last updated 01/07/2012

Chaves Coat of Arms

Courtesy of Bexar Genealogy

Written by Steve Gibson, 4th great-grandson of Francisco Xavier Chaves

Francisco Xavier Cháves (1762 –1832).  The first member of the Cháves family in San Antonio was born in or around Albuquerque, New Mexico about 1762.


He was the youngest of four children born to Ignacio Cháves and Gregoria Maesse.  His maternal grandfather was Bartolome Maesse, Sergeant of the Royal Presidio at Albuquerque, who participated in Indian campaigns killing many Comanche’s and who was himself killed by Comanche’s.[1]  His father, Ignacio was the son of Francisco Duran y Cháves and Juana Baca.  The Baca Family of New Mexico also claimed to be descendents of the Cabeza de Vaca Family in Spain, from which Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca also came from.  He took the title Cabeza de Vaca, meaning "head of a cow," which was won by a maternal ancestor, Martin Alhaja, who showed King Sancho of Navarre a mountain pass in Andalusia, southern Spain, marked with a cow's skull. Use of this pass enabled King Sancho VII to win the famous battle of Las Navas de Tolosa against the Moors in 1212.


His paternal grandfather was Francisco Duran y Cháves, son of Fernando Duran y Cháves, who became Alcalde Mayor of Villa de San Felipe de Albuquerque, and his wife Doña Luisa Hurtado, who he married in New Mexico.  Don Fernando Duran y Cháves was responsible for putting down an uprising of Pueblo Indians and was subsequently rewarded by King Charles II of Spain with the Atrisco Land Grant in 1692.  Francisco Xavier Cháves was the 5th great grandson of Pedro Gómez Durán y Cháves, forebear of the Cháves family of New Mexico receiving the name from his ancestors who were the keepers of the keys or “Llaves” of the Royal Household of the King of Spain.  Pedro Gómez Durán y Cháves was born in Valverde de Llerena, Estremadura, Spain and was part of the Oñate Expedition that settled New Mexico under the command of Juan de Oñate.


Don Juan de Oñate who left New Spain to colonize New Mexico in the name of the King of Spain, Phillip II, arrived at San Juan de los Caballeros in the summer of 1598 with about a hundred and thirty Spanish soldiers, many of these with their families.   About eighty additional soldiers, also with families, arrived in support of this first group on Christmas Eve, 1600.  It is with this second group that Don Pedro Gómez Durán y Cháves came to be in the newly established settlement of New Mexico.  Don Pedro, a sargneto at that time, was described as a well-built man of good features, "fifty" years old, the legitimate son of Hernán Sánchez Rico, and born in Valverde in the jurisdiction of the Grand Master of Santiago.  He is mentioned in 1613, where as a Capitán  he was sent to Taos Pueblo to collect the Governor's tribute.  By 1626 he was Maese de Campo, or Commanding General, of all royal troops in New Mexico, when he testified that he was sixty years old, a native of Llerena, and one of the founders of the Villa of Santa Fe.   Don Pedro married Isabel de Bohórquez in Santa Fe, New Mexico and had two sons and a daughter.  From this family descended many son’s and daughters who have proliferated the Cháves name.  It was one such son, Francisco Xavier Cháves who came to San Antonio de Béxar and established the Cháves name in Texas.  Francisco, along with his sons and daughters married into many of the original Spanish families that helped settle and build the city of San Antonio, Texas.  


The story of Francisco Xavier Cháves begins in 1770 when he is about 8 years old.  Comanches who found him herding sheep on his family’s ranch south of Albuquerque took him to live as a slave and servant among their people.[2]  He grew to manhood as an Indian, learning their language and customs, first among Comanches and them among Taovayas.  According to Cháves family legion, a Indian woman who had recently lost her own child, adopted him, and thus saved his life.  When the adoptive mother died, however, he was sold to the Taovayas.  At the time of his return to Spanish rule he was twenty-two-years-old, little more than five feet five inches tall, dressed as an Indian, with eyelids lacerated for the traditional tattooing that would mark him as Toavayas to the end of his days, but still articulate in Spanish.[3]  


On the morning of July 18th 1784, a raiding party of about 50 adventurous Taovayas and Wichita braves had ridden southward to San Antonio de Béxar from the Red River village of the Taovayas.  That morning on a hillside overlooking the Villa de San Fernando de Béxar the raiding party gave up on the idea of attacking the city and all but two of the braves rode off leaving Francisco Cháves behind.  He was able to stall for time by adjusting his saddle causing one of the two braves to become impatient and ride off leaving him with one lone brave.  According to his grandson Antonio Cháves, Francisco then told the remaining brave that he was going to leave him, and that if he tried to stop him, he would kill him.  He then persuaded the one brave to ride in one direction, while he rode in the opposite.[4]  His courage and determination to return to his people provided him with the opportunity to slip away from the raiding party and escaped his Indian bondage.  He entered the presidio of San Antonio de Béxar, where he was taken at once to Domingo Cabello y Robles the residing governor of Texas.  Because of his first hand knowledge of the Indian Nations, he was immediately helpful in explaining the situation among the Indian tribes to Governor Cabello.  From that day on he made San Antonio de Béxar his home.


On February 14, 1785, seven months later, while living at the presidio, his knowledge of the Indian languages became of service to Governor Cabello.  Four Taovayas and Wichita leaders, guided by a French born pathfinder and frontiersman named Pedro Vial, arrived at the presidio seeking an audience with the governor.  That meeting marked the beginning of his 40-year military career, serving frequently as an interpreter in discussions and negotiations between Spanish officials and local Indian tribes in Coahuila and in Texas.


Comanche attacks had been escalating all during the early 1780s, and Spanish officials had feared the province of Texas would be lost.  Governor Cabello found himself under renewed pres­sure from his superiors to attain the peace with Comanches that had been a goal of imperial policy for two decades.  He needed someone to carry a peace overture to the warring Comanches.  Governor Cabello selected Pedro Vial who had lived and traded among various Indian tribes to include the Taovayas and who spoke both Comanche and Spanish.


He consulted Vial about means of conveying a peace overture into the Comanchería.  To the gov­ernor's delight, Pedro Vial volunteered although he did not know the Comanches well enough to venture into their territory alone, but he believed that his Taovayas friends would support the peace effort by introducing him into the camps of the more moderate eastern Comanche leaders.  As his companion, Vial chose young Francisco Xavier Cháves, whom he had known when both of them lived among the Taovayas.  More recently, Vial had seen the competence that Cháves displayed in interpreting for the governor during long talks with the four Taovayas and Wichita delegates whom Vial had accompanied to San Antonio.


On June 17th, 1785 Cabello dispatched Pedro Vial and Francisco Xavier Cháves, their servants Vicente Ferrer Cabrera and Mariano Gómez, accompanied by an escort of twenty-five soldiers, to the Comanchería with gifts and proposals for peace.  Vicente Cabrera and Mariano Gómez had been assigned by Governor Cabello as caretakers of the cargo, mules and horses of the expedition.  Vicente was the son of one of the original Canary Islanders who settled San Antonio, Marcos Cabrera and Maria Magdalena de Ábila.  Marcos had been killed by Apache’s in 1769.


Cabello had no inkling of the fate of Vial and Cháves from the time they left until they rode into the presidio some 4 months later with three Cuchanec chiefs and their wives on the afternoon of September 29, 1785.  The mission was successful, and the emissaries returned to San Antonio with three principal Comanche chiefs who were authorized by their people to make peace with the Spanish.  The result was the Spanish-Comanche Treaty of 1785, a document that Comanches honored, with only minor violations, until the end of the century.  As Spanish power waned in the early years of the nineteenth century, officials were unable to supply promised gifts and trade goods, and Comanche aggression once again became commonplace.


Vial and Cháves kept a diary of their journey, June 17 to September 29, 1785 which was recently uncovered at the Archivo General de Simanas in Spain. 


The following excerpt from: “Notable Men and Women of Spanish Texas” by Donald E. Chipman and Harriet Denise Joseph. pp. 213-215, is a wonderful account from that diary.

“The most important of the trio was French-born Pedro Vial, destined later on to serve as pathfinder between San Antonio and Santa Fe.  Vial spoke halting Spanish and knew little about the Comanches, yet he was soon to become the most successful intermediary with these plainsmen.  Under orders of Domingo Cabello and laden with gifts, Vial and a companion, Francisco Xavier Chávez, headed back north in the spring of 1785.  Their experiences resulted in an extraordinary document on the Comanches.


Guided by Guersec, newly appointed medal chief of the Taovayas, Vial and Chávez were led to an enormous Comanche ranchería.  This impressive settlement, containing a large meeting tent of tanned buffalo hides and more than two hundred warriors, was but a hint of what was about to transpire.  Asked to remain encamped until two principal chiefs could be summoned, the Spaniards launched themselves into a weeklong crash course on Comanche culture.  At the conclusion of their sojourn, two high chiefs, whom Vial dubbed Capitán  Iron Shirt (capitán de camisa de hierro) and Capitán  Shaved Head (capitán de cabeza rapada), rode into the ranchería in the company of about a dozen “little captains”.


Vial drew on his recently acquired knowledge of Comanche customs to reward each chief with presents of tobacco, knives, vermilion, and other items in strict proportion to his rank.  Impressed, the high Comanches then led Vial and Chávez to an encounter where the Spaniards stood at the center of a circle ringed by "an infinity of young men, women, and children."  Vial addressed the throng in the Taovaya language, which the Comanches understood.  He reminded his audience that he and his companion were not strangers to them.  Years ago Chávez had been taken captive by the Comanches and sold to the Taovayas.  After the death of his Indian masters, the Spaniard had only recently passed to San Antonio to be with his own people.  Vial, on the other hand, had visited Comanche rancherías as a longtime trader.


In his harangue, Vial reminded the Comanches that he and Chávez were good and honest people who had dealt fairly with them.  While living among Indians, the two Spaniards had first learned of the “capitán grande de San Antonio” (Cabello), who was a valiant and just man.  On their recent visit to Béxar, Chávez  and Vial had met the great Capitán  and learned that he had assembled an array of presents to bestow on the chiefs of friendly nations and their people.  Contrariwise, the Spanish Capitán  had also assembled many soldiers, horses, muskets, powder, and ball in order to launch an “incessant war” on the Comanches.


At that juncture, Vial became melodramatic.  He recalled that tears had welled in his eyes and in those of Chávez as they thought about the injustice of Spaniards' making war on Indians who had treated the two of them so kindly, as well as the tragic circumstances of Comanches and Taovayas’ not being among those Native Americans who would receive "regalos" (presents).  The Spanish emissary reminded the Comanches of the “many times [that] you do not have a knife to cut meat, a pot with which to cook in, nor a grain of powder with which to kill deer and buffalo for your sustenance”.


Overcome with remorse for their Native American friends, the two Spaniards had begged the “capitán grande” to include Comanches and Taovayas in his gift giving.  At first, their efforts were to no avail, for the Spanish governor became angry.  He recounted the many times that Comanche warriors had killed unarmed and hungry Spaniards who were merely foraging for food on the plains.  Anyone who would commit such base murder, insisted Capitán  Cabello, was “without a good heart, without valor”.  However, the persistent and earnest entreaties of Vial and Chávez had gradually softened the governor’s stance toward their Indian friends.  Finally, they had persuaded the great Capitán  to think of the Comanches as “good people, very generous, and very friendly to their friends”.  Still somewhat wary, Cabello had asked, “Is this certain?”  Both men were quick to reply that their words were “extremely true”.  Convinced, the great Capitán had authorized Vial and Chávez to carry his own words among the Comanches: “If they want to be my friends, and friends of the Spaniards, I will promise not to kill them, and to stop sending my soldiers, those who make war on them.  And if they want to come to San Antonio to talk to me, I will give them my hand in advance, like friends, as also they would be to the other nations who are my friends, except the Lipans and Apaches, with whom I do not want anyone to be friends, but to make continual war against them”.  If they would do that, then Cabello “would forget the many deaths which they had caused among my people, as they must forget those which my people did to them”.  To formalize a pact, the Comanches must send two or three chiefs to San Antonio in the company of the Spaniards.


When Vial finished his speech, he and Chávez retired to a tent.  Guersec, the Taovaya medal chief, then asserted that everything the Spaniards had said about the great Capitán in San Antonio was true.  Throughout the rest of the day and continuing into the night, the Comanches parleyed with much noise and excitement-so loud that the two Spaniards could not sleep-and the natives intently watched for certain “signs” that would speak to the truthfulness of what they had heard about the capitán grande: there had been no wind, no cloud had cast a shadow across the sun, and the smoke from their pipe had not twisted.  All were favorable omens.  On the following day, the Comanches vowed to “forget the deaths of our fathers, sons, and brothers caused by the Spaniards ... and from now on the war with our brothers the Spaniards is finished, we will not kill, nor make any raids, nor rob.  And there will be three little Capitáns from our nation named to go with you to hear what the Capit[á]n Grande says about the mode of establishing the peace.


In October 1785 the small delegation of "little captains," after first dismounting and embracing an astonished Cabello “with the most peculiar demonstrations one can imagine,” signed an accord at Béxar with the “big captain” (Figure 19).  It was a remarkable treaty, for the most part adhered to by Spaniards and Comanches for the remainder of Texas’ days as a Spanish province: Both parties would cease hostilities and henceforth meet as brothers; the agreement extended beyond Texas to include all subjects of the Spanish monarch; the Comanches would not admit any foreigners to their rancherías, for Spaniards would provide goods in exchange for their hides; the friends and enemies of one party were the friends and enemies of the other; the Lipan Apaches were the declared enemies of both signatories; the Comanches would seek permission of the governor of Texas before passing through the province to make war on the Apaches in Coahuila; and Spaniards would provide annual gifts to the Comanches’ chiefs and smaller captains as a gesture of their continuing goodwill.


The October 1785 accord with the Comanches was a tremendous accomplishment for Governor Domingo Cabello, and there is little doubt that he believed it to be the apogee of his service in Texas.  Springing from the treaty was a quiet that settled over Béxar for more than three decades.  Year in and year out, Spaniards through their trading posts supplied the Comanches with “staffs of command, medals, flags, daggers, clasp knives, razors, scissors, iron kettles, mirrors, combs, glass beads, bells, tobacco, shoes, frock coats, stockings, and cloth of various kinds”-much of this in exchange for peltry.  In time, relations improved to the extent that items of European manufacture even came to include guns, shot, powder, and flint.  Peace by purchase, diplomacy, and trade between former enemies undoubtedly saved lives and property, and gift giving in the long run was far less expensive than military campaigns.  Like most enduring treaties, this one lasted because it worked to the benefit of both parties.”


                                                                                                                                       End of excerpt.


Soon after their return, governor Cabello tried to find out what he could do to reward the two frontiersman in gratitude for their services.  Cháves only wished an interpreter’s salary.  Cabello did not then have such a position, but he expedited that he could soon employ Cháves, as a soldier of the Béxar garrison, with special assignment as an interpreter.  Cháves claimed competence in the speech of the Cocos, Bidais, Mayeyes, Akokisas, Tonkawas, Tejas, Taovayas, Wichitas, Tawakonis, Iscanis, and Flechazos as well as the Comanches[5].


In April 1788, Cháves applied to the Comandante General Don Juan de Ugalde, the commander of arms of the Provincias Internas in charge of Coahuila, Nuevo León, Nuevo Santander, and Texas, to continue his services, through enlistment in the regular army, to be stationed at San Antonio.  He called attention to the fact that he spoke two Indian languages perfectly; the principal one, of the Comanche, and the other of the Toboayazes, while he understood those of the Tahuacanes, Flechazo and Huichitas as well.  Comandante General Ugalde favorably endorsed this application, recommending that the governor of the province appoint Cháves to the first vacancy of soldier in the presidio of San Antonio de Béxar.  Cháves' application to the Comandante General is dated April 30, 1788; the Comandante's endorsement is dated May 12, 1788.  Later that year, on July 2, 1788, Cháves re-enlisted for a period of ten years, as a regular soldier of the company of cavalry at the presidio at San Antonio de Béxar.[6]


In 1792, Cháves was granted a three months leave of absence so that he could see his relatives for the first time since his abduction by Comanches, in addition to collect affidavits establishing his origin in a family of considerable distinction in New Mexico. 


Cháves set out for his native land of New Mexico with letters of introduction to the Capitáns of the presidios of the Rio Grande and of the Villa de San Fernando de Coahuila, by Governor Muñoz.  The necessary official communications for his passport and general information, were attended to at Santa Rosa, on March 24, 1792.  He was well provided with clothing and the necessities of the trip, as well as presents for the Indians.  He started out with the mail convoy, and on the way, paid his respects to the Comandante General.


On the morning of May 25, 1792 a few miles beyond the Pecos River, Cháves along with seven Comanche couples, including his friend Sojais and his well traveled wife, was surprised and delighted to meet his old friends Pedro Vial.  Cháves and Vial led their groups to the Pecos River to camp together overnight, so that the old friends could reminisce and exchange news of the three years since they had parted at San Antonio de Béxar.[7]


Upon his arrival in New Mexico, Cháves petitioned the governor, Colonel Don Fernando de la Concha, for an affidavit of his descent and information regarding his past history, which was not known in Texas.  The governor forthwith appointed Capitán Manuel de Arteaga, Alcalde Mayor of the Villa of Albuquerque, to act as judge in the proceedings.  Witnesses Pedro Padilla, resident of the Plaza del Sausal, Toribio Garcia Jurado, resident of the Partido of Belen, and Jose Garcia Jurado, same, appeared in due form and ceremony in the Pueblo of Ysleta, in the jurisdiction of the Villa of San Phelipe de Albuquerque, July 12, 1792, and testified under oath, to the best of their ability, regarding the information asked for.  This was the first time since his captivity that Cháves had been seen by his old friends, says the testimony of descent.


On April 1, 1794, under orders of Governor Miguel Joseph de Amparán, Cháves was transferred to the company of Coahuila, the Royal Presidio of San Juan Bautista del Rio Grande de Norte, where he continued in his capacity as interpreter.  He remained there, re-enlisting in 1799 for a period of four years, until 1800 when he petitioned Governor Cordero of Coahuila, and was granted a transfer to the Presidio at San Antonio de Béxar.  Governor Elguezabal of Texas, at the time, was in need of an interpreter for the Comanches who came daily to San Antonio, frequently requesting that conferences be held with them.  He therefore requested that Cháves be transferred to the Presidio at San Antonio, as he was noted for his skill in translating both the Comanche and Tahuaya languages.


Francisco Xavier had started a family by marring a descendent from one of the Canary Island families.  He married Maria Juana Francisca Padron sometime within a year or two of his arrival at San Antonio de Béxar, about 1786.  Cháves had twelve children with his first wife, Doña Juana Padron.  Juana Padron died in 1817 and Francisco married Maria Micaela Frangoso, the daughter of Jose Estevan Fragoso and Maria Ignacia Dolores Quinones.  Francisco and Micaela had five children. 


Sometime around 1798-1799, Francisco Xavier Cháves ransomed from Comanche captors a Lipan woman and her little girl, baptized as Guadalupe and Trinidad, and where taken into the Cháves household.  On May 10, 1811 not long after puberty, Trinidad gave birth to a son whom she voluntarily gave to Cháves to rear and educate.  The child was christened Jose Maria Neopmunceno Almaguez, 6 days old legitimate son of Joaquin de Almaguer and Maria Trinidad Cháves.


He is listed in the census report of the Presidential Company of San Antonio de Béxar, December 31, 1803,

p. 348 #37


Francisco Cháves, of [   ] years, married to Juana Padron, Spaniard of 34 years, has 5 sons, 13, 12, 10, 4, 2, has 2 daughters 16, 7, his mother-in-law, Antonia de Armas, Spaniard of 55 years, has one servant Raphael Gonzalez, Spaniard of 32 years, and has two married ones, Indians, Guadalupe and Trinidad 20 & 4 years.


At about the age of 70 , failing in health he passed away in San Antonio about 1832.  He was a sixth generation descendant of the Cháves family of New Mexico.


Read the newspaper article on Francisco Xavier Chaves written by Frederick Chabot in the San Antonio Express dated April 3, 1932.  


If you have more information on the Chaves family or the descendents of Francisco Xavier Chaves please contact me at:


[1] Chaves-Garcia-Flores Family Papers.  Statements: record and ancestry of Francisco Jabier Chabes.  Santa Fe, New Mexico.  1792 July 18  (manuscript copy from the DRT Library at the Alamo. File #7358)

[2] Elizabeth A. H. John, Adan Benavides Jr., Southwestern Historical Quarterly, July 1994,  (The Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association), p. 27, Inside the Comancheria, 1785: The Diary of Pedro Vial and Francisco Xavier Chaves.

[3] Elizabeth A. H. John, Storms Brewed in Other Men's Worlds,  (Copyright 1996, Second Edition, University of Oklahoma Press), p. 656.

[4] San Antonio Daily Express, December 15, 1907

[5] Elizabeth A. H. John, Storms Brewed in Other Men's Worlds,  (Copyright 1996, Second Edition, University of Oklahoma Press), p. 718

[6] Frederick C. Chabot, With the Makers of San Antonio,  (Copyright 1937), p. 184-185.

[7] Elizabeth A. H. John, Storms Brewed in Other Men's Worlds,  (Copyright 1996, Second Edition, University of Oklahoma Press), p. 757

Soldier, Frontiersman and Indian Interpreter

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