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Nueva Vizcaya was the first province in the north of the Viceroyalty of New Spain (Mexico) to be explored and settled by the Spanish. It consisted mostly of the area which is today the states of Chihuahua and Durango.


Early exploration and the Viceroyalty

Spanish exploration of the area began in 1531 with Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán's expedition. He named the main city founded in the area Villa de Guadalajara after his birthplace and called the area he conquered the sonorous "la Conquista del Espíritu Santo de la Mayor España" ("The Conquest of the Holy Spirit of Greater Spain"). The name did not stick, and instead another suggested by Queen Joanna, el Reino de Nueva Galicia ("The Kingdom of New Galicia"), did.

In the following decades, especially under the leadership of Francisco de Ibarra, settlements moved north and into the interior of the continent, beyond the city of Zacatecas, when silver was discovered in the area. Ibarra named the new area Nueva Vizcaya, after his homeland in Spain, Biscay or Vizcaya (the historic name of the Basque Country). Nueva Vizcaya included the modern Mexican states of Chihuahua and Durango, the eastern parts of Sinaloa, Sonora and the southwest of Coahuila.[1] The region came under the judicial jurisdiction of the Real Audiencia of Guadalajara and the administration of its president.

As part of the Bourbon Reforms, in 1777 the northern provinces of the Viceroyalty were organized into a Comandancy General of the Internal Provinces, which was autonomous of the Viceroyalty in military and administrative matters, but supported financially by it. In 1787 an intendancy was established in Durango to promote economic and population growth in Nueva Vizcaya. Another intendancy was also set up at Arizpe in neighboring Sonora. The Crown experimented with the government of the Internal Provinces and in 1788 divided the Internal Provinces into two Commandancies. From 1788 to 1793 Nueva Vizcaya became part of the Western Internal Provinces, until the two Commandancies were reunited. The Crown restored the two Commandancies again in 1813, and this division remained until independence was achieved in 1821.[2]

War of independence

The Mexican War of Independence started in 1810. To quell the revolt, Viceroy Venegas appointed Alejo García Conde, governor of Sonora and Sinaloa, to the command of the Occidente region. José Joaquín de Arredondo commanded the Oriente region.[2]

Salcedo managed to accumulate a large fortune while avoiding the conflict to the south. From May to July, 1811, he was responsible for overseeing the trial and execution of Miguel Hidalgo, and his chief officers. Nueva Vizcaya was not spared from the war. A month before Hidalgo’s capture, a number of insurgents were detained, and a conflict at San Francisco between several hundred men occurred early in 1812.[2]

After the call of the Junta Suprema Central to reconvene the Cortes (the parliament), Nueva Vizcaya elected Juan José Guereña representative to the Cádiz Cortes. Guereña served from April 4, 1811 until his death on September 10, 1813, and was a signatory of the Spanish Constitution of 1812.[3] The Constitution was well received by the provinces, but was suspended soon after by the viceroy in 1813. Nevertheless liberals who supported the Constitution continued both legal and extra-legal efforts to reinstate it. Towards the end of 1814, José Félix Trespalacios and Juan Pablo Caballero planned an outbreak at Chihuahua, but the plot was revealed to Commandant General García Conde, who now controlled the Occidente section from that city, and promptly arrested the principal plotters. The men were pardoned through the efforts of authorities and clergy. In 1820 a brief rebellion by the Opatas in Durango was quelled without any serious bloodshed.

The war also imperiled the northern frontier. The trade and tribute system, which the Viceroyalty had established at the end of the 18th century to pacify the nomadic tribes, had broken down due to the war. During this period Chihuahua began to suffer from renewed Apache raids. At the same time the Jesuits, who had been suppressed decades earlier, were re-established to their missions. Tensions also existed with the young United States, which interpreted the Louisiana Purchase to include many lands which Spain considered theirs. In 1819 explorer Zebulon Pike was sent to explore the disputed territory and was arrested by the authorities.[2]

Independent Mexico

When the Spanish Constitution was restored in 1821, Mariano de Urrea was installed as Jefe Político (governor) of Nueva Vizcaya, while Antonio Cordero y Bustamante, who had governed effectively in Durango as civil and military governor during the past three years, was rewarded with the post of Commandant General of the West, replacing Diego Garcia Conde.

A turning point came later that year, when Agustin de Iturbide rose against the viceregal authorities with the Plan de Iguala. The Governor and Intendant of Nueva Galicia, General José de la Cruz, retreated to Durango to make a final effort in behalf of the royalist cause. He entered that city on July 4, 1821 with a force of several hundred soldiers and accompanied by fleeing officials from Zacatecas and nearby localities. Iturbide's lieutenant, Pedro Celestino Negrete, followed in pursuit and laid siege to the city early in August, with about 3,000 men. La Cruz held out for over three weeks. His forces suffered severe losses during the fighting which involved heavy shelling and the occasional sortie. On August 30 Negrete finally found a vulnerable point in La Cruz's defenses and placed an artillery battery against it, gained a decided advantage. La Cruz's forces were also diminishing since many defected to Iturbide's side. La Cruz accepted a truce on September 3 and the garrison surrendered. They were treated with full honors and permission to leave the country with General José de la Cruz to Spain.[2]

In less than a year, the First Mexican Empire collapsed. Troops rose against the now Emperor Iturbide. Chihuahua joined the rebellion. Durango was initially against the movement, but on March 5, 1823 the troops and the general population in the region declared themselves for the rebellion. Commandant General Cordero y Bustamante resigned, as did the civil and military Governor of Durango, Brigadier I. del Corral. Gaspar de Ochoa became the new Commandant General and Juan Navarro became Governor of Durango.[2]


Creation of the Federal States of Chihuahua and Durango

On July 19, 1823, the Supreme Congress decreed the division of Nueva Vizcaya into two provinces, Chihuahua and Durango. The capital of Chihuahua received the title of city and became the seat of a provincial council (diputación provincial). Chihuahua, with a population of over 100,000, benefited from a separate administration. It had often found Durango distant and sometimes uncooperative. In the meantime, as a new constitution was being written for the nation, the Mexican provinces transformed themselves into states. A party from Chihuahua and Durango temporarily persuaded the Congress to create a new state — Estado Interno del Norte — by reuniting the two, foremer provinces and including New Mexico. Its capital was at Chihuahua. Durango, however, raised objections, demanding retention of the capital, or separation from the new state, because of its large population and superior resources. On May 22 and July 6, 1824 the separation was affirmed. New Mexico was transformed into a separate "territory", directly administered by the federal government. In the following year the two states issued their constitutions. Chihuahua established a legislative council of not less than eleven deputies, while Durango created bicameral state legislature, with a senate of seven members and a lower house.[2]

See also


  1. ^ Handbook of Texas Online. Nueva Viscaya.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g History Of The North Mexican States And Texas, Vol. II 1801-1889, San Francisco,The History Company, Publishers,1889, Chapter 24
  3. ^ Rieu-Millan, Marie Laure. Los Diputados Americanos en las Cortes de Cádiz: Igualdad o independencia. (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, 1990), 42.


  • Oakah L. Jones, Nueva Vizcaya: Heartland of the Spanish Frontier (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1988).

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