Juan de Oñate was the first successful colonizer of the
American Southwest. He was the son of a wealthy conquistador from
Zacatecas, Mexico and was married to Isabel de Tolosa Cortés
Moctezuma, the granddaughter of Hernán Cortéz and
the great granddaughter of Moctezuma. In January of 1598, Oñate's
colonists departed from the frontier settlement of Santa Bárbara
in southern Chihuahua. The expedition numbered some 600 persons
and included soldiers, priests, families, Indians, and Africans.
This procession, with 83 wagons and over 7,000 animals, trailed
over a distance of four miles. Three months later, Oñate's
tired party was met by friendly Manso Indians of the El Paso region,
who guided them across the desert to the river crossing.
in the vicinity of San Elizario, on April 30, they performed the
elaborate ceremony - La Toma (taking possession of the land for
the King of Spain) and commemorated their arrival with a celebration
that included a mass and a great feast ( the first Thanksgiving
in the nation). That evening, Captain Marcos de Fárfan
presented the first play held in the El Paso region, which celebrated
the conquest of New Mexico. On May 4, the expedition forded the
river upstream near Mount Cristo Rey and slowly moved northward.
Oñate was responsible for giving El Paso its name - El
Paso del Río del Norte, The Ford of the River of the North,
Among the colonists was Captain Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá,
who wrote the epic poem, La Historía of Nuevo México,
which celebrated Oñate's achievements.
monument, "Don Juan de Oñate, Pathfinder of the Southwest
1598", (over three stories high) will be the largest equestrian
bronze in the nation. It will depict the colonizer mounted on
his rearing Andalusian stallion before the ford of Río
Grande in the El Paso area. The colossal bronze will commemorate
the introduction of Hispanic settlement and the horse to the nation.
It also will recognize the First Thanksgiving, as well as the
establishment of the Camino Real, or Royal Road, which became
the main artery of communication and commerce between the province
of New Mexico and Mexico City.
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