Cuartocentennial of the Colonization of New Mexico

The Aguilar Expedition

      After Oñate sent out a scouting party led by Captain Pablo de Aguilar, he expected few problems from the journey ahead. The first twelve days of the caravan's time in New Mexico went smoothly. No one was notably ill, and they possessed enough food and water to last at least two weeks. Additionally, he anticipated obtaining fresh food supplies from the next Indian village they encountered to add to their holdings.

     From the beginning of the expedition, Oñate planned to supplement the caravan's supplies by trading with the indigenous population. However, he feared that if the Indians learned of the Spanish presence they might flee, taking their food supplies with them. Therefore, when he sent out the scouting party, he gave strict orders that they were only to find an Indian village and observe it quietly. Oñate told Aguilar not to let the party enter the village, or even let their presence be known. He gave these orders under penalty of death. Thus, he had no reason to suspect they might be disobeyed.

     For eight days, the caravan moved up the Rio Grande behind the scouting party. As the dawn of May 20, 1598, approached, nothing out of the ordinary routine of everyday travel had yet occurred. However, as the wagon train approached the head of the valley, near what was later named the Jornada del Muerto (Dead Man's March), that changed. The head of the valley is where the caravan met up with the scouting party. Here too, Captain Pablo de Aguilar almost lost his life. Upon the wagon train's arrival, Aguilar reported to Oñate that several members of the scouting party, in total disregard of orders, entered the first pueblo they encountered. And just as Oñate had feared, the inhabitants fled.

     Enraged, Oñate immediately gave the order to have Aguilar executed by strangulation for his disobedience; however, as the time for the execution neared, Oñate decided to listen to reason. Some of the men in the camp pleaded for leniency, and eventually convinced their leader to change his mind. Thus, Aguilar received a harsh reprimand and was released. Oñate went to his tent to figure out the group's next move. However, the next day brought the colonists even more distressing news.

     On May 21, 1598, Pedro Robledo, one of the eldest members of the group, died unexpectedly. Robledo, a sixty-year-old officer was an unusual participant in the expedition. Not too many gray-haired officers existed 400 years ago. Nonetheless, Robledo believed he could successfully participate in this venture because he had four strong sons, ranging in age from eighteen to twenty-seven, to help him carry out his duties along the trail. Unfortunately, the journey became too much for him.

     His sons took the news very hard. In fact, most of the colonists mourned his loss. Pedro Robledo was the first of the expedition to pass away. As a tribute to Robledo, the group named the spot where they camped the Paraje de Robledo (the Robledo Campsite). The Spanish referred to the site by that name through the end of the colonial period. To this day the mountain that overlooks the campsite is still known as Robledo Mountain.

     The day after Robledo's funeral, Oñate left the main group with an escort of approximately sixty people. This small group went ahead to help make travel for the main caravan less hazardous. With Oñate, went the two Zaldívar brothers, Father Cristobal de Salazar, Father Alonso Martinez, the four Robledo brothers, and other soldiers, some of who brought their wives and children. Oñate's young son, Cristobal, may have also accompanied his father on this excursion. This group intended to ride ahead of the wagon train to help establish good relations with the Indians, acquire grain, and to scout out the perfect site for the group's first settlement. However, accomplishing these goals did was more difficult then any of them anticipated.

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