Zaldívar, Vicente de (ca. 1573–unknown)

By: Donald E. Chipman

Type: Biography

Published: November 1, 1995

Updated: August 5, 2020

Vicente de Zaldívar, the younger, Spanish explorer and soldier, was probably born in Zacatecas, a mining town on the frontier of northern Mexico, about 1573. He and Juan de Zaldívar were sons of Vicente de Zaldívar, the elder, and Magdalena de Mendoza y Salazar. Through a series of marriages, the Zaldívar and Oñate families of Zacatecas had become so intricately related that Juan de Oñate, the future colonizer of New Mexico, was both uncle and second cousin to the Zaldívar brothers, and he later became the father-in-law of Vicente. In September 1595 Juan de Oñate received a royal contract to colonize New Mexico, and he began immediately to recruit officers and men. He enlisted his young kinsmen in his command. Vicente de Zaldívar received the position of sargento mayor, a rank below that of his brother, Juan. Through no fault of Oñate's, final approval of his contract by the king's agent did not come until early 1598. The expedition's point of departure was the frontier town of Santa Bárbara, situated near the headwaters of the Río Conchos in southern Chihuahua. On previous occasions Spaniards en route to New Mexico had followed the Conchos to its confluence with the Rio Grande and then proceeded upstream along the course of the larger river to the province. This circuitous route had the advantage of ample water along the way. But Oñate, made impatient by delays, sought a shortcut and ordered a reconnaissance to that end by Vicente de Zaldívar. Zaldívar, at the head of a small party, spent nearly a month in the field, but he returned with knowledge of a more direct route, which afforded some water, through formidable sand dunes. Following the new trail blazed by Zaldívar, the full expedition reached "El Paso," the ford in the Rio Grande, on May 4, 1598. It then continued along the course of the river to New Mexico.

By the fall of 1598 Spanish settlers in New Mexico had become sorely disappointed by the lack of readily exploitable wealth. Zaldívar, with apparent talent for pathfinding, was dispatched to reconnoiter the buffalo plains of eastern New Mexico and western Texas. It seems unlikely, however, that he reached the present borders of Texas. Shortly after his return with ample supplies of buffalo jerky, Juan de Zaldívar was killed in an Indian revolt atop the great rock at Acoma. Oñate promoted Vicente to his deceased brother's position of maestre de campo and ordered him to subdue the Acomas. In January 1599 Vicente de Zaldívar crushed the Acoma revolt. He later participated in the trial and drastic punishment of surviving Acomas. After his command ended in New Mexico Zaldívar returned to Zacatecas, where before 1620 he married Juan de Oñate's daughter, María de Oñate. They had at least one son. In 1626 Zaldívar was admitted to the prestigious military order of Santiago. He prospered for some years in the silver mine business but then suffered financial losses in the 1630s. The circumstances of his death are not known, but he was deceased by 1650.

Herbert Eugene Bolton, ed., Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, 1542–1706 (New York: Scribner, 1908; rpt., New York: Barnes and Noble, 1959). Donald E. Chipman, "The Oñate-Moctezuma-Zaldívar Families of Northern New Spain," New Mexico Historical Review 52 (October 1977). George P. Hammond and Agapito Rey, eds., Don Juan de Oñate: Colonizer of New Mexico, 1595–1628 (Santa Fe: Patalacio, 1927; rpt., Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1953). Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá, Historia de la Nueva México, 1610; trans. Gilberto Espinosa as A History of New Mexico (Los Angeles: Quivira Society, 1933; rpt., Chicago: Rio Grande Press, 1962). Marc Simmons, The Last Conquistador: Juan de Oñate and the Settling of the Far Southwest (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991).

  • Exploration
  • Explorers (Spanish)
Time Periods:
  • Spanish Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Donald E. Chipman, “Zaldívar, Vicente de,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1995
August 5, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: