An artist's rendering of the 1969 Don Juan de Onate, Jeremias "Jerry" Torres,  featured in Program cover of that same year.


Submitted by Robert A. Naranjo

The Fiesta del Valle de Espanola Fiestas y Onate celebrates the founding of New Mexico and the establishment of the first Capital of New Mexico July 11, 1598, by Capitan-General, Adelantado, y Gobernador Don Juan de Onate at a Pueblo named Oke Oweenge (Place of the Strong People). He renamed it San Juan de Los Caballeros because the people at the Pueblo were hospitable to the Spanish settlers. The name San Juan remained for over 400 years until recently changed back to Ohkay Owingeh. Note the two variations of the spelling of the Pueblo’s original name.

Because of the difficult and expensive journey north in January 1598 beginning from Santa Barbara, Chihuahua, New Spain (today, Mexico) to establish the first Spanish colony and an official Capital of New Mexico, Governor Onate is considered the “Father of New Mexico” by some historians.

The Fiesta del Valle de Espanola y Onate as seen different celebrations through the centuries. The first celebration or fiesta was carried out by Gov. Onate and the colonists in late April 1598 near Guadalupe del El Paso (today, El Paso, TX and Ciudad Juarez, Chih., MX , when they celebrated one of the first Thanksgivings in the U.S. The record shows that fowl were shot from the sky and fish caught from the rio for the celebration of the fiesta. Gov. Onate also claimed possession for the King of Spain of all the lands bordered by the Rio Bravo del Norte (Rio Grande) in a ceremony called “La Toma” (to take) and concluded with the Governor nailing a cross to a tree. This celebratory fiesta 417 years ago also featured the “Moros y Los Cristianos,” the first play performed in the U.S. and is still performed.

The Onate Fiestas, as we know it today was really a product of the 20th century and did not occur every year. It is generally understood by researchers that in 1932 a gentleman named Delfin Salazar began the Onate Fiestas. Then in 1933 and 1934, a popular physician named Dr. Espinosa continued the Fiestas. They did not return until 1948, 1949 and 1950 and again in 1969 when a Santa Cruz High School teacher named Jeremias “Jerry” Torres played the role of Onate and his son Jerry, Jr. played Cristobal. That year La Reina was Geraldine Maestas y Salazar and the Queen’s Court were Anna Marie Martinez, Barbara Vigil, Elsie Naranjo and Lillie Montoya. David Salazar and former Mayor Richard Lucero were instrumental in reviving the 1969 Onate Fiesta. After that, according to John Ramon Vigil, the Fiesta missed a couple of years in the 70s and 80s but now has a “score and more” or 20 plus years of a consecutive Fiesta.