F. 5. Lieutenant Juan María Oliva
When Captain Juan Bautista de Anza departed for Upper California on January 6, 1774, he left in command of the royal fort of St. Ignatius at Tubac Lieutenant Juan María Oliva, an old man of fiftynine years (O'Conor Aug. 10, 1775). Lt. Oliva was an illiterate (Medina May 3, 1779 No. 6) native of the Villa of Sinaloa (O'Conor Aug. 10, 1775). A veteran of the original Tubac garrison (Ortiz Parrilla, Mar. 26, 1752c: 47), Oliva had served his king since September 4, 1749 (O'Conor Aug. 10, 1775) and worked his way up through the ranks. Needless to say, he did not belong either by birth or marriage (Santos Angeles de Guebavi, Libro de Bautismos p. 124) to the provincial elite of Sonora. On the other hand he was living proof that upward social mobility was possible in Spain's colonies, at the same time that he proved the inherent limitations on the degree of such mobility.
Oliva was the original sergeant of the Tubac Company (Ortiz Parrilla, Mar. 26, 1752c:47) and had won his commission on June 5, 1754. He was promoted from ensign to lieutenant July 7, 1758 (Rubí Dec. 21, 1766) by Captain Beldarrain without even viceregal approval.
Lt. Oliva was a splendid Indian fighter and was apparently highly esteemed by Captain Anza as such. He had eight wounds to prove his bravery by 1766 (ibid.) and had made over 100 campaigns with Anza and Beldarrain by the time Anza left him in charge of Tubac (O'Conor Aug. 10, 1775) when he claimed over fifteen wounds (Oliva Aug. 13, 1775 No. 8).
254Oliva seems to have functioned very well as second in command to the energetic, intelligent, and sophisticated Anza, or even as a leader of small detachments on active battle or scout duty. As a sergeant in October of 1752 he had personally slain an Indian village chief. Another time he surprised and captured 110 Indians. He repulsed some 200 Apaches who assaulted Mission St. Francis Xavier at Bac while he led a detachment guarding it (Oliva Aug. 13, 1775 No. 8). When Colonel Domingo Elizondo arrived in Sonora in 1768 to extirpate the Gulf Coast hostiles, one of the first local experts on Indian warfare he consulted was Oliva, who'd been at Guaymas (Rowland 1930:140).
Left on his own with command responsibility for the whole company and post, Oliva fell considerably short of the Anza mark, and the garrison deteriorated during Anza's absence. This loosening of discipline had not progressed seriously during the four and a half months Anza required to find a land route to the Pacific Ocean and return to Tubac, but then the Adjutant Inspector assigned him to command Terrenate almost as soon as he returned, and he then departed for the City of Mexico to report to the viceroy in person as previously arranged.
During seven months of Lt. Oliva's interim command, however, the Tubac post had deteriorated very fast. By August it was in such bad shape that the Comandant-Inspector issued a sharp reprimand to the acting comandant:
255The deplorable state in which I have found the company which garrisons this fort during the inspection review which I have just made of it is quite notorious... (O'Conor Avg. 16, 1775).
The royal inspector went on to command exact obedience to his orders for the reform of the post, usurping to some extent the function of the absent post comandant, Captain Anza. One suspects Lt. Oliva suffered more than a little because the refugee Irish Inspector General was consumed with more than a little envy over the great success achieved by a mere colonial captain named Anza in finding a land route to Upper California.
Among his strict injunctions to Lt. Oliva, Comandant-Inspector O'Conor included one to improve the discipline of the unit and begin drilling it in the use of firearms, in close-order drill and broken formation field manouvres and silent operations (ibid.). Another measure to improve the morale of the Tubac troopers appeared in O'Conor's orders to Lt. Oliva. The abuse of detailing soldiers for duties not in the royal service was to end, ruled the Comandant-Inspector (ibid.), just like the Marques de Rubí nine years earlier. The isolation of the post and powers of command clearly bred contempt for the letter of royal law.
Just how O'Conor expected to be able to put the Tubac post to rights by issuing written orders to the illiterate Lt. Oliva is somewhat of a puzzle. At least his pronouncements 256looked good in the record, and the homeless Irish rebel had to keep the record very much in mind here on the far frontier of the Spanish Empire which sheltered him.
Before Anza returned to Tubac again discipline had deteriorated further to the point where there were "disorders", (Bolton 1930:IV:138) at the post which enabled the Apaches to run off the entire horse herd of some 500 animals. In the few days now-Lieutenant Colonel Anza had at Tubac from October 15 to 23, 1775, while final preparations were made to start the colonizing expedition toward California, he could hardly have remedied the situation, even if he had not had his hands full with the thousand and one details of the expedition.
Upon Anza's departure command of the post again reverted to Lt. Oliva, and early in the next year 1776 it fell his lot to transfer the garrison from Tubac to the Indian village called Tucson where it became the Company of the Royal Fort of St. Augustine at Tucson (ibid., IV:28).
When that new post was inspected in 1779 by Adjutant-Inspector Roque de Medina, the inspector discovered almost no progress had been made in fortifying it and he laid responsibility to Lt. Oliva because of his illiteracy and to Ensign Juan Phelipe Beldarrain for his dishonesty in handling company funds. Medina placed Phelipe Beldarrain under arrest (Medina May 3, 1779, No. 6). Meanwhile Lt. Oliva had been relived of command on February 11, 1777, by Captain Pedro de Allande y Saavedra (ibid.) and placed under arrest by 257his successor (Allande June 15, 1777). When Comandant-Inspector Hugo O'Conor had inspected the Tubac company in 1775, he had perceived Oliva's unfitness for independent command, and recommended his immediate retirement (O'Conor Aug. 10, 1775), but the Spanish colonial bureaucracy moved as slowly as any other so it was a year and a half before a new comandant was chosen and arrived at the post.
During this period Oliva was retired with the rank of captain as a reward for his long and faithful services in the Sinaloa-Pimería Alta-Tubac-Tucson company (King Charles III, Feb. 28, 1776 & Medina May 3, 1779, No. 8, 14). Even after his retirement Oliva couldn't keep out of a cavalry saddle. In June of 1780 he was campaigning on the San Pedro River with the military governor of Sonora. At the age of sixty-five, Oliva still possessed the sharpest eye in the outfit, spotting a smoke that enabled the Spaniards to capture the only prisoners taken during the campaign (Croix June 23, 1780).