Anza Trail Blog

Arizpe, Sonora, Plans Exhumation of Colonel Anza's Remains

by Hale Sargent, Anza Trail Interpretive Specialist

Tagged as:   Historic Sites , Mexico

These remains in state in Arizpe, Sonora, were once believed to be those of Col. Juan Bautista de Anza

A Q&A with Anza Society President Phil Valdez, Jr.:

Q: 2014 is going to see some exciting developments in Arizpe, Sonora, as well as in nearby Banámichi. What is this region’s importance to the story of the Anza Trail?

A: El Gran Capitán, as we Californios call him, Juan Bautista de Anza, is buried in Arizpe, Sonora. He is buried within la Capilla de Nuestra Señora de Loreto, a side chapel within the town’s church of Our Lady of la Asunción.

In 1963, a research team from UC Berkeley worked alongside the people of Arizpe to exhume what they thought were the remains of Colonel Juan Bautista de Anza. But these researchers used a flawed copy of Anza’s death certification provided earlier by a local priest to secure the widow of Colonel Anza her Monte Pio, or widow's pension.

When writing the certification, this priest omitted the following line from the true death record: “en la capilla de Nuestra Señora de Loreto”. This document now resides in the Archivo General de Indias, Sevilla, España, and was the document used by the research team in 1963. They then were directed to a burial site at the nave of the church that held a body resembling Colonel Anza in stature and in officer’s uniform, both having had the rank of Colonel. These remains were exhumed and placed in the nave within the main church where they have been in view for the last 50 years.

While doing research on Anza, a researcher found Anza’s true death record in the Libro de Difuntos of the church records and thus found the discrepancy.

Q: What are the plans in Arizpe for identifying Anza’s true remains?

A: It is now the 50th anniversary of the 1963 exhumation, and preparations are underway to exhume the true Colonel of the Spanish Calvary and Governor of New Mexico, Juan Bautista de Anza. I am on the committee planning the exhumation, as is the region’s Presidente Municipál, the secretary to the Presidente Municipál, and the Presidente of the area’s tourism bureau. We sought and received the support of UC Berkeley, with professor and anthopologist Dr. Rosemary Joyce as the university’s representative, as well as INAH (the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia) and Mexican federal and state authorities. The exhumation would not be happening without this support.

At our next meeting on January 27, 2014, we expect INAH to propose a date for the final exhumation sometime in 2014. The body that is there now is believed to be that of Colonel Manuel Echegaray, a distinguished presidial officer and military commander in Sonora -- a burial place has to be found for him as well.

Q: Who should people contact if they’d like to attend an event in Arizpe or learn more?

A: Three or four little towns or hamlets in the area around Arizpe will be able to reap the benefits of more Americans coming to visit. To learn more at this early stage, people can email me at

Q: OK, and on to the Anza Society Conference at nearby Banámichi March 6-9. What do you have in store?

A: Banámichi is close to Arizpe and has three hotels to accommodate our group of 40. Registration to attend the conference is nearly full.

Thursday March 6. 2014, we will leave from Tucson and have a welcome reception in Banámichi that evening. Friday our presentations begin with an international flavor: Four are Mexican presenters and four are from the United States. Our keynote speaker is Dr. Lourdes Gabikagojeaskoa, professor at Santa Clara University. Her talk is titled, “From Santa Fé to San Francisco via Arizpe. The Basque influence in Nueva Navarra.”

Saturday, we tour Arizpe to see the remains currently in state and will visit the chapel to see where Anza is currently buried. We will visit the museum in Arizpe with lunch by the Lady Lions of Arispe, with free time around the plaza; we then return and have our farewell dinner in Banámichi that night.

For more information, visit


The church of Arizpe, Sonora
Photo credit: Phil Valdez, Jr. All rights reserved.

These remains in state in Arizpe, Sonora, were once believed to be those of Col. Juan Bautista de Anza
Photo credit: Phil Valdez, Jr. All rights reserved.

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