American Journeys
Home Find a Document Images Advanced Search Highlights Teachers Help  
Document Number: AJ-105
Author: Valverde y Mercado, Francisco de
Title: Investigation of Conditions in New Mexico, 1601
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 6, pages 623-669.
Pages/Illustrations: 48 / 0
Citable URL:

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 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 AJ-102).

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 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 1626.

Document Note

Enough of Oņate’s 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 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).

Read this Document
Print or Download
Read Background
View Reference Map (PDF)
How to Cite
Copyright and Permissions
© 2024 Wisconsin Historical Society Feedback | Site Help
Wisconsin history