Image above: Artist Julio Barrera’s copy of a Spanish painting of Don Diego José de Vargas Zapata y Luiján Ponce de León y Contreras. Photo by Blair Clark, NMHM/DCA.
Two families, two continents, and the divided loyalties of one man, the architect of the 1693 Spanish reconquest. State Historian Rick Hendricks delivers the New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governor’s annual Santa Fe Fiesta Lecture, “Diego de Vargas’ Two Families,” at 6 pm on Wednesday, Sept. 4, in the auditorium. The event is sponsored by the Palace Guard, a support group of the Museum of New Mexico Foundation. Admission is $5 at the door; free to members of the Palace Guard. Seating is limited.
In the spring of 1664, don Diego de Vargas wed doña Beatriz Pimentel de Prado in their summer home of Torrelaguna, a town some thirty miles north of Madrid. Five children in six years blessed their union. During that time, in 1666, Vargas learned that his father, don Alonso de Vargas, had died in Guatemala, leaving a sizeable estate to his only surviving son, who was increasingly laden with debt. In the summer of 1672, Vargas decided to travel to Guatemala to settle his father’s estate and collect his inheritance. He was serving the crown in Teutila in Oaxaca in 1674 when his beloved wife died suddenly.
Vargas’ children fell to the care of his brother-in-law. But for one son, the father would never see them again.
By 1679 or 1680, Vargas was living in Mexico City with another companion, a woman who may have been Nicolasa Rincón and with whom he had at least three children. Vargas and his New World companion never married. He succeeded in moving up through the colonial ranks and eventually left behind this family, too, to lead the reconquest of the New Mexico province, the foundation of today’s Santa Fe Fiestas.
Rick 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 has also been a historical consultant for Sandia, Santa Ana, and Picuris Pueblos in New Mexico and Ysleta del Sur in Texas. He has written or collaborated on numerous books and articles on the Spanish colonial period in the American Southwest and Mexico, garnering awards from the Historical Society of New Mexico, New Mexico Historical Review, El Paso County Historical Society, Border Regional Library Association, and Doña Ana County Historical Society. A native of North Carolina, he earned a doctorate in Ibero American Studies at the University of New Mexico. He also attended the Universidad de Sevilla in Spain.