In 1581 a party of soldiers and missionaries from Santa Barbara, on the northern frontier of New Spain, traveled to New Mexico to find out more about the Pueblo peoples. After an extensive survey of the country, the missionaries stayed and the soldiers returned to New Spain. In 1582 an expedition led by Antonio de Espejo set out for New Mexico, mainly to find out what had happened to the missionaries. After learning that they had been killed, Espejo returned, searching for minerals along the way.
The king of Spain did not support efforts to colonize New Mexico in 1590 and 1593 that eventually failed, but in 1595 Juan de Oñate, born in New Spain (now Mexico) and related by marriage to Hernán Cortés and to the Aztec ruler Montezuma II, won a royal contract to settle the region. Oñate’s expedition left in 1598. When it reached the Río Grande near present-day El Paso, Texas, Oñate took possession of New Mexico for Spain. Proceeding upstream, the Spanish reached a pueblo near the junction of the Río Grande and the Rio Chama, renamed it San Juan de los Caballeros, and decided to build the capital of New Mexico near there, calling it San Gabriel.
As governor of New Mexico, Oñate extensively explored the present-day Southwestern United States to fulfill the terms of his royal grant. He went as far north as Kansas in 1601, and in 1604 he journeyed to the Gulf of California, on the return trip inscribing his name on the high rock of El Morro, a few miles east of Zuni Pueblo.
The economic failure of his colony and his abuses of power brought Oñate into disfavor in 1606. He was removed from office the next year and replaced by Pedro de Peralta, who founded a new capital for the colony at Santa Fe in 1610. Despite the lack of gold and silver, Spain retained possession of New Mexico in order to continue missionary work among the Native Americans. "New Mexico" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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