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Don Juan de Oņate was an explorer from Spain who came to the Americas to settle the land of New Mexico. Oņate forded the Rio Grande at El Paso del Norte in May 1598 and continued up the river, blazing the trail of what was to become the Camino Real, the longest road in North America at the time. He established a colony in San Juan, New Mexico later that year.

Oņate is celebrated as the first successful colonizer of the American Southwest, but he is also famous for his cruelty to the people he conquered. In 1598-99, he led a charge against a revolt at the Acoma Pueblo. Hundreds of Acoma men died, and hundreds more were taken prisoner. To teach the Indians a lesson, Oņate ordered one foot cut off each captive man, and he sentenced all the prisoners to 20 years as slaves to Oņate’s soldiers.

In 1613 Oņate was punished for his actions. He was charged with using excessive force during the Acoma rebellion, hanging two Indians, executing mutineers and deserters, and adultery. He was fined, banished from New Mexico permanently, and banished from Mexico City for four years.

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critical thinking
Do you think that historical figures can be celebrated for some actions and condemned for others? Why?

Related Links:

From the Handbook of Texas Online

From the Navajo History archives

The History of Santa Fe

Read More, Learn More:

Bolton, Herbert Eugene ed. 1959. Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, 1542-1706. New York: Scribner.

Hammond, George P. and Agapito Rey, eds. 1927. Don Juan de Oņate: Colonizer of New Mexico, 1595-1628. Santa Fe: Patalacio.