Juan de Oņate

Spanish Explorer & Conquistador

Born: c. 1550

Died: 1630

Born in New Spain (Mexico) to wealthy parents, Oņate married the daughter of Herman Cortes.

He dreamed of conquering the region north of New Spain, and his plan to conquer and govern the area was granted to him in 1595, although he did not begin his expedition into the area until 1598. The expedition crossed the Rio Grande at El Paso in 1598 and Oņate established a headquarters at that river’s junction with the Chama, naming the area ‘New Mexico.’

Oņate sent exploratory parties into Kansas in 1601, and then west of the Colorado river in to the Gulf of California in 1605, both times looking for gold. After those unsuccessful (and difficult; Full of serious hardships and danger) expeditions, many settlers wanted to return to New Spain. Oņate, however, refused to allow them to return home. He was not a diplomat with either his own people, or the native Americans he encountered, as he was renowned for his mistreatment of the Native American ‘savages’ he encountered.

Oņate resigned from his governorship in 1607. Seven years after his resignation, he was tried and convicted on charges of cruelty, immorality, false reporting during his governorship. Exiled and deprived of his titles, he died in disgrace and never succeeded in clearing his name.

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