When Luis de Rosas arrived in Santa Fe in 1637 to be the 10th Spanish governor of New Mexico, the region was already in tumult.
Tensions among Franciscan priests, soldiers, vecinos (citizens), pueblos and government officials were at a boiling point.
Rosas did not help matters.
A man of his times, Rosas was a haughty Spanish official sent to serve the crown in the undesirable post of New Mexico. Like most Spanish officials banished to the remote province, Rosas disdained and looked down on the mixed-blood Nuevo Mexicanos, the pueblos and other Native peoples of the area. In fact, he led slave raids on Apaches and Utes to sell in the wealthier mining districts of northern New Spain.
Since the early 1600s, there was conflict between priests and governors, church and state. Caught in the middle were the New Mexicans who lived here. Governors often would grant the pueblos leniency regarding their religious practices in return for work and production of goods to sell — only to have the priests punish them for breaking with their prohibition of Native dances and rituals. After all, the Franciscan mission was to remake the Pueblo people into good Catholics.
No doubt Rosas had heard or even read reports of the superstitious and gossiping ways of the local populace. Also, witchcraft was said to be rampant in New Mexico. His prejudice against the place was evident almost out of the gate. Rosas immediately put Pueblo people to work making blankets for him, and he raided other Native communities and took captives to sell as slaves. This added to already existing tensions in New Mexico.
Rosas did not reserve his brutality for the Native peoples. He also heaped abuses on the local Hispano population. Franciscan priests attacked him with religious weaponry such as sermons, edicts and even excommunication — a particularly severe punishment meted out to governors as a tradition in the battle over who would have control of the people, and specifically access to Native labor in New Mexico.
By the time Rosas was finished, there was a full-blown revolt in play being carried out by some Hispano New Mexicans against the unpopular governor. It would not be the first time they would challenge their leaders. Juan de Oñate, New Mexico’s first Spanish governor, faced bitter opposition from many of his colonists who accused Rosas of abusing both Spanish and Pueblo people in the early 1600s.
De Vargas was investigated and jailed after accusations by settlers from Zacatecas were brought to light. He faced charges of embezzlement and abuse, as did his second-in-command, Juan Páez Hurtado. Rosas, however, would meet a much harsher fate than Oñate or Vargas.
At the heart of the revolt in 1642 was the ever-increasing suspicion Rosas was having an affair with one of the soldiers’ wives in Santa Fe. Add the tumult and instability caused by Franciscan attacks, and the result was the formation of a faction of New Mexicans not merely intent on removing the governor but killing him as well. Rosas was investigated and jailed.
Rosas was overcome in his cell and violently stabbed to death in January 1642. It was retribution in the most extreme. Leading the rebels was Antonio Baca. Luis Martín Serrano, a friend of the Franciscan friars, was accused of knocking down the door of the cell where Rosas was being held. Francisco Salazar Hachero was also implicated in the murder of the governor, as were other men.
Historical documents record the Franciscans were accused of hoarding cattle and other food sources, and supposedly acting in an arrogant manner towards settlers and governors. Bitterness extended in all directions, to such a degree that, in 1640, a report was sent to the viceroy in Mexico City warning that New Mexico was on the edge of self-destruction.
Order was imposed when the newly appointed governor held an investigation and upon finding those guilty of sedition, had them beheaded as punishment and to set an example should others attempt such an act. But stress and friction between Franciscan priests and governors and other civil officials would continue for many years.
This event would mark the first of three episodes in which New Mexicans took the life of a governor: Luis de Rosas (Spain, 1642), Albino Pérez (Mexico, 1837) and Charles Bent (U.S. Territory of New Mexico, 1847).
Clearly, the New Mexicans were not to be antagonized.