Spanish exploration and colonization of New Mexico
Francisco Vásquez de Coronado assembled an enormous expedition at Compostela, Mexico in 1540–1542 to explore and find the mysticalSeven Golden Cities of Cibola as described by Cabeza de Vaca who had just arrived from his eight-year ordeal traveling from Florida to Mexico. Cabeza de Vaca and three companions were the only survivors of the Panfilo de Narvaez expedition of June 17, 1527 to Florida, losing 80 horses and all the rest of the explorers. These four survivors had spent eight arduous years getting to Sinaloa, Mexico on the Pacific coast and had visited many Indian tribes. Coronado and his supporters sank a fortune in this ill-fated enterprise taking 1300 horses and mules for riding and packing and hundreds of head of sheep and cattle as a portable food supply. Coronado’s men found severaladobe pueblos (towns) in 1541 but found no rich cities of gold. Further widespread expeditions  found no fabulous cities anywhere in the Southwest or Great Plains. A dispirited and now poor Coronado and his men began their journey back to Mexico leaving New Mexico behind. Coronado, however, was highly likely to have been the source of the horses that Plains Indians later adopted as the cornerstone of their culture. Only two of Coronado’s horses were mares, Over 50 years after Coronado, Juan de Oñate came north from Mexico with 500 Spanish settlers and soldiers and 7,000 head of livestock and founded the first Spanish settlement in New Mexico on July 11, 1598.The governor named the settlement San Juan de los Caballeros. This means “Saint John of the Knights”. San Juan was in a small valley. Nearby the Chama River flows into the Rio Grande. Oñate pioneered the grandly named El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, “The Royal Road of the Interior Land,” a 700 mile (1,100 km) trail from the rest of New Spain to his remote colony. Oñate was made the first governorof the new province of Santa Fe de Nuevo México. The Native Americans at Acoma revolted against this Spanish encroachment but faced severe suppression. In battles with the Acomas, Oñate lost 11 soldiers and two servants, killed hundreds of Indians, and punished every man over 25 years of age by the amputation of their left foot. The Franciscans found the pueblo people increasingly unwilling to consent to baptism by newcomers who continued to demand food, clothing and labor. Acoma is also known as the oldest continually inhabited city in the United States. Oñate’s capital of San Juan proved to be vulnerable to “Apache” (probably Navajo) attacks and a later governor, Pedro de Peralta, moved the capital and established the settlement of Santa Fe in 1610 at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the United States. Peralta built the Palace of the Governors in 1610. Although the colony failed to prosper, some missions survived. Spanish settlers arrived at the site of Albuquerque in the mid-17th century. Missionaries attempted to convert the natives to Christianity, but had little success.
The current viewpoint by experts today is that the objective of Spanish rule of New Mexico (and all other northern lands) was the full exploitation of the native population and resources. “Governors were a greedy and rapacious lot whose single-minded interest was to wring as much personal wealth from the province as their terms allowed. They exploited Indian labor for transport, sold Indian slaves in New Spain, and sold Indian products…and other goods manufactured by Indian slave labor.” The exploitative nature of Spanish rule involved them in nearly continuous raids and reprisals with nomadic Indian tribes on the borders, especially the Apache,Navajo, and Comanche.
Franciscan missionaries came to New Mexico with Oñate and a struggle ensued between secular and religious authorities. Both colonists and the Franciscans depended upon Indian labor, mostly Pueblos, and competed with each other to control an Indian population decreasing because of European diseases and exploitation. The struggle between the Franciscans and the civil government came to a head in the late 1650s. Governor Bernardo Lopez de Mendizabal and his subordinate Nicolas de Aguilar forbade the Franciscans to punish Indians or employ them without pay and granted the Pueblos permission to practice their traditional dances and religious ceremonies. The Franciscans protested and Lopez and Aguilar were arrested, turned over to the Inquisition, and tried in Mexico City. Thereafter, the Franciscans reigned supreme in the province. Pueblo dissatisfaction with the rule of the clerics was the main cause of the Pueblo revolt.
The Spanish in New Mexico were never able to achieve dominance over the Indian peoples who lived among and surrounded them. The isolated colony of New Mexico was characterized by “elaborate webs of ethnic tension, friendship, conflict,and kinship” between Indian groups and Spanish colonists. Because of the weakness of New Mexico “rank-and-file settlers in outlying areas had to learn to coexist with Indian neighbors without being able to keep them subordinate.” The first major challenge to Spanish rule would come from the Pueblo Indians; the second would be an ongoing struggle against the nomadic Indians, especially the Comanche.