Don Juan de Onate

The Spaniards called the pueblos on the Rio Grande the “first settlements.” In the year 1601, Don Juan de Onate, being at the first settlements, determined to go on an expedition “to the interior, by a northern route and direction, both because of the splendid reports which the native Indians ware giving of this land, and also because of what an Indian named Joseph, who was born and reared in New Spain and who speaks the Mexican tongue, saw while going with Captain Umana.” The force was assembled at San Gabriel, and on the 23d of June detachments began the march for the final rendezvous, the pueblo of Galisteo, which they left about the first of July.

Their route carried them across the Gallinas, and to the Canadian, which they named the River Magdalena. They descended the Canadian, finding much improvement in the country and climate as their journey progressed to the eastward. Apache Indians were encountered and found to be friendly. The river led the Spaniards out onto the buffalo plains. Sometimes the bluffs made it necessary for them to bear away from the river. Other bands of Apaches were met, but “no Indian became impertinent.” The great abundance of wild plums pleased the men much. Early in August herds of buffalo appeared, and their habits are well described. Coming down from the Great Staked Plain, sand-hills turned them away from the river, and they bore north to two streams supposed now to be Beaver Creek and the Cimarron. Continuing in a northeasterly direction the buffalo increased, and some of the prairies were covered with wild flowers. Beyond these much game was seen. Oak and walnut trees were found along the streams, the water of which was cool and pleasant. A temporary village or camp of wandering Indians was found. These are said to have been the Escanjaques, later identified by some students with Kansas or Kaw Indians. Whether this identification shall be permitted to stand remains one of the problems for students of the future. It would appear that it is much more probable that they were the Arkansas Indians, who had come up the Arkansas River to hunt the buffalo. They had lodges ninety feet in diameter, covered with buffalo hides, and they wore dressed hides for clothing. They were at war with another tribe living some twenty-five miles beyond in the interior. The Escanjaques said it was their enemies who had killed Humana and his men. They supposed the Spaniards had come for the purpose of avenging those murders, and they requested permission to guide the strangers to those villages. This permission was granted, and the whites were taken seven leagues to a river with wonderful banks, and in some places so deep that vessels might have sailed on it with ease. The land was fertile and densely wooded along the river, which is now supposed to be the Arkansas.

The Spaniards seem to have been descending the Arkansas, for the mention of crossing smaller rivers is made. Marches totaling eleven leagues brought them to some elevations upon which appeared people shouting for war. They were, however, appeased, and they invited the Spaniards to their houses. That night the Indians of this latter village were accused of having murdered Humana and his men “surrounding them with fire and burning them all, and that they had with them one who had escaped, injured by the fire.” The peculiar wording of this text makes it probable that the survivor was a mulatto woman described in Zarate’s Land of Sunshine. This accusation was made by the accompanying Indians. The party took counsel as to what should be done, and it was determined to seize some of the Indians of the town and carry them along. Among those taken was the chief, Catarax.

The Spaniards there crossed the river at a ford, and half a league out an Indian town was found which contained twelve hundred houses, “all established along the bank of another good-sized river which flowed into the large one.” The houses were those seen by Coronado in Quivira, or similar ones, and they probably stood along the banks of the little Arkansas, on the present site of Wichita, Kansas. The people had fled and the houses were vacant, though containing corn. The Escanjaques desired to burn the town, and perhaps did burn a portion of it. The country there is described as the best the Spaniards had ever seen.

Among the first to identify the Escanjaques with the Kansas Indians was George P. Morehouse, of Council Grover. Mr. Morehouse had given the history of the Kansas Indians much attention and deep study. F. W. Hodge, of the Bureau of Ethnology, Washington, is the best authority who had accepted this identification. For Mr. Hodge’s opinion I have profound respect. But it is not yet established that the Quivira towns visited by Coronado were on or near the Kansas River. I am of the opinion that the location is untenable and will soon be abandoned by students. While there is much to support that theory there is much more to condemn it. The latest writers are placing the Coronado-Quivira towns on the Arkansas River – a much more likely location. Whether they are to be finally established there, none can tell. But that they were far south of the Kansas River, I think there is no question. Now, if the Coronado-Quivira towns were not on the Kansas River, nor near it, the Escanjaques were not the Kansas Indians. The Kansas Indians would not go so far south to hunt the buffalo, For it is conceded that they lived then on the banks of the Missouri, and north of the Kansas River. There were buffalo in their own country at that time, but probably not in such numbers as on the plains. It is doubtful if the Caddoan people, the Pawnees and Wichitas, would have permitted them to cross Quivira to hunt the buffalo, even if the Coronado-Quivira country was on the Kansas River. It is certain that the Kansas Indians did not at that time hunt on the Arkansas River. It is in reason to believe that the Arkansas Indians, the Arkanse, came up the Arkansas River to the buffalo plains. Their location would warrant their doing that. They were found on the south side of the Arkansas River. That river must have been the south boundary of Quivira. To reach the point where Onate found the Escanjaques they would not have had to pass through any Qnivira country, Perhaps the Arkansas Indians claimed the south half or portion of the south half of the Arkansas River valley. Onate may have found them in their own country. Then, it is not certain that they were there on a hunting trip. They may then have lived permanently there. They seemed to know of the Humana expedition and the fate of the party. The orthography of the two words, Kansa and Arkansea, goes far to prove that the Escanjaques were the Arkansea—not the Kansas Indians. I maintain that the identification of the Escanjaques is not a settled matter, and that the Escanjaques are much more likely to have been the Arkansea than the Kansa.

Another council was held. The Escanjaques1 and the captive Indians were questioned, and their statements agreed. Another river having six or seven branches was said to be not far away. On that river many people dwelt. The Humana party had been murdered a long distance from there – “Eighteen days’ journey from here.” Large settlements of Indians were to be found both above and below this town, and the river at that point runs east. The Indians advised the Spaniards to stop and go no further, saying the people who had deserted their homes had gone to assemble their friends to attack the intruders and would destroy them. But the Spaniards pushed on, starting the following day. They traveled three leagues through a well settled country, and could see houses still beyond. The information that had been given them as to the hostile reception they might expect on the third day now began to impress them. Another conference was held, when it was determined to set out on the return to New Mexico.

To prevent the Escanjaques from burning the houses in the town along the Little Arkansas the Spaniards had sent them back home from that point. Now, on returning to that town the Escanjaques were found entrenched in these abandoned houses with the purpose of giving battle. The commander of the Spanish party, mounted his men on armored horses and awaited the attack of the savages, who came on to the number of fifteen hundred, if the old accounts are to be believed. And others joined them. The conflict raged for two hours. The Spaniards were driven from the field, though they claimed to have slain many of the Indians. They freed some Indian women, but retained one man and some boys. They then returned to their camp to sleep, almost all of them being slightly wounded. How they escaped we are not told, the narrative ending with the statement that “On the following day we set out, traveling with our usual care, and in fifty-nine days we reached the camp of San Gabriel, having spent in the entire journey the time from the 23d of June until the 24th of November.”

An Indian was carried back and was named Miguel. It seems that he had been captured by the tribe with which the Spaniards battled. He was taken to Mexico where he found that the Spaniards wanted gold above all things. He, like the Turk and others, told them what they wished to hear. He described golden countries and drew a map of them which is still in existence. The King of Spain was wrought up by the stories told by Miguel and ordered an expedition of one thousand men to be sent to seek out those golden shores. The Count of Monterey was then Viceroy of Mexico, and he had no faith in the Indian’s tales. The expedition was never sent out.

Onate returned to New Mexico, as we have seen. It is said, that in a few years eight hundred Quivira Indians visited Onate, carrying with them a prisoner named Axtaos. It seems that the Quivirans were at war with the Axtaos tribe, and desired that Onate aid them in this warfare. The idea of seeking his aid may have originated from reflection upon the battle with the Escanjaques. The Axtaos of the Quivirans may have been the Escanjaques of the Spaniards. Perhaps the Quivirans supposed that it would be an easy matter to induce the Spaniards to engage in war with a tribe which had handled them so roughly on the plains. Finding an unwillingness on the part of the whites to again cross swords with the fierce tribe of the prairies, the Quivirans sang the old song so pleasant to Spanish ears – that of gold. They said there was gold in the interior of their country, supposing the cavaliers would set forth at once to find it. But even this siren song failed to move the Governor of New Mexico, and the Quivirans returned alone to their towns along some plains river.

There is some reason to believe that in 1634 an expedition under Captain Alonzo Vaca penetrated the plains to the River Quivira. It marched eastward more than three hundred leagues, but did not cross the river into Quivira. Very little is known of this expedition. Probably some wild tale of gold in the plains streams induced these Spaniards to brave the march from the deserts to search for it.

Of the expedition of Don Diego Dionisio de Penalosa, Governor of New Mexico from 1661 to 1664, there is a better record. This record had been condemned and discredited by some writers. If admitted it would upset the preconceived ideas of some on the location of the country – and especially the towns – of Quivira. Having fixed these towns on the Kansas River it would prove troublesome to admit as genuine any document which would make the location untenable.

In the spring of 1662, Penalosa gathered his forces for the march eastward to find Quivira, the location of which remained an enigma to some extent even to the New Mexican Spanish, notwithstanding the many explorations they made to that land. The expedition consisted of eighty Spanish soldiers, with six three-pounder cannon, and thirty-six carts to carry the ammunition. There were one thousand Indians, by which we may suppose there was possibly one-fifth of that number. These were armed in Indian fashion, with bows and arrows. It is said that there were eight hundred horses and three hundred mules. It is always well to view with suspicion the boasting numbers set down in any Spanish document, even though it is known to be genuine. These reports were sometimes composed by priests in the New World for the use of priestly authority in Spain, and large numbers were sometimes employed to create a favorable impression across the ocean.

In Quivira, Penalosa found the great city of Taracari. It was within eight leagues of “a very high and insuperable ridge,” which was the end of Quivira. It does not appear that the Spaniards tarried at Taracari. They passed on, coming finally to a river called, by the Indians, the Mischipi. There they found the Escanjaques Indians, to the number of three thousand, assembled and armed to invade Quivira and attack its first city. The Mischipi was reached in June. The prairies were beautiful. One crop of corn was no sooner gathered than another was planted in that fertile land.

The Spaniards and Escanjaques marched together up the river, having the “insuperable” ridge of mountains on their left hand. They halted for the night in some fine prairies, and six hundred Escanjaques went out to hunt the buffalo, in which they were very successful, each returning with the tongue of a cow, and some bringing two or three tongues. The next day, after marching four leagues, the mountain range was again discovered. It was covered with signal smokes to tell of the approach of the Christian army. And coming thence to some “widespread prairies of another beautiful river,” the great settlement of Quivira was found. This river came out of the mountain range to the west and united with the Mischipi.

The Escanjaques desired to destroy the Quivira settlement, and the Spaniards ordered them to remain behind and not enter it. But it seems that they crossed the river with the whites, and were with difficulty restrained from attacking the Quivirans. Seventy head-chiefs came out to meet Penalosa, bearing presents, buckskin, and fur caps, and bonnets. They were entertained by the Spaniards, who bestowed upon them some presents, but they were much disturbed when they found their white visitors in company with their avowed enemies, the Escanjaques. To reassure the Quivirans, the Spaniards gave them presents and expressed the warmest friendship for them, promising to stand by them. This pleased the Quivirans, who made further presents, consisting of furs, bread, corn, beans, pumpkins, sandpipers, turkeys, partridges, and fish. They invited the Spaniards to enter their principal settlements the next day, to do which, another river had to be crossed – a rapid river. When they departed, the commander detained two of their chiefs, who were questioned until midnight, when they lay down to sleep, as was supposed. But they arose and went over to their own city, fearing an attack there of the Escanjaques. Their fears were well founded, for those treacherous Indians crossed in the night and attacked the Quivirans, killing all they could and burning the city. The Spaniards crossed the river and entered the burning city shortly after sunrise, but the Quivirans had fled, believing the whites in treacherous league with the Escanjaques. The soldiers spent most of the day in arresting the conflagration and restraining their self-imposed allies. The next morning Penalosa marched two leagues through the settlement and counted thousands of houses. He halted on the bank of another river, which he found coming down through the settlement. It was observed that the much-used paths came down from the lofty range six leagues away, entering the settlement every quarter of a league. A detachment of twenty men, under Major Francis de Madrid, was sent to explore all the town, but they were unable that day to come to its outward bounds. They returned to report that the Quivirans had fled and could not be found. On the 11th of June, which was probably the following day, the Spaniards departed from Quivira and set out on their return to New Mexico.

As in all the other Spanish expeditions to Quivira, it is impossible to tell to what point Penalosa penetrated. There is no probability that he reached the Mississippi. At Fort Smith, where the Arkansas enters the Ozarks, there are many streams, and the old chronicle describes the country round about fairly well. But none can say certainly where he did actually go. The country on the Neosho, about the mouth of Spring River, is well described, and it may be that to that point Penalosa came. One thing is apparent. There never existed even in New Mexico any clear conception and definite knowledge of the location of Quivira. It was to the eastward. It was a land of plains and rivers. It was grass-covered. And it was roamed over by the wild cattle. That is most that was known by the Spaniards along the Rio Grande about Quivira. ((It may be taken as fairly well established that the battle between the Spaniards and the Escanjaques was fought in an Indian village from which the Quiviras (Wichitas) had fled. And, also, that this village stood within the present limits of Wichita, Kansas, which more than likely, was the Quivira town visited by Coronado. See Bancroft’s History of Arizona and New Mexico, P. 169. Also Houck’s A History of Missouri, Vol. I, P. 39. The story may be a fiction, but satisfactory evidence of that fact had not been produced.))


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top