Spanish and Mexican California
Presidios of the Frontier Line
by Michael R. Hardwick

In the latter half of the eighteenth century frontier conditions in northern New Spain had deteriorated to such an extent as a result of Indian depredations, management of presidios etc., that the Spanish crown found it necessary to order an examination of the entire frontier with the view of relocating presidios and making whatever other adjustments might be necessary to prevent further abandonment of the frontier settlements. The Marques de Rubi was given the assignment of investigating this problem. He began his investigation in 1766. Royal engineers Nicolas de La Fora and Joseph de Urrutia assisted Rubi by drawing plans of presidios and drafting maps of the area traversed.

As a result of the Rubi recommendations, a new line of defense was established, uniform fortification plans were prescribed, and numerous changes were made in regulations governing military personnel. The new line of fortifications was to be composed of some fifteen presidios situated at about 40 leagues (or 120 mile) intervals extending from the Gulf of California on the west to the Gulf of Mexico on the east along what is now approximately the northern boundary of Mexico. The order implementing the realignment of the Presidios of the Frontier Line was published in 1772: REGLAMENTO e instruccion para los presidios que se han de formar EN LA LINEA DE FRONTERA de la Nueva Espana.

Hugo O'Conor was named to the post of Commander-Inspector of the military forces of the frontier provinces and took over the command on 17 February 1772. Between 1773 and 1775, O'Conor succeeded in relocating 12 presidios that had to be moved and added two others. Detachments of troops were ordered to be stationed at San Antiono de Bejar and Arroyo del Cibolo in Texas. These however were not considered to be Presidios of the Frontier Line. (pp 7-8, Spanish Presidios of the Late Eighteenth Century in Northern New Spain, Rex E. Gerald, Museum of New Mexico Research Records No. 7, Santa Fe, 1968).

Presidios of the Frontier Line (from west to east):

Santa Gertrudis del Altar, founded 1755 with 30 soldiers from the presidio of Sinaloa. Presidio was designed to restrain the Seris, Pimas and Papagos.

Tubac, founded 1753 following the Pima uprising of 1751. The garrison was moved to Tucson in 1777.

Terrenate, founded 1742 southwest of Huachuca mountains Sonora. Late in 1775 Santa Cruz de Terrenate was relocated near what is now Fairbanks Arizona. Apache Indian attacks forced relocation of the of the presidio again in 1780 to a site near the arroyo of Las Nutrias in what is now Sonora, Mexico.

Fronteras, originally founded in 1692. It was located for a while to the north in the San Bernardino Valley, possibly in Arizona. Later in 1780 it was moved south by Teodoro de Croix.

Janos, founded 1690.

San Buenaventura, founded in 1776 by troops from Guajoquilla.

El Paso del Norte, founded as a result of the Revolt of 1680 in upper New Mexico. Spaniards moved downriver (southward) and founded presidio at the site of present Juarez, Chihuahua. Presidio was constructed in 1683. In 1773, because the town of El Paso was well populated and could defend itself, the presidio was moved southward to Carrizal.

Guajoquilla, erected in 1752 on orders from the Viceroy Revilla Gigedo. Later known as San Eleazario.

Julimes, located in 1777 at the former site of the presidio of La Junta at the confluence of the Conchos and Del Norte (Rio Grande) rivers.

Cerro Gordo, founded after 1772 as part of the new frontier defense.

San Saba, San Saba-Aguaverde was founded in the new presidial line after 1772.

Santa Rosa del Sacrament, now Ciudad Melcho Muzquiz, Coahuila. It was moved north after 1772.

Monclova, founded in 1674. The villa or town of Monclova was the capital of Coahuila in 1780. At that time the presidio was located to the east nearer the Rio Grande.
La Bahia del Espiritu Santo, founded in 1772 as the last and easternmost presidio of the line. The original site was where Fort St. Louis stood on Matagorda Bay. It was moved in 1726 to the Guadalupe River and later removed to the north bank of the San Antonio River at the site of the present town of Goliad, Texas.

San Antonio de Bejar, founded May 5, 1718 was not considered a presidio of the line, but it was defended by a detachment according to the regulations of 1772.

Arroyo del Cibolo, founded in 1771 as a detachment site. Presidio was deactivated in 1782 at orders of Teodoro de Croix, (pp.94,95, Lancers for the King, Brinckerhoff amd Faulk, Phoenix, 1965).


The Author

Michael Hardwick graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1972 with High Honors. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology with graduate work in Public Administration from University of Redlands.

While in college, Mike did some of the original archaeology on the Presidio in Santa Barbara. In the 1970s he established the archive at La Purísima Mission State Historic Park and was a State Park Ranger Intermittent there for five years. Mike served on the Board of Directors of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation for 17 years. During that time he acted as Treasurer of the Trust, chaired the Archive Library, Descendants and Genealogy Committees, and was a member of the Reconstruction Committee.

As a living history enthusiast, Mike was a Civil War reenactor for six years and was a member of the Santa Barbara Civil War Council. He was instrumental in founding Los Soldados del Real Presidio de Santa Barbara in 1990 and is currently an active Soldado in that group. He established a Web site for Los Soldados and has written several papers on Spanish Colonial Military History.

Michael currently does a living history impression of Phelipe de Neve, first governor of the Californias, 1777-1782. Appointed the Soldados National Spokesperson for the Gálvez project, Mike orchestrated an impressive ceremony in October of 2003, which paid tribute to Bernardo de Gálvez as part of a Hispanic-American Heros Series sponsored by Somos Primos, Society of Hispanic Historical and Ancestral Research.

Mike’s interests are varied. He served on the La Purísima Mission Advisory Committee. He is on the Santa Barbara Mission Museum Board. He belongs to CMSA (California Mission Studies Association) and has published an extensive bibliography on Presidios and Soldiers of Northern New Spain on their WEB site.

Mike is currently working on the beginnings of horticulture in California and is actively researching that topic. He has recently published, Changes in Landscape, The Beginnings of Horticulture in the California Missions, which is available through the bookstore at the Old Mission, Santa Barbara, 2201 Laguna Street, Santa Barbara, CA. 93105. He is participating with others in a heritage plant project at Mission Santa Barbara and hopes to enlarge and republish his book.

Mike is a Vietnam Era Veteran. He spent six years in the Navy and was with the Commander of Seventh Fleet on the Flagship, USS Oklahoma City during the years 1968 – 1969. He retired from the County of Santa Barbara as a Senior Systems Analyst in 2002. He was a County employee for 26 years. As a data processing professional, Mike taught for a number of years in the SBCC Adult Education Program. He holds a California Community Colleges teaching Credential.

He may be reached at



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Updated 8 February 2016