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In 1998, New Mexico celebrated the Cuatrocentenario (the 400th Anniversary) of the first Spanish settlement in New Mexico. The year began with the "befooting" of the Oñate statue in Alcalde, New Mexico. One booted bronze foot on the equestrian statue was hacked off by vandals.

In 1598, Don Juan de Oñate left Chihuahua to establish the colony of “New Mexico”, with about 500 settlers. The Oñate party traveled up the Rio Grande into the center of the present day state of New Mexico. There they encountered the “pueblos” (Span.: village) permanent settlements of Native Americans. The Pueblos were not a single tribe: their settlements were separated by several hundred miles and at least six different languages and countless dialects. However, their civilized ways distinguished them from the nomads such as the Apaches, Navajos, and Comanches, with whom they were constantly at war.

For Franciscans, who insisted that Indians live like Spaniards and tried to congregate them into towns if they did not, the town-dwelling Pueblos seemed a godsend. Although Franciscans failed to plant missions among Apaches, Navajos, and other seminomads, they succeeded among the Pueblos.

The initial reaction of the Pueblos was not entirely peaceful. One village, in particular, attacked the Spaniards: the dwellers of Acoma, or “Sky City”. The Acoma lived on a mesa-top west of present day Albuquerque. Their home was a fortress, and they apparently felt invulnerable. In 1599, Oñate retaliated for an Acoma attack on his colony by sending a small force against the mesa-top pueblo. Possessing armor, cavalry, musket and pike, and steel swords, Oñate’s band destroyed Acoma, killing 800 men, women and children, and enslaving more than 500. To make the Acoma living reminders of the need for obedience, Oñate ordered that all the male captives older than twenty-five have one foot cut off.

Even with the Indians to pillage and enslave, life on the Rio Grande was very tough. In 1607, the very unpopular Oñate resigned as governor of New Mexico, warning officials in Mexico that the colony would be abandoned if reinforcements were not sent. In 1610, Pedro de Peralta was named governor of the colony and established the city of Santa Fe as its new capital.

To put this in perspective: Jamestown, the first permanent English colony was founded in Virginia in 1607. Quebec, the first permanent French colony, was founded in 1608. The Mayflower landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620.

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