Native History: Spanish Priests First Europeans to See Anasazi Ruins
Indian Country Today
This Date in Native History: On July 29, 1776 two Spanish Franciscan priests—Silvestre Velez de Escalante and Francisco Atanasio Dominguez—left Santa Fe, New Mexico to establish an overland route from Colorado to Monterey, California. That was not their only goal though; they were also trying to convert as many Natives as possible to Catholicism.
In August, the group found and recorded Anasazi ruins in southwestern Colorado, becoming the first whites to do so.
A view of the Dominguez-Escalante Expedition entering the Utah Valley painted by Paul Salisbury.
According to History.com, the priests had reached Utah Lake by September and found Indians who Dominguez described as “the most docile and affable nation of all that have been known in these regions.”
Escalante kept a detailed diary about not only plant life and geography, but also about the appearance, dress and food of the Ute and Paiute Indians.
On September 30, the two priests wrote: “Very early twenty Indians arrived at the camp together with those who were here yesterday afternoon, wrapped in blankets made of the skins of rabbits and hares. They remained conversing with us, very happily, until nine in the morning, as docile and affable as the preceding ones. These people here have much heavier beards than the Lagunas. They have holes through the cartilage of their noses and they wear as an ornament a little polished bone of deer, fowl or some other animal thrust through the hole. In features they look more like Spaniards than like the other Indians hitherto known in America, from whom they are different in the foregoing respects. They speak the same language as the Timpanogotzis.”
A 12-year-old Native boy they called Joaquin traveled the entire 1,700 miles with the group, though they never made it all the way to California, they returned to Santa Fe through Arizona on January 2, 1777. Their group included different Native guides throughout the journey, but Joaquin was the only one who remained with the priests until the end. He was baptized upon returning to Santa Fe.