- Deportation of Barbarian Indians from the Internal Provinces of New Spain, 1789–1810
INDIAN warfare was general in the Internal Provinces of New Spain in the latter half of the eighteenth century. Spain was militarily weak in these frontier provinces so far from Mexico City and, to make matters even more difficult, the barbarian Indian tribes refused to recognize rules of good conduct in war and peace. Where weakness seemed likely to lead to defeat, the Indians thought nothing of employing abject submission, approaching the Spanish authorities with humble requests for peace, conversion, and a place where they might be permitted to settle into a quiet productive existence. Often the Spanish, either exhausted by combat or hopeful of Indian sincerity in such declarations, convinced themselves that the enemy would settle into a sedentary life under the gentle guidance of the friars. Unfortunately for the success of frontier policy, a treaty was only as valid as the number of presidial troops prepared to enforce it. Without force, the Indians, epecially the Apaches, returned to traditional pursuits of rustling livestock and attacks on weakly defended ranches or travellers. A continual history of incidents of this nature brought Spanish governors and frontier soldiers to a state of complete frustration.
It does not seem particularly unusual that Spanish officers sought more permanent solutions to the problems of frontier defense. Time after time they defeated Indians only to have a recurrence of violence from the same tribe rather than an acceptance of peace and pacification. As early as 1772, the Reglamento establishing frontier presidios recommended the deportation of captured Indian warriors and their families to Mexico City. Some Spanish officers such as Jacobo de Ugarte began to consider the even more permanent solution of sending them to Havana or some other overseas destination in order to provide an end to continual frontier warfare.1 Indian prisoners of war went to the capital and the policy gained acceptance during the viceregency of José Manuel Florez, an officer who had long experence dealing with Indians in the Viceroyalty of La Plata and who, as Viceroy of Nueva Granada, had brutally suppressed the Revolt of the Comuneros.2 He fully agreed with the deportation of barbarian Indian prisoners of war to places from which they might never return to their homelands. [End Page 376]
Residents of the capital willing to undertake the obligation of educating and converting the Indians to Christianity while at the same time enjoying the benefits of their labor, stepped foward in this service to God, the King, and themselves. The result for the Indian was similar to slavery. Some managed to escape and a small percentage made their way back to the Internal Provinces to rejoin their people and to arouse them to commit new depredations. Because of their extensive travels and intimate knowledge of Spanish life and customs, these Indians became the most ingenious and implacable of all Spain’s enemies.3 In1783, the Crown approved an order of the Commandant General of the Internal Provinces, Teodoro de Croix, which called for the deportation of 95 Apache prisoners of war south to a place from which they could never return. Somewhat later, Commandant General Pedro de Nava recommended automatic deportation for all prisoners of war, no matter what sex or age.4
By 1789, deportation of Apache and other Indian prisoners of war to Havana was a generally accepted policy. The Conde de Revillagigedo who replaced Florez in the viceregency, accepted the idea that deportation might well become a solution to the nagging problems of the frontier. He ordered Indian prisoners of war captured in the Internal Provinces sent to the capital along with the Cuerda de Presidarios including other criminals and vagabonds sentenced to Veracruz and Havana for forced labor. Indian prisoners already in the capital were also to be sent on to Havana with those arriving from the north.
Because the prisoners from the Internal Provinces generally caused serious damage to the island, and, inured to the shedding of human blood in their continual wars at home, were perpetually involved in violence, Revillagigedo warned Cuban authorities to exercise all possible precautions to prevent the escape of Indians from...