A Brief History of Los Cabos, Part IV: Rebellion of the Pericúes and the Pioneer Families of Los Cabos
In the immediate aftermath of the October 1734 killing of Jesuit missionaries Lorenzo Caranco and Nicolás Tamaral—in Santiago and San José del Cabo, respectively—the southernmost missions of Baja California were in ruins.
Not only had two missions been attacked and looted, but the those led by Sigismundo Taraval in Todos Santos and William Gordon in La Paz had been abandoned due to justifiable fears of further aggressions. In fact, in the wake of the Pericú uprising, the worst fear of the Jesuits was that it would spread to other tribes throughout the peninsula.
The first act of counter-insurgency was an attempt to “wall off” the Pericúes. As Pablo L. Martinez writes in his Historia de Baja California: “The first measure taken in Loreto to combat the rebellion was that of organizing an army of Spaniards and (loyal) Indians. Among them were 50 Yaquis who were sent as an auxiliary force from the mainland. Captain Rodríguez was stationed with his troops in La Paz, where they were established on the war front in order to prevent the uprising from spreading to the northern missions.”
Although the northern Cochimís would remain loyal throughout this period, the Jesuits also began recalling several other padres to return to the central mission in Loreto, a “safety in numbers” measure that was perfectly understandable given the circumstances. They also appealed to the mainland for help in the person of Juan Antonio de Vizarrón y Eguiarreta, who was at that time Viceroy (the personal representative of the Spanish crown in New Spain).
Unfortunately, there was an ongoing feud between Vizarrón and the Jesuits. The precise reasons for this remain unclear–in the The Black Robes of Lower California, Peter Masten Dunne, S.J. writes that the enmity stemmed from an incident when “tithes had been refused this official when he demanded them according to ‘a new kind of law.’”—but in any event Vizarrón moved very slowly and, at least initially, provided little assistance in putting down the rebellion.
Vizarrón did approve a limited number of reinforcements, however, and in December of 1734, some two months after the initial attacks, a fresh group of Yaquis arrived from the mainland, as did an expert cavalry soldier named Don Francisco Cortés y Monroi.
“Made lieutenant by Captain Rodríguez,” Dunne writes, “Monroi was soon on his way with a picked company of twenty Spanish soldiers and more than a hundred Indian allies to inspect the ruined country of the former southern missions. This scouting party visited Todos Santos, Santiago, and San José del Cabo. At Todos Santos, as at the other missions, the party had found ‘destruction, ruin, and desolation. The huts were demolished, the furniture broken in a thousand pieces, and the place reduced to ashes.’ At Santiago and San José del Cabo the men tried to distinguish amidst the charred bones and ruins of the missions the relics of the murdered padres, but they were unable to do so.”
Although this reconnoitering mission did not result in any battles against the Pericúes, it was the first opportunity for Spanish forces to inspect the damages done at the southern missions, to ride the roads and assess the numerical strength and strongholds of the rebels. Three months later, in March, Monroi’s cadre would sight rebel forces, and successfully engage them. But by this time, an incident had occurred which would completely change the complexion of the rebellion, and force Viceroy Vizarrón to take more decisive action.
It was, of course, an attack against the annual Manila – Acapulco galleon.
These galleons, as has been mentioned in earlier installments of this chronicle, carried immense wealth, and were of critical interest in advancing Spanish interests around the globe. Tamaral’s assistance to the previous year’s galleon had been noted with approval by authorities in both Manila and Acapulco, and the governor of the former insisted that the San Cristóbal put into port at San Bernabé (present day San José del Cabo), which she did in January 1735.
The captain of this vessel, Don Mateo Zumalde, did not know of Tamaral’s death, of course, and thus his crew unwittingly walked into a trap. The first party put ashore was ambushed, with eight men killed. The Pericú then ran for the beach to break up the small transport boat for its iron parts, killing five more Spaniards in the ensuing melee.
Adverse winds began to blow while this engagement was taking place, and the captain was obliged to move his anchorage to the bay of Cabo San Lucas, little knowing the deception underway. Another party was put ashore in San Lucas, where they met an Indian named Gerónimo, who claimed Tamaral had sent him to meet the ship. He said the missionary was sick, but he would come on the morrow to lend support.
The captain began at this point to suspect treachery, and thus was little surprised when 600 Pericú attacked the next day, intent on killing the crew and capturing the treasure laden galleon. The attack was repulsed with minimal casualties on both sides, and four Indians, including Gerónimo, were clapped into irons after being induced to board the ship.
That the Pericú plot came so close to succeeding, and that they had killed so many Spanish crew was an outrageous affront to the king himself, Felipe V, who immediately ordered Vizarrón to assist the Jeuits in any manner possible, and to ensure the establishment of a presidio in the south for protection of the galleon trade.
Thus it was, that in February of 1736, a full 18-months after the killing of Carranco and Tamaral, the governor of Sinaloa, Manuel Bernardo de Huidobro, arrived in La Paz to lead an expeditionary force bent on ending the rebellion and permanently cowing the recalcitrant Pericúes.
Vizarrón, even while being forced to act decisively, had struck at the Jesuits by sending a commander who had little use for them. Huidobro ignored all advice from the Jesuits, who had been on the peninsula for nearly 40 years and had intimate knowledge of the native inhabitants and their psychology, and instead embarked upon a program of appeasement that did not work, and prolonged what should have been the work of two months into a campaign of nearly two years.
The antipathy of Vizarrón and Huidobro can, in retrospect, be seen as part of a rising tide of political opposition against the Jesuits; a tide that would overflow in subsequent decades and ultimately cost them their foothold on the peninsula.
Despite his feelings regarding the Jesuits, Huidobro had broken the rebellion by the end of 1737, harrying and harassing the Pericú into death or obedience. And pursuant to the king’s wishes, a presidio was established at San José del Cabo. But Vizarrón again confounded the missionaries, insisting that the presidio be independent of their control, and removing the well respected Captain Bernardo Rodríguez, and replacing him with a certain Don Pedro Álvarez de Acevedo.
“Salvatierra, decades previously, had represented the evil effects of such an organization,” Dunne writes. “He foresaw that the soldiers, far removed from any center of civilization in isolated California, left thus to themselves under the command of a man of much their own type, would perpetrate the inevitable, as the whole of Colonial Spanish history shows: they would give a bad example to the neophytes, exploit and abuse them. Under a looser discipline they would fast deteriorate and give themselves over to the indulgence of selfish desires. Here particularly…they would exploit the Indian for the benefit of their own pockets, forcing him to dive for them in the pearl beds along the inner coast. This is exactly what happened during the eighteen months of Captain Acevedo’s jurisdiction in the south.”
The Viceroy finally admitted his mistake and returned the peninsula to Jesuitical control, but in the ensuing years war and disease wasted the Pericues to such an extent that it was eventually possible to close the missions in San José del Cabo and La Paz. But the brief flourishing of militarism and adventure seeking soldiers hints at what is a historical dichotomy: namely, that the Jesuits, although the primary civilizing force in Baja California, were not the ones who drove the eventual population explosion on the peninsula, and pioneered its commercial settlement and political future.
Martínez sums up the overall relationship of the religious and military factions during the Jesuit period in Guía Familiar de Baja California, 1700 – 1900, the genealogical record of pioneer families that serves as a companion piece to his exhaustive peninsular history, Historia de Baja California:
“The conqueror of Baja California was not a military man but a priest and as such maintained the roles of abstinence due to an affective vow of chastity. Neither did the conqueror priest permit the men of arms under his command to use the Indian women to satisfy their passions contrary to the procedure of Hernan Cortés and other conquerors. A soldier who arrived a bachelor in Baja California was sent immediately to Sonora or Sinaloa to look for a Criolla wife in the mission centers of those regions; so that no man in military service stayed unmarried very long.”
It was the soldiers and their wives, and the adventurers who came to work the pearl beds and the first successful mine at Santa Ana, who formed what might be called the first families of modern Baja California.
A former soldier of the presidio at Loreto was the first successful entrepreneur on the peninsula. Manuel de Ozio retired from military life, and after making a fortune in pearl fishing, decided to channel his energies into cattle and mining businesses. This was at Santa Ana, at a place very near the most important mining centers of the 19th century–El Triunfo and San Antonio–which were developed when the water wells at Santa Ana ran dry.
The mining boom at Real de Santa Ana led to the first true, non-mission town, and the mining and cattle businesses of Ozio and his partner, Guadalajaran merchant Ignacio de Mena, eventually provided enough work for some 300 people, the majority of whom came over from the mainland to seek their own fortunes. This influx of ambitious folk included the founders of what would become some of the most important peninsular lines, including the first Cota, progenitor of a family which would be of enormous importance in the subsequent history of Los Cabos.
The latter half of the 18th century also saw the emergence of two other families whose fortunes are inextricably linked with the later development of Los Cabos, specifically, and with Baja California Sur in general: the Castro and the Ceseña.
Martínez writes that the Castro line was “originated by Francisco María Joseph de Castro, a soldier from Sinaloa, married Zeferina Limón, a Spanish woman. He is the root of most, if not all, of those who have this name in the peninsula. They scattered toward Santa Ana and San Antonio at first, later toward Santiago and San José del Cabo.”
Of the Ceseñas, he notes: “There are few of the pioneer families (I so call those formed between 1700 and 1800) with so wide an expansion as this one. Its roots were Juan Ygnacio Ceseña and María Antonia Valle, Villa, Ovalle or Orayes. (This surname has been written in these four ways). I have not found proof that Juan Ignacio Ceseña was a soldier but every detail seems to indicate he was. Two of his descendants helped to populate the southern tip; Cipriano, lord of Cabo San Lucas, married Cornelia Castillo (Castillo of Gastélum) in first nuptials and Juana Ojeda in second nuptials; and Juan José, lord of San José del Cabo, married Luz Talamantes. Others developed families in several places.”
Thus, as Jesuit power slowly began to wane after the Rebellion of the Pericúes, and native populations were slowly thinned out by European diseases, a new kind of civilization was being born on the peninsula. Pericú women–the men who survived disease were often hunted down at their traditional watering holes–assimiliated to some extent, using their knowledge of the local geography to help found area farms. Mining and cattle interests also expanded throughout the south, and the galleon trade continued, so that when the Jesuits were finally expelled in 1768, the makings of a new kind of commercial and political system were already in place.
Martínez relates the following story to explain the expulsion of the Jesuits in his Historia de Baja California:
“In Spain, where Charles III had shown himself to be their friend and protector, the wave of annihilation was developed in 1767. The cause, according to the Jesuit version, was the following: The Prime Minister, Count of Aranda, was a Voltairist, and by reason of his ideas and suspicions, he invented a plot in order to give the king an unfavorable impression of the Company. The plot consisted of a false letter, wherein was placed in doubt the legitimacy of the sovereign’s right to the Spanish throne. He arranged to have this letter fall into the hands of the monarch.”
More likely were the numerous rumors swirling throughout Europe and the Americas that the Jesuits were amassing enormous amounts of wealth in Baja California and elsewhere via economic exploitation. The Jesuits consistently denied these calumnies–and no evidence has ever been brought forward which would support them, at least in California–but they were eventually ordered to quit the peninsula.
Padre Johann Jakob Baegert, as caustic a critic of the peninsula and its native inhabitants as any who ever lived, evokes genuine emotion when describing the departure of the Jesuits in his book Observations in Lower California:
“It would take a lot to describe here the lamentations of the Californians when the missionaries left their missions. To them the departure seemed to be a punishment, which actually it was; and because of it they, like millions of others, did not know what to say or think about the affair. On February 3 (1768), all of us met in front of the beautiful image of the Virgin in Loreto; she was clothed in black and in mourning as if it were Black Friday. In spite of the fact that the departure should have taken place secretly, all of the inhabitants of both sexes gathered in the plaza to say goodbye to us, all weeping, both Californians and Spaniards.”
It would be impossible to overstate the impact the Jesuits had during their time in California.
They established religious, political, military and educational systems; encouraged agriculture and industry; and did so without the avarice or self-promotion so characteristic of the Spanish colonial period.
They never allowed their charges, the indigenous peoples, to become slaves to mining interests, or to be raped and abused as they often were on the mainland.
But it is also fair to say that there was little of their initial goal–to civilize and convert–left to accomplish.
The Pericúes, decimated by smallpox, measles, and a virulent form of the so-called “French Disease” (syphilis) brought to the Capes Region by the Manila – Acapulco Galleon Trade, were culturally extinct as a people by 1768.
That, coincidentally or not, was the same year the Jesuits were expelled.
One people passed away, and another left, never to return. And thus, by necessity, a new era dawned.
But that, as they say, is another story.