Richard Griswold del Castillo, Book Review Editor
The Last Conquistador—Juan de Oñate and the Settling of the Far Southwest.
Marc Simmons. Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991. 207 pages.
Juan de Oñate was the individual who organized the first Spanish expedition to settle the province of New Mexico in 1598. Long eulogized in texts as one of the most important figures in the settlement of this far northern frontier, his life has been rendered largely the province of specialists due to the fact that no single volume biography of his entire life exists. This volume, part of the University of Oklahoma’s Western Biography Series, is a highly readable and thoroughly researched survey of Onate’s life and times. This conquistador is presented with warts and all, a change from the overly romantic characterizations in past decades. While Onate demonstrated courage and skill in his settlement effort he was also brutal in his treatment of the Pueblo Indians as well as his own subordinants. He was finally recalled from New Mexico by the King and accused of excesses and crimes associated with his governorship. Simmons finds that the sentence of the court when he was found guilty of crimes was probably lenient one. Simmons, one of the leading contemporary historians of the American Southwest, concludes: “In the career of Juan de Oñate, we find a summation of the emotives, aspirations, intentions, strengths, and weaknesses of the Hispanic pioneers who settled the Borderlands.” (p.195.)