Soldado de cuera

Soldados de cuera and Indian auxiliaries, 1720.

The soldados de cuera (English, "leather-jacket soldier")[1] served in the frontier garrisons of northern New Spain, the Presidios, from the late 16th to the early 19th century.[2] They were mounted and were an exclusive corps in the Spanish Empire. They took their name from the multi-layered deer-skin cloak they wore as protection against Indian arrows. When New Spain's visitador (inspector general) José de Gálvez organized the Portola Expedition, he was accompanied by a party of 25 soldiers, the "finest horsemen in the world, and among these soldiers who best earn their bread from the august monarch whom they serve".[1]

Equipment [ edit ]

A soldados de cuera

1: Leather jacket with seven layers

2: Saddle pommel and cantle

3: Carbine

4: Saddle bag

5: Lance

6: Pistols hanging on each side of the fender

7: Buckler

8: Boots and spurs

9: Wooden stirrups

10: Cartridge box

The cuera, which gave them their name, was a leather jacket, like a coat without sleeves, proof against the Indians' arrows except at very close range. For additional armor they had shields and chaps. The shields, carried on the left arm, were made of two plies of bull's hide, and would turn either arrow or spear. The leather chaps or aprons, fastened to the pommel of the saddle, protected legs and thighs from brush and cactus spines.[1]

They were armed with a carbine (escopeta), pair of pistols (pistolas), bow (arco), dagger (puñal), sword (espada ancha), and lance (lanza). They also carried a bull-hide shield (adarga) or a small round metal shield (rodela) for defense against weapons such as swords, spears, javelins, and arrows. Each soldier had six horses, a foal, and a mule (until 1720 they had 10 horses). Equipment and animals belonged to the soldier personally and they had to pay for them out of their own purse.[4][5]

Recruitment [ edit ]

These frontier soldiers were recruited from among the Mestizo population, Hispanicized Native Americans, and freed slaves. Most of the officers were Criollos, whereas very few of the enlisted men had this distinction. The soldados de cuera manned the presidios that stretched from Los Adaes, Louisiana, in the East, across Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, to the Pacific Coast of Alta California in the West.[6] There was no lack of volunteers for the service. Recruitment took place mainly among the local population, accustomed to the local climate, who were expert horsemen, and expert trackers who knew the country. For the poor general population the service as a soldados de cuera was attractive, with many perks; besides a regular pay, also medical care, the possibility land grants and promotions.[5]

Assignments [ edit ]

Possible Navajo charcoal cave drawing of soldados de cuera, date of drawing unknown

When not on campaign against hostile Indians, the soldados de cuera escorted convoys of travelers or merchandise. They also had to take care of watching the enormous remudas of the presidios from native horse thieves; a fifty man garrison had over 500 horses and mules. This constant vigilance reduced the number of men available for other missions.[5]

Organization [ edit ]

In Santa Fe, the governor of Santa Fe de Nuevo México was the captain and commander of the company of dragones de cuera He normally held the rank of teniente coronel graduado, that is Lieutenant Colonel by brevet. In addition there were two lieutenants (the first lieutenant normally captain by brevet) with a pay of 700 pesos annually. There were also two sergeants with 350 pesos each; six corporals with 300 pesos each; and 69 privates with 290 pesos each. Among the privates were also an armorer, a drummer, and six carabineers.

The compañías volantes (flying companies) raised in 1767 were used as a mobile reserve, but had the same equipment as the normal companies. The tropas ligeras (light troops) raised in 1778, did not use the leather armor, the shield or the lance, but were otherwise equipped like normal soldados de cuera except their hats were white. The normal strength of the light troops were 19 per company. In Santa Fe they were commanded by a second ensign with 450 pesos annually in pay, and a second sergeant with 320 pesos; light dragoon privates received 216 pesos annually.[7]

Strength [ edit ]

1701 [ edit ]

Presidio/Unit Strength
Nueva Vizcaya
Casas Grandes 50
San Francisco de Conchos 50
San Pedro del Gallo 45
Nuestra Señora del Pasaje de Cuencame 45
Cerro Gordo 23
Field companies of Parral and Durango 45
Nuevo México
El Paso 50
Santa Fe 100
Flying company 50
Nuevo León
Cerralvo 10
Caldereta 10
San Francisco 25
Other provinces
Sinaloa 41
Tamos 4
Santa Catalina de Tape Huames 9
Source: [8]

1717 [ edit ]

Presidio/Unit Strength
Nuevo México 100
Sinaloa 43
Coahuila 25
Paso del Rio del Norte 49
Cerralvo, Calderita y León 20
Cuencalné 40
San Antonio Casas Grandes 50
Sonora 50
Conchos 50
Gallo 43
Pasaje 45
Cerro Gordo 23
Santa Catarina de Tepehuenes 9
Durango 15
Field company 30
Source: [9]

1764 [ edit ]

Presidios and their strength in the several provinces:

  • Bahía del Espíritu Santo, 51
  • Adaes, 61
  • San Sabá, 101
  • Trinidad, 31

Bejar, 23

  • Nuevo México
  • Santa Fe, 81
  • El Paso, 50
  • Nayarit, 43
Nueva Vizcaya

Junta de los Ríos, 50 Janos, 51 Guajoquilla, 51


Rio Grande. 33 San Francisco de Coahuila. 36 Santa Rosa del Sacramento. 52

Nuevo León

San Agustín Ahumada, 27


Corodeguachi, 51 Guebavi, 51 Horcasitas, 51 Tubac, 51 Caborca (Altar), 51 Buenavista, 51


Loreto, 30 San José del Cabo, 30

Nuevo Santander
  • Santa Ana Calnargo, 13
  • Villa de San Fernando, 10
  • Villa de San Antonio Padilla, 5
  • Nuestra Señora De Loreto de Burgos, 12
  • Santa Maria de Llera, 12
  • San Francisco de Güemes, 8
  • San Juan Bautista Horcasitas, 11
  • Dulce Nombre de Jesús Escandan, 9
  • Soto la Marina, 11
  • Cinco Señores de Santander, 22
  • Reinosa, 11
  • Santa Maria de Aguayo, 1
  • San Antonio Padilla, 12

Source: [10]

See also [ edit ]

References [ edit ]

Notes [ edit ]

  1. ^ a b c Crespí, Juan, 1721-1782. Fray Juan Crespi: Missionary Explorer On the Pacific Coast, 1769-1774. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California press, 1927.
  2. ^ Crosby, Harry W. (1994). Antigua California: Mission and Colony on the Peninsular Frontier, 1697-1768 - Harry Crosby - Google Books. ISBN 9780826314956. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  3. ^ Bueno, José María (2014). Las Guarniciones de los Presidios de Nueva España: Los Dragones Cuera. Madrid: Ministerio de Defensa, p. 21.
  4. ^ Adamo, Joseph (1986). "Soldados De Cuera". California Mission Studies Assn. Newsletter. August.
  5. ^ a b c Bueno, José María, op. cit., p. 20.
  6. ^ Conor McMahon, "The Espada Ancha in New Mexico" Retrieved 2016-03-31.
  7. ^ Simmons, Marc (1968). Spanish Government in New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, pp. 113-117.
  8. ^ Bueno, José María, op. cit., p. 8.
  9. ^ Bueno, José María, op. cit., p. 9.
  10. ^ Bueno, José María, op. cit., pp. 11-12.
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