Fray Padilla

The return of Padilla to Quivira may be considered a consequence of Coronado’s murch to the Great Plains. For he and three other Franciscans had been on that famous primal exploration. And it is to be regretted that it can not be recorded that they, or any of them raised voice or offered protest at the murder of the Turk. Let us hope the record is sadly incomplete.

This priest is usually spoken of as Fray Juan Padilla, and it is said that he was a native of Andalusia. He remained on the Rio Grande when Coronado returned to Mexico. And Fray Juan de la Cruz, a Portuguese soldier of fortune named Andres del Campo, a negro, and a half-blood negro named Louis and Sebastian respectively, and some Indians from Now Spain stopped with Fray Padilla at the pueblos on the Rio Grande. In the summer of 1542 Padilla prepared to return to Quivira as a missionary to that country. Some of his company went with him, and all may have gone. The journey was made in the fall of 1542. By some accounts, they went on foot, and by others there was at least one horse taken along by them. It is reasonable to suppose that the route used by Coronado in coming out of the land was followed by Padilla and his company going in.

What Padilla accomplished in Quivira remains hidden. Some say he immediately sought the cross set up there by Coronado, and that he found the grounds about it swept and cleansed. This service had been rendered by the Indians, who doubtless regarded it as an occult object to be propitiated. It is not to be supposed that Padilla accomplished much in the work of Christianizing the Quiviras, for they murdered him shortly after his arrival. Indeed it is not certain but that they met and murdered him as he entered their towns. Others say that after a short sojourn with the Quivirans he set out for the country of the Guaes. These Guaes are set down as the enemies of the Quivirans, who could not understand how any good man could leave them to dwell with their foes. It is not improbable that they attributed traitorous designs to the good father. In any event, he lost his life trying to reach a new tribe. One account had it that he was much beloved by the Quivirans, and he left their villages against their wishes, but attended by a small company. This chronicler says that the band had proceeded more than a day’s journey when a war-party was encountered, and this company of warriors murdered Padilla.

What the old writers say of Padilla is here set out, for it may be affirmed that he was the first Christian martyr in what is now the United States. Castaneda says:—

A friar named Juan Padilla remained in this province together with a Spanish-Portuguese and a negro and a half-blood and some Indians from the province of Capothan, in New Spain. They killed the friar because he wanted to go to the province of the Guaes, who were their enemies. The Spaniard escaped by taking flight on a mare, and afterwards reached New Spain, coming out by the way of Panuco. The Indians from New Spain who accompanied the friar were allowed by the murderers to bury him, and they followed the Spaniard and overtook him. This Spaniard was a Portuguese named Campo.

It would appear from the foregoing that Padilla did not return to the Rio Grande with Coronado, but remained in Quivira when his commander left the plains. There is more detail in this account:

He reached Quivira and prostrated himself at the foot of the cross, which he found in the same place where he had set it up; and all around it clean, as he had charged them to keep it, which rejoiced him, and then he began the duties of a teacher and apostle of that people; and finding them teachable and well disposed, his heart burned within him, and it seemed to him that the number of souls of that village was but a small offering to God, and he sought to enlarge the bosom of our mother, the Holy Church, that she might receive all those he was told were to be found at greater distances. He left Quivira, attended by a small company, against the will of the village Indians, who loved him as their father.

At more than a day’s journey the Indians met him on the warpath, and knowing the evil intent of those barbarians, he asked the Portuguese that as he was on horseback he should flee and take under his protection the Oblates and the lads who could thus run away and escape. . . . And the blessed father, kneeling down, offered up his life, which he had sacrificed for the winning of souls to God, attaining the ardent longings of his soul, the felicity of being killed by the arrows of those barbarous Indians, who threw him into a pit, covering his body with innumerable stones. . . . It is said that the Indians had gone out to murder the blessed father in order to steal the ornaments, and it was remembered that at his death were seen great prodigies, as it were the earth flooded, glohes of fire, comets and obscuration of the sun.

The second paragraph of the foregoing quotation must have been written from the imagination purely. There was no white witness to the murder of the friar except possibly the Portuguese and the attendants. They are said to have observed it from a hill. It is not safe to depend on such testimony. They were fleeing for life. It is doubtful if they turned to look back while in view of the Indians. In truth, they might have themselves murdered Padilla. The account contains no sufficient motive for his murder by the Indians. The assertion that they committed the murder to secure his ornaments can not be taken seriously. And the asseveration that the earth was convulsed, comets seen, and the sun obscured, discredits the entire account. There is still another Spanish version, quoted by Davis in his work on New Mexico, as follows:

When Coronado returned to Mexico he left behind among the Indians of Cibola, the father fray Francisco Juan de Padilla, the father fray Juan de la Cruz, and a Portuguese named Andres del Campo. Soon after the Spaniards departed, Padilla and the Portuguese set off in search of the country of the Grand Quivira, where the former understood there were innumerable souls to be saved. After traveling many days they reached a large settlement in the Quivira country. The Indians came out to receive them in battle array, when the friar, knowing their intentions, told the Portuguese and his attendants to take flight, while he would await their coming, in order that they might vent their fury on him as they ran. The former took flight, and placing themselves on a height within view, saw what happened to the friar. Padilla awaited their coming upon his knees, and when they arrived where he was, they immediately put him to death. . . . The Portuguese and his attendants made their escape, and ultimately arrived safely in Mexico, where he told what had occurred.

If this version of the effort of Padilla to found a mission in Quivira is correct, he was slain before he had entered the Indian town. The heavens were not rent, nor was the moon turned to blood. There is no mention of a cross, and the inference is that the priest had reached a new town—had found a village of which he had not heard before.

It is with Padilla as with the other Spaniards connected with the Coronado expedition. There is little that can be asserted with confidence. The evidence is fragmentary, contradictory, and incomplete. No certain thing can be founded on it.

The effort to have it appear that a certain monument erected of stones more or less regularly set together near the present Council Grove was erected by the Indians as a monument to Padilla cannot be sustained. That monument was probably set up as a guide-post at the opening of the Santa Fe Trail by the Missourians. General James H. Lane marked the underground railroad from Topeka to Nebraska City in 1856 with exactly such monuments as that to be seen at Council Grove. After the discontinuance of the Lane Trail these monuments were called “Lane’s Chimneys.” There were some of them still standing in Richardson County, Nebraska, in 1890. Their purpose had been forgotten with new generations, and their origin was attributed to the Indians. And there is not the slightest evidence that Padilla was ever in the Council-Grove regions. He may have been there, but there is no record to establish that historical fact.

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