Juan de Ugalde, Indian fighter, son of Brig. Gen. Miguel and Doña Catalina (González) de Ugalde, was born in Cádiz, Spain, on December 9, 1729. He joined the Spanish army in 1738 and first saw action as a captain in 1743 against the Austrians in northern Italy. From 1749 to 1757 he fought against the Moors in North Africa and, during the Seven Years' War (1756–63), against the Portuguese. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel and dispatched in 1764 to South America, where he served as corregidor of Cochabamba, Bolivia, until 1772. He returned to Spain in 1774 and was promoted to colonel, and on March 26, 1776, King Charles III appointed him governor of the province of San Francisco de Coahuila in northern New Spain. Before leaving Spain, Ugalde was also appointed a knight in the Order of Santiago. He officially took office as governor on November 23, 1777. His primary charge was to protect Coahuila from Indian attacks, specifically from the Lipan and Mescalero Apaches. Between May 3, 1779, and March 9, 1783, Ugalde conducted four campaigns against the Mescaleros in northern Coahuila and the Big Bend and Pecos River regions of Texas. Although only nineteen Apaches were killed and sixty-seven taken prisoner, many others were forced to flee or make peace.
For leaving Coahuila's settlements inadequately protected while on campaign, however, Ugalde was relieved of all duties on April 17, 1783. He remained in Mexico City until August 26, 1786, when he was promoted to commander of arms of the Provincias Internas, with authority over Coahuila, Nuevo León, Nuevo Santander, and Texas. Again he took to the field in January of 1787 and combed his territory for Apaches, from the Bolsón de Mapimí in the south to the headwaters of the Colorado in the north, and from the Pecos River in the east to the Guadalupe Mountains in the west. He signed peace treaties whereby several Apache groups agreed to settle near his headquarters at Santa Rosa. Ugalde was promoted on December 3, 1787, to commanding general of the eastern internal provinces and now had total command of Coahuila, Nuevo León, Nuevo Santander, and Texas. On August 20, 1789, he launched a lengthy campaign against the Apaches in West Texas within an area bounded by San Antonio, San Saba, and El Paso. On January 9, 1790, he and his troops, with more than 100 Indian allies, surprised and defeated 300 Lipan, Lipiyan, and Mescalero Apaches at the Arroyo de la Soledad, the present Sabinal River canyon. In commemoration of this victory, the battlefield was named the Cañón de Ugalde; from it the city and county of Uvalde derived their names.
After a change of viceroys, Ugalde was suspended in 1790. His service in the New World was characterized by rivalries, political maneuvering, and abrupt reversals of fortune. His aggressive military actions against the Indians were pursued in disregard of the conciliatory policy of the colonial administration, and it is debatable whether his campaigning pacified or merely antagonized the Apaches. After being ordered back to Spain, he continued in the service. He was promoted to field marshal in 1797 and to lieutenant general in 1810 and awarded the Gran Cruz de San Hermenegildo in 1815. Ugalde died in Cádiz in 1816 at the age of eighty-seven.