||Oņate, Juan de, 1549?-1624
||Account of the Discovery of the Buffalo
||Bolton, Herbert Eugene (editor). Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, 1542-1706. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916). Pages 223-232.
||12 / 0
Juan de Oñate (1549?-1624) was the son of wealthy conquistador
and miner Cristóbal de Oñate. After the expeditions
of Rodríguez and Espejo (see AJ-004 to AJ-008), interest in the
mineral wealth of New Mexico convinced the Spanish viceroy to license
further expeditions. Espejo applied for a license, proposing a four-hundred-man
army to conquer and settle New Mexico, as did several other adventurers
and investors. The bidding process was long and drawn out, and the
lure of New Mexico was so strong that some parties embarked for
the north without permission. In 1593, Francisco Leyva de Bonilla
and Antonio Gutiérrez de Humaña led one such unauthorized
expedition into New Mexico. They spent a year among the pueblos
and journeyed east into Quivira as far as the Platte River in Kansas
before Humaña murdered Leyva, and all but one survivor were
killed by Indians (see AJ-103).
Finally in 1595, the Spanish viceroy named Juan de Oñate
to be the governor of New Mexico, adelantado and captain-general
of the new province. Oñate was the son of Cristóbal
de Oñate, the conqueror of Nueva Galicia where he operated
mines, and one of the founders of Zacatecas. His wife was the granddaughter
of the famous conquistador Hernando Cortez and the great-granddaughter
of the Aztec leader Montezuma.
Oņates Expeditions, 1598-1604
Although rivals impeded planning for the governors great expedition,
Oņate recruited colonists by promising them privileges and exemptions.
In the spring of 1596, four-hundred settlers, soldiers, their families,
and servants assembled eighty-three carts and wagons for the trip
north with seven-thousand head of livestock. After splitting up
to traverse the great sand dunes south of El Paso, Oņate took formal
possession of the kingdoms and provinces of New Mexico for King
Philip II of Spain on April 30, 1596. Oņate took a party of sixty
men north to subdue the pueblos. He established his first headquarters
at the Caypa pueblo, which he renamed San Juan, on August 18, 1596.
While a church was being built, Oņate met with chiefs of the surrounding
pueblos and convened a general assembly of all the chiefs and representatives
on September 9, 1596. At that convention the province of New Mexico
was formally established.
Next Oņate turned his attention to exploit other nearby lands.
He took sixty men to the Pecos River to hunt buffalo. He visited
salt mines near the Jumano and Zuni pueblos. He sent Captain Marcos
Farfán to explore Arizona near Moqui, finding abundant silver veins.
On one such expedition, in November 1598, Juan de Zaldívar was killed
at Acoma by the Hopi. Oņate retaliated by subduing Acoma in two
days of hand-to-hand fighting in which the Indians were punished
by fire and bloodshed, and the pueblo was completely laid waste
and burned. In 1601, Oņate explored the route taken by Humaņa to
the Platte River and Kansas eight years earlier. In 1604 he followed
a route to the Gulf of California and retraced the expeditions made
by Coronado, Espejo, and Humaņa during the previous decades.
On September 15, 1598, Don Juan de Oņate sent Vicente de Zaldívar
and sixty soldiers northeast past the province of Tamas to explore
the bison herds of the lower Great Plains. Oņate consulted with
the sole survivor of the Humaņa expedition, an Indian named Jusepe,
for information about the route Humaņa traveled. The partys first
encounter with local inhabitants occurred as they fished on the
Gallinas River, when a large group of Indians surrounded them. Oņate
provided the Indians with food and presents, and in turn they provided
the Spanish with a guide to explore the region.
The party continued for another week until they found their first
bison, an older, solitary bull. The next day they came upon several
hundred bison in large groups at various ponds near the Canadian
River. A group of Indians on horseback crossed nearby, after returning
from a trading trip to Taos and other populous pueblos on Northern
New Mexico. The Spanish located their camp near an Indian ranchería
comprised of several dozen tipis. The account describes how the
Indians quickly packed up their tipis and transported their food
from hunting expeditions by creating a litter using the tipi poles
that was hauled by packs of dogs.
During October, Oņate relates how they tried and failed to
corral the bison. In the process, the bison killed three horses
and wounded forty more. The bison outwitted the Spanish who
tried to build a huge enclosure to trap them, and the calves
they captured died from exhaustion within a few days of
separation from their mothers.
After Oņate discovered some of the camps abandoned by Humaņa and
Leyva (before Humaņa killed him) the party observed herds of wild
oxen that proved as impossible to capture as the bison. Oņate describes
the natives preference for mostly raw meat, their exceptional hunting
skills, and their remarkable strength and endurance. The Oņate party
returned to San Juan Baptista (his first capital of the New Mexico
province) on November 8, 1598.
Other Internet and Reference Sources
For more information on Oņate, see the "Handbook of Texas Online" to read the
biography and see more details about the expedition.
The standard biography is Marc Simmons' The Last Conquistador:
Juan de Oņate and the Settling of the Far Southwest (Norman:
University of Oklahoma Press, 1991). Also see George Hammonds (ed.)
Don Juan de Oņate and the Founding of New Mexico (Santa Fe:
El Palacio Press, 1927). A wide selection of primary documents
are printed in George P. Hammond and Agapito Rey, eds., Don Juan
de Oņate: Colonizer of New Mexico, 1595-1628 (Albuquerque: University
of New Mexico Press, 1953).