Juan de Oñate
Spanish conquistador
Juan de Oñate
Don Juan de Oñate y Salazar was a Mexican explorer, colonial governor of the New Spain province of New Mexico, and founder of various settlements in the present day American Southwest.
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  • 1626
    Eventually Oñate went to Spain, where the king appointed him head of all mining inspectors in Spain. He died in Spain in 1626.
    More Details Hide Details 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 people of Acoma Pueblo. New Mexico 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 someone cut off the statue's right foot and left a note saying, "Fair is fair." Sculptor Reynaldo Rivera recast the foot, but a seam is still visible. Some commentators suggested leaving the statue maimed as a symbolic reminder of the foot-amputating Acoma Massacre. Oñate High School in Las Cruces, New Mexico and Oñate Elementary School in Gallup, New Mexico are named after Juan de Oñate. The historic central business district of Española, New Mexico is named Paseo de Oñate, also known as Oñate Street.
  • 1614
    In 1614, Oñate was exiled from what is now New Mexico and charged with mismanagement and excessive cruelty, especially at Acoma Pueblo in 1599, where he ordered the right foot chopped off of 24 Acoma warriors.
    More Details Hide Details Males between the ages of 12 and 25 were also enslaved for 20 years, along with all of the females above the age of 12. When King Phillip of Spain heard the news of the massacre and punishments, Oñate was brought on 30 charges of mismanagement and excessive cruelty in suppressing Indian uprisings. He was found guilty of cruelty, immorality and false reporting and returned to Spain to live out the remainder of his life. 2014 marked the 400th anniversary of Juan de Oñate’s exile from New Mexico. Despite his atrocities, Oñate is still celebrated today at the Española Valley Fiestas. http://greenfiretimes.com/2014/08/remembering-400-years-of-exile/#.VaAazvlVhBc Texas 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, statue in a ceremony on April 21, 2007.
  • 1606
    In 1606, Oñate was recalled to Mexico City for a hearing into his conduct.
    More Details Hide Details 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 Nuevo México, but on appeal was cleared of all charges.
  • 1601
    Oñate and his men returned to San Juan de los Caballeros, arriving there on November 24, 1601 without any further incidents of note.
    More Details Hide Details 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 (Caddi was a Wichita title for a chief), 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 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 an area to the north. Thus, the Rayados were related culturally and linguistically to the Quivirans but not part of the same political entity.
    In 1601, Oñate undertook a large expedition east to the Great Plains region of central North America.
    More Details Hide Details The expedition party included 130 Spanish soldiers and twelve Franciscan priests - similar to the expedition of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire - and a retinue of 130 Indian soldiers and servants. The expedition possessed 350 horses and mules. Oñate journeyed across the plains eastward from New Mexico in a renewed search for Quivira, the fabled "city of gold." As had the earlier Coronado Expedition in the 1540s, Oñate encountered Apaches in the Texas Panhandle region. Oñate proceeded eastward, following the Canadian River into the modern state of Oklahoma. Leaving the river behind in a sandy area where his ox carts could not pass, he went across country, and the land became greener, with more water and groves of Black walnut (Juglans nigra) and Bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) trees. Escanjaque people It is thought that Jusepe probably led the Oñate party on the same route he had taken on the Umana and Leyba expedition six years earlier. They found an encampment of native people that Oñate called the Escanjaques. He estimated the population at more than 5,000 living in 600 houses. The Escanjaques lived in round houses as large as 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.
  • 1599
    In January 1599, Oñate retaliated for the loss of his nephew, by sending the man's father Vicente de Zaldívain (Don Juan's brother) on an offensive known as the Acoma War.
    More Details Hide Details The retaliatory strike by Oñate's forces left 800 villagers, including women and children killed in the raid. Oñate's officials enslaved the remaining 80 men and 500 women and their children. By Don Juan’s decree, the offenders would have one foot amputated. 80 Acoma men over the age of twenty-five were affected. Females became slaves for twenty years. Research suggests that those mutilated numbered twenty-four, but that sum is unsubstantiated. Philip III recalled Oñate to Spain in 1606 and banned him from the province over his handling of this war.
  • 1598
    A great mistrust had been fostered amongst the Pueblo peoples before Oñate arrived. He himself would soon gain a reputation among the Spanish colonists and indigenous people as stern, if not dangerous. In October 1598, a skirmish erupted when a squad of Oñate's men demanded supplies from Acoma Pueblo.
    More Details Hide Details Trade had failed over provisions that the Acoma themselves needed to survive the oncoming winter. The Acoma resisted and 11 Spaniards were killed, amongst them Don Juan’s nephew Juan de Zaldívar.
    In March of 1598, Oñate's expedition moved out and forged the Rio Grande (Río del Norte) south of present-day El Paso and Ciudad Juárez in late April.
    More Details Hide Details On the Catholic calendar day of Ascension, April 30, 1598, the exploration party assembled on the south bank of the Rio Grande. In an Ascension Day ceremony, Oñate led the party in prayer, as he claimed all of the territory across the river for the Spanish Empire. Oñate's original terms would have make this land a separate viceroyalty to the crown in New Spain; this move failed to stand after the Viceroy de Zúñiga reviewed the agreement. All summer, Oñate's expedition party followed the middle Rio Grande Valley to present day northern New Mexico, where he engaged with Pueblo Indians. 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, published in 1610.
  • 1596
    This review caused Oñate to suspend his expedition in the summer of 1596.
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  • 1595
    In late 1595, the Viceroy de Zúñiga, followed his predecessor's advice, delayed Oñate and began reviewing the terms of the original agreement signed before the last Viceroy left office.
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    In response to a bid by Juan Bautista de Lomas y Colmenares, and subsequently rejected by the King, in 1595 Philip II's Viceroy de Velasco selected Oñate from two other candidates to organize the resources of the newly acquired territory.
    More Details Hide Details The agreement with Viceroy Velasco tasked Oñate with two goals; the better-known aim was to explore and colonize the unknown lands annexed into the New Kingdom of León y Castilla (present day New Mexico) and the Viceroyalty of New Spain. His second goal was to capture Capt. Francisco Leyva de Bonilla (a traitor to the crown known to be in the region) as he already was transporting other criminals. His stated objective otherwise was to spread Roman Catholicism by establishing new missions in Nuevo México. Oñate is credited with founding the Province of Santa Fe de Nuevo México, and was the province's first colonial governor, acting from 1598 to 1610. He held his colonial government at Ohkay Owingeh, New Mexico, and renamed the pueblo there 'San Juan de los Caballeros'.
  • 1550
    Oñate was born either in 1550 or 1552, (his true birth date has been lost to history) at Zacatecas in New Spain (colonial México) to a family of Spanish-Basque colonists and silver mine owners.
    More Details Hide Details His father was conquistador—silver baron Cristóbal de Oñate, a descendant of the noble house of Haro. His mother was Doña Catalina Salazar y de la Cadena who was a descendant by her maternal line of a famous Jewish converso family the Ha-Levi's. His ancestor Cadena, in the year 1212, fought in the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in Al Andalus, 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 Cadenas. Juan de Oñate married Isabel de Tolosa Cortés de Moctezuma, granddaughter of Hernán Cortés, the conqueror of the Triple Alliance, and great granddaughter of the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma Xocoyotzin.
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