Juan de Oñate
|Juan de Oñate|
|1st Governor of New Mexico´s history|
November 1598 – 18 April 1608
|Succeeded by||Cristóbal de Oñate (Son)|
Zacatecas, currently Mexico
|Occupation||explorer and governor of New Mexico|
Don Juan de Oñate y Salazar (1550–1626) was a Spanish Conquistador, explorer, colonial governor of the New Spain province of New Mexico, and founder of various settlements in the present day American Southwest.
Oñate was born in the New Spain city of Zacatecas to Spanish-Basque colonists and silver mine owners. His father was the conquistador/silver baron Cristóbal de Oñate, and his mother Doña Catalina Salazar y de la Cadena. His Cadena ancestor fought in the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, and was the first to break the line of defense protecting Mohammad Ben Yacub. The family was granted a coat of arms, and thereafter were known as the Cadenas. (Ref. La Calle de Cadena en Mexico," pps. 1—46, Guillermo Porras Munoz). Juan de Oñate married Isabel de Tolosa Cortés de Moctezuma, granddaughter of Hernán Cortés, the conqueror of the Aztec Triple Alliance, and great granddaughter of the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma Xocoyotzin.
In 1595 he was ordered by King Philip II to colonize the northern frontier of New Spain. His stated objective was to spread Roman Catholicism and establish new missions. He began the expedition in 1598, fording the Rio Grande, or Río del Norte, at the present-day El Paso, in late April. On April 30, 1598, he claimed all of New Mexico beyond the river for Spain.
That summer his party continued up the Rio Grande to present-day northern New Mexico, where he encamped among the Pueblo Indians. He founded the province of Santa Fé de Nuevo México and became the province's first governor. Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá, a captain of the expedition, chronicled Oñate’s conquest of New Mexico’s indigenous peoples in his epic Historia de la Nueva México from 1610.
Acoma War 
Oñate soon gained a reputation as a stern ruler of both the Spanish colonists and the indigenous people. In October 1598, a skirmish erupted when Oñate's occupying Spanish military demanded supplies from the Acoma tribe—demanding things essential to the Acoma surviving the winter. The Acoma resisted and twelve Spaniards were killed, amongst them Don Juan Oñate’s nephew. A war began and in January 1599, Oñate retaliated for the loss of his nephew; his soldiers killed 800 villagers, including men, women and children. They enslaved the remaining 500, and by Don Juan’s decree, they amputated the left foot of every Acoma man over the age of twenty-five. Females were sent off to be slaves for twenty years. Eighty men had one of their feet amputated though other commentators put the figure of those mutilated at twenty-four.
First Onate Expedition 
In 1601, Oñate undertook a large expedition to the Great Plains. There were 130 Spanish soldiers and twelve Franciscan priests, just like the expedition to conquer the Aztecs, a retinue of 130 native soldiers and servants, and 350 horses and mules. Oñate journeyed across the plains eastward from New Mexico in a renewed search for Quivira. As had Coronado, he encountered Apaches in what is now the Texas Panhandle. He proceeded eastward following the Canadian River into Oklahoma. Leaving the river behind in a sandy area where his ox carts could not pass, he went cross country, and the land became greener, with more water and groves of walnut and oak trees.
Jusepe probably led Oñate on the same route he had taken with Humana and Leyva six years earlier. They found an encampment of people Oñate called Escanjaques. He estimated the population at more than 5,000 living in 600 houses. The Escanjaques lived in round houses as large as ninety feet in diameter and covered with tanned buffalo hides. They were hunters, according to Oñate, depending upon the buffalo for their subsistence and planting no crops.
The Escanjaques told Oñate that a large settlement of their enemies, the Rayados, was located only about twenty miles away in a region called Etzanoa. Thus, it seems possible that the Escanjaques had gathered together in large numbers either out of fear of the Rayados or to undertake a war against them. They attempted to enlist the assistance of the Spanish and their firearms, alleging that the Rayados were responsible for the deaths of Humana and Leyva a few years before.
The Escanjaques guided Oñate to a large river a few miles away and he became the first European to describe the tallgrass prairie. He spoke of fertile land, much better than that through which he had previously passed, and pastures "so good that in many places the grass was high enough to conceal a horse." He tasted and found of good flavor a fruit that sounds like the Pawpaw.
Near the river, Oñate, the Spaniards, and their numerous Escanjaque guides saw three or four hundred Rayados on a hill. The Rayados advanced, throwing dirt into the air as a sign that they were ready for war. Oñate quickly indicated that he did not wish to fight and made peace with this group of Rayados, who proved to be friendly and generous. Oñate liked the Rayados more than he did the Escanjaques. They were "united, peaceful, and settled." They showed deference to their chief, named Caratax, whom Oñate detained as a guide and hostage, although "treating him well."
Caratax led Oñate and the Escanjaques across the river to a settlement on the eastern bank, one or two miles from the river. The settlement was deserted, the inhabitants having fled. It contained "about twelve hundred houses, all established along the bank of another good-sized river which flowed into the large one [the Arkansas].... the settlement of the Rayados seemed typical of those seen by Coronado in Quivira sixty years before. The homesteads were dispersed; the houses round, thatched with grass, large enough to sleep ten persons each, and surrounded by large granaries to store the corn, beans, and squash they grew in their fields." With difficulty Oñate restrained the Escanjaques from looting the town and sent them home.
The next day Oñate expedition proceeded onward for another eight miles through heavily populated territory, although without seeing many Rayados. At this point, the Spaniard's courage deserted them. There were obviously many Rayados nearby and the Spaniards were warned that the Rayados were assembling an army. Discretion seemed the better part of valor. Oñate estimated that three hundred Spanish soldiers would be needed to confront the Rayados, and he turned his soldiers around to return to New Mexico.
Oñate had worried about the Rayados hurting or attacking him, but it was instead the Escanjaques who attacked him as he was beginning his return to New Mexico. Oñate described a pitched battle with one thousand five hundred Escanjaques—probably an exaggeration—in which many Spaniards were wounded and many natives killed. After more than two hours of fighting, Oñate retired from the battlefield. The Rayado chief, Caratax, was freed by a raid on the Spanish and Oñate freed several women captives, but he retained several boys at the request of the Spanish priests so that they could be instructed in the Catholic faith. The cause of the attack may have been Oñate's kidnapping of women and children.
Oñate and his men returned to New Mexico, arriving there on November 24, 1601 without any further incidents of importance.
The path of Oñate's expedition and the identity of the Escanjaques and the Rayados are much debated. Most authorities believe his route led down the Canadian River from Texas to Oklahoma, cross-country to the Salt Fork, where he found the Escanjaque encampment, and then to the Arkansas River and its tributary, the Walnut River at Arkansas City, Kansas where the Rayado settlement was located. A minority view would be that the Escanjaque encampment was on the Ninnescah River and the Rayado village was on the site of present day Wichita, Kansas. Archaeological evidence favors the Walnut River site.
Authorities have speculated that the Escanjaques were Apache, Tonkawa, Jumano, Quapaw, Kaw, or other tribes. Most likely they were Caddoan and spoke a Wichita dialect. We can be virtually certain that the Rayados were Caddoan Wichitas. Their grass houses, dispersed mode of settlement, a chief named Catarax, a Wichita title, the description of their granaries, and their location all are in accord with Coronado's earlier description of the Quivirans. However, they were probably not the same people Coronado had met. Coronado found Quivira 120 miles north of Oñate's Rayados . The Rayados spoke of large settlements called Tancoa—perhaps the real name of Quivira—in that area to the north. Thus, the Rayados were related culturally and linguistically to the Quivirans but not in the same political entity. The Wichita at this time were not unified, but rather a large number of related tribes scattered over most of Kansas and Oklahoma. That the Rayados and Escanjaques may have spoken the same language, but were nevertheless enemies is not implausible.
Second Onate Expedition 
Oñate’s last major expedition went to the west, from New Mexico to the lower valley of the Colorado River. The party of about three dozen men set out from the Rio Grande valley in October 1604. They traveled by way of Zuñi, the Hopi pueblos, and the Bill Williams River to the Colorado River, and descended that river to its mouth in the Gulf of California in January 1605, before returning along the same route to New Mexico. The evident purpose of the expedition was to locate a port by which New Mexico could be supplied, as an alternative to the laborious overland route from New Spain.
The expedition to the lower Colorado River was important as the only recorded European incursion into that region between the expeditions of Hernando de Alarcón and Melchior Díaz in 1540 and the visits of Eusebio Francisco Kino beginning in 1701. The explorers did not see evidence of prehistoric Lake Cahuilla, which must have arisen shortly afterwards in the Salton Sink. They mistakenly thought that the Gulf of California continued indefinitely to the northwest, giving rise to a belief that was common in the seventeenth century that the Californias were an island.
Native groups observed living on the lower Colorado River, were, from north to south, the Amacava, Bahacecha, Osera, at the Gila River's junction with the Colorado in a location later occupied by the Quechan, Alebdoma; seen by Oñate below the Gila junction but subsequently reported upstream from there, in the area where Oñate had encountered the, Coguana, or Kahwans, Agalle and Agalecquamaya, or Halyikwamai, and the Cocopah. Concerning areas that the explorers had not observed directly, they gave fantastic reports about races of human monsters and areas said to be rich in gold, silver, and pearls.
Later life and legacy 
In 1606, Oñate was recalled to Mexico City for a hearing into his conduct. After finishing plans for the founding of the town of Santa Fé, he resigned his post and was tried and convicted of cruelty to both natives and colonists. He was banished from New Mexico but on appeal was cleared of all charges. Eventually Oñate went to Spain, where the king appointed him head of mining inspectors for all of Spain. He died in Spain in 1626. He is sometimes referred to as "the Last Conquistador."
Oñate is honored by some for his exploratory ventures, but is vilified by others for his cruelty to the Keres of Acoma Pueblo. In the Oñate Monument Visitors Center northeast of Española is a 1991 bronze statue dedicated to the man. In 1998 New Mexico celebrated the 400th anniversary of his arrival. That same year individuals opposed to the statue or what it was perceived to represent, cut off the statue's right foot and left a note saying, "Fair is fair." The sculptor, Reynaldo Rivera, recast the foot but the seam is still visible. Some commentators suggested leaving the statue maimed as a symbolic reminder of the foot-mutilating incident.
In 1997, the City of El Paso hired a sculptor, John Sherrill Houser, to create a statue of the conquistador. In reaction to protests, two city councilmembers retracted their support for the project; The $2,000,000 statue took nearly nine years to build and was stationed in the sculptor's Mexico City warehouse. The statue was completed in early 2006. In pieces and transported on flatbed trailers, it was brought to El Paso during the summer and was installed in October. The controversy over the statue prior to its installation was the subject of the documentary film The Last Conquistador, presented in 2008 as part of PBS' P.O.V. television series.
The City of El Paso unveiled the eighteen ton, 34-foot-tall (10 m) statue in a ceremony on April 21, 2007. Oñate is mounted atop his Andalusian horse while holding the La Toma declaration in his right hand. The statue was welcomed by segments of the local population and also by the Spanish Ambassador to the United States, Carlos Westendorp. According to Houser, it is the largest and heaviest (bronze) equestrian statue in the world. Acoma tribal members from New Mexico were present and protested the statue.
- Simmons, Marc, The Last Conquistador:Juan de Oñate and the Settling of the Far Southwest, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma, 1991, p. 30
- L. Thrapp, Dan Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography: G-O, University of Nebraska Press, 1991, p. 1083
- Ginger Thompson. "As a Sculpture Takes Shape in Mexico, Opposition Takes Shape in the U.S.," The New York Times, January 17, 2002. Retrieved 2008-07-15.
- Simmons, Marc, The Last Conquistador:Juan de Oñate and the Settling of the Far Southwest, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma, 1991, p.145
- Bolton, Herbert Eugene, ed. Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, 1542-1706. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916, 250-267
- Bolton, 257
- Bolton, 253
- Vehik, Susan C. "Wichita Culture History," Plains Anthropologist,Vol 37, No. 141, 1992, 327
- Bolton, 264
- Vehik, Susan C. "Onate's Expedition to the Southern Plains: Routes, Destinations, and Implications for Late Prehistoric Cultural Adaptations." Plains Anthropologist, Vol 31, No. 111, 1986, 13-33
- Hawle, Marlin F. European-contact and Southwestern Artifacts in the lower Walnut Focus Sites at Arkansas City Kansas, Plains Anthropologists, Vol. 45, No. 173, Aug 2000
- Vehik, 22-23
- Hammond, George P., and Agapito Rey, Don Juan de Oñate, Colonizer of New Mexico, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1953; Laylander, Don, "Geographies of Fact and Fantasy: Oñate on the Lower Colorado River, 1604-1605," Southern California Quarterly, Vol. 86, No. 4, 2004, 309-324.
- Simmons, Marc, The Last Conquistador: Juan de Oñate and the Settling of the Far Southwest, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma, 1991, book title
- POV - The Last Conquistador
- Oñate’s Foot: Histories, Landscapes, and Contested Memories in the Southwest Concerning the 1998 attack on Oñate's statue.
- Porras Munoz, Guillermo, "La Calle de Cadena en Mexico," pps. 1-46.