More to Explore

BIography of Don Cristobal de Onate

Don Cristóbal de Oñate, who was New Mexico's second governor from 1608‑1610, was the son of Don Juan de Oñate and Dona Isabel Tolosa de Oñate.

By Grace Meredith
Field Worker

Edited by:
Carlotta Warfield
Ina Sizer Cassidy

WPA Biography Project

Don Cristóbal de Oñate, who was New Mexico's second governor from 1608‑1610, was the son of Don Juan de Oñate and Dona Isabel Tolosa de Oñate. His grand‑father, Don Cristóbal for whom he was named, had come from Spain to Mexico sometime during the year 1524, and his father, Don Juan de Onate, first governor of New Mexico, had been a resident of Zacatecas in Mexico, so it may be assumed that he was born in Mexico, though the exact date and place of his birth are not now available. An eager, courageous lad of a little more than ten years of age, he accompanied his father on the now famous and historical journey into New Mexico in 1598, and assisted in the settlement of the country, Don Cristóbal, in fact, was Teniente de gobernador y capitan general (lieutenant‑governor and captain‑general) of the expeditions The available records of him are scant, indeed, and naturally commingle with those of his famous father.

During the exciting and dangerous events from that time in May, 1598, when he crossed the Rio Grande with his father's forces, until a tragic day in 1610, when he and his father were enroute to Mexico, Don Cristóbal was learning from the school of wide open spaces and being taught the lessons of stirring frontier experience, and it was thus that he grew into young manhood far from the confines of the “Christian Country” which Mexico was called, and remote from its influence.

It is related that shortly before Christmas of 1598, after the Acoma Indians had treacherously assaulted and killed many of the Spaniards, Don Cristóbal with other youths and men at San Gabriel ventured far out on the plains to meet his father, joyfully welcoming him back for the Christmas festivities and being boyishly grateful for his safety. It is further told that while his father was on his attempted journey to the South Sea (via the Colorado River) and discovering the Gulf of California in 1604 and 1605, Don Cristóbal, then about eighteen years of age, was left in New Mexico at San Gabriel as Teniente de gobernador y captain general and that he was actually in charge of affairs during this time.

Don Cristóbal. must surely have been well liked by the Colonists, and this is attested to by what occurred in 1608. In February of that year, the viceroy in Mexico City appointed Juan Martínez de Montoya of San Gabriel, governor of New Mexico. Montoya was the son of Bartolome Martínez de Montoya, native of Nava la Camella, of Segovia in Castile. He was tall and had rather good features, wore a black beard, and was about forty years old. At the entrada of Oñate, he served under Captain Villagrá. Whether or not Montoya was well thought of, history does not say, but it is a fact that the colonists rejected him hotly, and during the summer of 1608, in cabildo abierto (a sort of town meeting), they elected Don Cristóbal to succeed his father, Don Juan, as Governor of New Mexico. While this arrangement was most unsatisfactory to the viceroy, Don Cristóbal served as Governor during the period of 1608 to 1610. Due possibly to his youth and the fact that his father was very much alive, there is little record of him during this time.

In May of 1610, when his father was recalled to Mexico, Don Cristóbal went with him. With a very small escort, the two Oñtes left San Gabriel and travelled down the Rio Grande, Stark tragedy stalked them on the trail in the way of a band of savage and hostile Indians, and the young and gallant Don Cristóbal was killed, “Somewhere in New Mexico,” he was buried; a promising, ambitious youth of scarce more than two score years.

Of Don Juan de Oñate, New Mexico’s first governor, as one historian has said, he established the Spanish authority and introduced the religion of the Holy Faith, and actually founded Now Mexico in the blood of his only son, Don Cristóbal, second of New Mexico's governors.


New Mexico History and Civics, by Lansing B. Bloom and. Thomas C. Donnelly; The University Press, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1933.

“List of Governors of New Mexico,” Lansing B. Bloom in the pamphlet Old Santa Fe and Vicinity Paul A.F. Walter, Jr.; The Historical Society of New Mexico, University Press, 1933.

A History of New Mexico Charles F. Coan, Ph.D; The American Historical Society, Inc., Chicago & New York, 1925.

Leading Facts of New Mexico History by Ralph Emerson Twitchell, Esq., published by The Torch Press, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 1911.

History of Arizona and New Mexico by Hubert Howe Bancroft, Published by The History Co., San Francisco, 1890.

            In the above, Juan Martínez de Montoya, is named in the list of Onate's associates in the conquest of New Mexico, as: Juan Martínez.

Don Juan do Oñate and the Founding of New Mexico, by George P. Hammond, Ph.D. Published by the Historical Society of New Mexico Publications in History ‑Volume II, October 1927.

Historical Documents relating to New Mexico Nueva Vizcaya and Approaches Thereto to 1773 collected by Adolph FA., Bandelier and Fanny R. Bandelier; edited with Introductions and Annotations by Charles Wilson Hackett, Ph.D.  Published by the Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington D.C. Volume I, 1923.

The Spanish Borderlands by Herbert E. Bolton. Published by Yale University Press, New Haven, 1921. (The Chronicles of America Series, Allen Johnson, Editor; Gerhard R. Lomer, Charles N. Jefferys, Assistant Editors.