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Antonio de Espejo was a Spanish explorer who led an expedition into New Mexico and Arizona in 1582-1583.[1][2] The expedition created interest in establishing a Spanish colony among the Pueblo Indians of the Rio Grande valley.


Espejo was born about 1540 in Cordova, Spain and arrived in Mexico in 1571 along with the Chief Inquisitor, Pedro Moyas de Contreras, who was sent by the Spanish king to establish an Inquisition. Espejo and his brother became ranchers on the northern frontier of Mexico. In 1581, Espejo and his brother were charged with murder. His brother was imprisoned and Espejo fled to Santa Barbara, Chihuahua, the northernmost outpost of Mexico. He was there when the Chamuscado-Rodriguez expedition returned from New Mexico.[3]

Enroute to New Mexico[]

Espejo, a wealthy man, assembled and financed an expedition for the ostensible purpose of ascertaining the fate of two priests who had remained behind with the Pueblos when Chamuscado led his soldiers back to Mexico. Along with fourteen soldiers, a priest, about 30 Indian servants and assistants, and 115 horses he departed from San Bartolome, near Santa Barbara, on November 10, 1582.[4]ANTONIO WAS SENT A MESSAGE THAT HE WOULD BE GOING INTO WAR

Espejo followed the same route as Chamuscado and Rodriguez, down the Conchos River to its junction (La Junta) with the Rio Grande River and then up the Rio Grande to the Pueblo villages.

Along the Conchos River, Espejo encountered the Concho Indians "naked people...who support themselves on fish, mesquite, mescal, and lechuguilla (agave)." Further downriver, he found Conchos who grew corn, squash, and melons. Leaving the Conchos behind, Espejo next encountered the Passaguates "who were naked like the Conchos" and seemed to have had a similar lifestyle. Next, came the Jobosos who were few in number, shy, and ran away from the Spaniards. All of these tribes had previously been impacted by Spanish slave raids."[5]

Near the junction of the Conchos and the Rio Grande, Espejo entered the territory of the Patarabueyes who attacked his horses, killing three. Espejo succeeded in making peace with them. The Patarabueyes, he said, were also called "Jumanos". -- the first use of the name for these Indians who would be prominent on the frontier for nearly two centuries. To add to the confusion, they were also called Otomoacos and Abriaches. Espejo saw five settlements of Jumanos with a population of about 10,000 people. They lived in low, flat roofed houses and grew corn, squash, and beans and hunted and fished along the river. They gave Espejo well-tanned deer and bison skins Espejo found the Rio Grande Valley well populated all the way up to the present site of El Paso, Texas. Leaving the Jumano behind, he passed through the lands of the Caguates or Suma, who spoke the same language as the Jumanos, and the Tanpachoas or Mansos. Upstream from El Paso, the expedition traveled 15 days without seeing any people[6]

The Pueblos[]

In February 1583, Espejo arrived at the territory of the Piros, the most southerly of the Pueblo villagers. From there the Spanish continued up the Rio Grande. Espejo described the Pueblo villages as "clean and tidy." The houses were multi-storied and made of adode bricks. "They make very fine tortillas." Espejo commented and the Pueblos also served the Spanish turkeys, beans, corns, and pumpkins. The people "did not seem to be bellicose." The southernmost Pueblos had only clubs for weapons plus a few "poor Turkish bows and poorer arrows." Further north, the Indians were better armed and more aggressive. Some of the Pueblo towns were large, Espejo described Zia as having 1,000 houses and 4,000 men and boys. In their farming, the Pueblos used irrigation "with canals and dams, built as if by Spaniards." The only Spanish influence that Espejo noted among the Pueblos was their desire for iron. They would steal any iron article they could find.[7]

Espejo confirmed that the two priests had been killed by the Indians in the pueblo of Puala, near present day Bernalillo. As the Spanish approached the Pueblo the inhabitants fled to the nearby mountains. The Spanish continued their explorations, east and west of the Rio Grande apparently with no opposition from the Indians. Near Acoma, they noted that a people called Querechos lived in the mountains nearby and traded with the townspeople. These Querechos were Navajo. The closely related Apache of the Great Plains during this period were also called Querechos. Espejo also visited Zuni and Hopi and westward as far as the Jerome, Arizona area. Along the way, Espejo met several Spanish-speaking Mexican Indians who had been left behind by, or escaped from, the Coronado expedition more than 40 years earlier.

The priest, several of the soldiers, and the Indian assistants decided, despite Espejo's entreaties, to return to Mexico.[8] It is possible that the priest was repelled by the high-handed tactics of Espejo in dealing with the Pueblos. Espejo and eight soldiers stayed behind to look for silver and other precious metals. The little force had a skirmish with the Indians of Acoma, apparently because two women slaves or prisoners of the Spanish escaped. The Spanish recaptured the women briefly, but they fought their way free, wounding a Spanish soldier. In aiding the escape of the women, the Acomans and the Spanish exchanged volleys of harquebus fire, stones, and arrows. The Spanish, thus, were placed on notice that the hospitality of the Pueblos had limits. The Spanish then returned to the Rio Grande Valley where they executed 16 Indians at a village who mocked them and refused them food.[9]

The Spanish quickly departed the Rio Grande and explored eastward, journeying through the Galisteo Basin near the future city of Santa Fe and reaching the large pueblo at Pecos, called Ciquique.

The Return Journey[]

Rather than return to the now unfriendly Rio Grande Valley, Espejo decided to return to Mexico via the Pecos River which he called "Rio de Las Vacas" because of the large number of bison the Spaniards encountered during the first six days they followed the river downstream. After descending the river about 300 miles from Ciquique the soldiers met Jumano Indians near Pecos, Texas who guided them across country up Toyah Creek and cross country to La Junta. From here they followed the Conchos River upstream to San Bartolome, their starting place, arriving September 20, 1583. The priest and his companions had also returned safely.[10] Espejo was the first European to traverse most of the length of the Pecos River.

Espejo died in 1585 in Havana, Cuba. He was enroute to Spain to attempt to get royal permission to establish a Spanish colony in New Mexico.[11]


  1. Antonio Espejo - Catholic Encyclopedia article
  2. pg 189 - David Pike. Roadside New Mexico (August 15, 2004 ed.). University of New Mexico Press. pp. 440. ISBN 0826331181. 
  3. Hammond, George P. and Rey, Agapito, The Rediscovery of New Mexico, 1580-1594. Albuquerque: U of NM Press, 1966, 16-17
  4. Bolton, Herbert E. Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, 1542-1706. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916, 163-164; Riley, Carroll. Rio del Norte. Salt Lake City: U of Utah Press, 1995
  5. Hammond and Rey, 155-160, 215-216
  6. Hammond and Rey, 169, 216-220
  7. Hammond and Rey, 172-182
  8. Flint, Richard and Flint, Shirley Cushing "Espejo Expedition," New Mexico Office of State Historian., accessed, Apr 1, 2010
  9. Hammond and Rey, 201-204
  10. Hammond and Rey, 229
  11. Handbook of Texas Online,, accessed Apr 1, 2010