1593, October 25: Gil Perez, The Out-of-Place Soldier

It was October 25, 1593, when he was first noticed... an unknown Spanish soldier standing at guard duty in front of the Viceroy's castle in Mexico City, Mexico. Though he clearly knew how to do the job, he still stood out: he was wearing the wrong uniform. The strange soldier's uniform was soon identified as the proper one for the guards on duty in the Spanish colony of Manila in the Philippines and, not surprisingly, the Captain of the Guard was called in to sort the matter out.

        The soldier explained that he was Gil Perez and that he was following his orders as far as he was able: he had been told to guard the palace, so he was guarding the palace... it just wasn't the palace he would normally have found himself in front of. He was indeed from the Philippines, as of just earlier in the day; and furthermore, he told the Captain of the Guard that the Governor of Manila, Gómez Pérez Dasmariñas, had been killed the night before by a Chinese mutiny aboard one of the Spanish ships. This was all clearly a bold fabrication, simply because the Philippines were over 8,000 miles away across the Pacific Ocean; yet Perez stuck to his story. So the Captain of the Guard passed the news on to the Viceroy, who next interviewed the out-of-place soldier; and, still, Perez stuck to his unbelievable account.

        Perez did prove he had accurate knowledge of the known current affairs of the Philippines, as had been brought to the Viceroy by ship, and he knew all about the regiment he claimed to belong to, as previous soldiers from the Philippines attested. The only thing that gave the soldier pause was trying to explain how he could have traveled between the Philippines and Mexico just that morning; but Perez himself had no good explanation, noting that a half-hour earlier he was in Manila and now he was here... and that was all he could say about that.

        Under the circumstances, the Viceroy felt that either Perez was a liar, or he was working for the devil... especially if he had actually somehow come from Manila that morning. Until word could be gotten from Manila as to which of the circumstances was correct, Perez was put into a jail cell.

The Out Of Place Soldier
Perez in jail; from an 1908 presentation of the mystery. [Larger version here]

        Months later, answers arrived from sea. A galleon from the Philippines not only confirmed Perez's account of the death of Governor Gómez Pérez Dasmariñas, but also provided a military officer who recognized Perez as one of the Manila guards who had specifically gone missing about the same time... and he was most surprised to find him in Mexico City! To say this all astounded the Viceroy (among others) would be an understatement; but not so much that the Viceroy didn't know what to do. Perez was put on the returning vessel headed back to Manila, and all others involved tried to forget the whole thing happened as best as they could.

        The odd facts of the occurrence, however, were recorded in 1609 by none other than Antonio de Morga [1559-1636], a famous historian regarding Spain and its colonies, as at least two researchers -- José Rizal and Morris K. Jessup -- have asserted, placing the story in the right place, at the right time, and in the words of an unimpeachable recorder of Spanish history.

But Did It Happen?

        This might seem like an odd question after I just told you the event was recorded by a trustworthy source around the time of occurrence... however, I didn't tell you that. What I told you was that "at least two researchers" have said that. But they were both wrong; and people have been quoting them for years!

        Morris K. Jessup, famous for his 1955 book The Case for the UFO, included the story of Gil Perez -- though Jessup never mentions the soldier's name -- as an example of either a spontaneous teleportation, or a transportation by a craft of unknown origins... aka 'UFO'. He claims his authority for the veracity of the account by stating:

"A Legend? Not according to the records of the chroniclers of the Order of San Augustin and the order of Santo Domingo. Not according to Dr. Antonio de Morga, high justice of the criminal court of the Royal Audiencia of New Spain, in his 'Sucesos do las Islas Filipinas.'"

        I have no idea what sources Jessup is claiming relate to the Order of Santo Domingo, but I do know who he means by the "Order of San Augustin," and more on that in a moment. The most important source he's claiming here is Antonio de Morga's 1609 book Sucesos de las islas Filipinas [Events of the Philippine Islands], which is the earliest source he has, having been published only 16 years after the incident occurred. I have two copies of de Morga's book, one translated in English, and one in the original Spanish with annotations... and not only does de Morga fail to mention any detail of the out-of-place soldier story, he in fact states that no one in Mexico knew of the death of Governor Dasmariñas until word arrived by ship thirteen months later. So Jessup is flat out wrong about de Morga being a source for the story!

        The earliest actual known mention of the out-of-place soldier story was published in 1698 by Gaspar de San Augustin -- which is where Jessup's reference to the so-called "Order of San Agustin" comes in -- in the third volume of Augustin's Conquistas de las Islas Philipinas [Conquests of the Philippine Islands]. At the end of a chapter about the death of Governor Gómez Pérez Dasmariñas of Manila, whom Gaspar only calls Gomez Perez, Gaspar then explains:

"It is worthy of consideration, that the same day that the tragedy of Gomez Perez happened, the fact was learned in Mexico by the art of Satan; from whom some women, inclined to such agility, having taken advantage, transplanted to the Plaza de Mexico a soldier who was making a post one night in a garrison of the wall of Manila, and it was executed so without the Soldier feeling, that in the morning they found him marching guard duty in the Plaza de Mexico, asking the name of passersby."

So the earliest recorded mention of the story is just over one hundred years after the events would have happened... which does not inspire confidence in the story.

       There appears to be a distinct reason why people believe that Antonio de Morga mentioned the story in 1609, however; and, with de Morga's presumed authority as a historian, the story of Gil Perez has been given more credence than it likely deserves. In 1890 a new version of Antonio de Morga's 1609 book was published which featured copious historical annotations by a man named José Rizal. For many people, this was the most available copy of a rare book that was highly prized among historians... so Rizal's copy of de Morga's work was widely spread. Now, Rizal had heard of the story of the out-of-place soldier, and apparently believed it to be fact; and, because of this belief, when Rizal came to the part of de Morga's books that clearly did not include the odd account where Rizal believed it should be, Rizal chose to add an annotation that told the story of the out-of-place soldier, as laid out by Gaspar de San Augustin's 1698 book mentioned above. Rizal then speculated in his own notes:

"Morga, perhaps because he does not give credence to such facts, not only does not mention them, but says more strictly later (p. 37), that the news was not known [in Mexico City] until D. Juan de Yelasco came for the month of November, 1594, that is, 13 months later."

So Rizal effectively said that de Morga purposely covered up the story... instead of reaching the more likely conclusion that the story didn't exist when de Morga was writing, and only became a known legend sometime by 1698 when Gaspar was writing. It's very likely that Morris K. Jessup had some form or another of Rizal's presentation of de Morga's books, and decided that if Rizal said de Morga knew the legend, then de Morga did. But de Morga didn't; and the fame of Jessup's 1955 book on UFOs guaranteed the story of the out-of-place soldier would continue to turn up in later books on anomalous topics as a true tale.

Crossing Barriers and Picking Up Momentum

        While most modern repetitions of the legend likely come from Jessup's The Case for the UFO, the first presentation of the story of the out-of-place soldier in English happened in 1908, when Thomas A. Janvier included it in a series he was writing for Harper's Monthly Magazine. Janvier had been collecting tales told in Mexico City and, presumably, had collected the story from a verbal tale-teller. Janvier made no bones about the stories he presented being true; quite the opposite, he clearly stated that he felt all were in fact just legends... but amusing ones, thus why he wanted to share them. Janvier, to his credit, took the basic body of the out-of-place soldier story -- which can be summed up in one paragraph -- and expanded it into four pages with a full page illustration (above)! As you might imagine, a few new details were added to fill out the story... such as an accusation of witchcraft, the involvement of the Inquisition, and, most notably and for the first time, a name was assigned to the soldier, Gil Perez. This last addition continues to turn up in random re-tellings to this day which, conveniently, forget to mention the story is just a legend.

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