In 1795 Don José de Zúñiga captain of the presidio of Tupson (Tucson) was chosen by military commandant Don Marcial de Echeagaray to lead what was to be the last Spanish attempt to open a trade route between Sonora and the province of Nueva Mexico. Zúñiga's task was three-fold: he was ordered to be “diligent in punishing the Apaches going and coming,” to travel by the most direct route to the pueblo of Zuni marking his path along the way, and to lead a Santa Fe pack train back to Sonora to prove the usability of the route. Zúñiga's orders took him across the San Pedro River and the Gila River, then along the San Francisco River for miles before crossing over the San Francisco Mountains where he located a pass and a beaten path leading him to Zuni Pueblo.
Zúñiga's expedition pales in size, complexity, and intent compared to earlier Spanish expeditions. And by no means can it be compared to the journey of Francisco Vazquez de Coronado, who between 1540 and 1542 travelled immense distances and made significant discoveries in the American Southwest and plains. Zúñiga travelled through landscapes claimed for the King of Spain by Fray Marcos De Niza in 1539 and again by Coronado in 1540. He also followed in the footsteps of Manuel de Echeagaray who explored the San Francisco Mountains in 1788. It was not the last Spanish expedition in the American Southwest either; other larger expeditions followed, such as the expedition of Facundo Melgares (1806) and Francisco Amangual (1808). Yet all of this does not diminish the importance of Zúñiga's expedition. It was an important regional event at the time and is worthy of recognition today. It was the last Spanish expedition staged from what is now Arizona.