Daniel Boone is an American legend. Don Juan de Oñate is an unknown native-born Explorador. Why the difference?
Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) says in his Heroes, Hero Worship and the Heroic in History, 1841:
…Universal History, the history of what man has accomplished in this world, is at bottom the History of the Great Men who have worked here. They were the leaders of men, these great ones; the modelers, patterns, and in a wide sense creators, of whatsoever the general mass of men contrived to do or to attain; all things that we see standing accomplished in the world are properly the outer material result, the practical realization and embodiment, of Thoughts that dwelt in the Great Men…
Yet great men are soon forgotten by the masses, and their accomplishments fade into the mists of the frail and fickle collective memory of mankind. This is something to ponder about. Are we ungrateful to the great men who paved the way for future generations? Or is there perhaps a universal plot to ignore what is bothersome to remember in order to rewrite history to our liking? Why is Mr. Daniel Boone (1734-1820) better known in America than Don Juan de Oñate (1550-1626)? Why isn’t he considered a hero in America? After all, Oñate was a frontiersman, an explorer who opened trails in the Southwest of great importance, and he also founded significant settlements.
Don Juan de Oñate a native American
Don Juan de Oñate was a native American, born In Zacatecas, New Spain, Nueva España, now Mexico, in 1550—fifty eight years after the discovery. In 1595 Felipe II entrusted him with a mission: to explore and colonize the northern frontier of New Spain. Oñate forded the Río Grande in 1598, where the present-day El Paso is located, on April 30, 1598. He claimed all the territory for Spain as New Mexico—Nuevo México. A Mass and festivities followed as acts of gratefulness, which could very well be considered the second Thanksgiving celebrated on American soil. September 8, 1565 was the first such celebration offered by don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, founder of St. Agustine, Florida, another of the forgotten heroes.
Oñate explored northern New Mexico and founded the province of Santa Fe de Nuevo México, becoming its first governor. He set up plans for the founding of the town of Santa Fe. His explorations and travels were sprinkled with dangers, wars, cruelties, discoveries, killings, enslavement and plundering. He was recalled to Mexico City and tried and convicted of cruelty to Indians and Spaniards. His appeal was successful and he was exonerated of all charges. He later went to Spain where he died in 1626 at the age of 76.
Daniel Boone became a legend in his own lifetime and continues to be a legend. Juan de Oñate was no saint on earth, certainly, but a man of action and a leader of men. He was called “the last of the Conquistadors”, but was not considered a legend in his own lifetime or even a hero today. However, the history of the American Southwest cannot be understood without him.