History of the Area
Inspired by Indian stories of settlements in present New Mexico and authorized by the Spanish viceroy, Fray Agustin Rodriquez, a Franciscan priest, led a missionary expedition to the
area. Accompanied by Fray Juan De Santa Maria, Fray Francisco Lopez, nine soldiers, and nineteen Indian servants. He left Santa Barbara, Mexico on June 5, 1581. The military escort was
led by Francisco Sanchez, who became his red bear, was known as El Chamuscado, "the Singed" Following the Rio Grande the expedition reached El Paso.Proceeding through the pass they spent
the remainder of 1581 exploring the vast region from present western New Mexico to the Texas Panhandle. After Indians killed Fray Santa Maria in September 1581, plans were made to return.
Despite the hostile environment, the two remaining missionaries chose to stay. Chamuscado led the others back through the pass of the north, but died before reaching Santa Barbara.
Believed to have been the first Spanish expedition to use the pass of the Norte, The Rodriquez-Chamuscado Expedition marked the beginning of the Spanish influence in the area. Their
exploration opened the region, now the American Southwest, to later colonization.
Following the Rodriquez Chamuscado expedition of 1581 there was increased interest in the area and also concern for the safety of Fray Rodriquez and Fray Lopez. In 1582 A Franciscan
priest, from Santa Barbara, Mexico, Fray Bernardino Beltran, formed an expedition to find the missionaries. His military escort was led by Antonio De Espej0, a former Santa Barbara
merchant and rancher living in voluntary exile over a legal dispute with the Spanish authorities. The expedition departed the mining outpost of Bartolome in November 1582. By the
following January they had reached th El Paso area. In present New Mexico they learned that Fray Rodriquez and Fray Lopez had been killed by Indians. Fray Beltran led a small party back
to Mexico, but Espejo and several companions stayed to check the Indian stories of silver mines and wealthy pueblos. On their journey the Spaniards became the first explorers in the
region from Pecos River to the Junta De Los Rios, the junction of the Concho River and the Rio Grande. The reports of their explorations further heighten the interest in the area.
Spanish interest in the territory increased during the 1580s and 1590s. Although reports of mining and missionary possibilities were significant, King Phillip was also concerned about
new world explorations of rival England. As a result, Don Juan De Ornate was commissioned to claim and colonize the New Mexico region in the name of the King. Onate and his party left
Santa Barbara in northern Chihuahua headed for what is now New Mexico in January 1598. Four hundred men led the way, some of whom had wives and children, there were several priests, 63
wagons and carts, 1000 head of stock, they were planning to stay.
They reached the Rio Concho and after a needed rest, Started out again on February 7 marching on northward over the barren desert of Chihuahua for several weeks. The last four days
without water, the expedition finally reached El Paso Del Norte [near the present day San Elizario] April 26 1598. The Poet-chronicler of the march, Gasper Perez De Villagra wrote that
the river was a most welcome sight."Horses approached the rolling stream and plunged headlong into it, two drank so much that they burst their sides and died," some of the humans went
almost as wild. The arrival was a "happy and joyous occasion," and all were in a thankful mood. Grateful for the completion of a perilous part of their journey, abundance of water, plenty
of wild game along the river, the expedition set about preparation for a great celebration, The First Thanksgiving in what is now the United States of America which took place on April
30, 1598. Instead of following the earlier routes, they crossed the Chihuahua desert to reach the El Paso area. In a ceremony at this site on April 30, 1598, Onate issued a proclamation
known as La Toma. Taking possession of the region for Spain. Proceeding north, Onate established headquarters near present Santa Fe and founded the province of New Mexico. As Governor, he
directed exploration of the area until he resigned in 1607. Onate's expedition brought Spanish rule to the American Southwest and proceeded colonization efforts of other European nations
on the north American continent.
Late in November 1597, a colonizing expedition headed by The great colonizer, as Onate has been called, thus brought the Spanish culture [and ultimately that of Mexico] to what would
become the Great Southwest shaping its growth and development of the area for generations. These historic events preceded the English colonies on the Atlantic Seaboard, the french
colonization of Canada, and the Dutch settlement in the Hudson River area by several years.