Franciscan Letter from Santa Fe

In 1610, Juan de Escalona, a Franciscan friar in the new settlement of Santa Fe, wrote to the Spanish Viceroy in Mexico City about the abuses of the governor of Santa Fe, Don Juan de Onate.


The first and foremost difficulty, from which have sprung all the evils and the ruin of this land, is the fact that this conquest was entrusted to a man of such limited resources as Don Juan de Onate. The result was that soon after he entered the land, his people began to perpetrate many offenses against the natives and to plunder their pueblos of the corn they had gathered for their own sustenance; here corn is God, for they have nothing else with which to support themselves. Because of this situation and because the Spaniards asked the natives for blankets as tribute, even before teaching them the meaning of God, the Indians began to get restless, abandon their pueblos, and take to the mountains.

The governor did not want to sow a community plot to feed his people, although we friars urged him to do so, and the Indians agreed to it so that they would not be deprived of their food. This effort was all of no avail, and now the Indians have to provide everything. As a result, all the corn they had saved for years has been consumed, and not a kernel is left over for them. The whole land has thus been reduced to such need that the Indians drop dead from starvation wherever they live; and they eat dirt and charcoal ground up with some seeds and a little corn in order to sustain life. Any Spaniard who gets his fill of tortillas here feels as if he has obtained a grant of nobility. Your lordship must not believe that the Indians will part willingly with their corn, or the blankets with which they cover themselves; on the contrary, this extortion is done by threats and force of arms, the soldiers burning some of the houses and killing the Indians. . . .

I have told all this to make it clear that the governor does not have the resources to carry out the discovery of these lands. I do not hesitate to say that his majesty could have discovered this land with fifty well‑armed Christian men, giving them the necessary things for this purpose, and that what these fifty men might discover could be placed under the royal crown and the conquest effected in a Christian manner without outraging or killing these poor Indians, who think that we are all evil and that the king who sent us here is ineffective and a tyrant. By so doing we would satisfy the wishes of our mother church, which, not without long consideration and forethought and illuminated by the Holy Spirit, entrusted these conquests and the conversions of souls to the kings of Castile, our lords, acknowledging in them the means, Christianity, and holiness for an undertaking as heroic as is that of winning souls for God.

Because of these matters (and others that I am not telling), we cannot preach the gospel now, for it is despised by these people on account of our great offenses and the harm we have done them.

[From G.P. Hammond and Agapito Rey, Don Juan de Onate, Colonizer of New Mexico, 1595-1628. Part II (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1953), 692-95.]