Exploring ancestral archives can be quite fascinating. For example, in the late 1580s my 10th great grandfather Juan Guerra de Reza married Ana de Arellano y Zaldívar, the granddaughter of Maria Onate Cortes Moctezuma and a prominent member of New Spain’s unofficial Aztec-Spanish royalty. De Reza came to the New World in his twenties and rose to the rank of General in his military service to the King of Spain. Maria Onate Cortes Mocezuma was the great granddaughter of Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II, and granddaughter of Hernan Cortes and Isabel Moctezuma.
General Juan Guerra de Reza came to America sometime after 1580. His countrymen, his future brother-in-laws, the Onates and Zaldivars were already engaged in the conquest of the Chichimecas in Jalisco and Zacatecas. His first marriage was to Ana de Arellano y Zaldivar, the daughter of Roque de Arellano and Ana de Zaldivar y Oñate. Ana’s mother was Maria de Oñate y Cortes Moctezuma. Upon seeing this marriage documented in Family Search, I was excited and intrigued. Did they have children? Was I connected to Aztec royalty? The answer to both questions, to my disappointment, was no.
I knew about General Guerra de Reza before I ordered my copy of Donald E. Chipman’s book, Moctezuma’s Children: Aztec Royalty Under Spanish Rule 1520-1700. From Chipman’s excellent account, I learned that Maria Onate Cortes Moctezuma was the wife of Vicente de Zaldívar Mendoza, a Maestro de Campo or Field General with Juan de Onate, Adelantado of New Mexico.
The Onates and Zaldivars were cousins, and the Zaldivars were related to Guerra de Reza through marriage. They were all from the same small Basque town in Spain, Vitoria. Two of the granddaughters of Hernan Cortes and Isabel Moctezuma, Leonor de Tolosa Cortés Moctezuma and Isabel de Tolosa Cortés Moctezuma, married into the Onate and Zaldívar families. Vicente de Zaldívar Mendoza married his cousin Maria de Oñate Cortés, a daughter of Isabel de Tolosa Cortés Moctezuma. I did not realize that Guerra de Reza, who was related to my family, had a first wife with royal Aztec heritage. In addition, the wives of his two brothers-in-law had ancestral lineage to Moctezuma.
I dove into early New Mexico history and found that my 10th great grandfather, Juan Guerra de Reza, served as a Lieutenant under Juan de Onate in the colonization of New Mexico in the years 1598-1606. De Reza was born in 1560 and entered the territory of New Mexico in 1598 with Onate’s army, that consisted of 145 fighting men, which together with their wives, children and servants, comprised some 500 persons.
Guerra de Reza served in Onate’s expedition with Vicente de Zaldivar, his brother in law and Onate’s cousin. Zaldivar was Maestro de Campo, [Field General] in the battle against the Pueblo indigeneous tribes. Not much is known about Guerra’s death in 1606, the year that Onate was replaced by the King in the province of New Mexico. Onate was required to answer charges of mismanagement. At the time of his death, de Reza was in his second marriage to my 10th great grandmother Magdalena de Zaldivar Onate Mendoza. As noted, her father, Vicente Zaldivar de Onate, was born in Vitoria, Basque Country, Spain and came to Mexico with the first generation of conquistadors.
Juan de Onate’s son Cristóbal de Oñate Cortés was a young boy when the Onates entered the province of New Mexico. Young Cristobal died in 1612 at age 22 in the Jornada Desert in New Mexico shortly after his family had relocated to Zacatecas. Juan de Onate and his wife Isabel de Tolosa Cortés Moctezuma also had a daughter, Maria de Oñate y Cortes. Maria married her cousin Capt. Vicente de Zaldívar Mendoza. They are considered among the founding Spanish families of New Mexico.
The first phase of the conquest of New Mexico by Juan de Onate did not go well. The Spaniards found no gold and the Indian resistance resulted in more than the small Spanish army could handle. Onate left in 1606. Those who followed him established Santa Fe in 1610, the oldest capital city in America.
Capt. Vicente de Zaldivar Mendoza and his wife Maria de Onate y Cortes returned to Zacatecas after Onate left, and for a time de Zaldivar had a successful career in silver mining. Chipman noted in his book that Zaldivar Mendoza “saw his wealth disappear in astonishingly quick fashion.” During the early 1630s Zaldivar Mendoza lost all of his estates and died poor around 1636, the same year of his wife’s death. Chipman reported that Zaldivar Mendoza’s widow, Maria de Oñate y Cortes, faced abject poverty, “By some accounts, her sustenance depended on the sale of bedding straw from a vending cart in the streets of Zacates.”
Maria de Onate Cortés Moctezuma’s life story is interesting and part of my family history. Maria married Capt. Vicente de Zaldívar Mendoza, and their children included Ana de Saldivar y Onate. In Ana’s brief marriage to my 10th great grandfather Guerra de Reza, they apparently had no heirs.
Growing up in the Westside of San Antonio, a community that is more than 90 percent Mexican-origin, I seldom thought about my ancestry. There were no questions in my mind about my identity–I was a Mexican American mestizo. While I was unable to trace my family to the Aztec empire, I know from historical documents that the Romo-Saenz lineage had Mestizaje from the start and had interesting family stories. I never imagined that my San Antonio family had connections to the founding families of New Mexico or to the Aztecs
More research may well connect our mestizo families of New Spain [Mexico] with the founding of the New World and eventually America.