|Valverde y Mercado, Francisco de
|Investigation of Conditions in New Mexico, 1601
|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 6, pages 623-669.
|48 / 0
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 Coronados 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
Expeditions of 1596-1605
Oņate set out in January 1598 with about 400 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 eight 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 (see
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
and the authorities sent out a commission to investigate (see
AJ-105) and Oņate sent out 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
Enough of Oņates disgruntled colonists escaped back to
Mexico that the viceroy commissioned an investigation of affairs
in the north. This document is the record of that process, in
which many of the original residents describe conditions there.
Although far from an exciting narrative, this legal document
reveals a multitude of details about material life during the
European founding of New Mexico. The original manuscript is in
the Archivo General de Indias in Spain.
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).