Don Diego de Vargas created two families on two continents.
The architect of the 1693 Spanish reconquest also juggled divided loyalties with the Pueblo Revolt.
New Mexico State Historian Rick Hendricks will address Vargas’ familial dilemma at the annual Santa Fe Fiesta lecture at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the New Mexico History Museum auditorium. Admission is $5.
Hendricks is a former editor of the University of New Mexico’s Vargas Project, which transcribed, translated and annotated the New Mexico governor’s papers. He also pored over archives in New Mexico, Mexico City and Spain. Hendricks says combing through the prolific letter-writer’s seven volumes – at 350 pages each – humanized the father of Santa Fe Fiesta.
“I’m not sure how generally known it is,” Hendricks said of de Vargas’ history. “I’m not sure how many people would plow through that material.”
But, he added, “it’s not a secret.”
De Vargas governed New Mexico from 1691 to 1697 and for four months spanning 1703 and 1704, when he died. He led the return of Spanish colonists to Santa Fe after a 12-year exile following the successful Pueblo revolt of 1680. Every year, the Santa Fe Fiesta celebrates and re-enacts this event.
The titled son of Spanish nobility, de Vargas married Doña Beatriz Pimentel de Prado in his summer home in Torrelaguna, a town about 30 miles north of Madrid. The couple produced five children in six years.
In 1666, de Vargas learned his father, don Alonso de Vargas, had died in Guatemala, leaving a sizeable estate to his only surviving son.
But like many patrician families, theirs was land-rich and cash-poor. They owned property in three different parts of the country. The family was plunged into debt.
‘There were considerable financial problems,” Hendricks said.
De Vargas crossed the Atlantic in 1672 to settle his father’s estate and collect his inheritance. While serving the Spanish crown in Teutila in Oaxaca in 1674, he learned his wife had died suddenly.
“When he left the family in Spain, the motivation was to sell his father’s estate,” Hendricks said. “It was well worth the trip across the ocean. He always intended to go back. He intended to go back and marry someone of his stature or class.”
De Vargas’ children fell into the care of his brother-in-law. With the exception of his first son, he never saw them again. But he continued to support them financially.
“Here was a career opportunity he hadn’t anticipated,” Hendricks said.
Against both his father’s warnings and wishes, de Vargas’ first son crossed the ocean to the New World to see him. He died on the journey home.
By 1679 or 1680, de Vargas was living in Mexico City with another companion, who may have been Nicolasa Rincón; they had at least three children. They never married. He moved up through the colonial ranks and, as was customary, bought the governorship of New Mexico, abandoning his second family.
“It’s part of the times,” Hendricks said. “He was living in Mexico City at the time and he wanted companionship. I’ve never put a moral judgment on it; it was a very human thing to do.
“He stated his reason for not marrying in the New World was that he wanted to return to Spain and marry someone of that same class,” Hendricks continued. “He recognized the kids. They did come up here briefly. The woman did not.”
De Vargas died —— most likely from dysentery —— after campaigning against the Apaches in Bernalillo.
The children of his second union survived him.
“You can still find them in the records,” Hendricks said. “They still appear; they had public office in New Mexico, Over the years, we’ve been contacted by his descendants.”
His first family remained in Spain, where the title of marquess moved to another family by marriage, Hendricks said. It was an honor bestowed by the king for the reconquest of New Mexico.
Unlike the majority of the state’s governors, de Vargas allowed a glimpse into his personal life through his pen.
“He was the only governor of New Mexico about whom we know his emotions,” Hendricks said. “He said New Mexico was ‘remote beyond compare.’ He was obviously tremendously saddened when his son died. We see the flesh and blood.”