It’s in the Cards!
The Index File to Military Records of
Spanish and Mexican Soldiers in California
Compiled by Dr. Raymund F. Wood
One of our most unique archive collections in both content and format is the Index File to Military Records of Spanish and Mexican Soldiers in California, compiled by Dr. Raymund F. Wood (1911–1998). More than one thousand handwritten 3-x-5 inch index cards, organized alphabetically by surname, document the careers of Spanish and Mexican military personnel (naval servicemen are not included) serving in California between 1769 and 1840. I handle the three boxes of cards with a little fear and great reverence—fear of dropping or tipping out the contents, and reverence for the stories contained within and the great effort it took to compile those stories.
A fourth box houses Wood’s research notes, correspondence, and photocopies (some in Spanish) from archival sources, books, and journals. Donated to the Autry with the Index in 1989, the notes are in need of organizing and description. Once fully processed, we hope to better understand the resources Wood used and the timeline for the project.
It appears that Wood conducted the bulk of the research for the Index in the 1970s and 1980s, traveling to Spain to visit military and government archives. An experienced researcher, Dr. Wood was a professor of English early in his career, an associate dean of the UCLA School of Library and Information Science, and authored ten books and numerous professional and historical articles. The sources he consulted for the Index include the works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, the California Historical Society Quarterly, and the Archivo General de Indias (General Archive of the Indies) in Seville, Spain, which houses collections documenting the history of the Spanish Empire in the Americas and the Philippines. Wood also established the Wood Family Trust in 1992 to fund the Los Angeles City Historical Society’s annual Marie Northrop Lecture Series.
Wood hoped to publish the Index as a “biographical dictionary of all military (non-naval) personnel who came to California from 1769 until about 1830 or 1840 (including of course those who were born in California and then joined the Army).” Below is a note sent to Wood from Marie Northrup, noted genealogist and author of several publications about Spanish-Mexican families in early Los Angeles. The note refers to the possible publication of his military index, which never came to fruition.
From a brief look at his notes, it is likely that Wood also visited the Archivo General de Simancas in north-central Spain, an archive housing documents issued by the central government bodies of the Spanish monarchy dating from the late fifteenth to the early nineteenth centuries. http://en.www.mcu.es/archivos/MC/AGS/index.html
This document copy from the Archivo General de Simancas provides information on the military career of Cayetano Limon at age twenty-five. It describes Limon, gives details of his military campaigns, and notes that he could neither read nor write. Further evaluation of the soldier’s traits are listed bottom right.
Each card in the Index File to Military Records of Spanish and Mexican Soldiers in California includes biographical information and an abbreviated citation for the source of that information. It is possible to trace the movements and responsibilities of individual soldiers; names of their wives; births and baptisms of their children; periods of being inválido or disabled; and for some soldiers, what they did after retiring from the military. When I read these cards, history comes alive!
Card 1 for José Vicente Féliz notes that in 1781 he was “[t]he corporal guard of 3 soldiers accompanying 11 settlers and families, from San Gabriel to Los Angeles, for founding, Sept. 4.”
I randomly selected Féliz to illustrate how Wood detailed a soldier’s California service on the cards before knowing of the connection between the Autry, Griffith Park, and Féliz. In circa 1802, Rancho Los Feliz was given to Corporal José Vicente Féliz. It was one of the first land grants in California and included land now known as Griffith Park, where the Autry is located. You can see the old adobe house built in the 1830s by heirs of Féliz on Crystal Springs Drive. Today it serves as the Park Rangers Headquarters and Griffith Park Visitor’s Center.
Some cards have photocopied entries from books attached to them.
Card 3 has an interesting entry: José Vicente Féliz was “Witness at LA of granting of lots to settlers” in 1786.
Wood’s bibliography of works and archives consulted is recorded on fifty cards and filed alphabetically at the beginning of the Index. This card is a sort of quick reference to the most commonly cited resources.
The Index is accessible to researchers and is consulted several times a year for family or historical projects. Most researchers work remotely with us and request copies of the cards. We hope to digitize the cards and make the data available online in a format that allows for searching by key information beyond surname. This would provide researchers the ability to study activities at specific presidios, military campaigns and strategies, the administration of military forces, and the history of the Spanish in California more broadly.