While the Spanish conquistadors have been stereotyped as rapacious treasure seekers, many firstcomers to the New World realized that its greatest wealth lay in the native populations whose labor could be harnessed to build a new Spain. Hence, the early arrivals in Mexico sought encomiendas—"a grant of the Indians of a prescribed indigenous polity, who were to provide the grantee (the encomendero) tribute in the form of commoditiesand service in return for protection and religious instruction."This study profiles the 506 known encomenderos in New Spain (present-day Mexico) during the years 1521-1555, using their life histories to chart the rise, florescence, and decline of the encomienda system. The first part draws general conclusions about the actual workings of the encomienda system. The second part provides concise biographies of the encomenderos themselves.