed up to 1821 with a 133-page article by Navarro which recently appeared in volume XXI of the Anuario de Estudios Americanos.
Geographically, the book encompasses the wide span of land from Texas to Sonora and the Californias, though perhaps Nueva Vizcaya and Sonora receive greater attention than other provinces. In such a great expanse of territory, peopled or invaded by dozens of different Indian tribes, the reader will be puzzled as much as the Spanish authorities by details of the everlasting guerrilla wars. However, although the process was long, the Spaniards’ effort was in the end relatively successful. Though Indian raids caused thousands of deaths, the Spanish force slowly increased from about one thousand to two thousand men, scattered across the continent, who gave substantial protection to a population numbering more than 200, 000 miners and cattle grazers in the Interior Provinces by the end of the period. This fundamentally defensive action was fought roughly along the present international border, though New Mexico constituted an outpost thrust deep into hostile territory.
Among the Spaniards’ foes Pimas and Seris simply could not adjust to a settled life within their native province of Sonora, and their limited field of action made them highly vulnerable to Spanish reprisals. The Apaches, on the other hand, attacked from the outside along the greatest part of the frontier and for a long time seemed impossible to restrain. However, the Spaniards were able to organizenative militia companies, such as those of the Opatas, and the Apaches found their nemesis in the ferocious Comanches, who mercilessly hammered them against the Spanish anvil. Thus, strange as it may seem at first glance, Spaniards and Comanches were natural allies. By the end of the eighteenth century, the frontier became relatively quiet through the exhaustion of the Apaches and other troublesome tribes.
The book offers much more than what the title promises. Fortunately, Gálvez is not a central figure in it, although he emerges as a visionary megalomaniac and nepotist par excellence. Even the comandancia general as an independent government was apparently made to measure for Teodoro de Croix, nephew of Gálvez’ crony, the ex-Viceroy. When after six years of mediocre rule the first comandante general was promoted to the viceroyalty of Lima by his protector, the latter soon after subordinated the comandancia general to the viceroy of Mexico, who happened to be his own nephew, Bernardo de Gálvez. From then on, the comandancia lingered on, at times divided, at times unified, but never really independent.
One hundred and thirty-three plates, mostly original maps, enhance the value of this notable publication.