Urrutia, Manuel de (1733–unknown)

By: Tim Seiter

Type: Biography

Published: January 20, 2022

Updated: January 20, 2022

Born in 1733 to the prominent José and Toribio de Urrutia family, Manuel de Urrutia followed in his forefathers' footsteps and spent most of his life as a Texas presidial soldier. Urrutia continually encountered controversy throughout his career due to his addiction to alcohol, but he remained in a position of authority because of his family’s status, his military rank, and his distance from the Spanish bureaucratic core. Manuel de Urrutia had at least three brothers: Francisco Antonio, Juan Antonio, and Juan. He joined the San Antonio presidio sometime around 1764 to serve under his relative, Capt. Luis Antonio Menchaca, and Urrutia’s brothers joined soon after. Prior to Manuel’s enlistment, when he was about the age of twenty-nine, he married the daughter of Nicolas Carbajal.

Upon Manuel de Urrutia’s recruitment as a presidial, the San Antonio community held him in high regard. The governor of Texas repeatedly used him as a witness in legal proceedings. Urrutia served as a defense attorney for Bexareños accused of smuggling, and on three occasions, the troops in San Antonio voted for Urrutia as their representative when electing a paymaster for the company. As a soldier, Urrutia partook in seaside and riverside patrols in which he pursued American Indians, guarded the horse herd, counted stock animals for taxation, drilled soldiers under his charge, periodically lived with local natives, and escorted messages and travelers across the Texas borderlands. Impressed with his service, and following the death of officer Joaquin Ruiz, the commandant inspector and the governor of Texas promoted Manuel Urrutia to second sergeant of San Antonio on May 3, 1776. In 1778, when Governor Barón de Ripperdá was tasked with discerning whether a subject was selling illegal alcohol, the citizens of San Antonio recognized Urrutia as a “connoisseur” of liquor, and he was tasked with sampling the contested spirits. Urrutia’s identification as an authority on alcohol comes as no surprise. His increasing addiction to this inebriating substance caused constant problems throughout his career as a soldier.

Following the “enervation” of Don Juan José Hidalgo in 1779, Governor Domingo Cabello y Robles, considered Urrutia to have the necessary qualities to serve as first sergeant and recommended Urrutia for the position. Commandant Teodoro de Croix, viewing Urrutia as “a man of much care and concern” promoted Urrutia to that role.

Nearly six years later, in March 1785, more than eighty Comanche Indians attempted to raid San Antonio’s horse herd. Directing twenty-two soldiers, Urrutia repelled the Comanches without losing a single horse. Governor Cabello and Commandant Joseph Antonio Rengel praised Urrutia and recommended his promotion to second alférez when an ensign position opened up in the surrounding area. In September 1785 Fort La Bahía was in need of an alférez. As Urrutia waited for the commandant general to verify his promotion to the La Bahía post, Urrutia fell from his horse while attempting to stop a stampede. He dislocated his right shoulder and likely broke his right arm. Despite multiple remedies and operations, his arm remained nearly immobilized for the rest of his life. With Urrutia thought to be irrevocably injured, the governor of Texas sought to honorably discharge the trooper, but when Urrutia finally received word of his official promotion in June 1786, the pain ceased and he continued on with duty in spite of the impairment.

Although promoted to second alférez of La Bahía, Urrutia remained eighty miles away in San Antonio. When Rafael Martínez Pacheco became interim-governor of Texas in 1786, he relied on Urrutia as an American Indian diplomat. After providing protection to groups of Lipan Apaches meeting with the Texas governor, Urrutia began living with these peoples for weeks at a time and intended to keep tabs on their behavior and their movements. In this setting, Urrutia learned some of the Athabaskan language, became respected among various Lipan-Apache groups, and sometime between 1787 and 1790, trafficked the enslaved Coahuiltecan Indian woman known as La Yuta—named as such because she previously belonged to the Coahuiltecan Yuta tribe before being abducted by the Comanches and then by the Apaches.

Due to Urrutia’s success with the Lipan Apaches, Don Juan de Ugalde promoted the San Antonio soldier to first alférez of La Bahía on March 14, 1789. On July 18, 1789, in the midst of his campaigns against the Mescalero Apaches, Ugalde ordered Urrutia to command eighty-three troopers to ambush and then slaughter any Apache older than seven camped near the former San Sabá mission site. Urrutia’s extermination campaign failed, and he returned to San Antonio on September 12.

On April 26, 1790, Governor Martínez Pacheco arrested Manuel de Urrutia for various acts of misbehavior. Urrutia brutally assaulted La Yuta, the Comanche-Coahuiltecan captive that the alférez acquired from the Apaches. Moreover, he was continually drunk while on duty, and on multiple occasions, his belligerent behavior jeopardized the Spaniards’ peace with the Lipan Apaches and the Comanches. Ten days after his arrest in San Antonio, Urrutia arrived in shackles at La Bahía where Captain Espadas restricted his access to alcohol and to any American Indians. When a month passed at the bayside fort, a sober Urrutia reassured Espadas that he was reformed. He returned to San Antonio on July 13, 1790. La Yuta did not await his arrival—she escaped captivity and returned to live with the Comanches.

In September 1790 Manuel Muñoz took over the governorship of Texas from Martínez Pacheco. In Muñoz’s first meeting with Urrutia, the alférez arrived drunk. Mistrusting Urrutia, the new governor placed him on escort duty. Urrutia escorted crates of American Indian tribute, letters between officials, and even an Apache girl back to her family in Valle de Santa Rosa. Around this time, Urrutia’s wife gave birth to a boy whose name is not recorded.

On June 11, 1791, Urrutia again found himself embroiled in controversy. When Comanche Chief Ojos Azules’s diplomatic party entered San Antonio, Urrutia spotted La Yuta. An intoxicated Urrutia accosted La Yuta and Chief Ojos Azules’s band frequently during the next few days. At one point, Urrutia, with bow and saber in hand, circled the San Antonio plaza and searched for La Yuta who had sought refuge in Francisco Xavier Chaves’s house. On another occasion, Urrutia grabbed the lance of Ojos Azules but was restrained by his own men before he could thrust it fully. After the patient Comanche party left, Urrutia used his status among the Apaches to convince two of them to attempt to kidnap La Yuta from the Comanches; this endeavor failed. Due to Uruttia’s rank as an alférez and his family’s prominent status, he was not imprisoned for his acts. Instead, the other officers on duty attempted to distract him by placing him in charge of the settlement’s jail.

Urrutia’s drunken controversies continued. On July 11, 1791, when his wife refused to accompany him on his horse, Urrutia threw a lance at her which missed. He then went to a nearby stream where Lt. Francisco Amangual found the inebriated officer and convinced Urrutia to sleep at his brother-in-law’s house, the influential Don Simón de Arocha. When Urrutia awoke, he went to the horse herd without permission and was temporarily imprisoned in the San Antonio guardhouse. After thirteen days, Urrutia was set free after an admonishment by the governor.

By this point in 1791, Urrutia’s antics reached a zenith. Growing to hate Governor Manuel Muñoz, the intoxicated alférez, disguised as an Indian, hid outside of Muñoz’s house in order to shoot and kill the commander with an arrow, but Muñoz never emerged. Despite these transgressions, Urrutia remained free and Governor Muñoz continued to send the troublemaker on new missions.

On January 25, 1792, Governor Manuel Muñoz once again imprisoned Urrutia. This time Urrutia was found intoxicated and incapacitated when guarding the horse herd. When Lt. Bernardo Fernandez attempted to add the horses of his detachment to the herd, Urrutia called him “a rotten coward and good for nothing” and charged him, but the numerous men watching held Urrutia back and pulled away the rifle Urrutia had trained on Fernandez. The alférez was jailed for insubordination, and, after a month of confinement, Commandant General Ramón de Castro ordered his release. Governor Muñoz, likely unsatisfied by Castro’s ruling, kept Urrutia imprisoned for an additional month.

Later that year, on August 13, 1792, Urrutia deserted his post. Sent to meet with the Wichita Indians in northeast Texas, Urrutia claimed that Chief Quiscate had abducted him and planned to use the alférez as an escort to San Antonio during the cold season. In truth, Urrutia had no intention of leaving the Wichitas. Despite multiple orders, letters threatening punishment, and a small force of soldiers that included his brother sent to retrieve him, the alférez remained among the Wichitas and other errant Europeans, such as the French trader Jean Baptiste Bousquet. By May 1793 Urrutia seems to have worn out his welcome among the Wichitas. Nacogdoches locals saw the beggarly-looking sixty-year-old officer rounding up wild horses in order to ride back to San Antonio and resume his duties.

Urrutia arrived in San Antonio at the beginning of June 5, 1793, and the governor of Texas imprisoned him. Although Commandant Pedro de Nava wished to send Urrutia to Mexico City to face justice, after about a month in jail Commandant General Nava discharged Urrutia from service and ordered that he and his immediate family move to Laredo. Governor Muñoz freed Urrutia, and thereafter, Urrutia does not appear in further Spanish Texas government documents. The date of his death is unknown.

Béxar Archives, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. 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). Lawrence Kinnaird, Spain in the Mississippi Valley, 1765–1794, Translations of Materials from the Spanish Archives in the Bancroft Library, Part I: The Revolutionary Period, 1765–1781 (Washington: United States Government Printing Offices, 1949).

Time Periods:

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

Tim Seiter, “Urrutia, Manuel de,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 19, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/urrutia-manuel-de.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 20, 2022
January 20, 2022

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