The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 1980, Volume 26, Number 2
Thomas L. Scharf, Managing Editor


Richard H. Peterson, Book Review Editor

Spanish and Mexican Records of the American Southwest. By Henry Putney Beers. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1979. Bibliography. Maps. Index. 493 pages. $18.50 Cloth, $8.95 Paper.

Reviewed by Richard Griswold del Castillo, Associate Professor, Mexican American Studies Department, San Diego State University, author of The Los Angeles Barrio: A Social History 1850-1890 (1980).

This is an invaluable source book for those doing research on the history of the Spanish and Mexican Southwest. Beers, a former employee of the National Archives, has spent his lifetime locating and investigating the scattered archival records of this region. He has written an excellent survey of the documentary records for the Spanish and Mexican Borderlands. The book is primarily a discussion of the history of archival records. There are four sections, one for each of the states which were part of New Spain and the Mexican Republic: California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Colorado is discussed as part of the Texas section. Within each division of the book, Beers first gives a brief over-view of the political history of the region. This in itself is a valuable service, for it clarifies the complex and changing Spanish and Mexican administrative structures as well as providing a basis for understanding the documents which they produced. He discusses what became of the Spanish and Mexican archives after 1848, how documents were lost, mishandled, destroyed and moved from place to place. In reviewing the history of each region’s records he evaluates the completeness of the documentary collections and indicates what further bibliographic work is needed to make them more accessible to scholars. Each section has a discussion of land records, the records of local jurisdictions and the documents of the ecclesiastical jurisdictions.

The book goes beyond a history of documents located in the American Southwest. Its scope is world wide, surveying the holdings of Mexico, Spain and Europe. We learn, for example, that materials relating to the Franciscan missions in California are scattered in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, the Archivo General de Indias in Seville and the General Archives of the Franciscan Order in Rome.

The section on California is helpful. Since the Spanish archives for California, with the exception of the land records, were destroyed in the 1906 fire, scholars must rely on their reconstruction using copies of communications in the Archivo General de la Nacion in Mexico City and copies made by Herbert Howe Bancroft. The Henry E. Huntington Library has archival reproductions taken from the Archivo General in Seville. Beers discusses the California manuscript collections at the University of Michigan, the University of Texas and the Newberry Library in Chicago. He lists other less well known repositories such as the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana and the Pasadena Public Library. The Serra Museum of the San Diego History Center is mentioned but researchers will still have to go to these smaller libraries to discover what they have. Beers does not indicate the nature of their holdings.

Despite the attempt at encyclopedic coverage, some may be disappointed that the book does not cover the Spanish records relating to Florida and Louisiana. Another problem researchers will have is that the bibliography is not complete; amazingly it does not list the published catalogue of Spanish and Mexican documents in the Bancroft Library. It seems to be most complete in showing the holdings of the National Archives. The detailed index at the end will be useful in locating documents relative to subjects, authors and geographical locations.

The Spanish and Mexican Records of the American Southwest will undoubtedly be the first book all scholars interested in the borderlands will want to consult since it will give the broadest possible knowledge of the sources. For producing a single volume survey of the documents and their history we are all in Beers’ debt.