Friday, July 4, 2014


Happy Fourth of July!

I grew up in California, so in 1976 when this nation celebrated its bicentennial year, we were reenacting the arrival of Colonel Juan Bautista de Anza and his party of soldiers, settlers and priests and also some stuff that happened on the other side of the continent.

I was fresh out of Berkeley, still confused about what to do with my life, so I got involved with the bicentennial activities in the San Francisco Bay Area.  In Cupertino where I lived (later famous as where Apple Computers started), I created several illustrations of members of the Anza Expedition for a publication, Historias; The Spanish Heritage of Santa Clara Valley (California History Center, De Anza College, 1976).

I offer them here now as something like a confession.  We all start out somewhere, and this is pretty much it for me.  I may have had some pictures published in a school newspaper or some such, but I can’t remember those.  I think these are the first of my works that appeared in an actual book.  Of course, it helped that I did them for free – but today we have internships, which are kind of the same thing.

The drawings are crude because I am largely a self-taught artist and this is where I was in 1976 at 22 years old. More importantly, they are mostly, wildly inaccurate.  Research, like drawing and painting, has to start out somewhere.  I was still heavily under the influence of artists and authors such as Jo Mora, Arthur Woodward, Sidney Brinckerhoff and Odie B. Faulk.  These were pioneers in reconstructing the clothing, arms and armor of the soldados de cuera, also called the “leather jacket soldiers,” who garrisoned the presidios (forts) of the Provincias Internas – the frontier region between Mexico and the American Southwest.  In 1976, I was three years into my love affair with this subject, but had yet to do much original research of my own. 

In the thirty-eight years since I did these drawings, I’ve delved much deeper into the subjects of not only soldados de cuera, but also the material culture generally of what Professor Herbert Bolton called “The Spanish Borderlands.”  I’ve had a wonderful time doing it, too.  I can now see how ridiculous my figure of Colonel Anza was – really, there’s nothing right about it.  The woman colonist is not too bad and the Franciscan is passable, but the soldado de cuera, with his sash, wrapped botas (leather leggings), headscarf – none of which they wore – and his quilted jacket, embroidered bandolier, adarga (shield) and powder flask – all of which I’ve misinterpreted, now make me blush.

But to show you where these led, here are reconstructions of some of these same figures that I did later in my career after a lot more research, not to mention drawing and painting.  

My first posting on this blog shows you my current thoughts about Colonel Anza's appearance and the expedition as a whole.  These, I'll stand by.


  1. Hi, my name is Salomon, and I'm currently doing in-depth research on military uniforms of Mexico; colonial period to the present. Any information, books, uniform plates, sources, oil paintings would be greatly appreciated. One question I have is did General Martin Perfecto de Cos [ one of General Santa Anna's General's] wear a green hussar type uniform ? I will give you full credit for any information thanks, Here's my email

  2. Hello Saloman. I am not an expert on 18th century Mexican uniforms, but I do know that not much has been published on the subject. You may be familiar with Jose Bueno's "Tropas Virreyanales (1) Neuva España, Yucatan y Luisiana." Bueno's pictures are too stylized to be reliable, but he's a good, basic guide to the uniforms. There are lots of period pictures of the uniforms. Most of these are proposed uniform designs that are today in the Archivo General de las Indias in Spain. That archive, with the Spanish Army, published a collection of these some years ago. It's important to remember, though, that these were uniform proposals that may or may not have been approved. More research is needed to find out which were and which were not, and inspection records and other period correspondence would be key to understanding that. Finally, there are the casta paintings from New Spain, which very often include pictures of soldiers. A knowledge of Spanish and Mexican colonial uniforms could help to identify what units these soldiers served in. As for portraits, there are some but not many from the Spanish era in Mexico, but they are not well published. I hope this is of some help. I don't know about General Cos, but that's getting into the Mexican era anyway. Is your research for a specific project?

  3. The last four years doing research on Mexican uniforms has been very Difficult , blurry. Little to no information a bunch of dead ends. Mexican army Archives are notoriously impossible to access you have to have military clearance to even touch them. Jose Maria Bueno did a lot of good research of Mexican uniforms but as you said they aren't too detailed. Some of the books on my to buy list might have some information I need. “Estado Militar España 1815” by Antonio Manzano Lahoz. “Los Anos de Espana en Mexico de Cortes a Prim” Rene Chartrand has written many articles on this subject for Military Collector & Historian. Joseph Hefter has many excellent plates but are hard to find and many of his books are out of print. Gary Zaboly has done a good job on uniforms during the 1830s – 40s. Not to forget José Cisneros he did a lot southwestern art similar to what you do. Since no one has ever done a complete book on Mexican uniforms I decided to take on the project. I need help How do I even start ? If we could make this a join operation it could make the project easier.

  4. Hi. Again I must apologize for not seeing your comment sooner, but I've been busy lately. I've not done enough research on Mexican uniforms for you to even consider me a likely partner on this project - though it does sound fascinating. My region is the American Southwest and California. Even then I'm doing more illustration these days than research. I'd like to know more about your research and I might be able to point the way to a few sources. If you'd like, write to me at

  5. Hello,
    I am doing a historical project of Amador City. Jose Maria Amador served as a Soldado de Cuera at the Presidio in San Francisco, his birthplace. I would love to have permission to reprint one of your photos that represent this type of soldier.
    My name is Virginia. Thank you for your time.

  6. Salve Dave,
    I very interesting post! I also been doing some reading on the presidiales, but especially of the late 16th century and the 17th century, yet the 18th century and the reform and then the pacification of the Naciones del Norte are of great interest to me. In that context I wonder how you find the works (reconstructions and observations) on the subject by the late Jack Jackson - eg Los Mesteños: Spanish Ranching in Texas, 1721–1821, or the Spanish Expeditions into Texas... or in his graphic stories?