New Regulations For Presidios

By: Donald E. Chipman

Type: General Entry

Published: May 1, 1995

Near the conclusion of the French and Indian War (1754–63), Spain acquired the Louisiana Territory from France. The transfer meant that Texas no longer served as a buffer against French designs, and the expense of maintaining military establishments in East Texas could be eliminated without risk of foreign aggression. Since the missions in East Texas and at El Orcoquisac on the lower Trinity River had enjoyed limited success at best, they, too, could be closed. Those considerations weighed heavily on a budget-conscious crown that had long been overburdened with costly wars in Europe and America. But as always, Charles III moved cautiously.

The king sought to balance the need for economy in government with the continuing problems posed by unreduced Indian nations on the northern frontier of New Spain. To this end, he sent the Marqués de Rubí on a massive inspection tour from Sonora to Texas that covered more than 7,000 miles over a span of twenty-three months. The inspection began in the spring of 1766 and ended in early 1768. In the following year Rubí submitted a report to the crown that was highly critical of its northern empire. He distinguished between a "realistic" and an expanding frontier. The former ran from the Gulf of California to El Paso, then along the Rio Grande to San Juan Bautista, and thence to Matagorda Bay. Two communities, Santa Fe and San Antonio, lay well to the north of this line, but because of obligations to Spanish settlers and converted Indians they could not be abandoned. The marqués envisioned a defensive cordon along the "realistic" frontier that consisted of fifteen presidios spaced 100 miles apart, each staffed by fifty men and officers. Since only three existing presidios fitted into the cordon, six new ones were required and six others would have to be moved-all at enormous cost. But Rubí projected a savings of 79,929 pesos over then-current annual expenses, although he did not factor in the cost of constructing and relocating twelve presidios. He also recommended an Indian policy, which if implemented would have been fatal to many Apache groups, especially the Lipans. Henceforth, all Spanish commitments to the Apache nations should be abandoned. Implementation of a policy expressly intended either to subdue or exterminate the Apaches could best be accomplished by forging an alliance with the Apaches' enemies, the Comanches and Norteños.

Charles III and his advisers studied the Rubí proposal for nearly two years. After careful consideration, the New Regulations for Presidios were first printed in Mexico in 1771 and then formally issued by the king on September 10, 1772. They called for the establishment of the Provincias Internas, which included Nueva Vizcaya, Sonora, Sinaloa, California, New Mexico, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Texas, Nuevo León, and Nuevo Santander. The new plan specified the pay for chaplains, officers, and men; spelled out armament, mounts, and clothing; and detailed the responsibilities of command personnel. With little modification, the recommendations of Rubí on the positioning of presidios carried the weight of royal edict. To ensure implementation, Hugo Oconór, former ad interim governor of Texas, received promotion to the rank of lieutenant colonel and became commandant inspector of presidios. Alignment of presidios along the proposed cordon was soon begun. The marqués's harsh "final solution" to the Apache problem did not fare so well. The New Regulations stressed the tranquil objectives of the king in his realms, as well as the general welfare and conversion of peaceful Indians. They did call for warfare against enemy nations but prohibited the ill treatment of prisoners. Captives and their women and children were to be given food and assistance "in order to procure their conversion and instruction." In the words of Sidney B. Brinckerhoff and Odie B. Faulk, the New Regulations of 1772 "reflected the best thinking of the day." Their conclusion is buttressed by the fact that the system later was adopted by the Mexican nation and remained in force until 1848.

Sidney B. Brinckerhoff and Odie B. Faulk, Lancers for the King: A Study of the Frontier Military System of Northern New Spain (Phoenix: Arizona Historical Foundation, 1965). Elizabeth A. H. John, Storms Brewed in Other Men's Worlds: The Confrontation of Indians, Spanish, and French in the Southwest, 1540–1795 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1975).
  • Peoples
  • French
  • Military
  • Politics and Government
Time Periods:
  • Spanish Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Donald E. Chipman, “New Regulations For Presidios,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 25, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: