Timeline of Conquest of New Mexico

Timeline for New Mexico as the Conquistadores moved in.

1528-1598: Early expeditions

1519-24: Smallpox

Smallpox spread across the American continent, in advance of the European invaders who brought it (Knaut, 1995). Some Indian communities suffered 50% mortality rates. Smallpox and other European diseases continued to reduce the Pueblo population for the next two centuries at least.


Narváez’s expedition to Florida sailed and met disaster in 1528 (Knaut, 1995). The four survivors of Narváez’s expedition reached Mexico city in 1536, and began to spread rumours of the wealth of the territories to the north.

1539: Expedition of Fray Marcos de Niza

On 7 Mar 1539 the first official Spanish expedition headed north from Culiacán (Knaut, 1995). The Viceroy, Antonio de Mendoza, appointed Fray Marcos de Niza, a Franciscan with experience in Peru, to lead the expedition. He in turn took Esteban, the black slave who survived Narváez’s expedition as a guide. Esteban and a few Indian auxiliaries quickly out distanced the rest of the party and began to send back overly favourable reports of the region. The Zuñi inhabitants of Hawikuh killed Estaban when the latter violated their customs. This effectively ended the expedition and Fray Marcos returned to Mexico City in Sep 1539. At this time there were 110-150 inhabited pueblos.

1540-42: Coronado Expedition

In Feb 1540 Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, governor of Nueva Galicia, led the second official expedition north into New Mexico (Knaut, 1995). But the scale of this expedition was much larger – 300 European soldiers, 800 Mexican Indian auxiliaries, and thousands of horses and livestock. His forces sacked Hawikuh on 7 Jul 1940 when the Zuñi inhabitants refused Spanish demands for food and clothing. They moved extensively through the Pueblo lands and once ventured into the Great Plains, but found nothing of value. They spent two winters with the Tiwas of the central Rio Grande valley, robbing them of food and clothing, and when they resisted burning the Pueblos; he destroyed 13 of the 15 Tiwas Pueblos over the two winters. Having found no minerals of worth, the disillusioned expedition turned south in Apr 1542.

1581-82: Chamuscado-Rodríguez Expedition

On 5 Jun 1581 The first of the joint Franciscan and secular expeditions headed north under Fray Agustín Rodríguez and Captain Francisco Sánchez Chamuscado (Knaut, 1995). This was a much smaller group comprising three Franciscans friars, nine soldiers, 19 Mexican Indian auxiliaries, 90 horses, and 600 head of livestock. In Aug 1581 they reached the southernmost Piro Pueblo, but found it abandoned – the Coronado experience had taught the Pueblos to be wary of Europeans. The expedition pushed on and eventually made contact with the locals. They travelled extensively through the Rio Grande valley reaching the Keresan pueblos in the north and the Zuñi and Acoma pueblos to the west, and Tompiro in the east. They counted 61 pueblos and estimated their population at 130,000 persons. The expedition considered Acoma “the best stronghold in existence even among Christians” (p. 38). In Sep 1581 Tano inhabitants of Malajn killed three horses in protest at Spanish extortion for food and clothing; the Spanish burnt the Pueblo and killed many of the inhabitants. The expedition returned to Mexico in Apr 1582 but without Fray Rodríguez and Fray Francisco Lopez who had remained behind to preach in Puaray.

1582-83: Espejo Expedition

On 10 Nov 1582 Antonio de Espejo, a wealthy rancher from Queretaro, led an rescue expedition into New Mexico to find the two Franciscan’s who had remained behind (Knaut, 1995). He had 14 soldiers and one Franciscan with him. They quickly discovered the inhabitants of Puaray had killed two Friars, but continued on in the search for mineral wealth. In Puaray the expedition garrotted 16 inhabitants and burned a number of kivas (religious buildings) including the people huddled inside, not in revenge for the deaths of the Franciscans, but because the locals withheld goods. After finding some evidence of copper in the mountains west of the Hopi Pueblos, the expedition headed south, reaching Mexico on 10 Sep 1583.

1590-91: Castaño Expedition

In 1590 Gaspar Castaño de Sosa led the first unofficial expedition into New Mexico (Knaut, 1995). They started to establish a colony amongst the Pueblos, but were recalled in 1591 for illegally entering the area. Like their predecessors they punished any Indian resistance to demands for food and clothing, for example, at Pecos.

1593: Leyva Expedition

Captain Francisco Leyva de Bonilla led another illegal expedition into New Mexico (Knaut, 1995). Leyva was killed by his own men on a trip into the Great Plains, and the remainder of the group were then killed by Plains Indians.

1595-98: Oñate Expedition delayed

On 21 Sep 1591 Viceroy Velasco accepted Don Juan de Oñate’s offer to lead 200 men and their dependents into New Mexico (Knaut, 1995). Although Oñate was ready relatively quickly administrative interference from Mexico City and Madrid led to a three year delay.

1958-1609: Conquest and Administration of Don Juan de Oñate

1598-99: Oñate Expedition

By 7 Feb 1598, when Oñate was finally allowed to proceed, his 200 men had been reduced to 129 (Knaut, 1995). Seven Franciscan friars and two lay brothers also accompanied the expedition. The expedition crossed the Rio Grande on 30 Apr 1598, at what was to become El Paso-Juárez. There Oñate formally took possession of New Mexico in the name of King Phillip II of Spain. Previous experiences of Spanish invaders had made the local inhabitants wary of the new comers and the southern Piro Pueblos fled to the mountains at their approach. Other Pueblos stayed put and tried to appease the intruders with gifts of supplies. Oñate appropriated the Tewa pueblo of Yunge Oweenge and renamed it San Juan de los Caballeros. In the absence of resistance Oñate travelled through the Pueblos seeking pledges of vassalage. In Oct he was amongst the western groups and on 27 Oct 1598 the people of Acoma pledged loyalty. Oñate estimated the Pueblos population at 60,000 person, suggesting the local population was in drastic decline.

During 1-4 Dec 1598 31 Spanish under Juan de Zaldívar, maestre de campo, tried to extract wood, water, food and clothing from the inhabitants of Acoma (Knaut, 1995). Passive resistance turned to violence as the Spanish marauders roamed the town. Surrounded in the close packed houses the Spanish were quickly vanquished. Zaldivar, two other captains, eight soldiers, and two servants were killed. Others hurled themselves over the cliffs that surround the village, and miraculously some of these survived. Oñate was soon informed, and giving Acoma a wide berth, returned to San Juan. There, on 10 Jan 1599, the Spanish voted to punish the Acoma. Vincente De Zaldívar, sargento mayor and younger brother of the recently deceased Juan, led the avenging party (70 strong). They arrived outside Acoma on 21 Jan 1599. For 24 hours the Spanish demanded submission and the Acoma refused, cementing their refusal with a rain of arrows which killed two horses. At 1500 hours on 22 Jan the Spanish attacked. Feints on the northern side were repulsed but meanwhile Zaldívar and 11 others scaled the southern cliffs. They fended off Pueblos counter-attacks and when reinforced by two cannon in the morning took the pueblo, securing it by evening of 23 Jan. For a handful of wounded the Spanish had inflicted up to 800 casualties on the Indians. The 500 Indian survivors, including only 80 adult males were returned to San Juan (9 Feb) where they stood trial for murder. Children under 12 were given into the care of the Religious. Those 12 and over went into 20 years servitude. Males over 25 years also suffer amputation of a limb: a foot for Acoma natives; a hand for the two Hopi Indians present.

1601: Oñate Expedition to the Great Plains

Sometime in 1601 the Tompiro pueblos suffered as similar fate to Acoma when they tried to defy the Spanish (Knaut, 1995).

Oñate led an expedition to the Great Plains (Knaut, 1995).

In Sep 1601 when Oñate was absent in the Great Plains, 2/3 of the settlers in San Juan mutinied and fled south into Nueva Galicia (Knaut, 1995).

1606-07: Apache aggression and Spanish reaction

With tribute draining Pueblos resources, inter-Indian trade dried up, which in turn led to increasingly hostile activity by the nomads (Knaut, 1995). The first such incident was recorded in 1606 or 1607 when Apache raided a Spanish settlement near present day Española. The Spanish reacted, sending at least three expeditions against the “marauding Apaches”; one led by Oñate’s son Cristóbal and other two by Juan Martínez de Montoya. These measures were not sufficient to protect either the settlers or the sedentary Pueblos Indians.

Sometime around 1606-08 Indians started returning to Acoma (Knaut, 1995). Most were escaped slaves but also renegades from Christianized pueblos. By 1608 there were about 1,000 inhabitants of the Queres nation.

1609: Oñate resignation

Viceroy Luis de Velasco accepted Oñate’s resignation on 29 Jan 1609 (Knaut, 1995). Subsequently the Spanish colonial officials decided to maintain New Mexico as a colony a royal expense. At this time less than 60 Spanish settlers were still in New Mexico, including only 30 of whom were adult males capable of bearing arms.

By 1609 the heathen inhabitants of the Taos, Picurís and Pecos pueblos had allied with bands of Apache against the Christianized Tewa near the Spanish settlement of San Gabriel (Knaut, 1995). The western Zuñi and Hope nations were also devotedly anti-Christian.

1610-14: Administration of Pedro de Peralta

Pedro de Peralta clashed with the Franciscans who eventually excommunicated him, and detained him in a cell at the Santo Domingo mission for more than nine months (Knaut, 1995). Peralta brought 16 soldiers, six friars, and two lay brothers, bringing the adult male population to over 50.

1614-1618 ??: Administration of Bernardino de Cevallos

Bernardino de Cevallos clashed with the Franciscans who eventually excommunicated him (Knaut, 1995). In 1617 there were only 48 Hispanic soldiers and residents in New Mexico.

1618-25: Administration of Juan de Eulate

Juan de Eulate arrived in New Mexico in Dec 1618 (Knaut, 1995). He was a professional military man, being a veteran of Flanders and the Veracruz fleet. During his period of office he engaged in local business to turn a profit, clashed with the clergy (excommunicated sometime in 1622-25), and conducted illegal slave raids on the Apache and Navajo. He left New Mexico in the fall on 1626 and was tried and convicted of the slave trading in 1627.


Santa Fe was still the only Hispanic settlement in New Mexico (Knaut, 1995). It had 50 residents including 16 friars.


In 1621 Juan de Eulate ordered the Pueblos to stop all personal service to the clergy, which the Franciscans were not too please about (Knaut, 1995). Some of his retainers took this further and ordered the Pueblos to stop attending mass and gave them permission to perform their native rituals.

In 1621 Fray Martín de Arvide began missionary activity in Picurís pueblo, but was violently ejected – although he survived (Knaut, 1995). The Picurís were left alone until 1628.

Fray Gerónimo de Zárate Salmerón entered the Jemez nation in 1621, founded a church and a new pueblo (Knaut, 1995). His efforts attracted the Jemez down from their mountain refuges.

In 1621 a convoy arrived in Santa Fe from Mexico (Knaut, 1995).


In 1623 the Jemez converts of Fray Gerónimo de Zárate Salmerón revolted, burned the mission of San José in the pueblo of Giusewa, and returned to the mountains where they remained until 1626 (Knaut, 1995).


In 1625 a convoy arrived in Santa Fe from Mexico (Knaut, 1995).

1626: San Diego founded

Fray Martín de Arvide founded the mission of San Diego in the Jemez region and began conversions (Knaut, 1995).


The Picurís received their second friar (Knaut, 1995).


In 1629 a convoy arrived in Santa Fe from Mexico (Knaut, 1995).

In 1629 the Franciscans began missionary work among the western Zuñi and Hope nations (Knaut, 1995).

1630: Holy Office of the Inquisition

Holy Office of the Inquisition entered Mexico in the form of a commissary (Knaut, 1995).


On 22 Feb 1632 the Zuñi congregation of Fray Francisco Letrado beat the friar to death (Knaut, 1995). Fray Martín de Arvide arrived five days later, was welcomed warming, then shot dead with a stolen Spanish arquebus. They inhabitants scattered to the sierras, so the Spanish expedition sent to take revenge returned in failure. Missionary activity in the area was suspended for more than a decade.


In 1633 the Hopi poisoned Fray Francisco de Porras soon after his arrival in the area (Knaut, 1995).

Also in 1633 the tribunal of the Santa Cruzada established a representative in New Mexico (Knaut, 1995).

1634-37: Administration of Francisco Martínez de Baeza


In the fall of 1636 the head of the Franciscans in New Mexico, Fray Cristóbal de Quiros, asked governor Baeza for soldiers to escort a new mission to the Zuñi (Knaut, 1995). Baeza refused thus preventing the mission proceeding.

1638-41: Administration of Luis de Rosas

Like his predecessors Luis de Rosas was out to make a profit and would not tolerate interference from either the clergy or other Hispanics in the province (Knaut, 1995). His conflict with the clegy resulted in his arrest by the Holy Inquisition, but although detained, he did not stand trial. He had few adherents and was murdered in Jan 1642, an event which almost triggered a civil war.

1639: Taos Uprising

In 1639 the Taos revolted and killed Fray Pedro de Miranda and two Spanish settlers (Knaut, 1995) The Taos then moved on to Picurís, but the resident friar was warned and escaped. A Tiwa native called Fransciso, who was later Indian governor from 1659-64, featured in the uprising; he was executed for his participation in 1665. At this time there were 30 Hispanic families in New Mexico and possibly 200 Hispanics capable of bearing arms.


A widespread illness claimed more than 3,000 Pueblo victims (Knaut, 1995). To make matters worse Apache raiders plundered more than 52,000 bushels of corn through the province.


Governor Rosas was murdered in Jan 1642 (Knaut, 1995).

1642-55: ??

1656-59: Administration of Juan Manso de Contreras


In 1656 the Franciscans presence in New Mexico maxed out at 46 priests (Knaut, 1995). Although this number roughly equalled the number of pueblos the distribution was not even as the friars often lived in groups in the key pueblos.

1658: Taos Murder

Following abusive practices by their friar the Taos killed him (Knaut, 1995). This was investigated in 1658 but dropped due to the friar’s abuses. .

1659-61: Administration of López de Mendizábal

López de Mendizábal had been a soldier, in minor orders, and a judge before become governor of New Mexico (Knaut, 1995). Like his predecessors he was corrupt, exploited Indian labour, and engaged in the illegal slave trade. He organised slave hunting trips into the Apache lands, which triggered retribution raids, some of which occurred before the governor returned himself. He clashed with the Franciscans, denied them the service of the Indians and promotes traditional Indian customs . Eventually the Holy Inquisition arrested him. In Oct 1662 he was sent under guard to Mexico city (arriving 28 Apr 1663). He was then confined to a cell until his death on 16 Oct 1664.


In late 1659 Governor López de Mendizbal published regulations limiting the service the Pueblos could give the missions (Knaut, 1995).

On 4 Sep 1659 the governor sent a force of 40 Spaniards and 800 Christian Indians on a slave hunting expedition (Knaut, 1995). This exposed the province to raids by the nomads. Athapaskan bands attacked the pueblos of Las Salinas, Jemez, San Ildefonso, and San Felipe, the royal road (camino real), the farms of El Rio. The killed some inhabitants, and captured others along with herds of horses.


On 12 Jun 1660 Governor López de Mendizábal officially denied the Franciscan custodian the ability to excommunicate anybody (Knaut, 1995). By the end of the month the governor’s persecution was forcing friars off the missions; in total six friars resigned their positions. Support for the missions dropped drastically as did congregation sizes. Later the governor gave permission for the Indians to perform their native dances (kachinas).

1661-64: Administration of Diego de Peñalosa

Diego de Peñalosa arrived in Aug 1661 (Knaut, 1995). Like his immediate predecessor he clashed with the Franciscans and eventually the Holy Inquisition arrested him, and he stood trial.


By Jan 1661 outcast medicine men began to return to the pueblos (Knaut, 1995). But in the spring a new, empowered, commissary of the Holy Office arrived, followed soon after by a new governor. Indian traditional customs were once again banned and by Nov López de Mendizábal decrees had been overturned.

The Hispanic population at this time was 100 citizens, including mixed bloods (Knaut, 1995).

As late as 1661 only one Franciscan could preach in a native Pueblo language (Piro as it happens) (Knaut, 1995).


On the night of 30 Apr 1662, six of López de Mendizábal lieutenants attempted to flee New Mexico with the tribute of Acoma (Knaut, 1995). Four were caught and imprisoned, followed soon after by López de Mendizábal himself.

1666-70: Drought

For four years from 1666, widespread drought afflicted New Mexico (Knaut, 1995). No crops were harvested. The drought brought starving Athapaskan bands in from the plains and open warfare resulted. The Hispanics could only muster 170 soldiers, who were dispersed anyway, and the Christian Indians had been decimated by famine. They defenders were no match for the guerrilla tactics of the Apaches.

Late 1660s: Tompiro Uprising

Esteban Clemente, the Indian governor of Las Salinas from about 1659, led an insurrection of the Tompiro in the late 1660s but was subsequently executed (Knaut, 1995).


A new round of epidemic disease hit New Mexico (Knaut, 1995).


In 1673 an Apache war party attacked and burned the Zuñi pueblo of Hawikuh (Knaut, 1995). They killed the resident friar and 200 of the inhabitants, and took another 1,000 away captive along with their livestock.

1680: Pueblo Rebellion

Knaut (1995) believes the total Hispanic population prior to the revolt was 1,000 persons.

21 friars martyred (Knaut, 1995). .


Knaut, A. L. (1995). The Pueblo Revolt of 1680: Conquest and Resistance in Seventh-Century New Mexico. University of Oklahoma Press.

Simmons, M. (1991). The Last Conquistador: Juan de Onate and the settling of the far Southwest. University of Oklahoma Press.

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