ALL TRAILS LEAD TO SANTA FE
An Anthology Commemorating the 400th Anniversary of the Founding of Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1610
Origins of City Different Not So Simple
The Santa Fe New Mexican
October 2, 2009
When was Santa Fe founded? That is a question surely of interest to most New Mexicans, more so because the capital city launched a historical celebration to mark the 400th anniversary of that momentous event. Like much else in New Mexico, the actual founding date has become mired in controversy. That is because nearly all the official documents related to it have been lost.
An exception is the set of instructions issued on March 30, 1609 by Viceroy Luís de Velasco II and given to the newly appointed governor of New Mexico, Don Pedro de Peralta. Therein, Governor Peralta was ordered as his first duty to establish a new villa (town) and provincial capital for New Mexico, the "old capital" at colonizer Juan de Oñate's Villa de San Gabriel near San Juan Pueblo (Ohkay Owingeh) having been judged unsuitable.
A year or so earlier, the viceroy had learned that a plan already existed, no doubt hatched by Oñate, to create a second villa. Details about that remain quite vague, however. The story takes a twist now with a solider named Captain Juan Martínez de Montoya. Born in Spain's province Castile in 1561, he immigrated to Mexico City, where in 1599 he joined the first body of reinforcements being sent in support of Oñate's struggling colony on the Rio Grande. Upon Martínez's arrival here in December 1600, he ingratiated himself with Governor Oñate and over the next several years accompanied him on major expeditions. He also served positions on San Gabriel's town council, or cabildo.
In August 1607, Juan de Oñate, in the face of repeated setbacks, submitted his resignation as governor. The following Feb. 17, 1608, Viceroy Velasco sent him notice that his resignation had been accepted. At the same time, he announced that Capt. Juan Martínez de Montoya should serve as the temporary governor until a permanent replacement could be dispatched to New Mexico.
The San Gabriel cabildo refused to accept Martínez for reasons it would not divulge. So it asked Juan de Oñate to resume the governorship, but he declined. The quirky cabildo then appointed Juan's teenage son Cristóbal to the office, a maneuver later rejected by the viceroy. Evidently, these curious steps reflected intense feuding among the Spaniards at San Gabriel, and that appears to have contributed to the early beginnings of Santa Fe.
As Thomas Chávez and other historians have reported, some kind of loose, unnamed settlement seems to have existed on or near the future site of Santa Fe by 1607, if not a year or two earlier.
Researcher José Antonio Esquibel has uncovered a handful of names identified as residents of the area "prior to the formal designation of the Villa de Santa Fe as a legally recognized municipality."
Our best guess is that these Spaniards moved down from overcrowded San Gabriel seeking fertile farmland, or left there owing to conflicts with Oñate and his clique.
Captain Martínez, on August 10, 1608, updated his service record and got it certified, no doubt intending to use it in seeking another job outside New Mexico, since he'd been denied the governorship. In that document, he claimed among his accomplishments that he settled "the plaza of Santa Fe." Note that besides "a municipal square," the word plaza can also mean a small village or a fortified place. It is significant, too, that the captain in his phrasing did not use the word villa.
There is no indication when or under what circumstances Martínez carried out this work. Nor do we know whether he acted on his own initiative or on orders of Juan de Oñate. Missing, in addition, is an explanation of why the name Santa Fe was chosen, its appearance in the 1608 service record being the earliest use of it, so far discovered.
Perhaps the naming was in honor of the historic town of Santa Fe in southern Spain that had served as the military headquarters of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella when their armies defeated the last Moorish kingdom of Granada in 1492.
In his 1609 instruction to Peralta, Viceroy Velasco did not refer to Santa Fe by name. He merely indicated that the new governor should found and populate a villa, building on the slight efforts already made.
So, who should receive credit as the founding father of Santa Fe, and can we legitimately assign a date marking the city's birth? The three candidates for the honor of founder are Oñate, Martínez and Peralta. In all probability, successively each one played a role.
In my opinion, though, since Governor Pedro de Peralta, following orders, formally organized the Villa of Santa Fe as a royally chartered town in the first half of 1610, he deserves the accolades as founding father.