Villazur's Expedition.As early as 1700 the French hunters and trappers were active on the great plains, in the endeavor to establish friendly relations with the Indians and gain control of the fur trade in the region extending from the Missouri and Platte rivers to the eastern border of New Mexico. It may have been due to French influence that, in 1705, five tribesthe Apaches, Comanches, Faraones, Utes and Navajosformed a confederacy, the object of which was twofold: 1st, to keep the Spaniards of New Mexico from venturing upon the plains, and 2d, to maintain hostilities against them until they were compelled to sue for peace. Marauding parties made frequent incursions into Spanish territory, but after a little while discontent and jealousy began to develop among the tribes forming the confederacy, and the alliance came to an end.
About 1718 the Kitkehaki clan of the Pawnee tribe was sent to establish a permanent village at some suitable point near the confluence of the north and south forks of the Platte. The principal reasons for this move on the part of the Pawnees was doubtless to form a base for hunting the buffaloes which were to be found there in large numbers during the warm season, and at the same time have a portion of the tribe in the position of an advance guard to prevent the Spaniards from exploring or occupying the country between the Pawnee villages and the mountains on the west, particularly that section drained by the Platte and its tributaries. By 1719 the conditions on the plains were such that Don Antonio Valverde Cossio, governor of the province of New Mexico, determined to assume the offensive and lead an expedition into the Indian country.
With 105 Spanish soldiers and 30 Apaches to act as guides and scouts, he set out from Santa Fe. Prof. John B. Dunbar thinks he moved northward to Jicarilla, near the southern border of the present State of Colorado and 110 miles from Santa Fe, where a few days' halt was made; thence northeast to El Quartelejo, 240 miles from Jicarilla, which was the limit of his operations, and as both these posts were occupied by friendly Apaches, Valverde never entered hostile territory. However, upon his return to Santa Fe, he boasted of having ventured some distance northward from El Quartelejo, and in his report to the viceroy he mentioned the presence of a village on the Platte, occupied by Pawnees and French hunters and trappers.
The viceroy, the Marquis de Valero, evidently did not place much confidence in the report, for he issued instructions to Valverde to organize immediately a force, with which he was to march to the Pawnee village "and once there to take such measures as would be deemed most suitable to promote the best interest of each party concerned." Valverde managed to evade the order, so far as personal command was concerned, and Lieut.-Col. Don Pedro de Villazur was placed at the head of the expedition.
Although Valverde had about 150 men with him the preceding year, Villazur was assigned but 50, and with this small force he left Santa Fe on June 14, 1720. The first halt was at Jicarilla, where Villazur hoped to secure a considerable force of Apaches to serve as bowmen and outrunners. After a few days' rest at Jicarilla, the expedition pushed on to El Quartelejo, in what is now Scott county, Kan. From that point the march to the Platte was almost due north, and on the morning of Aug. 15 the expedition reached the summit of an eminence about a mile south of the Platte, from which the Pawnee village could be plainly seen on the opposite side of the river. Later in the day Villazur moved with his little force down the Platte, to a point about 2 miles east of the junction of the north and south forks, where the tall, dense grass was cut away from an area of more than an acre, thus forming an open space, in which a camp was established. The north side of the pen space was immediately upon the bank of the river, the other three sides being bordered by the tall, uncut grass.
No worse possible arrangement could have been devised. Under cover of the heavy growth of grass, the Pawnees and their French allies during the night completely hemmed in the camp on the three sides, while the river on the north cut off retreat in that direction. With the first appearance of dawn on the 16th the attack was commenced. More than half of the Spaniards fell at the first volley and the Apache allies deserted, leaving less than a score of Spanish soldiers to resist the assaults of some 250 Pawnees and French musketeers. Yet, so bravely did they defend their position that the enemy was three times driven back. At last, seeing that further resistance was useless and would lead to inevitable destruction, a few survivors cut their way through the lines and sought safety in flight. They were not pursued, as the Pawnees turned their attention to looting the camp, and about three weeks later a bare half dozen menall that were left of Villazur's little armyreached Santa Fe.
The place where the battle occurred is in the eastern part of what is now Lincoln county, Neb., a short distance below the junction of the two forks of the Platte. Dunbar says that "Almost 100 years later occasional relics of varying character were still found in or near Villazur's old camp ground."
In his march northward, Villazur passed through the present Kansas counties of Hamilton, Kearny, Wichita, Scott, Logan, Thomas and Rawlins. Some writers have asserted that the place where the expedition met its fate is on the Missouri river. The foregoing account is taken chiefly from a paper on the subject by Prof. Dunbar, who had access to the archives in Santa Fe and in Mexico, and the statements therein regarding the location are corroborated by Bandelier in his report of the Hemenway southwestern archaeological expedition. Bandelier also says:
"The geographical results of Villazur's expedition are about as valuable as those of the journey of Leiva Bonilla and Hurnana in 1585; that is, they amount to hardly anything beyond the few data enabling its to establish the locality of the disaster. In other respects the results are very important in a negative way. The loss of so many men crippled the Spanish power at Santa Fe, and precluded all possibility of subsequent expeditions. It gave the tribes of the plains a more moderate idea of Spanish military power, and contributed to produce that state of depression, resulting from continuous Indian warfare, which made the people of New Mexico so unhappy for a century or more, shaping their national character into one of resignation to any evil, provided life could be secured."Pages 846-848 from volume II of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed July 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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