New Mural Is Historically Inaccurate
Española, the first capital of the Unites States? Really, what reference was used for this information? I ask this question with all due respect to the artist and the powers that be who approved such an enormous and inaccurate display of New Mexico history. The large mural that covers the entire south side of the Española public library is an eye-catching piece of work. The scenic beauty of the river and landscape are quickly pushed aside as one reads ESPAÑOLA FIRST CAPITAL IN THE U.S.A. Upon first glance, I could not believe my eyes. Did I read that correctly?
Sources such as “New Mexico’s First Colonists, the 1597-1600 Enlistments for New Mexico, under Juan de Onate, Adelantado and Gobernador” by David Snow, various school textbooks, among a plethora of other references regarding New Mexico history recount that on July 11, 1598, Juan de Oñate established the first colony in New Mexico among the Native people of Ohkay Owingeh. Upon arrival, the Pueblo was given the name San Juan de los Caballeros, establishing the first European settlement in the land that would become the United States. Months later, the colonists moved across the river from San Juan to Yunque Yunque or Yunque Owingeh, re-naming the area as San Gabriel de Yunque. Historians agree that San Gabriel was the first long-standing European capital, while others will argue that the first naming of San Juan de los Caballeros initiated it as the first capital. I am in agreement that due to the extremely short tenure at San Juan, San Gabriel is technically the first capital. Less than a decade later it was determined that San Gabriel was too far north and not a desirable location. By 1609 a plan was in action by don Pedro de Peralta that eventually moved the capital from San Gabriel to Santa Fe.
After seeing the mural, I thought to myself, how could someone get this so wrong? Thinking that I may find some information regarding the mural on-line, I decided to search a few keywords. I ended up at the Española Valley Chamber of Commerce web page. The history of the valley section describes the same inaccurate history. However, it does clarify the misconception a bit by stating “The city is situated in an area Juan de Oñate declared a capital for Spain in 1598. Española has been called the First Capital City in what would be North America.” The key words in that statement are “in an area”. Now I see where the mural’s info may be rooted. Technically, the valley of Española as it is known today is made up of many historically independent communities such as San Juan, Santa Cruz, Ranchitos, San Pedro, El Llano, to name a few. As a lifelong community member, historian and genetic genealogist, I felt the need to clarify this misconception. I am not a fan of generalizing the history of the region, but I guess that is part of regional evolution. What should be done to correct this issue? I say, rather than lay blame, let’s correct the problem by updating the Chamber of Commerce website, but more importantly the mural that is positioned as a statement piece for the Española Valley. I am sure that there are several ways to make the statement correct and in my opinion “Española, home of San Gabriel de Yunque, the first capital of the U.S.A” is one way to blend Española with the truth.
Let’s celebrate our past, educate our community and visitors in the most accurate manner possible.