P r e f a c e
escribed by the distinguished Hispanist and military historian
Geoffrey Parker as “the first manual of guerrilla warfare ever
published,” Bernardo de Vargas Machuca’s 1599 Milicia Indiana
is in fact the world’s first known manual of antiguerrilla, or counterinsur-
gency, warfare. A longtime veteran of what anthropologists have termed
“war in the tribal zone,”1 its author represented a large and little-known
category of Spanish emigrants to the Americas: the luckless conquista-
dor. Thousands of these men, many of them participants in Spanish wars
in Europe and the Mediterranean, followed Cortés and Pizarro to the
Americas in search of fame and fortune. The vast majority found neither,
and many ended their lives fighting Native American guerrilleros in the
jungles, deserts, mountains, and swamps that marked the outer limits of
the Spanish Empire. Unwilling to support costly formal armies abroad
given their huge commitments at home, Spain’s Habsburg monarchs en-
couraged such men to defend royal interests in the colonies on their own
account, promising them pensions, titles, and even indigenous wards and
tributaries in return. Most were baited not by these promises, however, but
by variations on the El Dorado legend—the chance at discovering another
Mexico or Peru.
As prospects for new conquests dimmed, veteran militiamen and inex-
perienced greenhorns alike sought new solutions to their poverty as well as
outlets for mounting aggression. As a result, by 1599 hundreds of bands of
mixed Spanish, creole, mestizo, African-descended, and indigenous para-
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