Manuel José de Sosa

Manuel José de Sosa

Donald T. Garate

Nobody knows when or where Manuel José de Sosa was born, but it probably doesn't matter - the important thing is that he was here and had a profound effect on what would many years later be the State of Arizona. It is practically a guaranteed fact that he was born in the last few years of the 1600's, possibly somewhere in the vicinity Casas Grandes, Chihuahua. He was definitely no stranger to the northern frontier of New Spain. And, he did not spell his name the way that is familiar to us, although he and everybody else probably pronounced it the way we spell it in modern times. As was customary in the early 1700's among the educated Spanish citizens - and he was educated, being certified as both a public and ecclesiastic scribe with one of the most beautiful handwritings of his day - he spelled his middle name "Joseph." Actually he abbreviated it - "Jsph" - with a little rafter over the "s" and "p." Like his good friend, in-law, and employer, Juan Bautista de Anza, the first, he also had been trained, as was customary for about a 50-75 year period at the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth centuries, to put double consonants in such words, or names, as "Anttonio." Thus, he spelled his surname "Sossa," the same way Anza spelled his "Anssa."
We first encounter Sosa in the Sonora River Valley in 1720. He was already, at that time, inseparably associated with Juan Bautista de Anza. They were involved on the same side of a heated controversy with the corrupt and fraudulent commander of the Presidio of Fronteras, one Gregorio Alverez Tuñón y Quirós. That fight would last for six years before "Don Gregorio" was finally arrested and ordered to Mexico City to stand trial and Anza was appointed to take his place. In the meantime, however, Anza moved to Janos, Chihuahua, where he became an officer in the cavalry there and married his wife, María Rosa Bezerra Nieto. Sosa, however, stayed behind in the Sonora River Valley during that six year period. He had already "been there and done that." He was married to Nicolasa Gómez de Silva, Rosa's aunt. Both ladies had been born and raised in the Janos-Casas Grandes area.
If Sosa had not been living at Fronteras, Sonora (about twenty miles south of present-day Douglas, Arizona) prior to Anza’s captaincy, he immediately moved there when Anza did and became the Captain’s permanent employee. Spaniards had started migrating into the San Luis Valley in the Pimería Alta during the mid-1720’s from the valleys around Fronteras. Anza detailed soldiers from the presidio to protect them and he, himself, began to look for ranch properties on the Santa Cruz River. We know from original documents that he had established the Guevavi Ranch by 1731 and placed Sosa there as his foreman. In all probability, however, the ranch had been in operation a few years before that, making Manuel José de Sosa Arizona’s first resident rancher.
Anza next established the San Mateo Ranch (in the vicinity of the Rio Rico Golf Course), the Sicurisuta Ranch (near Peña Blanca Lake) and, finally, the Sópori Ranch (near Amado). Although, he kept hired help at each of them, Sosa managed them all for him. In his travels between the ranches, Sosa was in a position to visit the missions of Guevavi and Santa María Suamca, where he would often stop in and help the priest with his record keeping. Numerous are the entries in both mission registers that bear the distinctive and elaborate writing of Manuel José de Sosa, and if we had the records of San Xavier, his writing would probably appear there, also.
Sosa was everywhere. He was at San Ignacio to defuse an extremely volatile situation when old Father Campos’ loyal Pimas almost waged war on his Jesuit superiors when they came to remove him from the mission. Sosa was at Guevavi in the fall of 1736 when word got out that enormous chunks of silver had been discovered about fifteen miles to the southeast. He was still there when Anza, the Justicia Mayor of Sonora, came riding over from Banámichi to investigate the silver discovery. Sosa rode down the mountain with him to the site. Anza named the location San Antonio de Padua, and quickly dispersed the several hundred treasure seekers who were already there, illegally mining without having filed proper claims. He and Sosa and a few soldiers they had with them soon broke camp there, however, rode another fifteen miles further down the mountain to Deputy Justicia Mayor Bernardo de Urrea’s ranch to set up a permanent camp while they weighed, catalogued, and impounded all the silver that had been found until such time as it could be determined if it was a silver vein, hidden treasure, or illegal smelting operation. Urrea’s ranch carried the unique name of “Arizona.”
While camping at the Arizona Ranch, Sosa faithfully and painstakingly wrote every letter, order, mandate, and weight list that Anza dictated. Those documents, dated and signed at “Arizona” would soon catapult that name into instant fame as a place of vast mineral wealth. Little could Sosa have known that some 130 years later, because of the dozens of pages that he had written there, the name Arizona would still be remembered and would be given to a vast territory soon to be inhabited by non-Spaniard, non-Indian peoples.
After everyone had gone home for the “Holidays” and the new year of 1737 had rolled into being, Sosa made his way to Fronteras. From there he carried the documents he had written and some samples of the silver, “corriendo la posta” as he put it, or riding the post horses to Mexico City, some 1300 miles away. It should be born in mind that Sosa’s ride took place 123 years before the establishment of the Pony Express. He covered the distance in 26 days, averaging more than 50 miles a day. Although he changed horses numerous times, he did not change riders once!
In Mexico City Manuel José dutifully waited for three months for Viceroy Juan Antonio de Vizarón y Eguiarreta to make up his mind what should be done about the marvelous discovery. When the viceroy decided to have Anza go back to the site with some silver experts to determine once and for all what the enormous chunks of silver were, Sosa came riding back north, once again “corriendo la posta” with the viceroy’s orders. Later that year, in August, he again went with Anza and the experts back to the site of San Antonio de Padua and dutifully recorded on numerous pages their decision that it was natural silver and should, therefore, be given back to those who discovered it.
Court cases about the silver drug on for years. Nearly everyone involved in the original controversy died before the litigation ended. Even Sosa, who continued to faithfully make copies of his original documents for judges and lawyers who subpoenaed them, finally died before the disputes ended. He was laid to rest beneath the floor of the Santa María Suamca Mission church on January 20, 1748. He had recorded his last entry in the Suamca Mission register exactly two weeks before.

Sosa Signature

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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