San Gabriel del Yunque-Ouinge and San Miguel -- Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Living history reenactors dressed in 16th-century period clothing are a highlight of the annual Cabrillo Festival. NPS photo.

San Gabriel del Yunque-Ouinge and San Miguel
Española, New Mexico

Coordinates: 36.05731, -106.08356
Discover Our Shared Heritage
Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Map of the northernmost portion of El Camino Real.
Map of the northernmost portion of El Camino Real.

NPS map from El Camino Real de la Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail.

Before the establishment of Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, Governor Juan de Oñate, in 1598, with 600 Spanish settlers, among them Tlaxcalan allies, established the first permanent European settlement in New Mexico at San Juan de los Caballeros along the Río Grande. San Juan de los Caballeros was the first European capital of New Mexico and according to Spanish documents existed well into the 17th century. By early 1599, the decision was made to move the capital to San Gabriel del Yunque at the confluence of the Río Chama and the Río Grande near Ohkay Owingeh, also known as San Juan Pueblo. Complete with houses built at an abandoned pueblo site and a newly constructed church, the new settlement, with its cabildo, or town council, was the seat of government until 1610, when Santa Fe was established as the capital of the Provincia de Nuevo México. Today, San Gabriel de Yunque-Ouinge is designated a National Historic Landmark.
University of New Mexico excavation of San Gabriel del Yungue, 1962.
University of New Mexico excavation of San Gabriel del Yungue, 1962.

Photographer unknown, Courtesy Palace of the Governors Photo
Archives (NMHM/DCA), 042236.

Beginning of the New Mexico missions and the encomienda system

The New Mexico settlement was the northernmost colony in the Spanish empire. Once established in New Mexico, Juan de Oñate set out to inspect the new province and its pueblos. The Laws of the Indies required that each governor inspect the province at least once during his term of office. In fall 1598, Oñate visited all the pueblos, and through translators, required their allegiance to the Spanish government. In those meetings, Oñate assigned missionaries to each pueblo, thus initiating the Franciscan mission field of New Mexico.

Along with the mission regimen, the Spanish introduced a form of taxation, feudal in nature, called the encomienda. Under the encomienda, heads of households in each pueblo were required to pay an annual tribute collected in produce or blankets, to support the defense of the Spanish settlement and the pueblos against raiding Plains tribes, the traditional enemies of the pueblos. Most disturbing to the pueblos was that if the tribute could not be paid in kind, the value of the tribute owed was converted to labor for public works. Missionaries argued that the encomienda interfered with the mission process and opposed its collection from mission neophytes. Under a different policy, Spanish settlers were required to pay an annual tithe, called the décimo, equaling one-tenth of their wheat harvest to support the missions and parish churches.
While Oñate's intents were peaceful, relationships between the pueblos and Spanish settlers had already been tainted by the actions of earlier explorers who attacked certain pueblos in the 1540s and 1580s. Oñate contributed to ill-feelings. Fearing a general revolt among the pueblos, after warriors at Acoma ambushed and killed most of a small group of Spanish who had stopped at Acoma to trade for food, he sent 70 men to demand the surrender of the perpetrators of the ambush. When they refused the Spanish captured Acoma.

Relations thereafter remained uneasy in New Mexico. Meanwhile, because of Oñate's heavy handed punishment of Acoma and his abuses against some of his settlers, he was removed, and in 1609, forever banished from New Mexico. Between 1598 and 1680, before the pueblos rose in a general revolt driving out the settlers for 12 years, relationships ranged from antagonisms to friendships, intermarriages, and religious affiliations. The strain of colonial demands over the pueblos led to the Pueblo Revolt in 1680. When Spanish settlers returned in 1692, the encomienda, a major cause of the revolt, was abolished in New Mexico.
Los Matachines dances in Alcade, NM, 2012.
Los Matachines dances in Alcade, NM, 2012. Though the Spanish San Gabriel is gone, the syncretic traditions continue to interweave Spanish and Pueblo cultures.

Photo by Peter D. Tillman. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Constructing the Church of San Miguel and building a colony

San Gabriel de Yunque-Ouinge is a time capsule of early interactions between the Pueblo and Spanish in northern New Mexico. Ten Franciscan priests accompanied the expedition, joining the soldiers and nearly 600 settlers. Meant to serve the soldier-colonists, The church at San Gabriel was meant to serve the soldier-colonists and was somewhat temporary in nature. Unlike many of the other buildings at the settlement that were repurposed pueblo adobe rooms, the church was made of the local volcanic tuff.

A four-year excavation by the University of New Mexico in the 1960s found evidence of a military garrison, kitchen, and church in the ruins of San Gabriel de Yunque-Ouinge. During this period, the UNM archeologists excavated 65 rooms and found evidence of a Spanish military garrison, domed adobe hornos or ovens, blacksmithing, and the church of San Miguel. Some of the artifacts that marked the Spanish occupation include an engraved gunstock, a 16th-century gilded bronze religious medal, chain mail, majolica, and candlesticks, a comal or native stone griddle, a broken three-legged Mexican metate, an obsidian scraper, and charred animal bones—mostly domesticated cattle. These objects provide evidence of what the colonists ate and how the community began to use local native objects for their daily needs.

Oñate's settlers planted wheat, apples, and chile (an Aztec product not planted in New Mexico by the pueblos) among other crops. Later fruit bearing trees would be planted in orchards within farms and missions. Settlers built corrals for the herds of cattle, ox, sheep, horses, and mules, and introduced cats and different breeds of dogs. They also established a form of governance, a new language, religion, metal working, and oral folklore based on Spanish tradition.
San Gabriel del Yunque-Ouinge and San Miguel
The Misión Museum y Convento, Plaza de Española, Española, New Mexico, built in the 1990s to replicate the San Gabriel church.

Photo by Jerry Friedman. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Archeological evidence suggests that the Spanish community lived in two story adobe room blocks and maintained some degree of social hierarchy among themselves, where certain areas were living spaces for laborers and others for officers. The excavations showed that the Spanish altered the original Pueblo architecture to fit their needs. The lower rooms originally could only have been entered by a ladder from the ceiling, but the Spanish colonists cut doors in the walls of the ground level floors.

What you can see today

Through time the site fell into ruin, subject to erosion and weathering. The residents of Ohkay Owingeh removed adobe from its exposed walls to use elsewhere, and tilled the fields causing much of the archeological material closest to the surface to become mixed up with older occupations. In the 1960s, the site was added to the National Register of Historic Places and made a National Historic Landmark. In 1984, the ruins of San Gabriel were leveled and the land used for alfalfa production. No structures remain standing today. A cross and a memorial mark the site, which is now accessible to the public.

Across the Rio Grande from the site of San Gabriel is the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. Still home to Tewa-speaking people, this village offers visitors lodging at the OhKay Casino and a chance to see Pueblo arts and crafts. A replica of the church is located in Española, New Mexico, south of Ohkay Owingeh, and serves as the Misión Museum in the Plaza de Española. Here visitors can get oriented before they visit the original site. San Gabriel de Yunque-Ouinge and the church of San Miguel represent one of the earliest Spanish permanent settlements in New Mexico.

Plan Your Visit

San Gabriel de Yunque-Ouinge, a National Historic Landmark, is located just west of San Juan Pueblo and the Rio Grande, on New Mexico State Road 74, 25 miles north of Santa Fe, NM. For more information about the San Gabriel replica, visit the Plaza de Española website.
Hispanic life in northern New Mexico is the subject of an online lesson plan,
The Hispano Ranchos of Northern New Mexico: Continuity and Change. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page San Gabriel de Yunque-Ouinge is featured in the National Park Service American Latino Heritage Travel Itinerary, and San Juan Pueblo is featured in the National Park Service American Southwest Travel Itinerary.

Last updated: April 15, 2016


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