Y is for Yunque (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Tue, 29 Sep 2020

Y is for Yunque

Dave was browsing through satellite imagery and noticed what looked like an old bridge across the Rio Grande just north of Española, near the Ohkay Owingeh pueblo.

In the Days of COVID, one cure for the stir-crazies is to get in the car and go for a drive. So we ventured forth to check out this bridge.

[Bridge across the Rio Grande] Sure enough, just west of where County Road 56A crosses the Rio, there's a little stub of a dead-end road called Yunque that leads to a footbridge.

The name Yunque sounded vaguely familiar, but neither of us could pin down why.

The bridge is guarded against motor vehicles by a rock barrier. It connects to a trail in the bosque on the other side of the Rio, and offers nice river views.

[View downstream] [View upstream]

Curiosity satisfied, we got back in the car and started back up the road -- and immediately stopped again.

[Cottonwoods on the other side of the Rio] Just out of sight of the bridge, a trail that we hadn't noticed on the way in led off to the right and up a little hill. At the top of the hill, we could see there was some sort of small structure, with a large cross next to it.

[Unlabeled trail to monument] The structure turned out to be a low brick memorial with a sign on top. It turned out that we had stumbled upon Yunque -- the first capital in the US!

[Yunque plaque]
The sign reads:

JULY 11, 1598, JUAN DE OÑATE, COLONIZER, ESTABLISHED THE FIRST SPANISH CAPITAL IN THIS PUEBLO. THE INDIANS RECEIVED THE SPANIARDS WITH GREAT COURTESY. THEREAFTER THE PUEBLO WAS KNOWN AS SAN JUAN DE LOS CABALLEROS. LATER OÑATE MOVED THE CAPITAL INTO LARGER QUARTERS AND NAMED IT SAN GABRIEL.
The sign is dated 1964.

The best reference I've found on Yunque is, oddly, two pages from the National Park Service (though this is definitely not Park Service land; in fact, it's part of the Ohkay Owingeh pueblo): San Gabriel del Yunque-Ouinge and San Miguel -- Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary and San Gabriel de Yunque-Ouinge San Juan Pueblo, New Mexico. (San Juan is the name the Spaniards used to refer to Ohkay Owingeh pueblo, but in recent years the pueblo people have quite understandably gone back to their traditional name.)

[] In 1599, Juan de Oñate, Governor of the Spanish colony of New Mexico, established a settlement at the site now called Yunque, meaning "anvil", and named it the capital of New Mexico -- making it the first capital city in what's now the United States. (The original site was across the river, but that settlement only lasted a few months before moving to the Yunque site, and most people don't count it as an actual capital.) San Gabriel/Yunque served as the capital of New Mexico until 1610, when it was moved to Santa Fe.

That second park service link includes a photo of the famous Oñate statue that has been the focus of so much controversy. Oñate was not a nice man. Among other mistreatment of natives, he was responsible for the Acoma Massacre in which Spaniards kliled some 800 men, women and children of Acoma pueblo (southwest of Albuquerque). After the battle, Oñate enslaved many of the survivors, and amputated the right feet of twenty-four Acoma men.

With that background, it's not surprising that a lot of people object to the large bronze statue of Oñate that stands a couple of miles northeast of Yunque along Highway 68 in Alcalde. In 1998, someone cut off the statue's right foot. The foot disappeared for some time, then eventually reappeared; for the fascinating story, I recommend the 99 Percent Invisible podcast episode, "Return of OƱate's Foot", which includes a tie-in to violence that arose at a recent Black Lives Matter protest in Albuquerque.

A couple of other relevant references on Yunque: New Mural Is Historically Inaccurate, a letter to the Valley Daily Post regarding the colorful mural painted on the side of the Española library, and History of Española from the Española Chamber of Commerce. It's an important piece of New Mexico history, and a fun accidental find.

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