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Document Number: AJ-013
Author: Oñate, Juan de, 1549?-1624
Title: Account of the Discovery of the Mines
Source: Bolton, Herbert Eugene (editor). Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, 1542-1706. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916). Pages 239-249.
Pages/Illustrations: 13 / 0
Citable URL:

Author Note

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.

Oñate’s Expeditions, 1598-1604

Although rivals impeded planning for the governor’s great expedition, Oñate 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, Oñate took formal possession of the “kingdoms and provinces of New Mexico for King Philip II of Spain” on April 30, 1596. Oñate 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, Oñate 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 Oñate 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. Oñate 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, Oñate explored the route taken by Humaña 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 Humaña during the previous decades.

Document Note

Oñate’s sent Captain Marcos Farfán de los Godos to confirm the location of mines reported by Espejo in 1583 (see AJ-006 to AJ-008). In his detailed account to King Philip II of Spain, Oñate provides information about the silver mines west of Mohoqui in Arizona. This report describes how Captain Farfán and eight men traveled in November and December 1598 through the sand dunes west of Mohoqui and followed the Little Colorado River north to a mountain range. Passing San Francisco Mountain and continuing near modern Flagstaff, they found grass and water for the horses near Laguna, one of several springs in the region.

Captain Farfán continued into the region and soon came upon a settlement of the Jumanas nation, which, when alerted, surrounded the Spanish expedition. The Spanish convinced the Jumanas they intended no harm and the next day the tribe received the explorers at the ranchería, where two chiefs provided food and presented samples of silver ore. One chief showed the Spanish the source of the ore located in the snow-covered clefts of the Bill Williams Mountains. At another nearby ranchería, the Spanish found that the Indians had several different ores that produced pigment suitable for paint and cloth dyes. They continued their expedition to near present-day Prescott, Arizona, and found suitable pastureland in the higher elevations among pine groves, cactus patches, and maguey stands. At the Verde River, Captain Farfán camped and visited the nearby ranchería where their Jumanas guide lived. Its inhabitants provided a feast of venison, mescale, and supplied the Spanish with samples of different colored powdered ore.

Farfán made one final expedition near the Spenser River in Arizona’s Aquarius Mountains. Here they were shown an old mine shaft that produced minerals suitable for dyes. They named the mines San Francisco and San Gabriel and established several mining claims. They learned that three large rivers joined the Big Spenser and the Big Sandy Rivers to form the Colorado and its famous gorge, the Grand Canyon. The party also learned that the natives traveled south to the mouth of the Colorado to harvest mollusks that occasionally produced pearls. Captain Farfán and his men returned to Cibola on December 11, 1598, and Oñate produced this account on January 16, 1599.

Other Internet and Reference Sources

For more information on Oñate, 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 Oñate and the Settling of the Far Southwest (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991). Also see George Hammond’s (ed.) Don Juan de Oñate 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 Oñate: Colonizer of New Mexico, 1595-1628 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1953).

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