The formation of Nuevo León: Monterrey in its first years

Montemayor founded the Metropolitan City of Nuestra Señora de Monterrey on September 20, 1596, "next to a large mountain and the springs they call Santa Lucia", where the town of that name had been and later the village of San Luis.

The formation of Nuevo León: Monterrey in its first years
Monterrey, Nuevo León. Photo by Cande Westh / Unsplash

For almost eight years the Nuevo Reino de León remained uninhabited. The first settlers, companions of Alberto del Canto or Carvajal, were in Saltillo, Mazapil, and other towns. One of them, Diego de Montemayor, who in the title of lieutenant of Carvajal, in 1588, is described as "a person of quality, courage, and sufficiency", attributes that Alonso de León reproduces in his chronicle, decided to return.

On September 20, 1596, Montemayor founded the Metropolitan City of Nuestra Señora de Monterrey, "next to a large mountain and springs called Santa Lucia", where the town of that name had been and later the village of San Luis. With the name of Our Lady, the founder honored Mary and with the name of Monterrey the noble title of Don Gaspar de Zúñiga y Acevedo, Count of Monterrey, Viceroy of New Spain at that time.

In the text of the act of foundation, written by the notary Diego Díaz de Berlanga, it is noted that Montemayor adhered in everything to the Ordinances of New Populations promulgated by Felipe II in 1573. He designated the town's jurisdiction as "fifteen leagues to the east and another fifteen to the west and from north to south the same in the square". As ejido, that is, the common field for all the neighbors, he designated "one league in the round", according to ordinance number 43, "and considering that at present there are not enough Spaniards [...] until God willing there will be more comfortable". He only appointed "Alonso de Barreda and Pedro de Íñigo, as ordinary mayors, and Juan Pérez de los Ríos and Diego Díaz de Berlanga and Diego Maldonado, as aldermen and Diego de Montemayor [his son] as attorney general of this kingdom and Diego Díaz de Berlanga as scribe of the town council".

The repopulation of the New Kingdom of León undertaken by Montemayor was described at that time as improper or illegal. Those who thought this way argued that when Carvajal died, his capitulation had been left without effect. The chronicler comments, referring to Montemayor, that "the abandonment of the land had expired" and that he required a new royal order; but that "guided by an honest ambition, he did not give him time to consider these inconveniences". The founder did pay attention to this, since there is evidence that, a month after the city was founded, he made a trip to Mexico and that the viceroy, after consulting Spain, not only authorized what he had done but also gave him the title of the governor on February 11, 1599.

The first neighbors

For more than 30 years the Nuevo Reino de León was limited to its capital, Monterrey. So much so that the nickname of its inhabitants: reineros, was applied only to those of the city and not to those of the entire kingdom when there were other towns. The city was isolated: Saltillo was the closest town and the most important town, Zacatecas, was at a great distance. For this reason, the first years were of extreme poverty. The governor himself once had to feed himself on lampazo roots (greater burdock), "of which the waterhole abounds". A clear idea of the environment is given by the description made in 1602 by Bishop Mota y Escobar. Without arriving there, from Saltillo, he wrote in his visitor's book: "their houses are made of muddy adobe palisades".

The first activities of the settlers were the cultivation of the land and the raising of cattle, although only what was necessary for their consumption. The oldest existing documents in the archives give an account of another activity: mining; but the findings of metal veins did not go, initially, beyond the perimeter indicated to the city. Nearby, to the south, in the early years, there was a mining site called Real de los Apóstoles, which was probably the one that much later became known as Mineral de San Pedro y San Pablo. It must have been more or less important because in 1597 and 1598 it had a mayor.

It has not been possible so far to find out the birthplace of the founder of Monterrey. It is known that by 1572 his wife María de Esquivel had died and that in that year he was a neighbor of Mazapil, married in a second marriage to Juana de Porcallo or de la Cerda. Some researchers find Diego de Montemayor, a native of Malaga, and married to Ines Rodriguez, but it could be a homonym. When he entered Monterrey he was a widower. He was accompanied by Estefanía, his daughter, wife of Alberto del Canto, and their sons, Diego and Miguel, children.

The first neighbors of the city were Diego Díaz de Berlanga, married to Mariana Díaz; his lands, to the north of the city, were later owned by Pedro de la Garza and became known as Estancia de los Garza or San Nicolás de los Garza, the present city of that name. Diego de Montemayor, the boy, son of the founder, married to Elvira de Rentería. Diego Rodríguez, married Sebastiana de Treviño, originally from Mexico City; their daughters: Inés, Andrea and Mónica. Juan López, with his wife Magdalena de Ávila, settled in San Pedro de los Nogales, present Garza García, in the place called La Pastora; their children: Juan, Bernabé and Melchora. Lucas García, nicknamed the Captain of Peace because of his knowledge of the indigenous languages; married to Juliana de Quintanilla, he populated the hacienda (today city) of Santa Catarina; their children: Bartolomé, Tomás and Lucas. Martín de Solís, originally from Querétaro, married Francisca de Ávila; with Juan and Diego, his sons, they populated the hacienda of Santa Cruz, today Guadalupe city. Diego Maldonado, married Antonia de Paz; their son, Juan. Juan Pérez de los Ríos and his wife Agustina de Charles, from Puebla de los Angeles; their children: Juan, Ana, Bartolomé, Alonso, Esteban and Pedro. They were also first neighbors Alonso de Barreda, Domingo Manuel, Cristóbal Pérez and Pedro de Íñigo, of whom there are scarce references. It has been calculated that counting the women and children, there were only thirty-four people.

To the first neighbors were added, albeit slowly, others who arrived. Not just anyone was admitted; it was necessary that whoever wanted to settle there had to make a written request and also present a bond given by one of the neighbors, guaranteeing that they would not be depopulated. In this way, the Treviño, Ayala, Garza, and other families arrived, which constituted the old roots of the oldest regional surnames.

New decadence

The founder was an active man. The writings that are preserved of him show that he had an uncommon cultural preparation. He tried, although without achieving it, to repopulate the old city of Leon (Cerralvo), he also had the purpose of repopulating Almaden (Monclova) and in 1605 he gave the title of mayor of that place to Pedro Velada. He was this one with several neighbors but he did not manage to maintain the population; he also tried to find new places. In his time the town of San Juan Bautista was established, of which the mayor was Diego Hernandez in 1609. This town existed in the place where thirty years later the town of Cadereyta was founded.

The relative prosperity of the kingdom was followed by a new stage of decadence and almost total depopulation. In April 1611, Governor Diego de Montemayor, founder of the city, died. Don Diego, his son, replaced him in the position, but he also died the following year. Captain Diego Rodríguez was left as chief justice. Another misfortune occurred. The torrential rains of 1611 caused a flood "that brought down half of the houses in the city". The chief justice decided to move it very close, to the south, because it was higher. He redesigned the main square (Zaragoza) and distributed the plots of land to the neighbors.

The decadence was alarming. To avoid it, the Viceroy entrusted its care and gave the title of lieutenant general to a very valuable man; General Agustín de Zavala, a rich miner from Zacatecas; but as he could not do it personally, he directed the administration using major justices. First, Cristóbal de Irurreta; then, the same Diego Rodríguez, who served for nine years, 1615-1624, and finally, Alonso Lucas el Bueno.

So that the neighbors did not depopulate, Don Agustín de Zavala maintained in Monterrey for more than ten years a store of flour, seeds, and other supplies to distribute to the families. He also maintained, at his own expense, some pacification campaigns and established in Monterrey a presidio or military detachment in 1662 under the care of Captain Hernando Huarte de la Concha.

Author: Israel Cavazos Garza, Source: ILCE Digital Library