Historic Era

Southwest Archaeology

Military History New Mexico — Presidios

Presidios   Forts    Battles    Treaties    Routes and Locations   Background

Both the Spanish and the US used the military to conquer and colonize western North America. Settlement, resource extraction, agriculture, animal husbandry, and trade by the colonists was not possible in the Southwest without the use of some form of military force against the Native American inhabitants. Defense against groups whose economies were based on raiding, and offense against those defending their lands from encroachment by new comers, required the projection of force from both garrisons in settlements and from forts and presidios at strategic locations.

The use of garrisons of soldiers and their families to conquer and colonize, in Spanish history, dates to the Roman Period when they were known as praesidium or praesidia. Until 1568, the Spanish viceregal government did not pursue an active military role along the northern frontier. Instead, defense and offense were provided by private individuals themselves. Shipping of goods into and out of the region required fortified wagons or pack-trains escorted by armed convoys of horsemen. Merchants and miners created their own private armies (Powell, 128-29). 

This pattern changed somewhat in New Spain in the late 1560s. In 1569, Viceroy Martin Enriquez declared all-out war (guerra a fuego y sangre) against the Chichimecs on the northern frontier, He ordered that a line of presidios be built in the Far North. This established a pattern of warfare and settlement on the northern frontier as the presidio line was eventually pushed, over several generations, to Alta California.

Presidios were defensive installations (to protect Spanish towns, ranches, mining camps, and towns of " friendly" Indians) and used offensively against hostile natives or to mark territories held by Spain. The presidio was a place where some natives came to settle, receive protection against their enemies, and get gifts of clothing, food, and other items,  which made them physically dependent on the Spanish. The Spanish government actively sought to persuade many native groups to to settle at the chain of forts along its northern frontier. The administrative units, usually called establecimientos de paz (peace establishments), were unique in that the military and not the church administered to the Indians (Griffen 1988:9). Missions existed also, but some historians say that of the two, the presidio was the lead institution in the pacification process (Honig 2003:1, Powell 1982: 135-39).


Spanish and Mexican Military installations

Presidio at Santa Fé

March 30, 1609

Viceregal instructions were given to Don Pedro de Peralta to build a presidio and six districts around a plaza. The new settlement was named La Villa Real de Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis. (Recently discovered documents, however, suggest that Santa Fe actually might have been founded two years earlier.). Abandoned by the Spanish in 1680 and occupied by Pueblo Indians during the Pueblo Revolt. Recaptured by Spain in 1692. The presidio was rebuilt and named Presidio de Exaltación de la Cruz del Nuevo México. Also known as El Real Presidio de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios y la Exaltación de la Santa Cruz. The Palace of Governors is at the heart of this presidio. Fortified barracks were north of the Palace. The Plaza de Armas outside the Palace later became part of Fort Marcy (see below). Santa Fé was the capital of the Spanish province of Nuevo México beginning in 1610.


San Miguel Mission

1625, 1710

Built in 1625, the chapel of the mission was fortified in 1710.


Presidio at El Paso del Norte


Founded as a result of the Revolt of 1680 in upper New Mexico. Spaniards moved downriver (southward) from Santa Fe and founded presidio at the site of present Juarez, Chihuahua. Presidio was constructed in 1683. In 1773, because the town of El Paso was well populated and could defend itself, the presidio was moved southward to Carrizal.


Post of Albuquerque  


A Villa was established here in 1706 in honor of the Duke of Alburquerque, Francisco Fernandez de la Cueva Enriquez, who arrived in Mexico City December 8, 1702  to assume duties as the 34th viceroy of New Spain. and both the Spanish and Mexicans had military posts here.

The first "r" in the spelling of Alburquerque was later dropped as more Anglos came into the area and spelled it differently.

Post at Valverde


Post at Cebolleta

A Navajo mission established here in the mid-18th century was later taken over by Albuquerque area ranchers who, in the early 1800s, built a fortified town.


Post at Jemez

Post at Taos

Post at Doña Ana

Santa Rita del Cobre


Lieutenant Colonel Carrasco, a Spanish soldier stationed in Janos, Chihuahua, Mexico, began mining copper in 1799 shortly after he was shown a copper deposit by local Apache Indians. In 1804 Carrasco sold a portion of the property to Don Francisco Manuel Elguea, a merchant and together they, obtained a land grant at Pinos Altos, naming it Criadero de Cobre--"Nursery of Copper" and erected a village calling it Santa Rita del Cobre. They constructed a private fortress there. Elguea contracted with the government to provide copper for coinage. The government established a military presidio and penal colony at Santa Rita to supply labor for the mines. By 1805, 600 Indians, prisoners and some free men were employed at Santa Rita. Relays of up to 100 pack mules, each loaded with 300 pounds of ore, traveled down the Camino Real to the Royal Mint in Mexico City. The mule trains were often attacked by Apaches who also destroyed supply trains from Mexico to Santa Rita. After some years of enduring attacks, residents of Santa Rita, miners and their families, decided to quit and return to Mexico. However in 1837, an American trader, James Johnson, massacred the Apaches who were attending a trade fair, which resulted in general warfare. Almost all of the ~500 inhabitants of Santa Rita were killed, only six managed to reach Chihuahua safely.


Presidios in Texas

from 2001 Handbook of Texas Online, s.v. "PRESIDIOS."

The presidios in Texas:

Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de los Tejas (1716),

San Antonio de Béxar (1718),

Nuestra Señora de Loreto ( 1721)

Nuestra Señora del Pilar de los Adaes ( 1721),

San Francisco Xavier de Gigedo (1751),

San Agustín de Ahumada (1756),

San Luis de las Amarillas (1757),

San Elizario (1789).

Across the Rio Grande, other presidios important to Texas included Presidio del Norte, San Juan Bautista, and San Gregorio de Cerralvo.

Each presidio had a specific role:

Dolores protected the 1716 missions in East Texas and served as a listening post on the French.

Loreto (also known as La Bahía Presidio) patrolled the coast against invaders and rescued shipwreck victims.

Los Adaes countered the Louisiana French established at Natchitoches.

San Agustín curbed French trading activities along the coast.

San Luis de las Amarillas (also known as San Sabá Presidio) served as a buffer for San Antonio against raids by the northern tribes (Norteños), including Comanches and Apaches.

Odie B. Faulk

2001 Handbook of Texas Online, s.v. "PRESIDIOS." The Texas State Historical Association, 1997-2001  http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/PP/uqp9.html (accessed July 31, 2007).

Presidios in Arizona

to be completed

Presidios in Alta California

from Sasha Honig, professor emeritus of Bakersfield college California Mission Studies Association.


Presidio Geo strategic Importance
San Diego  1769
San Diego Bay
Large with narrow entrance affording protection from winds; proximity to Mexico
Monterey  1770
Monterey Bay
Exaggerated size and safety based on misleading reports of 17th cen. explorer Sebastian Vizcaíno; still it became site of capital and presidio of Alta California
San Francisco 1776
Bay of San Francisco
Narrow entrance (the Golden Gate) called by the Spanish
the "Boca de San Francisco" (Mouth of San Francisco)
Northernmost position allowed protection of Spanish claims on northern coastline
Santa Barbara 1782
Santa Barbara Channel
Poor bay but bridged the long distance between presidios of San Diego and Monterey; also established Spanish presence along the narrow corridor between ocean and mountains vulnerable to Indian attack; planned as jump-off point for Spanish expansion into the interior. (Beilharz 89)


Sasha Honig, professor emeritus of Bakersfield college California Mission Studies Association. http://www.californiamissionstudies.com/Research/Articles/The_Presidios.html (accessed Aug 21, 2013).


Beilharz, Edwin A.

Felipe de Neve: First Governor of California. San Francisco: California Historical Society, 1971


Presidios of the Frontier Line

from Michael Hardwick  Spanish and Mexican California Presidios of the Frontier Line, The California State Military Museum.

Presidios from west to east:

Santa Gertrudis del Altar, founded 1755 with 30 soldiers from the presidio of Sinaloa. Presidio was designed to restrain the Seris, Pimas and Papagos.

Tubac, founded 1753 following the Pima uprising of 1751. The garrison was moved to Tucson in 1777.

Terrenate, founded 1742 southwest of Huachuca mountains Sonora. Late in 1775 Santa Cruz de Terrenate was relocated near what is now Fairbanks Arizona. Apache Indian attacks forced relocation of the of the presidio again in 1780 to a site near the arroyo of Las Nutrias in what is now Sonora, Mexico.

Fronteras, originally founded in 1692. It was located for a while to the north in the San Bernardino Valley, possibly in Arizona. Later in 1780 it was moved south by Teodoro de Croix.

Janos, founded 1690.

San Buenaventura, founded in 1776 by troops from Guajoquilla.

El Paso del Norte, founded as a result of the Revolt of 1680 in upper New Mexico. Spaniards moved downriver (southward) and founded presidio at the site of present Juarez, Chihuahua. Presidio was constructed in 1683. In 1773, because the town of El Paso was well populated and could defend itself, the presidio was moved southward to Carrizal.

Guajoquilla, erected in 1752 on orders from the Viceroy Revilla Gigedo. Later known as San Eleazario.

Julimes, located in 1777 at the former site of the presidio of La Junta at the confluence of the Conchos and Del Norte (Rio Grande) rivers.

Cerro Gordo, founded after 1772 as part of the new frontier defense.

San Saba, San Saba-Aguaverde was founded in the new presidial line after 1772.

Santa Rosa del Sacrament, now Ciudad Melcho Muzquiz, Coahuila. It was moved north after 1772.

Monclova, founded in 1674. The villa or town of Monclova was the capital of Coahuila in 1780. At that time the presidio was located to the east nearer the Rio Grande.

La Bahia del Espiritu Santo, founded in 1772 as the last and easternmost presidio of the line. The original site was where Fort St. Louis stood on Matagorda Bay. It was moved in 1726 to the Guadalupe River and later removed to the north bank of the San Antonio River at the site of the present town of Goliad, Texas.

San Antonio de Bejar, founded May 5, 1718 was not considered a presidio of the line, but it was defended by a detachment according to the regulations of 1772.

Arroyo del Cibolo, founded in 1771 as a detachment site. Presidio was deactivated in 1782 at orders of Teodoro de Croix, (pp.94,95, Lancers for the King, Brinckerhoff amd Faulk, Phoenix, 1965).


Michael Hardwick 

2007 Spanish and Mexican California Presidios of the Frontier Line, The California State Military Museum, http://www.militarymuseum.org/PresidiosoftheLine.html (accessed July 31, 2007).








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