ISIDRO SÀNCHEZ CONFESSES TO ROBBING PRESIDIO STOREHOUSE
MARCH 25 - APRIL 3, 1720. SOURCE: SANM II #307
Synopsis and editor’s notes: The name of the irrepressible Isidro Sánchez appears several times in early eighteenth-century Spanish Colonial documents. In each case, his testimony, and sometimes his behavior, border on the outrageous. He was also literate; in fact, the elaborate signature and rubric he used in the documents rivals that of some governors.
In later years, he frequently served as a witness for court cases. He may have had some legal training, for he wrote petitions for clients and represented them in court, at least until 1745 when the governor ordered him to stop representing complainants.
Sánchez’s name first appears in this Santa Fe document of 1719, when he was twenty-one years old. Apparently, he did not have a job or any other visible means of support, and he gambled frequently but not very successfully. In late March, not long before Lieutenant-General don Pedro de Villasur left Santa Fe in mid-June for his ill-fated expedition to the north, Sánchez with a few soldiers and some others were gambling at the house of Juan de León Brito house. They became suspicious about the origin of the textiles, shoes, chocolate, and other goods with which Isidro was gambling. When asked about the goods, Sánchez replied that his mother had sent him some money with which he purchased the goods, but his fellow gamblers did not believe him. After an official complaint, Villasur arrested Sánchez and placed in leg irons in the presidio barracks.
When he was brought forward to give testimony, Sánchez admitted stealing from the Palace of the Governors’ storehouse. He explained that the “devil led him” to enter the second story of the presidio storehouse at night to steal some goods (successfully) and then hide them. Being encouraged by this, he went back the following night and stole some more goods that he hid nearby. His testimony is especially valuable to historians because of the description of the palace architecture (when he explains his method for getting in and out of a balcony window) and the fabrics he stole.
Unfortunately, pages are missing from both the beginning and end of the manuscript and the complete record of the case does not exist, so it is not known what sentence Villasur imposed for Isidro’s larceny. We do know that at that time Sánchez was not yet a soldier and was not a part of the Villasur Expedition. Sometime between 1720 and 1731, however, he became a member of the Albuquerque squadron and at some point he threatened his sergeant with an arquebus (an early type of firearm). For this behavior, he was expelled from the military. Later, as can be seen in Document 28 in this book, Sánchez appears as a legal representative.
As the present document indicates, the procedures for a military trial were similar to those of non-military trials in eighteenth-century New Mexico. A charge was made and testimony was given by witnesses before the governor and his secretary, though no assisting witnesses signed the document as they would have in civilian cases. As with civilian cases, the accused, Sánchez, was imprisoned and then ordered to give a statement before the lieutenant-governor. When Villasur found discrepancies in the testimony, he asked him to clarify his answers. Sánchez was complying with this request when the document ends.
This was not the first time that a presidio building in Santa Fe was robbed. A document dating to 1694, for instance, indicates that when Agustín Sáez lived with his wife in the second story of a warehouse containing presidio supplies, he entered the storehouse below through a trap door and stole some soap and chiles. This burglary came to light when Sáez was giving testimony when on trial for adultery. In 1764, the presidio storehouse was robbed once again, this time by two brothers, Manuel and Pedro Moya, along with their mother as an accessory.
Although no Spanish Colonial women are featured in this case, the document was included here because some of the cloth that Isidro Sánchez stole from the presidio storehouse was surely sold for use by women in New Mexico as well as for presidio personnel and trade with the Indians. The document is also included because it has not been published in its entirely, has an intriguing description of the Palace of the Governors,is a delight to read, and may be one of the last documents in which Lieutenant-Governor Villasur appears before he leaves on his disastrous expedition to the north.