Part of a colonizing expedition that suffered from delays and disagreements, she reinvigorated her fatigued fellow travelers with a pep talk described as both a rebuke and a call to action. For her valorous entreaty, she is known today as “La Valerosa.”
The colonizing expedition of New Mexico led by Don Juan de Oñate was marked by disagreements and uncertainty among the Viceroy and royal officers about who should lead the expedition. The start of the journey was delayed, and even after the expedition was enroute and had reached the mines at Caxco in November of 1596, Oñate received orders to halt while a change in leadership was considered. Official word did not arrive until spring of the following year.
Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá, who chronicled the expedition in the epic poem “Historia de la Nueva México, 1619,” mentions an incident resulting from the compounded delays involving a woman known as Doña Eufemia, wife of Francisco de Sosa de Peñalosa, an officer with the expedition. Villagrá described Doña Eufemia as “a dame of courage singular and great spirit” and “extremely beautiful, and too, unusual for splendid, quick and clear mentality.”
This woman of singular courage roused the soldiers in the expedition (who were quickly becoming upset with the delays) in a speech that included appeals to their bravery and warned of the ignominy that would follow them and their descendants should they fail. This remarkable pep talk served as both a rebuke as well as a call to action. A portion of her speech, as recounted by Villagrá:
“Most noble misguided soldiers,
Tell me, of what good, the noble worth
Of those hearts that you showed
When offering yourselves for doughty war,
Having as understand all was a trifle to
The mighty force and excellence
Of your brave, gallant souls,
If now, without embarrassment or shame,
As you were women, you do turn
Your backs on work so honorable?”
Villagrá notes that while the words of Doña Eufemia had a temporary effect, desertions nonetheless continued because “weak hearts do seldom hold an inspiration long.” Nonetheless, for her valorous entreaty to her fellow travelers, Doña Eufemia has become known today by the name “La Valerosa.”
Encinias, Miguel, ed. and Alfred Rodriguez and Joseph Sánchez. Historia de la Nueva México, 1619 / Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá: A Critical and Annotated Spanish/English Edition. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1992.
Hammond, George P., Ph.D. “Don Juan de Onate and the Founding of New Mexico, Chapter III.” New Mexico Historical Review, vol. I, no. 2, April 1926.
Hammond, George P., Ph.D. “Don Juan de Onate and the Founding of New Mexico, Chapter IX.” New Mexico Historical Review. vol. II no. 1, January 1927.
Simmons, Marc. The Last Conquistador. Normal, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991.