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Document Number: AJ-102
Title: Record of Marches by the Army, New Spain to New Mexico, 1596-98
Source: Hammond, George P. and Agapito Rey (editors and translators). Don Juan de Oņate, Colonizer of New Mexico, 1595-1628. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1953). Volume 5, pages 309-328.
Pages/Illustrations: 21 / 0
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Author Note

When Francisco Vasquez de Coronado returned empty-handed in 1540 (see AJ-086), Spanish authorities were not eager to renew explorations toward the north. A few travelers followed Coronado’s trail, however, and their reports (AJ-004 to AJ-008) persuaded King Philip II towards the end of the 1500s to found a colony in New Mexico, from which gold or silver mines or other riches might be discovered. The man chosen to head this effort in 1595 was an experienced and well-connected Mexican mine owner named Juan de Oņate.

Expeditions of 1596-1605

Oņate set out in January 1598 with about four hundred men eager to find riches in the new territory, as had happened in Central America. About a third of them brought along families and it took more than eighty wagons to carry their belongings. They were accompanied by more than seven thousand head of livestock and ten Franciscan priests (see AJ-101).

When they reached the Rio Grande near present-day San Elizario, Texas, on April 30, 1598, Oņate claimed all the lands drained by the river for Spain. They crossed the Rio Grande where downtown El Paso now stands, and proceeded two hundred miles further north, where they established their capital near present-day Los Alamos at the mouth of the Chama River.

The colonists spread themselves out over the surrounding Pueblo communities, where they were initially received with generous hospitality. No gold or silver being found, however, the authorities sent out a commission to investigate (see AJ-105) and Oņate organized a series of expeditions to look for them. Between 1598 and 1605 his men explored from Kansas in the east to the Pacific in the west (see AJ-011 to AJ-015), but no riches were to be found and the frustrated colonists grew restless. So, too, did their Indian hosts; but when some of the residents of Acoma Pueblo revolted, Oņate punished the entire population with such inhumane brutality that no serious rebellion occurred for eighty years (see AJ-104).

Things went from bad to worse at such a rate, however, that Oņate resigned his governorship in 1607. The new governor moved the capital to Santa Fe in 1610, and Oņate went back to Mexico where in 1613 he was prosecuted for mismanagement. He spent the rest of his life trying to clear his name, and died in Spain in 1626.

Document Note

This anonymous document begins before Oņate had assembled his expedition in January 1598, and covers the events of that year month to month as it progressed northward, established its headquarters, and occupied the surrounding pueblos. The revolt of Acoma Pueblo is described at the end. The original is in the Archivo General de Indias in Spain; a Spanish text is published in Colecciķn de documentos inéditos, relativos al descubrimiento, conquista y organizaciķn de las antiguas posesiones espaņolas de América y Oceanía, sacados de los archivos del reino, y muy especialmente del de Indias (Madrid: 1864-84), volume xvi, pp. 228-276

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 Hammond’s (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).

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