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Juan and Vicente de Zaldivar

Juan and Vicente de Zaldivar
The Nephews

by Richard Flint and Shirley Cushing Flint

It was no accident that the brothers Juan and Vicente de Zaldívar were among the hopeful colonists of Juan de Oñate\'s expedition to New Mexico in 1598. They were, in the first place, related through both their parents to don Juan, the adelantado and organizer of the expedition. By the same chain of descent, they were also great nephews of Juan\'s father, Cristóbal de Oñate. And lastly, they were nephews of Captain Juan de Zaldívar who had served during the Coronado expedition to New Mexico nearly 60 years earlier. Young Juan and Vicente\'s interest in the Pueblo world along the Rio Grande, and indeed that of their uncle Juan de Oñate, was likely piqued by Captain Juan and Cristóbal, both of whom had knowledge of that region as a result of the Coronado entrada.

Beyond stories from the family past, there had been a trickle of rumor about the Pueblos deriving from unauthorized prospecting and slave raiding expeditions that occurred after the Coronado entrada. Then, beginning in the 1580s, there had been a series of both official and illicit entries into New Mexico, each of which had left formal reports. Francisco Sánchez Chamuscado and fray Agustín Rodríguez had led a small expedition in 1581-82; Antonio de Espejo had led a follow-up to that entrada; then, in the early 1590s, Gaspar Castaño de Sosa attempted to transplant an entire colony to New Mexico. Veterans of each of these entradas served as living sources of information about the peoples of the Rio Grande.

Juan and Vicente would have heard stories of all these expeditions in the home of their parents, Vicente de Zaldívar, the elder--first cousin of Juan de Oñate and brother of Captain Juan de Zaldívar--and Magdalena de Mendoza y Salazar--Oñate\'s half sister. This Zaldívar family resided in the mining center of Zacatecas, in existence for just over 20 years when Juan de Zaldívar, the younger, was born there in 1569. His brother Vicente was born into the booming mining town and regional center three years later.

Also resident at Zacatecas was Cristóbal de Oñate, one of the four founders of the city and, like the Zaldívars, a Basque. Cristóbal\'s son Juan was also a native son of Zacatecas, born there about 1552. Since the discovery of silver at Zacatecas in 1546 by Cristóbal\'s partner Juan de Tolosa, the city had been at least temporary home to thousands of miners and practitioners of related occupations.

After the return of Antonio de Espejo and his companions from New Mexico in 1583, King Felipe II directed Viceroy Pedro Moya de Contreras and his immediate successors to designate a leader for full-scale Spanish settlement of the Pueblo world. Several applicants were considered and rejected, and the process dragged on for the better part of two decades until at long last an agreement was concluded with mine owner and operator Juan de Oñate in September 1595.

Oñate dispatched his nephew Vicente de Zaldívar, just 23 years old, to Mexico City to recruit colonists there. Meanwhile, don Juan did the same in Nueva Galicia. Within a matter of weeks, 500 recruits were ready to leave for New Mexico. But transition of power to a new viceroy in Mexico City put all plans on hold. The new viceroy, the conde de Monterrey, required that changes be made to Oñate\'s contract. After months required for the sending of petitions, in spring 1596, Santa Bárbara was designated as the point of departure of the colonists. Before they could reach Santa Bárbara, though, Oñate\'s authorization for colonization was suspended.

Critics in Spain had sown doubt about Oñate\'s ability to lead an expedition to New Mexico. After toying with the possibility of another leader for the expedition, the king, however, reauthorized Oñate\'s project. The heavy cost of maintaining the expeditionaries during the lengthy suspension was borne by the brother-in-law of the two Zaldívars, Juan Guerra de Resa. A February 1597 inspection of the impatient expeditionaries showed Juan de Zaldívar, designated as maestre de campo, or field commander, and captain and sargento mayor Vicente de Zaldívar still at their uncle\'s disposal.

Almost another 12 months was to elapse before all the formalities necessary for the departure were complete. But on January 26, 1598, Oñate, the Zaldívars, and 127 other men-at-arms, plus families and servants, finally set out. From the Río Conchos, which had served as the conduit of entrance to New Mexico for the Chamuscado-Rodríguez and Espejo expeditions, Oñate was persuaded to take a shortcut, angling cross country to the Rio Grande. Vicente de Zaldívar was detailed, with 16 men, to ride ahead and find a way across the barrens and sand dunes of what is now northern Chihuahua. In two separate scouting expeditions he and his party successfully guided the expedition of colonists to the Rio Grande a score of miles downstream from modern El Paso.

After following the river upstream to the area of the Robledo Mountains above today\'s Las Cruces, Oñate and his advisors decided to split the expedition. A relatively small unit of 60 or so, including the governor and both Zaldívars would proceed ahead, making contact and initiating peaceful relations with the people of the pueblos. The Spaniards\' reception by the Pueblos varied from cautious gift exchange at Socorro to avoidance of contact entirely by flight of entire populations at most of the pueblos.

Following a ceremony of submission and vassalage on July 7, 1598, at Santo Domingo Pueblo, participated in by a number of Pueblo leaders, Oñate and his party pushed on to Ohke, or San Juan Pueblo, which was their chosen destination. The reasons behind the choice of Ohke for the first Spanish settlement in New Mexico are not made clear in the surviving documents. One factor, however, may have been reports given by members of the Coronado expedition of possible silver in that area.

While he awaited arrival of the main body of colonists, Oñate eagerly toured the Rio Grande region, examining pueblos and taking ore samples. Juan de Zaldívar finally reached Ohke with the lion\'s share of colonists on August 18. Within weeks, a church dedicated to San Juan Bautista had been erected and lodging within a pueblo had been assigned to the colonists.

In September, a central Mexican Indian arrived at San Juan, who had been a member of an unauthorized expedition led by Francisco Leyva de Bonilla and Antonio Gutiérrez de Humaña five years earlier. This Indian, known as Jusepe to the Spaniards, told stories of the Great Plains and the innumerable bison that inhabited them. That was of keen interest to the colonists, who needed a significant source of meat to sustain their settlement.

Taking Jusepe as guide, Vicente de Zaldívar and 60 men rode to the plains. During nearly two months of travel, the Zaldívar party killed scores of bison, prepared a great quantity of jerky, and even attempted unsuccessfully to capture bison alive. They also met and observed the semi-nomadic Apachean hunters who supported themselves almost entirely off the bison.

During Vicente\'s absence, his brother Juan had been in charge at San Juan while the governor continued his reconnaissance of the Pueblo world. In the midst of that reconnaissance, Oñate sent a message to San Juan informing both Zaldívars that he had decided to go in search of the Mar del Sur, or Pacific Ocean. He instructed Vicente to take over leadership of the Spanish settlement and Juan to follow the governor with a party of reinforcements.

Dutifully, the maestre de campo selected a group of 31 men-at-arms and departed from San Juan, in order to overtake Oñate. Unbeknownst to him, there was a faction among the people of Acoma Pueblo that urged war against the colonists. When the Zaldívar company reached Acoma, it sought to purchase corn flour there. The Acomas replied that it would take several days for them to grind as much flour as Zaldívar asked for. When the flour was ready, Zaldívar and nearly 20 others made the difficult ascent to the mesa top, where the pueblo stood, to receive the finished flour. As the Spanish party dispersed across the pueblo to collect the flour, the Acomas attacked, quickly killing most of the party, including Juan de Zaldívar.

Under the command of Captain Gerónimo Márquez, the survivors returned in haste to San Juan. Meanwhile, the governor abandoned his plans to ride to the Pacific and returned to the settlement himself. On December 22, he convened the Franciscan friars to ask their opinion about what response should be made to the killings at Acoma. After hearing days of testimony from survivors of the fighting, the friars declared that if the people of Acoma would not submit voluntarily to Spanish rule, war without quarter against them was permissible.

With that determination in mind, Vicente de Zaldívar, with a force of 72 men-at-arms, left San Juan shortly after the turn of the New Year, 1599. Arriving at Acoma, Zaldívar called for submission of its residents, a demand that was promptly refused. The Spaniards then launched an attack, using a diversionary tactic by which Zaldívar and 10 others were able to reach the mesa top undetected. After three days of fighting, the remaining people of Acoma surrendered.

On February 9, 1599, the Acoma prisoners were put on trial at Santo Domingo. Three days later, a guilty verdict was delivered and a sentence was pronounced. The sentenced included cutting off one foot of each man from Acoma over 25 years of age. In recent years, there has been great controversy as to whether that sentence was actually carried out. Although it is possible that it was not, it seems more likely that it was. Some of the colonists saw that punishment as rightful retribution for the killing of Juan de Zaldívar and his companions.

A year later, Vicente de Zaldívar led another foray toward the Pacific Ocean. During a three-month reconnaissance, he and his company got as far as what is now southwestern Arizona before turning back. In the spring of 1601 he led a punitive expedition against the Jumano pueblos east of the Rio Grande. In the resulting fighting Vicente was severely wounded and several hundred Pueblo people died. In June of that same year, Vicente was among the group Oñate led back onto the Great Plains in search of the same Quivira the Coronado expedition had sought. Just as 60 years before, it was fertile land and immense bison herds that the 1601 reconnaissance found.

The governor and sargento mayor returned to San Juan to find it in deep turmoil. A large group of colonists had deserted, heading south to Santa Bárbara. Even many of those who remained were sullen and dissatisfied. Zaldívar was dispatched in pursuit of the mutineers, but they had too great a head start. They reached Santa Bárbara and gained the protection of the royal officials there. Zaldívar traveled on, first to Mexico City and then all the way to Spain, to press the case for further royal support for the beleaguered colony of New Mexico. He obtained little more than an order to the viceroy in Mexico City to study the matter. He returned to New Spain in 1603 almost empty handed.

Finally, in the fall of 1606 Zaldívar returned to New Mexico, escorting a small party of new colonists. In a last desperate effort to save his enterprise, Oñate sent Zaldívar again toward the Mar del Sur. The results must have been disappointing, although no written record of the reconnaissance is known to survive. With all hope gone, the governor drafted a letter of resignation in August 1607. It took until late 1609 or early 1610 for a new governor of New Mexico, Pedro de Peralta, to be appointed and then make the long journey to his post. Soon after his arrival, though, don Juan, his son Cristóbal, and others close to him, including Vicente de Zaldívar departed from New Mexico, never to return.

Vicente lived the remainder of his life in Zacatecas, where he married first Ana de Bañuelos and then María de Oñate, daughter of the former governor. About 1616 he and Ana donated 100,000 pesos toward the establishment of a Jesuit college there. They lived on a plaza in Zacatecas named the Plazuela del Maestre de Campo in Vicente\'s honor. Vicente carried on the family tradition of mining and became a very wealthy and generally respected citizen of his hometown. Few people owned estates larger than his. Evidently, both he and his uncle Juan de Oñate eventually received the honor of membership in the Order of Santiago. By 1650 he had died, leaving behind a much diminished estate.

Sources Used:

Bakewell, Peter. Silver Mining and Society in Colonial Mexico: Zacatecas, 1546-1700. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1971.

Craddock, Jerry R. and John H.R. Polt. Zaldívar and the Cattle of Cíbola: Vicente de Zaldívar\'s Report of his Expedition to the Buffalo Plains in 1598. Dallas: William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University, 1999.

Hammond, George P. and Agapito Rey. Don Juan de Oñate, Colonizer of New Mexico, 1595-1628. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1953.

Simmons, Marc. The Last Conquistador: Juan de Oñate and the Settling of the Far Southwest. Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991.

Snow, David H., comp. New Mexico\'s First Colonists: the 1597-1600 Enlistments for New Mexico under Juan de Oñate, Adelante and Gobernador. Albuquerque: Hispanic Genealogical Research Center of New Mexico, 1998.