Don Juan de Oñate
On April 20, 1598, Oñate's colonists finally reached the Rio del Norte ( Rio Grande) about fifteen miles below the modern city of El Paso. After many days without water, the sight of the river seemed amost miraculous to the parched travellers. Both they and the livestock were so dehydrated traversing the Chihuahua desert that many succumbed to the temptation to overindulge their thirsts. Villagra graphically describes the scene by the river: "the gaunt horses approached the rolling stream and plunged headlong into it. Two of them drank so much that they burst their swollen sides and died..Our men, consumed by the burning thirst, their tongues swollen and their throats parched, threw themselves into the water and drank as though the entire river did not carry enough to quench the terrible thirst."

In a formal ceremony, Oñate took possession of the territory in the name of the King of Spain. At no time did it ever occur to the conquistadores that their claim was anything but legitamate. Had not the Pope himself divided the newly discovered lands into two halves by the Treaty of Tordesillas: one half to Portugal, the other to Spain? The fact that the northern European Protestant countries would challenge this claim had no power to alter the conquistadores' stubborn conviction that they were entitled to all new lands west of the line of Tordesillas. Of course the rights of the Indians were pointedly ignored and did not even enter inot the purview of these European controversies.

Thus, on the Feast of the Ascension, April 30, 1598, Oñate took possession of all the kingdoms and provinces of New Mexico in the name of King Phillip of Spain. His words succinctly epitomize Spain's world-view and medieval concept of man and nature. In a letter to his sovereign, Oñate wrote: "Another reason(for the conquest of New Mexico) is the need for correcting and punishing the sins against nature and against humanity which exist among these bestial nations and which it behooves my King and Prince as a most powerful lord to correct and repress...Another reason is the great number of children born among these infidel people who neither recognize not obey their true God and Father." With these words, Oñate claimed sovereign rights to all the territories and "of its kingdoms contiguous thereto."

To mark the occasion, the expeditionaries were granted a day of rest and festivities. Starting with the "Te Deum," the Churches hymn of gratitude to God, and a solemn High mass, the colonists celebrated the festival with foot races and other competitive sports. One of Oñate's captians, Marcos Farfan, even wrote a play which was staged for the entertainment and edification of the expeditioners. The drama portrayed the eagerness with which the Indian population would recieve the Franciscan friars and petition them for saving waters of the sacrament of Baptism. It also graphically showed how Oñate would readily overcome resistance in his conquest of those territories.

The tenacity with which the Spanish pursued their spiritual goals was duplicated in their zeal to their material objectives. By August, 1598, the colonists had established themselves at the pueblo of Yuque-Yunque on the east bank of the Rio Grande above Española, near the junction of the Rio Grande and Chama rivers. Impressed by the Indians' gentlemanly nature, they nenamed the neighboring pueblo of Tewa Indians, "San Juan de Los Caballeros" in honor of St. John the Baptist.

 On the west bank of the Rio Grande opposite the pueblo the settlement was names San Gabriel, and was the proposed capital of New Mexico. It consisted of a central plaza surrounded by government offices, the residence of the Governor of Alcalse Major, the church and the principle commercial establishments.

Based on property holdings, social classes distributed themselves outward from the plaza, the persons of highest rank and greatest wealth occupying positions closest to the center; thus, the largest houses, "palaces", the cathedral and the public buildings were clustered in the vicinity of the main plaza. On the outskirts of the town, buildings were smaller and less impressive, while still further afield lay the sprawling Indian "barrios," haphazardly housing the marginal elements of society. San Gabriel followed the general pattern of uniform rectangular block construction. Twelve years later, in 1610, when the first capital was abandoned, the New Town of Santa Fe would be constructed in Strict conformity with New World city planning.

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