Pedro de la Cruz was born to O’odham and Ópata parents who left him an orphan when he was very young. He was adopted by Diego Romero and his family when he was nine years old. Diego’s oldest son, Nicolás, ran the ranch and he and his wife raised young Pedro. Pedro referred to them as his amos (or foster parents).
Pedro was considered to be a ladino (or Spanish-speaking Indian) who had fully adopted the Spanish way of life. He grew up with the younger Romeros and all considered him a friend and part of the family. When Pedro left his wife and three small children to serve as sergeant to his cousin Luis in the Altar Valley, the Romeros expressed their disappointment.
In fact, his association with Luis of Sáric would prove his undoing. There, he bore witness to Luis’s plans to initiate a rebellion against the Spanish, targeting three priests in particular. It is possible that Pedro himself harbored a personal grudge against Father Garrucho. No one knows Pedro’s true heart at that crucial moment.
His wife, María Ínes, died that fall following a long illness. Pedro returned to the Valley and reunited the family. He seemed repentant and the Romeros welcomed him home with open arms. Working side by side, he lived in their confidence for eight days when the insurrection erupted on November 21st, 1751. Nearly 100 people died that day. Pedro, his three children, and the rest of the Romero family joined the other refugees seeking protection at the presidio in Terrenate. But his time in Sáric with Luis would implicate him in the uprising. A letter arrived at the caravan ordering his arrest as a spy and conspirator.
Clamping him in leg irons, they placed a rope around his neck and led him out of camp toward Suamca. When the party arrived, Pedro was chained to one of the upright posts of a ramada attached to Father Keller’s house. The priests questioned him about the rebellion. They harangued and cajoled, threatened and begged, spoke gently and yelled, but Pedro would not budge. He asserted his innocence and maintained that he knew nothing about the present rebellion. Finally, in desperation that afternoon, the senior military officer at the Mission gave the order that Pedro be taken to the outskirts of the village and tied to a post, there to be whipped until his memory served him better and he could recall just what his part in the uprising had been.
After three or four lashings, he returned to the ramada, shaking, stumbling, and limping, still firmly secured in leg irons. There he was once again chained to the upright beam, and his battered body sank to the floor.
“God well knows, Sir, that this punishment is being administered without fault for I know nothing about what you are asking me.”
He confessed to nothing. Those who knew and loved him were wondering why he should be held in such a manner. Those responsible for his arrest needed some evidence of his conspiracy to justify their actions. The next order of the day was to devise a means to obtain a confession. Pedro’s main concern, lying miserable and bruised on the hard ramada floor where he was chained, was survival.
As day dawned over Suamca the next morning, word spread through the refugee camp that Pedro had confessed during the night. As recorded by a Spanish transcription:
“I am not the cause of the rebellion. Those who have caused it are Fathers Jacobo Sedelmayr, Ignacio Xavier Keller, and Joseph Garrucho, because of the severity with which they and their mayordomos treat the Indians… Then in the presence of three or four Indians, the execution of the uprising was discussed in consultation… So because of this and because the fires of rebellion were getting very hot, I decided to leave the village and went to live [back] among the Spaniards.”
Pedro was found guilty of treason and executed by firing squad shortly thereafter.
Was he guilty? He was likely guilty of knowing more than he should have and not going to the authorities with the information. Did he incite an uprising? Probably to a point until things got out of hand. He wanted out and went home.
What is certain is that he was caught between two worlds with reason to fear retaliation from both of them if he did not do what one or the other thought he should.
Want to read more? Find Don Garate's original extended essay (from which this was based) about Pedro "Chihuahua" de la Cruz.