Above: Painting, entitled Discovery of the Mississippi, by William H. Powell, 1847, is located in the Rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Right: Giovanni de Verrazzano, 1889, engraving by F. Allcarini, Tocchi, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.
Pre-Revolution Timeline - The 1500s
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Detail - 1598
April 30, 1598 - Juan de Onate y Salazar, claims the land north of the Rio Grande River, present day New Mexico, for Spain.
Yes, he was certainly another of those conflicting historical figures. Commemorated for founding land north of the Rio Grande River and claiming it for Spain, but later, and not much later, abusing the Native Americans who had already lived there, in more than one instance of personal and territorial plunder. Juan de Onate y Salazar was an explorer. He was an explorer, like almost all the other European explorers of the New World, who would come to find land that was already occupied, claim or pacify it for one of the European powers, and attempt to colonize it. Unlike many of the previous explorers, this conquistador was a product of the New World, born to a wealthy silver baron in Mexico (New Spain). And he would marry into explorer royalty and Aztec royalty as well; the granddaughter of Hernan Cortez and great-granddaughter of Aztec legend and Emperor Moctezuma Xocoyotzin. That's a lot of history right there and more than a mouthful to swallow on Ancestry.com.
The territory had been originally founded during the Coronado expeditions decades earlier in 1540, but not had permanent settlements. Pacification of the New Mexico lands, settlement, and conversion of its people had been discussed by the Viceroy Luis de Velasco II with other conquistadors since 1589, but two previous arrangements had not been completed. However, when Onate approached the viceroy with his plan, the viceroy agreed, with two conditions; Onate would pacify the land and capture one of his enemies, Capt. Francisco Leyva de Bonilla. In exchange for that, Onate would become Governor, captain general, caudillo, discoverer, and pacifier of New Mexico. This arrangement was agreed to on October 21, 1595. The governorship would extend for two lifetimes. He would governor independently and answer to the Council of the Indies in Spain. Onate would gain a salary of eight thousands ducats.
It would take Onate two years to get going, as a new Viceroy was appointed who wanted to study the contract and consider whether to move forward. Once Juan de Onate y Salazar got approval from the King, he embarked on his colonization mission in March of 1598. Crossing the Rio Grande River south of today's Ciudad Juarez, Onate's party took formal possession of New Mexico on Ascension Day, April 30.
Onate moved forward with his party, encountering little resistance among the Native Americans of the Piros, Tiwas, Kires, and Tanos, then reaching the territory of the Pecos on July 25, 1598. They recieved him well at first, then accepted Onate's orders of conversion by the Franciscans who had accompanied him, for three months. However, by December of 1598, the leader of the expedition that accompanied the friars, Sargento mayor Vicente de Zaldivar, now sent to explore the buffalo plains, was ambushed at Acoma. On December 4, a dozen men were killed, with several escaping.
Onate called his missionaries and men back from the Pecos plains, then, with the blessings of the friars, on January 10, 1599, decided to wage war. Sending seventy soldiers, the natives were subdued at the Battle of Acoma in just two days, beginning January 22. Up to one thousand Pecos at Acoma were killed, with five hundred captured, put on trial, and punished, including twenty years of slavery for those over the age of twelve.
In 1606, Juan de Onate was recalled to Mexico City and put on trial for cruelty and mistreatment of the native population, and colonists, for his actions at Acoma and other incidents. He was banished from New Mexico for life and from Mexico City for five years. However, on his return to Spain, the King made him head inspector of Mines.
Appeal to the King by Onate
"For many years I have had reports of how important the discovery and pacification of the provinces of New Mexico would be to Your Majesty's service, and having made a careful study to find out all that could be learned about them . . . I offered myself and my estate."
Juan de Onate to Philip II, December 16, 1595.
Prayer by Onate on Ascension Day, April 30, 1598
"Open the door of heaven to these heathens, establish the church and altars where the body and blood of the son of God may be offered, open to us the way to security and peace for their preservation and ours, and give to our king, and to me in his royal name, peaceful possession of these kingdoms and provinces for His blessed glory. Amen."
Friar's Justification for Attack Against Acoma
"Finally, if the cause of war is universal peace, or peace in his kingdom, he [i.e., the Christian prince] may justly wage war and destroy any obstacle in the way of peace until it is effectively achieved."
Image above: Onate statue, Onate Monument Center, Alcadle, New Mexico, 2006, Advanced Source Productions. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Image below: Inscription Rock with Spanish words written by Juan de Onate in 1606, 1927, Edward S. Curtis. Courtesy Library of Congress. Source info: Onate's Disenfranchisement, National Park Service; "1680 - the Pueblo Revolt," October 31, 2013 by Margaret Wood, Library of Congress; Wikipedia.