Lot 60 of 107:
Defending Mexico's northern frontier 1809-10  

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$7,000 - $10,000

Three original manuscript letters and one accompanying manuscript document on the defense of the northernmost Spanish territories of New Spain against the United States and the indigenous Apache and Comanche people

Salcedo, Nemesio






  • Letter from Nemesio Salcedo to Miguel Constanzó congratulating him on his promotion and about some problems with his “American friends”. Chihuahua, July 28th, 1804. 1 ff. He gives news about some problems caused by his “American neighbors”, which had been at peace till now as a result of the rulings that were issued (and against his own ideas). He tells they have trespassed the territory and have been detained in New Mexico. He expects to be informed about everything on his return, and hopes they are not sent back to their own country before a lesson is taught to those who disobey the rules, ignoring the borders they have been assigned in the territories. “Chihuahua, July 28th, 1804. Salcedo [signature and rubric]”.
  • Letter from Nemesio Salcedo to Miguel Constanzó regarding his advancements in the teaching of geography and the marking of the territory, and the design of weapons for the cadets, and request for material. Chihuahua, July 3rd, 1810. 1 ff. Salcedo informs Constanzó that he has decided to impart basic instruction, founding schools in all forts and military posts, assigning with good results teachers and students according to their efforts and learning. He is conscious that the knowledge and use of geography and maps is important for war. Because of this he has started an academy for cadets to teach them how to draw the terrain and use various notes and drawings. He says that he attaches a map (not found) to demonstrate how useful this is. He says he is in much needs of an engineer, and that they have manufactured good quality shotguns that have armed 700 men. However, they are at the mercy of the commissioners from Mexico, who send iron without caring for its quality. He tells he successfully tested in the field a small cannon. He requests more cannons, as well as munition and bullet cases, but they must be easy to load and unload. “Chihuahua, July 3rd, 1810. Salcedo [signature and rubric]”. Note from Constanzó: “Received on Monday 23 of this month”.
  •  Letter from Nemesio Salcedo to Miguel Constanzó about the design and use of a mountain cannon, with detailed designs and sketches of the cannon. Chihuahua, August 27th, 1810. 1 ff., 1 bifolio, illustrations, 1 ff. Salcedo gives thanks for the remittance of items (to calculate angles) and he says he will deliver these to the poorest among the cadets. He reports about the mountain cannons, the design of which he attaches as #2, and he asks Constanzó to examine the design and change it as he wishes. He laments the lack of men of science, who are able to work with their hands and tools, follow instructions and teach others. He says that document #3 shows the caliber of the test cannon. In a note added later, he comments that his is very bored, and that in Texas the Comanches roam, and they are mean enemies. “Chihuahua, August 27th, 1810. Salcedo [signature and rubric]”. Recipient: “Señor don Miguel Constanzó.”
Housed together in custom cloth & boards folder.

Fascinating group of letters by Salcedo addressed to Costanso on the troubles and difficulties along the frontier with the United States with the native population, following the Louisiana Purchase. The letters in this collection were written by the Spanish Commandant General of the ‘Provincias Internas’ of New Spain, a region which extended over large parts of present-day northern Mexico and the southwestern United States in the direct aftermath of the Louisiana Purchase. Nemesio Salcedo (1750–1822), as Comandant General from 1802 to 1813, occupied the most senior Spanish post in this territory during one of this area’s most fractious eras, one in which the United States was unofficially but actively expanding into the territories that would become the States of Texas and New Mexico. Additionally, Salcedo had to contend with an increasingly rebellious indigenous population and, from 1810, with Mexico’s movement for independence from Spain. These letters and the design of the mountain cannon are from the collection of W. Michael Mathes (See W. Michael Mathes, ‘Arms for the Defense of the Eastern Provincias Internas of New Spain in 1810: A Mountain Cannon’, Colonial Latin American Historical Review 6: 3, 1997, p. 268). 

Following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Salcedo was confronted by repeated attacks from semi-official filibustering expeditions organised from the United States. These he sought to counter through ‘a program for the improvement of frontier defenses’ and, in 1803, ‘the establishment of educational programs for soldiers at the presidios and garrisons within his jurisdiction [a reform which is described in detail in one of the letters in this collection, dated 3 July 1810] … The following year he prohibited the entry of colonists and contraband from Louisiana; this decree was ignored, however, and in 1806 he was forced to detain United States Army Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike and his party in Chihuahua and expel them through Texas to Louisiana for having entered Spanish territory through northern New Mexico without permission. Despite these measures, espionage and filibustering plotted in United States territory did not halt, and in 1809 Salcedo reiterated his decrees of prohibition’ (Mathes, p. 268). The incident which pushed Salcedo into reiterating these decrees in 1809 is alluded to in his letter, dated 28 July 1809, which expresses his frustration with the recent visit of his ‘vecinos americanos’ (‘American neighbours’). Salcedo is most likely referring to one of the most important of the traders and mustangers who explored North Texas – Anthony Glass (1787–1809). In January 1808, Spanish authorities had ‘canceled a contract earlier given to American Anthony Glass that would have allowed him to settle in Texas. An undeterred Glass led an eleven-man crew into north central Texas that July to trade with Indians along the upper Red River. His expedition [which enjoyed the semi-official support of Thomas Jefferson’s administration] was the subject of much speculation, with both Spanish and American officials suspecting that Glass’s aims included the establishment of a silver mining enterprise. Also causing a stir was the fact that Glass brought with him an American flag, a military coat and belt, and a dress sword. Spanish authorities for the most part left the group alone, but Commandant General Salcedo subsequently ordered the restrictions of all communication and trade between Texas and Louisiana, and in June 1809 (Glass had returned to Natchitoches the previous month) he banned immigration of foreigners from Louisiana into Texas’ (E. Bradley, “We Never Retreat”: Filibustering expeditions into Spanish Texas, 1812–22, Texas: Texas A&M University Press, 2015, pp. 21–22).
Salcedo’s letters were directed to his friend and colleague, Miguel Costansó (1741–1814), a Catalan mariscal of the Royal Corps of Engineers in New Spain and a talented draughtsman who had taken part in the 1769–70 Portolá Expedition to California that established the first permanent settlements in Upper California. Costansó was well-placed to understand the concern, expressed by Salcedo in these letters as well as in his ‘Description of the cannon and carriage that was used in the campaign last year against the Indians of the Sacramento Mountains’ (which includes delicate and finely-executed illustrations of the mountain cannon from various angles), with ensuring that his troops were armed to meet the special needs resulting from the geography and climate of the region, and the forms of combat employed by the indigenous Apache and Comanche peoples. Salcedo retired and returned to Spain in 1813 and Costansó died the following year. ‘Both events marked the end of an era of active and dynamic Spanish expansion in the Provincias Internas of northern New Spain’ (Mathes p. 270).

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