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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá

Villagrá was the official chronicler, military outfitter, and missionizer of the Juan de Oñate expedition (1598-1608) that explored and then established permanent Spanish settlements in north central New Mexico. To this expedition also go the honors of having generated the first drama and the first epic poem of European origin, Historia de la Nueva México (1610), in the present U.S. territory.

While Oñate, interested in mineral wealth, dispatched his troops in wide-ranging forays into the surrounding areas, the settlers in his party wanted him to concentrate on securing the colony for agriculture and livestock raising. Conflicts were inevitable. To add to Oñate's problems, one of the forays provoked violence at the Acoma pueblo. The ensuing battle set an ominous precedent for European-Native American encounters, repeated from New England to Patagonia by colonizers of different national origins.

The Acoma pueblo, which had received the Coronado expedition in friendship sixty years earlier, submitted peacefully to Oñate. However, when a small band of Spaniards abused their welcome, the Acomas killed thirteen soldiers, including the commanding officer Juan de Saldívar. Oñate sent Vicente de Saldívar on a punitive expedition against the fortress-like city high on a mesa. After days of struggle, in which the Spaniards had to deploy artillery to level the village, the Acomas were decimated, with some eight hundred killed. Those who surrendered were indentured, many after having one foot severed as punishment.

Villagrá, in the literary fashion of the era, composed his chronicle in epic verse. With one eye on recording events and the other on the demands of his craft and genre, the poet/chronicler filtered facts through a grid of Renaissance literary conventions, juxtaposing brutal genocide and the elegance of classic verse.

Juan Bruce-Novoa
University of California at Irvine

Amy E. Winans
Dickinson College

In the Heath Anthology
The History of New Mexico
from Canto I: "Which sets forth the outline of the history" (c. 1616)
Canto XIV: "How the River of the North Was Discovered and the Trials That Were Borne in Discovering It" (c. 1616)
Canto XXX: "How the New General ... Went to Take Leave of Luzcoija, and the Battle He Dad With the Spainards" (c. 1616)

Other Works
The History of New Mexico

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