On September 21, 1595, Don Juan de Oñate's petition and contract for the conquest of New Mexico was presented to Luís de Velasco, the viceroy of Nueva Vizcaya. Already a wealthy and prominent man, he sought to turn the Indians' wealth into his own and had requested the assignment after hearing rumors about golden cities in the vicinity. Oñate was granted the commission and set about recruiting men for his expedition.
After many delays, Oñate finally began the expedition in 1598 with approximately 200 men, accompanied by their families and servants. The expedition crossed the Rio Grande at El Paso and split up into smaller groups to search for treasure. Some of his men wanted to return to Spain, but Oñate squashed potential deserters by executing several who had attempted to leave. He used brutal force against the Ácoma Indians, who had rebelled and killed several of Oñate’s men. Retribution and the severity of Oñate’s actions after reconquering the pueblo terrified other pueblos and the Spanish priests complained that the Indians distrusted the Spanish—making their conversion difficult.
In 1601, Oñate set out to find the legendary golden city of Quivera. After years of failure, he returned to find much of his colony deserted. Although his colonization methods were horrific, Oñate is credited with establishing a colony in New Mexico and exploring the geography of the region.
In 1607, Oñate resigned as governor. He was tried and sentenced in 1614 for his cruel actions and ineptitude in ruling the colony. Oñate was fined, banished from New Mexico in perpetuity, and exiled for four years from Mexico City and its vicinity; he also lost his titles as governor and captain general of New Mexico. He appealed his convictions several times after his banishment from Mexico City had elapsed. Evidence of a pardon, likely granted between 1622 and 1624, is inconclusive.