Don Jose

In the Spanish culture surnames were of the highest importance.  Two surnames were given to the children, usually one from each parent.  There were however special circumstances when one family surname carried more social prestige then the other – in that situation both family surnames from one parent were given to their offspring.  During the 1600’s the usage of double surnames was still in effect, my father’s name carried more social prestige than my mothers through father I was a Vasquez Borrego.  My father’s ancestors came from the Hidalgo class they owned several Encomiendas.  They were raisers of small and large livestock but specialized in goat herding.

This being the reason they adopted the surname of Borrego before the outbreak of the Spanish Inquisition.  We attached the surname of Borrego to every branch of our family tree, this way we would always be able to trace our family back to our Jewish ancestry.  We converted to Catholicism for financial reasons – being Sephardic our only need was a belief in God.  Many people for centuries will be under the impression that the Spanish Inquisition was about religion, when it was about money.  The Inquisition was mainly created as a source of profit for the Catholic Church, and turned into a business by Fernando of Aragon and Isabel of Castile.  The property belonging to the Jews, those that were expulsed or burned at the stake was confiscated by the Crown and used to fund the Crusades against the infidel.  This action is called “Fe de Confiscacion”   Using religion as an excuse the Royal monarchs were able to absolve their greed.

Father’s family for generations was in the service of the Royal house of Aragon.  Our loyalty was with Fernando of Antequera – the King Regent of Aragon.  Our family branch paralleled Antonio Velasquez Borrego, first cousin to Dn. Diego Velasquez the first Governor of Cuba.

Some families left for the Canary Islands and others like mine for New Spain

My father Dn. Diego Vasquez Borrego came to New Spain in 1674 – his family was from Antequera, Andalucia, Spain.  King Phillip V appointed father the title of Escribiano of Nueva Galicia.  His position was deeding out titles of property in his graces name.

Father understood that the discovery of precious metals led to the expansion and exploitation of Northern Mexico – especially that of silver and minerals.

Father under the authority of the King deeded himself lands and a silver mine in Maipimi, Durango.  Today Nueva Galicia is the current states of Zacatecas, Jalisco, Aguas Calientes and San Luis Potosi.

Our childhood home was an elaborate and spacious hacienda in Nayarit, near Villa de Jerez.  This childhood residence holds a special place in my heart, for it contains the memories of my mother.  My mother was Dona Isabel de Figueroa – she was father’s second wife.  I had three siblings – my fraternal twin Rosa Manuela, Diego and my half-brother Juan.  Juan was from father’s first marriage.  I admired him, he was the one that taught Diego and me how to hunt and shoot.  We spent many afternoons hunting wild birds and native bison.  I adored my sister; she was my constant companion and mediator between Diego and me. We were all very close, we never viewed Juan as our half-brother, after all we were all my fathers’ children.  The women that married into our family were viewed as vessels.  We were always in search of the perfect offspring – a beautiful woman would in turn produce superb children.  This being the reason my descendents married more than once.

Diego and I had sibling rivalry; everything in life was a competition.  We were both sore losers and ungracious winners.  One afternoon we were playing by the stream and the idea occurred to us to torment frogs.  We went in search of cloth bags and by mid afternoon our cloth bags were brimming full.  An argument ensued as to who caught the most.  The solution was to make an official count – father heard the commotion in the kitchen and was forced to leave the comfort of his study.  There were at least a 100 frogs jumping around and getting into the food.  The punishment father gave us was worth it – after all I had beaten Diego.

During one rainy afternoon, we were indoors playing a game of hide and seek.  Juan being older became bored and began reading Don Quijote to Rosa Manuela.  Diego and I had a fascination with our wooden toy soldiers – they were especially handmade for us by Vicente, father’s mayordomo.  A game of war quickly turned into the real thing – I believed my temperament was milder then Diego’s.  That afternoon I allowed my temper to get the best of me and a fist fight ended the game.  Even though I was smaller and younger I gave Diego a sound thrashing.  We never came to blows again.

Maria Dolores, our nanny took care of us after the death of my mother.  Father purchased her as a child in 1662 – she was part of the original voyage made by John Hawkins – who brought back 300 slaves from Sierra Leone during the West African trade.

Once Maria Dolores became fluent in Spanish she began to tell us adventure stories.  One day she recounted the story of how her life was changed forever. Mybunda had been her name – she was playing outside with the other children from her tribe.  All of the sudden screams were heard and people began running for cover.  She stood still in a daze as she watched the people around her panic.   That was when she saw strange men in the camp – shooting and killing all those that resisted.  They dragged her away with many others.  They were placed onto a house in the water.  She never saw her family again; she was six years old at the time.

Listening to her did not fail to cause us emotion.  From then on my siblings and I vowed to make her life as pleasant as possible.  We insisted to father that she needed to be our constant companion.  This forced Diego and I to get along better, we feared father threatening us with her dismissal.  Hence forth when father asked us what we wanted for Christmas or birthdays we asked for slaves.  I owned ten slaves by the time I turned fifteen.  Having Maria Dolores in our lives taught us empathy and a deep love for our fellow-man, in our eyes money knew no color.  We realized that through father we had the power to make things as right as we could.  Father was strict disciplinarian, we were home schooled by our parish priest in finance, accounting and business economics.  I mastered French and read Voltaire in its original form.  Father said I was a natural genius.

I pursued my studies but developed a penchant for ranching.   I became acquainted with the “Mesta Law – it was the bible for all legal requirements for raising and selling livestock in New Spain.  Every large livestock owner must have a Spanish Mayordomo and four black or Indian herdsmen, two on foot and two on a mount for every two hundred heads of cattle.  The herd was to be rounded up once a week – the men that worked this profession were known as Vaqueros – today we know them as Cowboys.

I cried one night along with my sister; Rosa Manuela was in love with a boy and father refused his hand in marriage.   I vowed that I would never force my children into marriages of convenience.   I would not sell them like cattle to the highest bidder.  Diego and I sought adventure and favored colonizing land inhibited by hostile Indians – With father’s political influence we both became captains.

Diego carved out an illustrious military career for himself between 1721 -1723; he became restless and wanted to move away from father’s shadow.  He went into Nueva Viscaya in 1733, to settle new land for the king.  Today Nueva Vizcaya is known as the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Tamaulipas and California.  From time to time we heard from Diego, having settled in the town of Belen, near Santa Fé.  He named two of his children after Manuela and me – Manuel y Jose.   Diego died in 1753 – and is remembered as the founding father of what is now known as the state of New Mexico.

My brother Juan stayed by father’s side and took over the management of the silver mine – his oldest son Bartolome followed me into Coahuila. I stayed in Mexico and amassed my Latifundio – it consisted of nine haciendas and ranchos that spanned Northern Mexico and most of South Texas.  With the help of my father, we stole land from the Indians in Valle Parasio – what is known now as the state of Durango.  Now in retrospect I have come to believe that since the land has been cursed, that holding on to it would always remain a struggle.   My descendents would always be in question as to the ownership of those lands. I entered Coahuila in 1741, when I purchased Our Lady of San Juan Del Alamo, Las Encinas followed in 1742 and Sardinas in 1743.   We were one of the many first families of Northern Mexico.

In 1741 mine was not the only latifundio taking shape, there were others – these haciendas belonged to  the other prominent families of Northern Mexico. i.e. Sanchez Navarro’s, Santos Coy, Garza Falcon, Guerra Cantu, Guerra Canamar, Gil and the Flores de Abrego.  The Vidaurris became the most influential family in Northern Mexico – but only after I allowed Juan Antonio de Vidaurri to marry my daughter, Manuela.  Since then the surname of Vidaurri would always be associated with power and prestige.

By 1766 Northern Mexico’s wealthy land owners had taken over the province – livestock was a sign of wealth.  Haciendas remained in the family out of tradition and social prestige and managed with as little as risk as possible.  I was a risk taker – I sought to make my properties profitable.

Coahuila was known as Exramadura, when the Spaniards arrived in the seventeenth century they congregated along the fertile valley rivers – Coahuila was considered to be the backwaters of New Spain – and was a disappointment because it contained small amounts of precious metals – the silver and mineral mines were closer to Santa Rosa and Monclova.  Matters were not improved with the fact that living off the soil was a constant challenge.  Coahuila periodically suffered from drought and sparce vegetation.  Surviving there one needed to ranch on an extensive scale – the land simply had no value without water – and the crown owned all the water rights.  One needed to secure additional Mercedes to use the rivers for irrigation.  The irrigation rights were predated back to Rome – when water was granted during specific times during a month.

Have you ever loved someone so much that their very existence in this world made your world a better place – I loved someone that much.  Amalia de Ayala was the love of my youth.  Ours was an untouched love – we were children together.  She died of tuberculosis the summer I turned sixteen.  When she died she took my whole world with her, I have never been the same since – but a mere shadow of the boy I used to be.  I try to take comfort in my hobbies, in my ambitions and in the family I will one day create – but it will never be the same, I will never be alright.  There is nothing that could ever cause me pain again, for I have already experienced it – my heart has been broken into a million pieces and I rejoined the world years later in search of peace.  Have I found it yet, no but I’m still searching.  This is why I did not object to father when he brought up the subject of marriage.

He arranged my marriage to a girl from a good family – Maria Josefa de Imperial.  She was pretty and would give me healthy and attractive offspring.  It didn’t hurt either that Maria Josefa came with a sizable dowry.  We had three sons – Juan Jose, Macario y Fernando.  Manuela my daughter was a gift given to me in old age, she was born in 1729.  I was somewhat disappointed in my sons, not one of them was like me – I was ruthless when a situation called for it.  I always asked politely for any first request – for what was not given I took by force.

Juan Jose was dutiful and loyal; he helped me scout new land north of the Rio Grande before I allowed him to marry Francisca dela Riva.  She was a widow, and the rumor was that she was barren.    Juan Jose was given all the gifts that I lacked – he was the tallest of my sons at 6’2 – he was handsome and well-rounded; he was an excellent horseman and hunter.  It was only natural that I want grandchildren from my oldest child. Upon his marriage I gave him his inheritance – Hacienda San Juan De Casta, in Tamualipas.  After Francisca’s death, Juan Jose became a priest and was executed with Padre Miguel Hidalgo in 1811.  I gave Macario his inheritance upon leaving Nueva Galicia in 1741 – Hacienda Del Rosario in Durango.  He was steadfast and loyal – with an unbreakable character.  The Royalists came down to the hacienda after Juan Jose’s execution and destroyed all legal documents relating to the land grants – and incarcerated Macario for several months until his freedom was secured.   My Fernando was the most like me, but in the things I wished to change about myself.  Fernando was a womanizer and had several queridas.  Most of his money went to provide for his many bastard children.  I gave him El Borrego, since I wanted to be fair with my sons, yet he was not content.  He bought Encinas from me and convinced Manuela to give over her portion of El Alamo, perhaps she relented out of a sense of guilt – she was always my favorite child.

The region of New Spain that remained unsettled was El Sueno Mexicano – this region stemmed from the Panuco River, on the Gulf Coast to the San Antonio River- in the providence of Texas. Spain feared foreign occupation from the English and French.  The French formed bonds with the Indians through friendship and trade, the Indians often traded for military weapons – a cause that hindered the Spanish.  Missions needed to be established as buffers – The Count of Sierra Gorda; Dn. Jose de Escandon was entrusted with the mission of establishing towns and Villas.  King Phillip V of Spain felt that it was necessary in order not to leave the land exposed to threats.   Nuevo Santander was on the lower region of El Sueno Mexicano.   New Spain turned 229 years old in 1750 – leaving the colonial period 79 years left into the future.

Before entering Nuevo Santander I gave a portion of my latifundio to Diego Jose dela Barreda y Yerba.  I gave him Sardinas, located North of Monclova.  I sought to fulfill my boyhood dream of owning a prosperous cattle enterprise – Dolores was created for that purpose.    I had no intentions in turning Dolores into a Villa – so with Tomas Sánchez I developed a map for La Villa de Laredo.

I had ulterior motives – I gave away Sardinas as a way to ease my conscience, I always felt guilty having taken land from defenseless people – I since gave back what I could.  I sought atonement at every opportunity.  This being one of the reasons I am described as being a strange man.  Once Juan Jose preformed his duty– I then proceeded in sending my petition for a land grant to Dn. Jose de Escandon. I desired to colonize land in uninhibited areas.  I staked a claim on one hundred square leagues of land – making it 442,840 acres.  I initially received 98,409 – being tenacious I wrote again and received an additional 110,710 acres.  By 1753 I owned 1,300,800 acres of land.  Having been raised by Maria Dolores I learned that humility was a trait that was highly respected, when asked to describe my profession I claimed to be a raiser of small and large livestock when I was a land baron.  When I awoke in the mornings and looked outside my window the realization hit me – everything I laid my eyes on belonged to me.

I believed in being self-sufficient, on my various properties – we had a stonemason, cook, carpenter, doctor and a blacksmith. I will be criticized for initially housing my peones in jackals – we slowly turned these bush type dwellings into adobe buildings.   These stones were a brownish color and were quarried from a nearby sandstone out cropping and hauled using large amount of labor to the ranch site where they were placed into position.  This process was not easy and took place over a period of time.

I was the only hacendado to pay my peones double the average earnings and provide them with extra food rations.  I also purchased any slave that came asking me for assistance.  I provided law and protection to anyone unable to do so.  I am referred to as being Godless because I did not install a chapel on my estates, I was not godless; I chose not to be a hypocrite.  Most of my servants worked for me and my family through decades, and often stayed after they purchased their own freedom.  The world I created was reliable and safe.  The hardest things in life for me to understand were people who lived at peace with the world around them – who were satisfied with the things as they are.  I always strove for perfection yet believed in human frailty.

I was a battle of contradictions.  Since I was a child there were times when words failed me, when my limbs froze – rendering me hostage to the fears of my vulnerability.   I learned from my father that weakness was not a virtue.  As much as I loved and respected my father I tried my whole life to live away from his shadow, I sought to become my own man – to create my legacy.

I became old and sickly, yet I clung to life.  I could not succumb to that deep sleep I longed for,  until after I knew what would become of my family.  I lay on my death-bed, with my children gathered around me – arguing over the deeds to my land.  I grew weary and tired and summoned enough energy to ban them from my sight.   Francisco came into my room and settled himself against me on the bed.  Out of all of Manuela’s children, Francisco was like me – In him I saw the reflection of my character.

I wanted to fall into deep sleep, but held back knowing that once I did my empire would crumble.  That was when I had the vision.

I saw two children sitting on these steps; the boy was comforting the girl.  “Juana Maria, why are you crying?”  “Oh, Santiago we lost El Alamo and Las Encinas, what is ever to become of us now?”  Santiago sat there a few minutes in silence watching Juana Maria as she cried, He sat up straight and said “Don’t worry, when I grow up I will buy them back for you, I promise!”  He said that with such authority and conviction that it brought chills to my bones.  I then smiled because I knew this boy Santiago was my future. That night I encountered the sleep I longed for.

I sit here now on the highest of mountains as I begin to tell you the story of my family.