|Oņate, Juan de, 1549?-1624
|Letter Written by Don Juan de Oņate from New Mexico
|Bolton, Herbert Eugene (editor). Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, 1542-1706. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916). Pages 199-222.
|27 / 1
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.
Oņate wrote to the Spanish viceroy at the county of Monterrey about
his travels in this first dispatch after beginning to colonize New
Mexico. He described crossing the Rio Grande (Rio del Norte) and
securing the land for Spain. Early in the narrative he described
admonishing his soldiers to prevent their mistreatment of the Indians,
and how he foiled a mutiny by torturing three soldiers to extract
information about their rebellion against him.
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).