NPS Logo

Historical Background

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

Suggested Reading


Explorers and Settlers
Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

National Historic Landmark SAN GABRIEL DE YUNGUE-OUINGE
New Mexico

Location: Rio Arriba County, on San Juan Pueblo Grant, across the Rio Grande from San Juan Pueblo.

Ownership and Administration. Privately owned by Indians of San Juan Pueblo.

Significance. The ruins of San Gabriel de Yungue-ouinge mark the site of the first capital of New Mexico, established by the Spanish colonizer Don Juan de Oñate late in 1598 or early in 1599. Although French, Spanish, and English colonies in the Southeast predate San Gabriel, the San Gabriel ruins include the oldest European church and house remains yet found in the continental United States.

Just above the junction of the Rio Chama and the Rio Grande, Oñate and his party discovered two pueblos. They named the one on the east bank of the Rio Grande, San Juan de los Caballeros; the other, on the west side, was known by its Indian name of Yungue-ouinge. The party occupied San Juan Pueblo, and hurriedly erected a church dedicated to St. John the Baptist. No trace of the church has ever been found.

After a few months, the Spaniards took over Yungue-ouinge from the Indians. The new site of Spanish occupation, renamed San Gabriel, had about 400 "houses," or rooms. Recent excavations by the University of New Mexico have revealed that San Gabriel de Yungue-ouinge was originally built in a large U-shape, the opening facing to the south. The Spaniards evidently leveled the west wing and built some rooms. To the east wing, they apparently added peripheral rooms, built over thickly studded cobblestone foundations. Near the mouth of the U they built a permanent church of white tufa blocks. Excavation has yielded many Spanish artifacts, including mail and armor, ceramicware, ecclesiastical furnishings, hinges, and various personal accouterments.

San Gabriel remained the capital of Spanish New Mexico until a new Governor, Don Pedro de Peralta, arrived in 1609. Probably the following year he established Santa Fe as a royal presidio and the capital of the province. Some Spaniards may well have remained in the San Gabriel area, but the pueblo seems to have been reoccupied at least in part by San Juan Indians. Eventually it fell into disuse, except for a few Spanish-American and Indian dwellings that stood on top of the old mounds. This was its condition until the recent excavations were undertaken.

Excavations at San Gabriel de Yungue-ouinge. Established by Don Juan de Oñate in 1598 or 1599, San Gabriel served as capital of Spanish New Mexico until about 1610. (Courtesy, University of New Mexico.)

Present Appearance. Some of the old mounds marking the site of San Gabriel de Yungue-ouinge have been bulldozed away for enlargement of modern fields, and a considerable section of the east mound remains unexcavated. In the southern part of the east wing, however, the foundations and lower walls of the Spanish-occupied section, as well as the church, have been excavated and stabilized by archeologists from the University of New Mexico. This area is fenced and the owner, a San Juan Indian who acts as caretaker, shows visitors through the site. [47]

NHL Designation: 07/19/64

Previous Next
Last Updated: 22-Mar-2005