El Morro National Monument

The Spaniards

On March 11, 1583, Antonio de Espejo provided the first historical record of El Morro, noting a stop at  El Estanque de Penol (the pool at the great rock) during an exploration of New Mexico. In 1598, Don Juan de Oñate colonized New Mexico, bringing 400 settlers and 10 Franciscans north, along with 7,000 head of stock. From the beginning, hard winters, lack of food, and the great distance from Mexico created hardship and discontent. Oñate's explorations killed early hopes for mineral riches in the region. Returning from an expedition to the Pacific Ocean, Oñate inscribed his name at El Morro on April 16, 1605 - the first known European inscription on the rock.

Scores of other Spanish inscriptions followed as governors, soldiers, and priests took the El Morro route to Zuni and other western pueblos. These brief notes in stone give a thumbnail sketch of New Mexico's Spanish history. Routine records of passage - a name and a date attached to the standard “paso por aqui”- are mixed with accounts of retribution for an ambushed detachment or martyred priest.  By 1750, the number of travelers passing El Morro declined as the Spanish turned their attention to fighting increased opposition from  Navajo, Apache, Ute, and Comanche Indians. A final surge of Navajo campaigns, trail blazing, and visits to the Zuni and Hopi pueblos occurred at the turn of the nineteenth century, but for the most part the western pueblos and El Morro stood beyond the effective dominion of Spain.  

Don Juan de Oñate

"Paso por aqui el adelanto don ju de onate del descubrymiento de la mar del sur a 16 de abril de 1605"

"Here passed by the Governor-General Don Juan de Oñate, from discovery of the South Sea, the 16th of April, 1605."

Don Juan de Oñate visited El Morro on April 16, 1605, perhaps the first to mark his passage by inscribing his name. The first governor of New Mexico was returning from an expedition to the Gulf of California. Fleeing the complaints of struggling colonists, Oñate headed west in October 1604 with thirty soldiers and two Franciscans. The expedition reached the mouth of the Colorado River, but found none of the mineral wealth Oñate had hoped would bolster the colony.

Born around 1550 in Zacatecas, New Spain, Oñate was the son of a prominent silver mine owner. Married to Isabel De Tolosa y Cortez Montezuma, the granddaughter of conquistador Hernando Cortez and great granddaughter of Aztec emperor Montezuma II, Oñate had the wealth and status needed for political appointment. King Phillip II awarded Oñate the contract to settle New Mexico in 1595, expecting him to pay for the endeavor. With initial expeditions revealing little of value in the region, the Spanish government had limited interest in New Mexico, but was pressured by the Catholic Church, which was eager to extend its missionary work. Oñate set out with around 400 soldiers, colonists, and missionaries. Faced with a resistant native population and harsh conditions, many returned home. Oñate resigned in 1607. Charged with abuse of authority while governor, Oñate traveled to Spain and successfully appealed his case. King Felipe IV appointed him inspector of mines in Spain, where he remained until his death in 1626. 


Diego de Vargas

“Aqui estuvo de General Don Diego de Vargas, quien conquisto a nuestra Santa Fe y a la Real Corona todo el Nuevo Mexico a su costa, Ano de 1692”

“Here was the General Don Diego de Vargas, who conquered for our Holy Faith, and for the Royal Crown, all of New Mexico at his own expense, in the year of 1692”

Diego de Vargas stopped at El Morro on November 7, 1692, during his reconquest of Spain. Born in Madrid in 1643 to a prominent but indebted family, Vargas sought advancement in the New World. Arriving in New Spain in 1673, he was soon appointed chief judge of Teutila (modern Oaxaca). This was followed by success as a royal administrator of the mining region of Tlalpujahua. Appointed governor of New Mexico in 1691, he would have to reestablish the colony before he could lead it. The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 had forced the colonists to abandon it, fleeing to El Paso.

Vargas set off with a small military force in August 1692, retaking Santa Fe in September. He reclaimed the northern pueblos by early October and then headed west, accompanied by eight-nine Spanish soldiers and thirty allied Pueblo Indians. The expedition stopped at El Morro after retaking Acoma, on their way to Zuni.  Relying primarily on diplomacy, Vargas achieved a virtually bloodless reconquest. Vargas returned to El Paso in December 1692 to organize settlers. Though around 2,000 colonists had fled New Mexico, only around 1,000 remained in El Paso, with many giving up and moving elsewhere. Returning with newly recruited settlers in 1693, Vargas had to fight his way into Santa Fe but successfully reestablished the colony. During his second term as governor, Vargas fell ill during an expedition against the Apaches and passed away on April 1, 1704. 

Don Juan de Eulate

“I am the captain General of the Providences of New Mexico for the King our Lord, passed by here on the return from the pueblos of Zuni on the 29th of July the year 1620, and put them at peace at their humble petition, they asking favors as vassals of his Majesty and promising anew their obedience, all of which he did, with clemency, zeal, and prudence, as a most Christian-like (gentleman) extraordinary and gallant soldier of enduring and praised memory.” 

This inscription records only a title of “Captain General” rather than a name. Based on the date, it appears to have been left by Don Juan de Eulate, who served as the governor (or Captain General) of New Mexico from 1618-1625. Little is known of the circumstances of his visit to El Morro, though one history records that Eulate helped calm the Zuni during a period of internal conflict.

Eulate was a controversial governor. Born in Spain in 1583, he had a successful military career, including service in the Austrian army and Spanish fleet, before coming to New Spain in 1617. Frequently showing contempt for New Mexico’s missionaries, Eulate continually battled the church for authority. Each accused the other of exploiting the native population. One Franciscan father described Eulate as "a bag of arrogance and vanity without love for God or zeal for divine honor or for the king our lord, a man of evil example in word and deed who does not deserve to be governor.” A visitor to El Morro apparently shared this opinion and crossed out the word “gentleman” in his inscription.  However, in 1626, the council of Santa Fe declared that Eulate left New Mexico at greater peace than any of his predecessors. Eulate also remained in favor with the Spanish government which appointed him Governor of Margarita, off the coast of modern Venezuela, in 1630. 


Juan de Archuleta

"Pasamos por aqui El sarjento mayor Y el capitan Ju de Arechuleta y el aiudante diego martin barba 7 el alferes Agustin de yno jos ano de 1636"

"We passed by here the Sargent Major and Captain Juan de Archuleta and the Adjutant Diego Martin Barba and the Ensign Augustin de Ynojos, the year of 1636"

Juan de Archuleta passed El Morro in 1636. Though the reason is unknown, his most likely destination was Zuni Pueblo. A career soldier and Santa Fe councilman, Archuleta was born around 1602 in San Gabriel, the first capital of New Mexico. His family was among the original settlers of Santa Fe, established in 1610.  

During the 1630s, New Mexico experienced continual conflict between the church and civil government, with each claiming ultimate authority and blaming the other for poor conditions in the colony. Unpopular Governor de Rosas exacerbated these tensions. When his replacement, Don Juan Flores de Sierra y Valdes, arrived in 1641, Rosas was placed under house arrest while his administration was investigated. Traveling with the new governor to New Mexico was Nicholas Ortiz, who had been absent from the colony for several years. Distraught when finding his wife pregnant and serving as Rosas’ mistress, Ortiz became the center of a revenge plot against the former governor. Involved were related members of several leading Santa Fe families, all political antagonists of the Rosas regime, who feared Rosas might be reinstated after the sudden death of the new governor. The men assassinated Rosas on January 25, 1642. Ortiz escaped while Archuleta and seven others were captured, tried, and beheaded on July 21, 1643. 

Ramon Garzia Jurado

"A 5 del Mes de Junyo deste ano De 1709 Paso por aquy para Suni Ramon Garzia Jurado"

“On the 5th of the month of June, of this year of 1709, passed be here on the way to Zuni, Ramon Garcia Jurado”

Ramon Garzia Jurado stopped at El Morro on June 5, 1709. According to his inscription, he was on the way to Zuni. His trip may have been related to the ongoing conflict with the Navajo, located to the west of the Zuni. During 1709, Governor Joseph Chacon organized several campaigns against the Navajo in response to raiding.

Born in Puebla de los Angeles in New Spain in 1678, Jurado came to New Mexico with his father, stepmother and brother in 1693, one of the colonist families recruited as part of Governor Vargas’ reconquest. An inventory of colonists described Jurado as “native of Puebla, thirteen years of age, broad face, large eyes, small nose, and on the left cheek a scar.” Despite the success of the reconquest, New Spain’s hold on New Mexico remained tenuous for many years, especially after the death of Vargas in 1704. Due to ongoing conflicts between the Spanish and the native population, every male colonist was required to serve in the militia.

In 1716, Jurado served as a member of Governor Martinez’s expedition against the Moqui Pueblos. This expedition also passed El Morro, with the governor marking his passage with an inscription declaring his goal of “reducing and uniting Moqui.” Jurado served as magistrate of Bernalillo in 1732, accused of mistreating the Pueblo Indians while in office. He retired to Albuquerque and passed away there in 1760. 


The Americans

With the Mexican-American War (1846-48), New Mexico became part of the United States. Army expeditions to the Zuni country and into troubled Navajo land began at once. Lt. James H. Simpson accompanied one of these and, with artist Richard Kern, took a side trip to El Morro in September 1849. The beautiful inscriptions inspired the men to spend two days copying them. Midway through their task, they paused before the "exquisite picture" of the shaded pool, then climbed to El Morro's crest. From the aerie of the abandoned ruins, they took in the "extensive and pleasing prospect" below. Simpson's was the first written description of what he named Inscription Rock, and Kern's drawings were the first recording of the inscriptions.

The Topographical Engineers carried out several expeditions between New Mexico and California during the 1850s, scouting a wagon and railroad route along the 35th parallel, with members of the Sitgreaves and Whipple expeditions leaving their names at El Morro. In 1857, Edward F. Beale passed by with an expedition furnished with camels, experimenting with their usefulness for long-distance desert travel.   With the establishment of Beale’s Wagon Road to California, emigrants and traders began passing El Morro and inscribing their names, such as thirteen-year old Sallie Fox.

When the first train steamed over the Continental Divide in 1881, taking Campbell’s Pass some 25 miles north of El Morro, the old trail past El Morro became obsolete as a long-distance thoroughfare though it was still used for travel between Acoma and Zuni.  

Sallie Fox

Thirteen-year-old Sallie Fox (also known as Sarah Fox) arrived at El Morro on July 7, 1858, traveling with the Rose wagon train. Headed for California, the group left Iowa in April 1858. The Oregon-California Trail was the most popular route, but due to unrest between the Mormons and U.S. government in Utah, the Rose company chose to take a southern route passing through Santa Fe instead.  Told of a new route to California recently scouted by Edward Beale, the Rose Party was the first to attempt it.  

Surviving many challenges, the weary company arrived at the California border on August 28. On August 30, Sallie noticed a group of Mojave sneaking up on the camp and called the alarm. The Mojave killed eight of the emigrants and wounded more, including Sallie. The group decided to return to Albuquerque, with Salle recounting: “We slowly wended our way back towards civilization, fearful every moment of another attack from the dreaded Indians, and suffering from the distressing heat and lack of water and food. My invalid sister and I hourly expected to die, so weak and feeble was she, and I, too, from my wound.” Rescued by two other wagon trains heading west, the combined companies reached Albuquerque on November 13, 1858. Sallie finally made it to California in 1859. She trained to become a teacher and later moved to San Francisco where she married banker Oliver Perry Allen. Sallie died in 1913 at the Masonic home in Napa. 

Edward Pendleton Long

Edward Pendleton Long arrived at El Morro on March 21, 1859. The twenty-five year old was part of Edward Fitzgerald Beale’s expedition to establish a wagon road for the military and emigrants along the 35th parallel from Fort Smith, Arkansas to the Colorado River, connecting with the Mojave Road to Los Angeles. Sponsored by Congress, the 1,240-mile route was arguably the first federally funded road project.  Beale scouted much of the route in 1857, a trip famous for its use of camels as pack animals. In October 1858, he set out with a construction crew of around 100 to improve the route, leveling grades, removing obstacles, and developing springs. The group reached the Colorado River on May 1. Beale reported the expedition a great success. Beale’s Wagon Road was used by thousands of California immigrants and millions of livestock, but was never as popular as some other routes west. The Atlantic and Pacific Railroad supplanted the route in 1883.

Long enlisted in the 13th Virginia Infantry when the Civil War broke out. The regiment fought mostly with the Army of Northern Virginia with engagements including Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Cold Harbor. Long survived the war, later passing away in 1878. 

James Hervey Simpson

James Hervey Simpson arrived at El Morro on September 17, 1849, following a trader who promised to lead him to a rock face upon which were a “half acre of inscriptions, many of them very beautiful.” Simpson recounted “the hyperbole was not near as extravagant as I was prepared to find it. The fact then being certain that here were indeed inscriptions of interest, if not of value, one of them dating as far back as 1606, all of them very ancient, and several of them very deeply as well as beautifully engraven, I gave directions for a halt.” Simpson and his assistant Richard Kern made reproductions of more than forty inscriptions, the most comprehensive inventory until the 20th century. The inscriptions were included in his expedition journal, published in 1852, which provided the American public with the first images of New Mexico.

Born 1813 in New Jersey, Simpson graduated from West Point in 1832 and joined the new Corps of Topographical Engineers in 1838. A vital tool in the settlement of the West, the corps surveyed, built roads, and improved rivers and harbors. Simpson worked across the U.S. including establishing a new wagon route across Utah. Repairing railroads and erecting fortifications during the Civil War, he later served as chief engineer of Interior Department, overseeing the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. Retiring to Minnesota in 1880, he died in 1883. 

Richard H. Kern

Richard Hovedon Kern first saw the inscriptions at El Morro on September 17, 1849. Working for James H. Simpson of the Corps of Topographical Engineers, the twenty-eight year old artist from Philadelphia was accompanying a military expedition intended to stop Navajo raids on settlements. Tasked with surveying the country through which the expedition passed, Simpson and Kern left the main group to explore a rock reportedly covered with inscriptions. El Morro exceeded expectations and the pair spent more than a day documenting the inscriptions. Kern’s sketches were included in the published version of Simpson’s journal, giving the public its first glimpse of the local inhabitants, pueblos, culture, and landscapes of lands newly acquired from Mexico.  

Kern returned to El Morro in August 1851, while serving as artist and cartographer for Captain Lorenzo Sitgreaves’ expedition to chart a route from New Mexico to California along the 35th parallel.  By the time the group reached a military post on the lower Colorado River, two were dead, two wounded, provisions gone, and the men forced to eat their mules. Kern’s luck ran out on his next expedition, killed by Utes in Utah while mapping a possible rail route to California across the 38th parallel.   

Dr. Samuel Washington Woodhouse

Samuel W. Woodhouse arrived at El Morro on August 30, 1851 on an expedition to survey a wagon route from New Mexico to California. Just getting to New Mexico had been an adventure. Woodhouse departed from New York City, traveling by ship to Cuba and then on to New Orleans and Galveston. From there he set off overland to San Antonio, joining with an army supply train for the trip to Santa Fe. The expedition departed on August 13, 1851. Captain Sitgreaves and Lieutenant Parke of the Corps of Topographical Engineers led the expedition, Woodhouse was the doctor and naturalist, Richard Kern served as the artist, and Antoine Leroux was the guide. Accompanying them were five laborers, a mess cook, eleven Mexican muleteers, and a thirty-two member military escort.

The expedition reached California in November, after a harrowing journey with the group coming close to starvation and losing much of their equipment. Early in the trip, a rattlesnake bit Sitgreaves on the hand. Just as he was recovering, a Mojave shot him in the leg with an arrow. Woodhouse published his expedition journal, including detailed notes on wildlife, landscape, and climate, and expanding the scientific knowledge of the region. Woodhouse followed this trip with a private expedition to Nicaragua and Honduras. He then returned to Philadelphia to practice medicine, passing away there in 1904. 


Imaging Services Provided by Cultural Heritage Imaging


00:30 / 01:00