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American Latino Heritage
The Opening of the California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas Frontiers in the 16th Century
The upshot was official Spanish interest in what lay in the interior. In 1539, the Spanish sent two reconnaissance parties northward to ascertain the possibilities of finding rich and powerful Indian kingdoms like those of the Aztecs and Incas. Melchior Diaz led one of the scouting parties, which crossed the Colorado River near its confluence with the Gila River into eastern California. The other, under Fray Marcos de Niza, reported on a large Indian district called Cibola, present-day Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico. The two preliminary scouting missions led to a major reconnaissance of the Greater Southwest.
The entrada gave Europeans their first views of the Grand Canyon, as seen by García López de Cárdenas; of the Hopi Pueblos as seen by Pedro de Tovar; of Acoma Pueblo, Pecos Pueblo, the Río Grande, the Pecos River, and the large buffalo herds of the Great Plains as described by Hernando de Alvarado; of the first notice of the Great Divide, the watershed that separates waters flowing toward the Pacific Ocean from those flowing east to the Atlantic or the Gulf of Mexico reported by Juan Jaramillo in his narrative; and many other wonders. The expedition marked the first intensive contact between the Spanish and Pueblo and Great Plains tribes. It provided another first, one that would establish the colonial-native relationship in the area for the next 280 years. In two decisive contests caused by the Spanish intrusion and demands for food and provisions in the cold north country, Pueblo groups fell to the powerful military force of the Spaniards.
Forty-eight years after Columbus' voyage, the men of Vázquez de Coronado stood outside a pueblo fortress called Cicuye (Pecos) near the edge of the Great Plains. Long a center of trade between the pueblos of the Río Grande and Great Plains tribes, Pecos was one of the largest pueblos the Europeans saw in 1540. At Pecos National Historical Park, visitors learn about pre-contact Pecos Pueblo and the post-contact period leading to the 17th and 18th century Spanish colonial development of the pueblo-mission complex. The existing ruins of the churches and pueblo testify to the cultural continuity of Pecos before its abandonment in 1838. Epidemics, Comanche and Apache raiders, and the growth of Hispanic towns in the area that drew trade away from Pecos led to economic decline and abandonment. The Pecoseños departed for other pueblos along the Río Grande as well as Jemez Pueblo west of there.
Simultaneous with the expedition of Vázquez de Coronado in the Southwest and the De Soto expedition in the Southeast, Spanish officials launched a third expedition led by Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo. Hoping to discover a route to China and the Philippines by following the Pacific coast around from California, Rodríguez Cabrillo set sail to prove his theory. Although sound, his plan failed because of the great distance and the lack of knowledge of the extent of the Pacific Ocean. Departing the west Mexican coast, his expedition sailed along the Baja California coast to San Diego Bay, which he named and claimed for Spain. Proceeding northward beyond San Clemente Island, his ships sailed past the Channel Islands and Monterey Bay until they reached Cape Blanco on the Oregon Coast. Rodríguez Cabrillo and his men were the first Europeans to explore, chart, and give place-names to sites along that long stretch of the Pacific Coast.
Cabrillo National Monument at Point Loma in San Diego commemorates the European exploration of the California coast and the pioneering venture that led to the eventual Spanish settlement of Alta California in the 18th century. Aside from the many mission sites in California, the Martínez house in John Muir National Historic Site, Martínez, California commemorates the late Spanish colonial-early Mexican period settlement. Channel Islands National Park near Santa Barbara interprets that first 16th century Spanish expedition to California. A monument at San Miguel Island marks the approximate burial place of Rodríguez Cabrillo, who died on the voyage after an accident at sea.
In time, the Spanish, and later the Anglo-American expansion into California, had a profound impact on the Native American groups of the West. Channel Island tribes like the Chumash, for example, were able to maintain their institutions longer than did some mainland tribes. By 1815, due to drought and a declining aboriginal trade system, most of the Chumash migrated from the islands, and many of them were absorbed into Spanish mission communities. The California Gold Rush of 1849 contributed to greater decline and near extinction of many California tribes.
Meanwhile, Spanish exploration of the interior continued. By 1610, much of the interior between Florida and California was well known. In 1605, Juan de Oñate, who had founded New Mexico in 1598, led an expedition west from there to the Colorado River. He was the first European to leave his name on a sandstone promontory that would become a landmark for Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo-American explorers. El Morro National Monument in New Mexico preserves their stories along with those of Native Americans, who first discovered the waterhole and subsequently established a pueblo (Atsinna) atop the promontory.
Although many later travelers paused at El Morro to drink from its waterhole and carve their names on the rock, others left not a trace. Over 2,000 inscriptions grace the sandstone promontory at El Morro. Over time, many travelers passed by the rock but did not sign it. Among the first Spanish explorers believed to have stopped there were members of the Francisco Vázquez de Coronado expedition (1540-42). Later, Antonio de Espejo and his men stopped there in 1582 and were the first to describe it, calling the waterhole at El Morro, El Estanque del Peñol. Espejo was one of the first to leave a written description of the volcanic terrain east of El Morro, today preserved as El Malpais National Monument.
The early exploration of New Mexico resulted in an encounter between the many Indian cultures of the Southwest and Hispanic frontiersmen. As early as 1581, Spanish explorers had visited every pueblo from Taos in the north to Senecu in the south; and from Pecos on the east to the Hopi pueblos in the far northwest corner of that frontier. In 1581, Francisco Sánchez Chamuscado and a small exploring party reached the southeastern edge of the New Mexico frontier and learned about a number of pueblos associated with large salt beds behind the present-day Manzano Mountains. The salt beds defined the geographic area known as “Salinas” during the Spanish colonial period and today give Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument its name. Later, in 1598, Juan de Onate visited Quarai and Abo, two of three pueblo sites at present–day Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, on his round-about trip to Acoma and Zuni. The third site is San Buenaventura known today as Gran Quivira. In 1600, Vicente de Zaldívar, one of the "discoverers" of Abo two years before, fought a battle behind the Manzano Mountains at Agualagu, a pueblo that has long since disappeared.
The Spanish missionization of New Mexico began in earnest among the Río Grande pueblos in 1598. By 1613, Fray Alonso de Peinado was working to missionize Tajique and Chilili in the Manzano Mountain range. Quarai, Abo, and San Buenaventura de las Humanas (Gran Quivira), were evangelized in the early 1620s. Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument in New Mexico well represents the long history of the Salinas Pueblos from prehistoric times to their abandonment in the 1670s. Spanish expansion in New Mexico's frontier that included northeastern Arizona was ongoing. By the end of the Spanish period, New Mexican frontiersmen had begun to move westward toward Arizona. In the first decade of the 19th century, a Spanish expedition from New Mexico had visited Canyon de Chelly and seen the beautiful cliff dwelling ruins and pictographs on the soft sandstone canyon walls. In Arizona, Canyon de Chelly National Monument memorializes the precontact as well as historic perspectives of the area.
The Spanish Franciscans directed the missionary work in northeastern Arizona from New Mexico and the Jesuits had the assignment to work in southern Arizona, then known as Pimería Alta. Although the Jesuits had begun their missionary efforts in Florida, they achieved their greatest accomplishments in North America in the Sonora-Arizona frontier. Eusebio Kino, one of the great missionaries of Sonora, led the Spanish advance into Arizona throughout the 1680s and 1690s complementing his missionary efforts among the Pimas and Papagos with his fame as a cartographer of the area. One of his last missions was at Tumacacori in southern Arizona. Tumacacori National Monument commemorates the mission story in the northern end of a chain of missions that led to the Spanish settlement of the Sonora region. Established among the Pima in 1701, Tumacacori also served as a center for Papago settlement. Begun about 1798, the present church held its first service in 1822. After the secularization of the mission, Tumacacori's Papago residents remained until Apache raids forced them to abandon the site in 1848.
The Spanish claim to California, New Mexico, and Arizona began within a generation of Columbus' first voyage, for exploration in the 1530s and 1540s opened the first phase of Spain's assumed title to the area. By the end of the century, Spanish settlers had advanced into Sonora and New Mexico establishing an effective claim by virtue of actual possession. Villas, presidios, mines, ranches, farms, and missions began to grow in both frontiers in the 17th century. Settlement of California would not take place until 1769, when Governor Gaspar de Portola led the founding expedition there.