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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 9, No. 2
June, 1931

By Alfred B. Thomas, Ph. D., University of Oklahoma

Page 195

Western history does not always recognize the debt it owes to Spanish exploration. True, every schoolboy knows of Coronado and the Spanish missions of Texas, New Mexico and California. But there with Nordic attention diverted to Plymouth and Jamestown, the story usually ends. That large parts of California, Utah, Colorado and Oklahoma were familiar lands to eighteenth century Spaniards long before the so-called "western movement," that Spanish trails reached even the junction of the Platte in western Nebraska, had crossed Kansas plains to the Missouri and pushed east to St. Louis—that tale of one hundred years remains uncelebrated. Up the Missouri to eastern Montana, and along the Yellowstone to western and southern Montana, Spanish explorers had penetrated. When Russia, England and the young United States challenged each others' rights to the Pacific Coast, Spain's flag had seen Vancouver Island. Thus the famous nineteenth century "path finders" from Pike to Fremont but visited regions in the Rockies and on the Plains already opened by Spain's children, the pioneers of western exploration.

The impetus of this wide-spread activity came from the acquisition of Louisiana by Spain in 1763 and the occupation of California six years later. Accordingly, with two such widely separated posts as St. Louis and San Francisco, Spain attempted to ferret out convenient routes to bind more closely her American empire north of the Rio Grande. New Mexico, naturally, with its central location between the Mississippi and the Pacific was the principal objective or point of departure for this remarkable exploratory movement.

The first Spaniard to attempt a route from California to New Mexico was Father Garcés whose journey is one of the two or three outstanding exploits in western history. Leaving Sonora in 1775 in company with Don Juan Bauptista de Anza, who was going to found the great city of St. Francis, Garcés separated from the main party at the Gila-Colorado junction, followed the latter river to Mohave, thence across the Mohave Desert and over the coast range to San Gabriel. Returning and searching for a better way, he

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plunged north into the San Juaquin valley in central California, threaded the eastern mountains, recrossed the Mohave Desert, forded the Colorado River and penetrated through Arizona to the Hopi pueblo, of Oraibi. There the Hopi put an end to his Odessey as he verged on his goal—New Mexico. Disappointed he turned westward again to the Colorado and made his way back to his mission in Sonora.1

A route to California from New Mexico not thus available, two other Spanish padres, Dominguez and Escalante, attempted a second exploration, this time from New Mexico in 1776-1777. They followed the compass northwest over the mountains of western Colorado, crossed the Colorado River, and then the Green and discovered Utah Lake. Searching next the ranges before them for a pass to California, they pressed southwestward, reached Sevier Lake and finally came upon passes blocked with the winter's snow. Surrendering to Nature, they bent southward to Santa Fe by way of Zuñi.2 A second immense region had been blocked out by Spanish explorers.

Attention was next directed to the discovery of a route between Sonora and New Mexico. The energetic governor of New Mexico, Don Juan Bauptista de Anza, who had returned from founding San Francisco, in 1780 explored southward along the Rio Grande, turned off near present Hatch, New Mexico and braved the craggy Mimbres Mountains in an attempt to reach the Gila basin. However, lack of water forced him southward before he reached his objective and he had to continue his journey to Sonora along the Camino Real running across northern Mexico to Arispe, his destination.3 This route proving unsatisfactory, Captain Echeagaray in 1788 left San Marcial, Sonora, explored northeast along the Gila River into the Sierras of San Francisco and Mogollon, Gabriel. Returning and searching for a better way, he and came via the Rio de San Francisco, leading to Zuñi,

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New Mexico, upon a pass discovered by Miera in 1747. There, however, Echeagaray had to turn back. Plans for another expedition in 1790-91 did not culminate, but four years later, 1795, Zuñiga again followed the Gila to the Rio de San Francisco and pressed on through Miera's pass to Zuñi, the most western of the New Mexican pueblos.4

While these hardy pioneers were opening up the mountainous regions of Arizona, California, Utah and western Colorado, another group of Spaniards were surveying routes east of New Mexico across the great plains. There an exploration of a road to Texas had been projected since the seventeenth century. However, up until the eighteenth, the Apaches had blocked all attempts. The Comanches, driving them out in 1750 proved equally hostile. Beyond the Comanches, too, in north central Texas were other tribes who stood in the way of inter-colonial communication. After 1763, however, frontier affairs passed into the hands of two able men. In Texas Athanâse de Méziéres during the years, 1769-1780, plied the arts of peace on many expeditions among the northern Indians, one journey in 1778 taking him to the Red River, near Ringgold, Texas. There this peace-maker won to Spanish allegiance hitherto hostile tribes and opened partly the road to New Mexico.5 When he died in 1780 his successor as peace-maker among the northern Comanches was found in Governor Anza.

To handle the Comanches Anza replaced the glove with the mailed fist. In 1779 to repel their devastating raids on his province he marched northward from Santa Fe through San Luis valley in present south central Colorado, crossed the Front Range of the Rockies and came out on the Colorado Plains somewhat southeast of Denver. There defeating a body of Comanches he pressed southward towards New Mexico, encountered a second group a little south of present Pueblo, Colorado, and delivered a second crushing blow. Thereafter he recrossed the Sangre de Cristo range and returned to his capital, completing with Garcés and Domíngues and Escalante, the third major Rocky Mountain exploration a quarter of a

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century before Pike and forty-five years before the advent of Jedediah Smith.6 The humbled Comanches soon sought peace. Thus Anza shortly won their affection and co-operation, completed the work of De Mézières and threw open the vast areas of Kansas, Oklahoma and West Texas to the feet of Spanish explorers.

The first of these to attempt to reach Santa Fe from Texas was Pedro Vial. Leaving San Antonio on October 4, 1786 he went north to the Colorado River and east to the Brazos whence he reached the Red River villages of the Taovayas. Moving along this stream he crossed to the Canadian, finally reaching Santa Fe on May 26, 1787. This route being too devious, in July, Governor Concha sent José Mares with seven companions to San Antonio. On his return Mares aimed directly northwest from San Antonio to the 101st meridian, thence following Vial's route to New Mexico. In 1788 Vial and Fragoso returned to Texas, and in the following year Vial attempted another expedition to Santa Fe. Leaving San Antonio on June 25, he followed the Brazos as far as the 95th meridian and 33rd parallel where he struck off northwest to New Mexico, reaching Santa Fe in slightly less than two months.7

With communication thus established in the New Mexican-Texan sector, the pointer of Spanish exploration now swung to the northeast of Santa Fe toward St. Louis. Well experienced and attended by success, to Pedro Vial fell the honor of opening this avenue of communication. Governor Concha of New Mexico instructed Vial to leave via Pecos, march east to the villages of the Huagages (Osages), thence east-northeast to the Missouri River to St. Louis. With two companions, Vial set out on May 21, 1792 through Pecos, over the Pecos River and to the Canadian by the 29th. Thereafter until the 22nd of June they followed that stream and then turned northeast across western Oklahoma to the Arkansas River. On the 29th they found signs of those Indians who soon captured them. Forced to remain with the savages

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over a month, they finally were permitted on August 16th to continue their journey, without benefit of clothing. A ten days' journey brought them to a Cances village and on the 11th of September they met a party of Spanish traders on the Kansas River who gave them raiment and sent them on to St. Louis.8

In the following summer of 1793 Vial was ready to begin his return journey. The war-like Osages blocking the way to the southwest the party joined some traders going to the Pawnee to toil along the shore, pulling their pirogue for four hundred miles up the turbulent Missouri before they reached a point safe from attack. There on the 24th of August the party separated, apparently near present Nemaha, Nebraska. Vial and his companions moved in a generally southwest direction across present Kansas, crossing the Big Blue River to reach near present Abilene, a friendly Indian camp. These described their hostility with the Osages and Comanches and the alliance with the Pawnees to the north. From this point on the Smoky River, Vial moved along that stream a short distance, then made off to the southwest and touched the Arkansas evidently near present Dodge City. Cutting southwestward from there the party searched for the Canadian which they ran into near Magenta, Texas. Now they traveled ground familiar to Spaniards for two centuries. Passing Tucumcari they followed a Comanche trading trail to Pecos and then on November 15, Vial reached Santa Fe where he submitted his report to Governor Concha.9

Pedro Vial's journey thus caps the process of Spanish

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exploration northeast of New Mexico in the eighteenth century, marks the first journey to approximate the later Santa Fe route, and finally, rounds out the exploratory movement by which Spain opened up large parts of the west before 1800.


Pedro de Nava to the Conde de Revilla Gigedo,
Viceroy of Mexico.10

Most Excellent Señor: According to what I proposed to your Excellency in my letter of September 12 last, I am remitting to your Excellency a copy of the diary which Pedro Vial made on his journey, out and back, from the Villa of Santa Fe, Capital of the Province of New Mexico, and which Colonel Don Fernando de la Concha, Governor of it, has sent to me so that your Excellency may be informed of the particulars which befell him, of the nations which lie between, of the distance from one to the other point. Of the country he crossed he gives no description. It is desirable that similar explorations be made by persons of greater intelligence and broader interests.

May God guard your Excellency many years, Chihuahua, January 9, 1794. Most Excellent Señor, Pedro de Nava. Most Excellent Señor, Conde de Revilla Gigedo.

Diary of Pedro Vial.

Diary of the journey undertaken by me, Pedro Vial, at the order of Senor Don Fernando de la Concha, Colonel of the Royal Armies, and Governor of the Province of New Mexico, directed to open communication with St. Louis of Illinois, Province of Louisiana; the young men, Vicente Villanueva and Vicente Espinosa accompanying me.

Leagues 196

14. I set out from St. Louis in a pirogue with four young men whom the Commandante gave me and my two companions stopping to sleep at this place, San Carlos, a new establishment which has about one hundred inhabitants. Traveled about 15

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37. 15. I set out in the morning about nine accompanied by five traders with their pirogue who were going to barter with our Indian friends. We journeyed west 3
38. 16. We set out at six in the morning and slept at a place which the Spaniards call La Ysla de la Buen Nombre. All this day we covered no more than two leagues because of the powerful currents occasioned by the rise of the river 2
39. 17. We took up our jouney again constantly to the west. This course lasted from this day until the 24th of August. We suffered the same difficulties with the current not permitting us to make mare than two or three leagues daily. To these hardships there was also added the necessary precaution which we had to take not to be discovered by the Huagages.11 This nation is at war with the larger part of those which surround them, and particularly with the Europeans of the settlements of Illinois. For this reason I could not cross the river at once, but had to set my route by land, as I had been warned to do in the instruction, so that I was forced to go up one hundred and sixty leagues against the strong currents of the Missouri River, the distance from St. Louis, to Chico Nimahá, where I arrived on the above mentioned day, the 24th of August. This is the general rendezvous12 for all the traders who have commerce with the Pawnee nation, and where they always consider themselves safe from the invasions they might suffer from the Huagages. In this place we remained until the 11th of September waiting for Indians of the Pawnee nation to guide us to their towns. Of our readiness we dispatched two men to advise them. As soon as they received this news, they set out to meet us.
40. September 12. We left the Chico Nimahá accompanied by the Pawnees. We took the road through a large plain, route to the southwest. Having journeyed four leagues we halted on the bank of a river which discharges into the Chiquito Nimahá 4

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41. 13. From there we pushed on to sleep on the waters that drain the Rio Nimahá13 6
42. 14. We followed at six in the morning the same route. There were marched 7
43. 15. We journeyed on the route to the west this day through level and good land 7
44. 16. There were marched on the same route 5
45. 17. Through good prairie land, camping on a little stream14 which enters the River of the Cances, we marched this day 6
46. 18. Along the same route and like land, resting on an arm15 of the River of the Cances, there were traveled 5
47. 19. Following the route and going through good land, we noted a hill of great height which the Indians call Blue Hill. We slept on the banks of a little stream16 which enters into that of the Cances, having marched 4
48. 20. Along the same route and through similar terrain we moved along the road at six in the morning, sending ahead an Indian of those who were coming with us to notify the chief, called Sarisere, who went to meet us with other Indians, about twelve o'clock. As soon as we saw him approaching we raised the flag, and he came among us with demonstrations. Falling on his knees, he kissed the flag, saying that he was very happy; that that was the cape of the heart of his Father. Afterwards, having embraced us all, showing us much affection, he conducted us to his town,17 where we arrived about three in the afternoon, having marched 5
49. 21. We remained in this town where we were greatly entertained. This nation is of warlike character and according to observations, love the Spaniards much. They war with the Huagages, with the Tahuagases,18 and with the Comanches. Their allies and neighbors are three town of Pawnees, the Majalos nation, another, and

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the Cances. This village has more than three hundred men of arms; the other Pawnee settlements are composed of one thousand men, so that all the nation amounts to thirteen hundred men; those of their allies to eleven hundred men, and that of their adversaries, the Huagages, four hundred, and that of the Comanches, innumerable.
50. The Pawnees have their towns at a distance of twenty leagues more or less; some of the others, about fifty. Both are situated on the banks of the Rio Chato19 which empties into the Missouri River. The Huagages are distant sixty leagues to the east, on the borders of the river of their name which also empties into the Missouri. Having held a council, all being seated in a circle in the house of the chief, who rose with the pipe in his hand saying to me that he was very happy, that his heart was open for us, that he took it for granted that I had come to make a way between the Spaniards who live in the west and those in the east. He expressed himself very pleased that this would be opened; that his Father in the east had sent him a medal and a flag by a merchant named Vaudaurin. He exclaimed, "that some day I will come to make the acquaintance of my Father who lives in the west; that every day I advise my people that the Spaniards are good people; that if it were not for my Father who is sending us guns, powder and balls, and other wares, our enemies would destroy us, and we would be slaves of the rest of the Indians. Oh, let the road be opened that I may see a Spaniard coming from those of the west! Now they can go and come when they please. I shall send with you two chiefs and some boys to go to see my Father and to hear the word which shall come from his good heart, that from there they may go to the Comanches to make peace that there may be no more war."
We remained in the town, where we bought ten horses, until the 3rd of October.
51. October.
4. Before setting out I presented them with various effects from those I carried. I left the village with seven

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of them, who accompanied me. We halted on the same river where they live, route to the southwest20 3
52. 5. I followed the way through the plain. In the same direction there were marched 6
53. 6. We pressed on in the same direction. Halt was made in a cañada 7
54. 7. We set out from that place at five thirty in the afternoon pursuing the same course and crossing various arroyos of the same river. We marched 7
55. 8. Through the plain, there was marched on the same road 8
56. 9. The journey was continued along the same route. There were marched 7
57. 10. The route was taken to the southwest up to a little stream which enters the River of the Cances 7
58. 11. The route to the southwest was followed 7
59. 12. Through the plains along the same route were traveled
60. 13. The road was followed up to a little stream which entered the Rio Napeste21 6
61. 14. The same direction was taken to the Rio Napeste 3
62. 15. On the above mentioned route the Rio de la Concha was forded and we slept on its bank 5
63. 16. The same direction was followed through good land. We slept on the Rio Claro 7
64. 17. We set out in the morning on the route on good land, and halted on the Rio Salado. There were marched 7
65. 18. There were covered along the cited route as far as the Rio Arenso22 6
66. 19. We set out at six in the morning along the same route and slept on the banks of the same stream. At midnight there attacked us fifty-six warriors armed with twenty-two guns, a blunderbuss, and the rest of them, lances and arrows. These beset my boys, thinking we were Comanches, and for a short while shot at us. Upon their recognizing our horses and shouting we awoke and took up our arms. Then my Indians told me not to shoot at them, that they were their people. There

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were two chiefs who then joined us and shook hands with me. One of them was displeased with the blows they had given my boys. He took a club and beat those who had done it. Seating himself at my side, he told me that it had been fortunate they had discovered our horses for if we had been Comanches, they were thinking of killing us. Afterwards I took out four bunches of tobacco and gave it to the chiefs to distribute to their people. The whole night was spent smoking and talking with the two chiefs who were coming with me. They were angry with those because they were going on a campaign against the Comanches, since they themselves were coming to make peace with them, and to see the Spanish Father. Then they answered that the Comanches had already killed their relatives. At eight in the morning of the 20th those had been traveling with me, without explanation, returned to their towns and left me with these new chiefs. These told me that my life would be safe, that they would not molest us. They asked me for powder, balls and other effects. Having received these they went away, leaving me alone with my two young men and one of them who remained as he was anxious to see the Spanish Father, and the Comanches, for, even though they would kill him, he insisted on coming. We set out on the 21st hiding ourselves among the cañadas; camping without either wood or water, we traveled 8
67. 22. On the same route and river we journeyed this day 7
68. 23. Along this river and route we traveled today 6
69. 24. To the southwest23 we encountered a medium sized stream which we followed and stopped on its bank having made .6
70. At midnight Vicente Villanueva awoke me saying: "Look here, there is a horse saddled, perhaps it is some Comanche who is coming to attack." At once I seized my arms and going out recognized that the horse was one of mine. Reprimanded for not having unsaddled him the youth told me that he thought that the Indian might have saddled him to steal him. The Indian

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sleeping, simulated fright on awakening, exclaiming "What has happened!" I replied that he had saddled my horse. He told me that he thought otherwise, that we were camped in a stopping place [burial ground] of the Comanches, that some of the dead had saddled him, whom in his dreams he had heard whistling. He asked me for some tobacco and raising his arm said he was going to bury it to quiet the dead. The rest of the night was spent without sleep to take care that the horses were not run of. At daybreak I sent him back to his settlement, presenting him with some little things.
71. 25. Along the route and river we followed the trail up to the head of the latter, taking a direct road from there to the south through plains in search of the Rio Colorado,24 stopping in a plain without wood and water. We traveled 8
72. 26. Along the same route we came to a little stream where we found good water and sufficient wood. We journeyed 6
73. 27. Route to the west, we reached the Rio Colorado and on its banks we traveled25 6
74. 28. Along the same stream and route we marched this day 4
75. 29. Along the same course and river we pushed on and at a short distance made out a hill to the south of the river which looked like Toconcari. Because the mounts were very footsore that day we marched no more than 4
76. 30. We followed the above mentioned route and river. There were marched today 5
77. 41. The march was continued along the same route and stream 3
78. Having covered this short distance we rested until the morning of November 2nd to kill buffalo for food.
79. November.
2. Pursuing the same river and route, we arrived

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at a spot where we had been on the way out, having marched now 4
80. 3. Along the same route and river were marched 6
81. 4. Along the same direction we continued as far as a mesa which is a league distant from the river, having marched 4
82. 5. Route to the south, leaving the river on the right hand I made out Tuconcari.26 We halted at a distance of five leagues, having marched 7
83. 6. We made way opposite Tuconcari, having traveled 5
84. 7. Route to the west, we marched among mesas and arroyos which come into the Rio Colorado. We journeyed 3
85. 8. On the same route it snowed as we moved along the sides of a mesa. At the foot of a hill we halted, where a Comanche Indian came in, naked, without shoes or arms, dying with cold, hunger, and thirst. Him we dressed and gave food. He came along in my company. We journeyed this day 3
86. 9. Along the same route, we climbed a mesa. We had a view of the Sierras of New Mexico, and slept on the Rio de las Gallinas,27 having marched 5
87. 10. Along the same road which the Comanches take when they come to trade, we came to a canyon which has water. There were marched this day 5
88. 11. We followed the same route to Pecos. There were marched 5
89. 12. Along the same route to Palo Flecho. There were marched 4
90. 13. We traveled along this route as far as Pecos Pueblo 4
91. 14. We rested in the said pueblo
92. 15. From daybreak I continued the march to the Villa of Santa Fe which I reached at nightfall. There I presented myself to the Señor Governor in whose hand I put a letter from the Commander of the Detachment of Illinois, and gave him an account of all that had hap-

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pened, delivering to him at the same time the diary which I made going, while I was there, and on my return, as his lordship had ordered me 9
93. Santa Fe. November 16, 1793. Pedro Vial. It is a copy. Chihuahua, January 9, 1794.


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