JESJS F. DE LA TEJA, Editor
Texas and Northeastern Mexico, 163o-z69o. By Juan Bautista Chapa. Edited and
with an introduction by William C. Foster. Translated by Ned Brierley.
(Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997). Pp. xii+235. Preface, introduc-
tion, maps, illustrations, figures, notes, bibliography, index. ISBN
0-292-71188-3. $24.95, cloth.)
Juan Bautista Chapa, born in Albisola, Italy, in 1627, arrived in the New Spain
province of Nuevo Reino de Le6n around 1650. Over a forty-year period, he
served as secretary to three provincial governors. In 1961 he was revealed by
Israel Cavazos Garza as the anonymous author in Alonso de Le6n's Historia de
Nuevo Le6n. Cavazos has since published Chapa's work as a separate book,
Historia del Nuevo Reino de Le6n de 1650 a z69o, now translated into English by
Brierley under Foster's editorship.
Chapa, fluent in several languages, was exceptionally well educated for his
day; hence the lucidity of his writing. The first two-thirds of his narrative treats
events in Nuevo Le6n, including the Indian wars-a brutal parallel to a later
period in the American West. Most of the last one-third is devoted to the
younger Alonso de Le6n's expeditions in response to the Frenchman La Salle's
entry into Texas.
Brierley has rendered Chapa's account in readable English, which in itself is
no mean accomplishment. That may be enough for the casual reader, but the
specialist would be well advised to make a close comparison with the original.
Missed subtleties of the language abound, beginning with Chapa's opening
statement to the reader (Al Pio Lector). Explaining his reasons for writing anony-
mously (to avoid controversy), he seeks a compassionate reader, not a "devout"
one (p. 27). Pedreros by this time meant swivel guns, not "stone firing pieces."
Vergajones defierro signified iron rod, not "anchor-rope stays" (p. 129). An almud
as explained on p. 210 (note to p. 131) may mean a dry measure, but here it
pertains to garden plots: properly almud de tierra, about half an acre. The casco
seen near Pass Cavallo (p. 31), where one of La Salle's ships had run aground,
was a barrelhead, not a ship's hull.
Foster's introduction traces the publication history of Chapa's work and its use-
fulness to latter-day historians. The claim (p. 6, 19o, n. 6) that Nuevo Reino de
Le6n "included all or part of about forty Texas counties" reflects misunderstand-
ing of Luis de Carvajal y de la Cueva's royal grant of 1579, which was never so well
defined; in the Crown's view, it might have extended to Florida's St. Joseph Bay.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 101, July 1997 - April, 1998. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117155/. Accessed May 28, 2016.