Otermin, Antonio de (unknown–unknown)

By: W. H. Timmons

Type: Biography

Published: May 1, 1995

The known facts of Antonio de Otermín's life are centered around the Pueblo Indian Revolt, which occurred in New Mexico in 1680. On August 10 of that year Indian discontent with Spanish rule erupted in the revolt, described by Hubert H. Bancroft as "the greatest disaster that ever befell Spain on the northern frontier, if not indeed in any part of America." From Taos to Santa Fe and from Isleta to Zuñi occurred murder, pillage, devastation, and desecration. For a short time Santa Fe under the leadership of Governor Antonio de Otermín held out, as did Isleta under Capt. Alonso García. But when communication between these two groups became impossible, the two commanders decided independently to flee southward to the comparative safety of the Pass of the North, the future site of El Paso, Texas. The two groups of refugees met at Fray Cristóbal, New Mexico, on September 13, some five weeks after the initial outbreak. Here they rested for a few days before continuing their retreat. On September 18 they reached La Salineta, about four leagues (roughly ten miles) north of the mission Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, founded in 1659 in the El Paso area to convert the Mansos. Their spirits were greatly bolstered with the arrival of a large supply expedition of some twenty-four wagons of provisions led by Fray Francisco de Ayeta coming from the south. Here at La Salineta the refugees remained through the first week of October.

At La Salineta they made several important decisions. First, a muster was taken, which indicated that the total number of soldiers, servants, women, children, and Indians amounted to 1,946. Of this number, 317 were Indian groups, inhabitants of the four Piro pueblos of Senecú, Socorro, Alamillo, and Sevilleta, together with Tiguas from Isleta, New Mexico, whose descendents still insist that they fled for the safety of the Pass of the North rather than because of any special loyalty to the Spaniards. A second important decision made by Otermín at La Salineta was to delay the reconquest of New Mexico until further aid could be obtained from the viceroy. Thirdly, Otermín decided that in view of the many dangers and inconveniences confronting the refugees at La Salineta, the whole camp should be moved across the river closer to the Guadalupe mission, where pasture was available for livestock and wood for building shelters. By October 9 the refugees had been moved to the new site, and settled in three camps at intervals of two leagues downriver from the Guadalupe mission-camps Real del Santísimo Sacramento, Real de San Pedro de Alcántara, and Real de San Lorenzo, apparently located near the site of Oñate's La Toma of April 30, 1598, where he took formal possession of New Mexico for his king, Philip II (see OÑATE, JUAN DE). At Real del Santísimo Sacramento on October 12, 1680, a Catholic Mass was celebrated, the first, according to one authority, to be held on soil that eventually became a part of the state of Texas.

In preparation for an expedition to New Mexico to restore Spanish rule Otermín ordered the establishment of a presidio and an up-to-date muster of all soldiers and settlers in the area. The resulting entrada of November 1681 produced only negative results, but in his retreat to the El Paso area in January Otermín brought 305 more Tiguas from Isleta and settled them with other Tiguas at the mission of Corpus Christi de la Isleta, near the site of Real de Santísimo Sacramento. His unsuccessful attempt to reconquer a portion of New Mexico brought forth the realization that the restoration of Spanish rule would take much longer than originally expected, and that therefore the temporary settlements at the pass should be given a much greater degree of permanence. After an exhaustive study of possible sites on both sides of the river, Otermín decided to use those that already existed. He and most of the settlers preferred to settle Spaniards and Indians together, but this was overruled by Fray Ayeta and higher authority. Thus, by early 1682 there were eight settlements in the El Paso area-three Spanish: San Lorenzo, San Pedro de Alcántara, and the Presidio of San José; and five Indian: Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe for the Mansos, San Antonio de Senecú for the Piros, Corpus Christi de la Ysleta del Sur for the Tiguas, Nuestra Señora de Socorro for the Piros, and San Francisco for the Sumas. Another document of the period also lists a Santa Gertrudis for the Sumas, and "the old pueblo of Ysleta." This may well be the documentary support for Ysleta's claim to being the oldest town within the present boundaries of Texas.

Late in 1682 Otermín, suffering from ill health, asked to be relieved of his command, and in mid-1683 he was replaced by Don Domingo Jironza Petriz de Cruzate. A serious Indian revolt in 1684 caused a 50 percent decline in population, and during the reconquest of the province of New Mexico in 1692–93 many in the El Paso area returned to their former homes. Five settlements on the Rio Grande at the Pass of the North, however, remained for the rest of the Spanish colonial period: El Paso del Norte, San Lorenzo, Senecú, Ysleta, and Socorro. Otermínwas no conquistador like Cortes, no explorer like Coronado, and no colonizer like Oñate, but he had laid the base for three centuries of El Paso history.

Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of the North Mexican States and Texas (2 vols., San Francisco: History Company, 1886, 1889). Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1936–58; rpt., New York: Arno, 1976). Charles W. Hackett, "The Retreat of the Spaniards from New Mexico in 1680, and the Beginnings of El Paso," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 16 (January 1913). Anne Eugenia Hughes, The Beginnings of Spanish Settlement in the El Paso District (University of California Publications in History 1.3, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1914). W. H. Timmons, ed., Four Centuries at the Pass (El Paso: Guynes Printing, 1980). Vina Walz, History of the El Paso Area, 1680–1692 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of New Mexico, 1951).

Time Periods:

  • Spanish Texas

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

W. H. Timmons, “Otermin, Antonio de,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed December 02, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/otermin-antonio-de.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995

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