Produced by Gary Martens and Laurie Saikin
DISCOVERY OF NEBRASKA.
"Now let us climb Nebraska's loftiest mount,|
And from its summit view the scene below.
The moon comes like an angel down from heaven;
Its radiant face is the unclouded sun;
Its outspread wings the over-arching sky;
Its voice the charming minstrels of the air;
Its breath the fragrance of the bright wild-flowers.
Behold the prairie, broad and grand and free--
'Tis God's own garden, unprofaned by man"
The invasion of the central section of this continent by white men, unlike that of the lake region, came from the South, and long antedated the arrival of explorers in what is commonly known as the Northwest. Although Nebraska forms the geographical center of the United States, the phenomenon of settlement has made it appear far to the west; and when one glances at the history of this region, without first having prepared one's mind for the truth, it is reasonable to expect to trace the march of civilization either from the early settlements in the East, or from the natural highways which furnished passage alike for the devout missionary and the avaricious seeker after gold. But modern research dispels the obscuring mists which for centuries have hidden from view one of the grandest undertakings in the list of Spanish explorations, and establishes the fact that the southwestern and middle portions of the United States were viewed by white men nearly a century before Jean Nicolet instituted commercial relations with the Indians of Wisconsin and while yet the "great water to the westward" was known to those Eastern native tribes merely as a tradition.
The march of Coronado from the City of Mexico to the valley of the Platte, in Nebraska, was as marvelous an undertaking as the history of North America records; for not only was the region to be traversed an unknown wilderness, but the country, when known by grave experience, proved to possess a constantly varying succession of obstacles. The mountains of Mexico gave place, in the wearisome journey, to the sand plains of New Mexico and the desert of Kansas, from which even the steam communication of today has failed to strip all terrors to travelers. And yet this mighty General pushed an army of 1,000 men across the arid plains, the precipitous mountains and the monotonous prairies, which lie between Nebraska and the home of Montezuma.
This almost neglected fact in history rests upon the undisputed relations of Coronado, Jaramillo and Castenada, found in that rare work, the compilation of Ternaux Compans. Auxiliary information is contained in the several works on Mexico and the Indians of the Southwest.
The subject has been patiently considered by Hon. James W. Savage, Judge of the Third Judicial District, and by him the plainer facts of record have been clothed in language vivid with the touch of cultured fancy. Yet the truth of history has not been sacrificed to the almost overpowering temptation to invest the stern realities of the event with the glamour of fiction. So carefully has Judge Savage avoided this tendency to speculative thoughts that the sketch is less romantic than the records might justify. The query arises, after a perusal of this chapter, Can these things be true? And when the authorities are consulted, the answer is, Aye, and more remains to be told!
The sketch referred to was read by the Judge before the State Historical Society April 16, 1880. It is but just to the author to state that we have made free use of his work without consulting with him, since the modesty which did not permit him to obtain a copyright on this pamphlet has paved the way to our appropriating it. The address is given entire:
"We are apt to look upon Nebraska as a young State; young in its geological formation, in its political existence and in its historical records. For descriptions of its soil, its climate, its fruits or its inhabitants, few have to look farther back than the commencement of the Present century, and the published memorials of its history prior to the advent of the French trappers and traders have been thought too meager to serve as a basis for any exact account. But, hidden away in the lumber rooms of wealthy Spanish and French families and piled on the shelves of national libraries in Paris, Madrid and Mexico, are hosts of letters, journals and reports, which are gradually emerging from their seclusion and undergoing the scrutiny of acute and practiced eyes. The documents recently edited by M. Margry, in Paris, and now in course of publication by the United States Government, throw a flood of light upon early French discoveries and explorations in the West. And when the vast libraries of all the nations which took part in those adventurous travels shall give up their dead treasures, we have reason to hope that we shall be able to add many years to the authentic history of our State. I purpose to collect and present a few of the reasons we have for believing that, fourscore years before the Pilgrims landed on the venerable shores of Massachusetts; sixty-eight years before Hudson discovered the ancient and beautiful river which still bears his name; sixty-six years before John Smith, with his cockney colonists, sailed up a summer stream which they named after James the First of England, and commenced the settlement of what was afterward to be Virginia; twenty-three years before Shakespeare was born; when Queen Elizabeth was a little girl, and Charles the Fifth sat upon the united throne of Germany and Spain, Nebraska was discovered; the peculiarities of her soil and climate noted, her fruits and productions described, and her inhabitants and animals depicted. If the arguments and citations in support of this theory shall prove more dull and prosaic than the custom of recent times requires the popular lecture to be, I shall still be able to indulge a hope that among those whose nativity or residence has caused them to entertain a peculiar affection for this State, and especially among those whose pursuits have led them to understand and appreciate the value of historical studies, the intrinsic interest and importance of my topic may prove some excuse for the bald narration of facts to which I shall be obliged to subject your patience.
"There is hardly any expedition of modern times around which hangs so much of the glamour of romantic mystery as that undertaken about the middle of the sixteenth century for the purpose of discovering the seven cities of the buffalo and the land of Quivera. Although at least four cotemporaneous narratives of this remarkable march have reached us, it is singular that hardly any two recent writers agree either in the location of the seven cities or the ultimate terminus of the journey. The cities of Cibola have been placed by different investigators at the ruins now called Zuni, in New Mexico, at a point about one hundred miles east of that spot, and on the Rio del Chaco, about an equal distance to the north. The country called Quivera is still more rich in its variety of locations. The vicinity of Guaymas on the Gulf of California, the ruins now called Gran Quivera in New Mexico, different points in Colorado, and the region of Baxter Springs in Kansas are but a few of the spots suggested for this forgotten land. I shall endeavor to show that none of these answer the conditions of the narratives to which I have alluded, and that the land of Quivera was situated in what is now the State of Nebraska.
"It is true that the only discovery of our State which can be regarded in any sense as permanent, that which was followed by the usual horde of adventurers, traders and explorers, dates from a long subsequent period. The city of St. Louis was established in the year 1764, and in the preceding summer, its founder, Pierre La Clede, visited the Missouri. Gradually the advancing wave of commerce crept up that river, until it reached the most powerful and mighty of the savage nations of that day, the proud, wealthy, populous and pugnacious tribe of the Omahas, with their famous chief, Wash-ing-guh-sah-ba, or the Blackbird, whose prowess Irving has celebrated, and whose lineal descendants still exercise, on a little reservation, hereditary rule over the docilehandful to which that great nation is reduced.
"We catch an earlier glimpse of this region from one who had enlisted in the service of God instead of the service of Mammon. There was found, a few years since, in the archives of St. Mary's College in Montreal, the identical map which Father Marquette prepared of his voyage down the Mississippi, executed by his own hand and bearing all the marks of authenticity. Upon this map, drawn in the year of our Lord 1673, appears the territory which now forms the State of Nebraska, delineated with remarkable accuracy. The general course of the Missouri is given to a point far north of this latitude; the Platte River is laid down in almost its exact position, and among the Indian tribes which he enumerates as scattered about this region, we find such names as Panas, Mahas, Otontantes, which it is not difficult to translate into Pawnees, Omahas, and perhaps Otoes. It is not without a thrill of interest that a Nebraskan can look upon the frail and discolored parchment upon which, for the first time in the history of the world, these words were written. So full and accurate is this new-found map that, had we not the word of Father Marquette to the contrary, it would not be difficult to believe that during his journey he personally visited the Platte River. It was a dream of his, which, had his young life been spared, would probably have been realized.1
"The brave and pious heart was not to be cheered by the discoveries he had hoped for; the great highway to the California Sea was to be traveled in far later days and by another race than his; still, as his earnest voice comes down to us through the centuries, we can see that, in spite of all the mistakes into which his untutored geographers led him, he made a shrewd guess at the future pathway of commerce.
"But now let us turn again to the humble and unpretending labors of this member of the society of Jesus, and gaze upon a more gorgeous spectacle. Let us look back three centuries and a half to the province of Mexico, or, as it was then called, New Spain. For the bare prairies of Illinois and the rocky shores of the lakes, we have the luxuriance of tropic vegetation; for the holy vestments of a Catholic priest, we have the burnished armor and the dancing plumes of a Spanish cavalier; for the low splash of the paddle and the ripple of a bark canoe, we have the noisy clank of steel, the neighing of horses, the shouting of captains and the heavy tread of mighty cavalcades. It is nineteen years after the conquest of Mexico by Cortes, that brilliant and heartless commander, of whose ambition, avarice, treachery and cruelty, says an old chronicler of the time,2 'God will have kept a better account than we have.' Sometimes feared, sometimes hated, and always distrusted in his lifetime and by his own countrymen, more than one Spanish officer was sent out while he still remained in Mexico, to watch his career and check his unbridled extravagance. Of these was one Nunez de Guzman, a rival and an enemy of Cortes, who governed the northern portion of Mexico, and who burned to excel the dethroned Captain in the brilliancy of his discoveries and the magnitude of his conquests. 'The life of the Spanish discoverers,' says Prescott, 'was one long day-dream. Illusion after illusion chased one another like the bubbles which the child throws off from his pipe, as bright, as beautiful, and as empty. They lived in a world of enchantment.'
"Among the slaves of this Governor was a Texas Indian, who had, perhaps, cunning enough to perceive that his own success lay in ministering to his master's ambition, and ingenuity enough to concoct a tale, partly true, doubtless, which should excite his curiosity and inflame his lust for gold. Be that as it may, he came to his master one day with this strange and startling revelation. His father, he said, had been a merchant, and traded far to the north, carrying with him for barter the rich plumage of tropic birds and receiving in exchange vast quantities of gold and silver. When a youth, he added, he had sometimes accompanied his father on these excursions, and they had visited seven cities, which might compare in wealth, population and magnificence with the City of Mexico itself; that whole streets blazed with the shops of gold and silver smiths, and that those metals were so common as to be held in slight esteem; that rare and precious stones abounded, and that the inhabitants were gorgeously attired in rich stuffs, and lived in all the ease and luxury that wealth could bestow.
"Whether this Texan (the first of whom we have any record) had really a recollection of cities which seemed to his inexperienced childhood as magnificent and grand as the dreams of the avaricious Spaniard; whether he sought to ingratiate himself with his taskmasters by stories which he knew they would seriously incline to hear, or whether thus early in the history of the country he had acquired the prevailing Western habit of exaggeration, particularly where gold and silver mines are the subject of discourse, we can only guess; but the sequel will show that his gorgeous palaces and brilliant workshops were but the fictitious creations of a lively imagination or the dim remembrance of an old tradition.
"This was the origin of the story of the mysterious 'seven cities of Cibola,' which, with their vague and visionary splendor, excited the curiosity and inflamed the avarice of the Spanish conquerors for so many years. Efforts were made to reach them, but the mountain ranges and the desert plains guarded their secret faithfully, and the cities for nearly a decade remained known only through the romantic exaggerations of the Texas serf.
1Judge Savage here quoted from Father Marquette's journal. As our work permits of more detailed descriptions than were permissible in this lecture, we omit the quotation from this chapter, and give it, with other facts, in chronological order, in the succeeding chapter of this history.--ED.
"But Spanish interest in this fabulous region was revived by a story of hardship and toil which has rarely been equaled in the history of adventure. In the year 1536, four wayfarers, half naked, worn with toil, spent with hunger, thirst, heat, cold, shipwrecks, storms, battles and disease, reached the City of Mexico from the Sierras and sandy plains of the North. They were a Spaniard named Cabeza de Vaca and his three companions, one of them a Moor called Estevanico, or Stephen. Eight years before, they had landed, with some four hundred companions, on the peninsula of Florida, for the purpose of exploring that unknown country.3 Hostile tribes, starvation and toil had done their work so thoroughly that of the four hundred only this perishing sample remained. They had traversed the whole continent, had been the first of civilized beings to gaze upon 'a great river coming from the North,' which was afterward to be called the Mississippi, had penetrated the Northwest through parts of Kansas and Colorado, and thence, turning southwardly, had made their way through New Mexico and Arizona to friends and countrymen.
"They, too, had their marvelous tales of opulence and pomp to tell. During their wanderings west of the Mississippi, they had heard of rich and populous cities, with lofty dwellings and shops glittering with gold and silver and precious stones, of a people living in affluence, partially civilized, acquainted with the arts and inhabiting a fertile and beautiful country.
"Straightway, a small force, under the leadership of Marcos de Niza, a Franciscan monk, and guided by Stephen the Moor, was sent out to discover and report upon these mysterious cities, and pave the way for Spanish colonization.4 Friar Marcos, the commander, was of a credulous and yielding disposition, and he allowed the Moor to push forward ahead of the main body, so that he reached the seven cities while the friar was hardly half way there. Stephen had forgotten the hardships and trials of his eight years of wandering, and the favors heaped upon him by the people whom he was now coming to despoil. But he remembered well their gentleness and their treasures. Presuming upon the former, he robbed them of the latter with an unsparing hand. The mild and pacific natives bore these indignities with a patience and forbearance well calculated to excite the scorn of a Christian people; but when the libidinous Moor, swollen with pride and power and success, attempted to lay his unhallowed hands upon their wives and daughters, they found it more difficult to excuse his irregularities. So they killed him and sent his companions back upon the road they had come. These, flying from the scene of their atrocities, met Marcos de Niza about two hundred miles away, and communicated to him their doleful story. The holy father declares that, notwithstanding the consternation their tale produced, he pursued his course, and approached so near the seven cities that from an eminence hard by he could look down upon their lofty roofs shining in the sun, and see the evidences of wealth upon every hand. But the private soldiers of the expedition strongly intimated that the fate of Stephen the Moor so far cooled his courage and moderated his ambition, that he forthwith made his way with considerable precipitation back to the place whence he had started. All agreed, however, that the seven cities of Cibola did, in truth, exist, and that the tales told of their richness and grandeur were so far from being mere figments of the imagination that they fell short of the reality. Of course, another and more powerful expedition was decided upon. For its command, the Viceroy of Mexico5 nominated Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, who had succeeded Nunez de Guzman in the government of the northern province (New Gallia).
3Coronado, Governor of New Gallia, is said to have gone as far as Culiacan with this party, and there awaited their return.
4Pamphilo de Narvaez commanded the party.
5Don Antonio de Mendoca.