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NE History & Record of Pioneer Days
Vol VI, no 1 (part 1)  


New Chapter in Nebraska History

Documents from Paris Give Account of Massacre by the
Otoe Tribe of Spanish Military Expedition
on August 11, 1720

Declare That the Fight Took Place on Nebraska Soil at
the Junction of the Platte and
Loup Rivers

Unpublished Diary of Spanish Officer Found on the Field.
of Battle Gives Account of the March
From Santa Fe.

   [A battle between a Spanish army and the Otoe tribe of Nebraska, fought 203 years ago at the junction of the Loup and the Platte rivers (adjoining the present city of Columbus.) The complete defeat and destruction of the Spanish force. Booty from the battlefield carried by Indians to the French settlements in Illinois and even as far away as the Straits of Mackinac in Michigan.
   The above paragraph summarizes startling Nebraska news contained in a recent issue of the Journal de Ia Societe des Americanistes, published at Paris by a group of French scholars for the promotion of knowledge of America and cordial relations with its people.
   The story of a Spanish expedition and its defeat is not new. Accounts hitherto published lacked definite information. They seemed, in some respects, like the wonderful legend of Penalosa, or the wild tales of Baron Ia Hontan, or Mathieu Sagean, all of them locating in the Nebraska region great nations of semi-civilized Indians with high walled cities, great wealth of gold and silver, fleets, armies and other products of the imagination. These early accounts of the Spanish Caravan were interpreted generally as embellishments of Spanish raids on the Osage country southeast of Kansas City.
   Now comes the learned French editor at Paris furnishing us with unpublished documents--in particular a copy of a Spanish military note book kept by an officer with the expedition describing the march and the events preceding the battle. Based on these new sources--and critical comparison with the former accounts-the French editor hands us his 








(11 AOUT 1720).




Estrait de Journal de la Societié des Americanistes de Paris,

Noouvelle séria, tome XIII, 1929, p. 239-255

61, RUE DE BUFFON, 61.


Title page of Original French publication translated for this publication of Nebraska State Historical Society




opinion all the way from Paris that the Massacre of the Spanish took place at the junction of the Loup with the Platte, in Platte county, Nebraska. He furnishes us with a map showing the location of Indian tribes in this region at the date of 1720 and indicating the site of the battle ground. There is yet room for more critical study of the text of these documents with the map of the Kansas-Nebraska region by Nebraska scholars qualified by exact knowledge of the country. But, even so, the new material and the opinion of the Paris editor give this discovery in Nebraska history an importance comparable only with the publication, forty years ago, of the Coronado expedition.]







   Warned by the Padouka (Comanche) that French trapper's were about to ascend the Missouri to search for mines and to try to gain possession of New Mexico, the Spanish organized, in the spring of 1720, an important expedition to explore the region of the Missouri and to drive from those quarters any French who might already have established themselves there. But the Spaniards did not know how to conciliate the Indians and their column, in spite of its strong armament, was completely exterminated by the Otopata, otherwise called Oto, about 100 kilometers from the Missouri.

Early Accounts of Massacre

Father Charlevoix1, Dumont de Montigny2 and Le Page du Pratz3 have each left us an account of the massacre of the


   1. History of New France. Edition of 1744, v. III, p. 246-251.
   2. Historical Memoirs of Louisiana, 1753, v. II, p. 284-285.
   3. History of Louisiana, 1756, v. II, p. 246-251.

   * See notes by Addison E. Sheldon on pages 29-31




du XVIIIe siecle indiquent, assez exactement, leur habitat 1, seulement le
Picture or sketch
Carle montrant 1'emplacement exact du Massacre de l'expédition espagnole du Missouri.
Paris Map Showing Nebraska Region in 1720 X indicates place of Spanish Massacre.



expedition. The 20th letter of Father Charlevoix contains interesting details, especially since they were gathered from Indians coming directly to Canada4, for all the other versions which we know came from the savage nations which frequented only our posts in the Illinois. The account of Le Page du Pratz, very much more developed and possibly inspired by that of Dumont, seems at times a little too fantastic and makes the error of taking the Missouri for the Otoptata and above all of confounding the Osage with the Pani. As to Dumont de Montigny he has quite certainly very much exaggerated the force of the Spanish Expedition by making it "1,500 persons, men, women, and children.5" From 200 to 250 Europeans, accompanied by several hundreds of Indian carriers, probably started from Santa Fe. But, as three-fourths of the members of the expedition returned to New Mexico for various reasons, the column after crossing the river of the Kanza included scarcely more than 200 persons, of whom 60 were Spaniards.

New Documents Found.

   Three unpublished documents, preserved in !he archives of the Hydrographic Service of the Marine and of the Minister of War, enable us to correct or to complete the accounts of the three first historians of Louisiana, and to establish, for the first time that the expedition of the Spaniards was exterminated on August 11, or 12, 1720 by the Otoptata Indians (Oto)6, acting in concert with the Pani-Maha (Loup or Skidi) and perhaps some Missouri, upon the banks of the river Platte (Nebraska) and very probably near its junction with the Loup River (Loup Fork).
   In 1720 France and Spain were at war. We had just seized the port of Pensacola and driven--for the moment--the Spaniards from their post of Adayes7. It would seem entirely natural to see the governor of New Mexico seeking to take an easy revenge against our posts, very poorly defended,

   4. This letter is dated at Michillimakinac, July 21, 1721. But Charlevoix wrote out the greater part of his letters, or at least revised them entirely, after his return to France.
   5. Bossu, who in recopying, always exaggerates, speaks of more than 1,500 guns! New Voyages to West Indies, v. 1, p. 175.
   6. The names written in italic are those adopted by the Handbook Of American Indians, published by the Bureau of American Ethnology. (Note: there are no words in italics on this page!)
   7. Founded to watch our establishment of Natchtotochez, located on Red river.



in the Illinois. However when one knows the fundamental policy of the Spaniards, all of whose efforts tended to maintain a large zone of mystery between Louisiana and New Mexico, this reason alone seems quite insufficient.

John Law's Mississippi Bubble.

   The 60-odd unhappy, Spaniards massacred by the Otoptata, were, in truth, the obscure and unfortunate victims of the system of John Law and the fantastic schemes of the Company of the Indies. The great number of mining tools which this expedition carried, the colonists with their livestock--which it conducted, show that the Spaniards did not limit themselves to the plan of keeping the French at a distance from New Mexico, but above all, cherished the hope of seizing the fabled mines of the Missouri so well advertised on the Rue-Quinquempoix.
   Certainly in the springtime of 1720 the Mississippi Craze had already greatly diminished. At Paris they sang:

The mines, --we will rummage in 'em
For no doubt we'll find something in 'em
--If Nature ever put it in 'em.

And very few people in Europe still believed in boulders of emerald and mountains of silver in Louisiana. But the news of this recent skepticism had not yet had time to each Santa Fe in New Mexico.

Oto Tribe--Various Names.

   Most of the early authors who concern themselves with Upper Louisiana speak of the Otoptata and nearly all the 18th century maps of America indicate their habitat8 with considerable accuracy. But the name of these Indians9 is written in many forms and one encounters indifferently Ototacta, Octotact, Onatotchite, Otontata, Huatoctoto, Othouez, etc. In 1724 Venyard De Bourmont, later the author of the Relation of his Journey10 called them Hoto and Otho, and it is this name of Oto which the Americans have preserved for the last survivors of this nation which is perpetuated even to our own time11.

   8. We might cite: Franquelin, Le Page du Pratz, d'Anville, Vaugondys, Bowen, etc.
   9. The Handbook of American Indians notes more than seventy of them, and that list is yet to be completed!
   10. Margry, v. VI, p. 396 and 402.
   11. The census of 1906 still numbers 390 of them.

   * See notes by Addison E. Sheldon on pages 29-31.



   According to Father Charlevoix "The Octotatas are people related to the Aiouez (now Iowas) from whom it is even said they are descended." This information agrees with the classification of the Handbook of American Indians, in which the Iowa, the Oto and the Missouri are grouped with the great Siouan family. An unfinished Spanish manuscript, a compilation of undated and unsigned documents, makes the Oto descendants of the Missouri. This collection indicates that at the beginning of the 19th century the Oto numbered 500 souls, of whom 120 were warriors; that they often intermarried with the Kansas, and protected in disdainful manner the Missouri, reduced then to only 80 warriors. At this period the Oto were allies of the Pani, properly called Grand Pani (Pawnees Chaui), of the Sawkee (Sawk) and the Zorro (Renards or Foxes). They were at war with the Maha (Omaha), Poncare (Ponca), Sioux, Great and Little Osage, and also with the Caneci (Lipan or Apache) and the Lobo (Skidi).

The Platte and Nemaha Rivers.

   It is believed that the original Oto, then living in the present state of Iowa, first dwelt near the mouth of the Great Nemaha river12, before they fixed their home on the right bank of the river of the Pani which the Mallet brothers christened on June 2, 1739, with the name of Plate. This name so well characterizes this river that it remains to our day, with the spelling Platte.13 The Otoe never removed far from this region and, though driven many times toward the south during the course of the 19th century, they still occupied in 1882,14 a reserve located in the central part of the present state of Nebraska.

   12. This river falls into the Missouri a little north of the southeast corner of the State of Nebraska.
   13. The Indians call this river Nebraska, the educated Spanish translate the name Plate in Somero, the others into Plata which means silver! And the Americans themselves, at times have given it that of Swallow--(perhaps Shallow?)
   14. The Oto were at that date removed to Indian Territory.

   * See notes by Addison E. Sheldon on pages 29-31.

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