Number" is the title of
Volume VI, Number 1, of the Nebraska History Magazine. It was
printed in 1924. The contents translated by me from recently
discovered Spanish and French documents, give an account of the
Spanish invasion of Nebraska in the summer of 1720 and the
complete defeat of the invading force by the Otoe and Pawnee
Indian tribes at some point in the Platte valley.
Baron De Villiers of Paris, France, the author of this translated document, believes that the Spanish army was exterminated near the junction of the Platte and Loup rivers. His map, printed in the Nebraska History Magazine above referred to, indicates this fact by a star and legend near the presennt (sic) site of the city of Columbus, Platte county. The text of Baron Villier's article, taken from the diary of a Spanish officer who was killed in the battle, gives day by day account of the march of the Spanish force, beginning August 6, 1720 and ending August 10, 1720. This diary describes the direction of the march, the number of leagues marched, the streams encountered on the march and location of the Indian villages.
On September 25, 1924, an historical expedition left Lincoln on its way to the valley of the Loup and Platte. This expedition consisted of Frank H. Shoemaker, photographer, E. E. Blackman, curator Historical Society Museum, and Addison E. Sheldon, Superintendent of the Nebraska Historical Society. Our route was over S. Y. A. to Aurora, thence north to Central City. We reached Central City early in the afternoon and spent the next two days going over the territory between the Platte and the Loup rivers.
The Spanish officer's diary says they crossed the river Jesus Maria (identified as the Platte) where the river was "full of islands" after following the Panane (Pawnee) trail from the southwest. Pawnee trails
School House -- Dist. No. 38 -- about 6 Miles southwest of
Central City, near
Pawnee Trail Crossing of Platte.
Photo by F. H. Shoemaker
Home of John McMann (Oldest Settler
in Merrick County). Pawnee Trail
crosses his farm.
Photo by F. H. Shoemaker
leading southwest from the ancient Pawnee villages on the Loup
crossed the Platte at several points. On Lieutenant Fremont's map,
made in 1842, the principal Pawnee Trail is marked as reaching the
Platte just east of the lower end of Grand Island, between the
present towns of Chapman and Central City. We adopted the theory
that near here was the crossing of the river Jesus Maria by the
The Spanish officer's account says that at a league distance from the river Jesus Maria they found a large creek flowing from west to east whose water was very warm. Warm Slough Creek is such a stream, except that it would not ordinarily be called a large creek. It was named by the early white settlers of Merrick county because its waters were warmer than other streams. It flows from west to east for about fifteen miles, nearly parallel with the Platte and from two to four miles north of that stream.
After crossing Warm Slough the Spanish army marched over a plain following the Indian trail. They marched about three leagues (a Spanish league is 2.63 miles) and reaching another creek difficult to cross, they followed this creek about three leagues more on the south side. There they camped over night. Prairie Creek, in Merrick county, in a general way, meets the description of this creek as described by the Spanish officer's diary. It flows from west to east entirely across Merrick county, a distance of about thirty miles. A smooth, elevated plain, visible from afar, marks the divide between Prairie Creek and the Platte for part of this distance.
The next morning, August 9, 1720, the Spanish officer's diary says their scouts reported that they had discovered the Indian village, eight leagues distant on the other side of the creek they were following and that the savages were singing and dancing there in great numbers. This village is further described as "being in a bottom". Eight leagues (about 22 miles) from the camp of the Spanish army, in the general direction of the trail would bring them to the Loup river at some point between Fullerton and Columbus, depending upon the angle of the trail.
At this point it is not perfectly clear from the Spanish officer's account where the army reached the Loup, which the general named the St. Lawrence, or in Spanish San Lorenzo. It is also not perfectly clear where the Spanish army crossed Prairie creek. But the general conformity of the streams, the topography of the country, the direction of the trails, and the distances fit the region of Merrick and southern Nance counties, in most particulars.
In addition to the general correspondence between the region as described by the Spanish officer's diary and as it appeared to the Nebraska Historical Expedition on this trip it is a well known fact that the Pawnee Indians for a long time prior to the coming of the whites occupied the region of the Loup river. The ruins of their ancient villages are still found and the evidences indicate occupation at least two or three hundred years ago, perhaps much longer.
The region between the north and south forks of the Loup river in Lincoln county does not correspond with the Spanish officer's diary with respect to the distances between the river Jesus Maria and the river or creek San Lorenzo. There are no streams there corresponding to the Warm Slough or Prairie creek as described in the Spanish officer's diary. The river "full of islands" might describe the South Platte at this point, but the distance between the two Plattes is too narrow to fit the account of the Spanish army's march.
Junction of Prairie Creek with the Platte -- about 10 miles west of Columbus -- looking east,
SPANISH CHAIN ARMOR ON THE LOUP
Curator E. E. Blackman of the Historical
Society Museum, began exploration of ancient Indian village sites
on the Loup river twenty-five years ago. In 1924 and 1925 he spent
some weeks in this field. He was a member of the survey party from
the Historical Society which was over this ground in September,
1924. Asked to give his contribution to the present discussion, he
writes as follows:
"The Loup river from Columbus to a point twenty miles west of Fullerton is thickly studded with ruins of Indian village sites. The Pawnees lived in this area. Many of these ruins date prior to 1720.
"Near the mouth of the Looking Glass Creek, which flows into the Loup near the present town of Monroe is an extensive ruin, on the S. E. 1/4 of See. 3, T. 17, N. R. 3 W. The ruin is near the creek, on the north bank and the Loup river is over a mile south of the creek. Miss Matson informed me that many small brass plates, like those used in quilted armor in 1720, and like the three found west of Genoa, were dug up near one of the house sites about ten years ago.
"I met a gentleman near Monroe in 1924 who found a number of Spanish coins where they had been unearthed from a post hole twenty years ago. Charley Green of Marquette, Nebraska, found part of a stirrup and the top of a helmet said to be Spanish in design, near the old Chaui village across the Platte from Clarkson, Nebraska, about 35 years ago. A brass chain, distinctively Spanish, was found near Genoa two years ago.
"The finding of these numerous trinkets, which may well be relics of this Spanish Caravan together with the description given in the "Officer's diary" leads me to believe that the massacre occured (sic) at this village on the Looking Glass.
"If the caravan was at the mouth of Prairie Creek (the St. Lawrence), where it joins the Platte (Jesus Maria) on the morning of August 10, 1720. the distance travelled (sic) and the physical condition described in the text fits the locality quite well.
"Further exploration may substantiate this supposition."
Batel-Dumont, Memories Historiques sur la Louisiane, vol. II,
Bossu, Noveau Voyage aux Indies Ocidentales, vol. I, pp. 150-155.
Bienville, Letters to the council of the Regency, from Fort Louis, of Louisiana, July 20, 1720, and April 25th, 1722.
Le Page du Pratz, 1759, Historie de la Louisiane, avec deux Voyages dans le nord du Nouveau Mexique, vol. 2, pp. Z46-251.
Bernard de ]a Harpe, journal Historique de la Establissement des Francais a la Louisiane, pp. 249-250.
P. de Charlevoix, Journal of a Voyage to America, vol. 2, p. 64.
James Reynolds, The Pioneer History of Illinois, p. 34.
Joseph Wallace, History of Illinois, p. 268.
Maj. Amos Stoddard's Historical Sketches of Louisiana, chapter 8, p. 128.
R. H. Bancroft, History of Arizona and New Mexico, pp. 236-237.
L. Bradford Prince. Historical Sketches of New Mexico, p. 225.
Some of the above writers, notably the first three, relate the story of the Spanish expedition with a good deal of exaggeration and indicate that the Spanish were overcome by the Osage and Missouri Indians in the region of East Kansas and Western Missouri. These French narratives are made from frontier rumors. They lack the authenticity of the Sepanish (sic) records made up from those who directed the expedition from Santa Fe.
(The following correspondence relating to military and possibly Spanish evidences in the Loup Valley region indicates a wide interest. Beyond doubt there are many places in the Loup Valley where research will be rewarded by further evidences of military expeditions.)
Granite Falls, Minn.
May 18, 1924.
The writer had some correspondence not long since with Mr. Warren Upham of St. Paul, Minn., in regard to ancient relics of seemingly Spanish origin found near Genoa, Nebraska. My last letter from him tells of receiving a number of your Society's publication containing account of a Spanish expedition into Nebraska where it was nearly exterminated by some of the Indian tribes.
A party who as a boy had attended the Genoa school told me of finding old guns and armor and pouches of bullets there which the boys used to trade to a druggist in town for tobacco.
A year ago I was married to a woman, who once attended this school and wishing to verify the above account, before laying the matter before your Society, I inquired of her. She recognized the proposition away and said, "Yes, when us girls used to swim in the river we a found bullets in the river bed." She had also heard of several old shields being dug up, also knives and swords.
In regard to the village site, Mr. Blackman reports that the Pawnees knew nothing of that. My wife says that her school companions from the southern tribes knew of this village site and stated that it was very ancient and had been occupied successively by different tribes or bands. It is very difficult for a stranger to learn anything from the Indians by inquiry, but if anyone belongs to the tribe and knows the language he will hear a thousand things he never expected to hear.
I would be very much interested in receiving a copy of your Society's publication containing the account of that old Spanish expedition.
Hoping to hear from you, I am
Frederic W. Pearsall.
I received your society's magazine last spring containing the account of the Spanish expedition into Nebraska in 1720.
I have studied this with much interest. I believe there must be a tradition among the Oto and Pawnee Indians of that battle, but it is something hard for strangers to find. I am acquainted with only one Oto. When my wife was at Genoa school she made more or less acquaintance with those southern tribes. Their name for Beaver Creek is Black Pipe creek, or Canduhupa-sapa-wakpadan, and our tribe always called Loup River Wamnuhra ota wakpa or Many Periwinkle river. This probably was translation of some southern tribe's name.
Did your society make any investigation around Genoa last summer?
Please let me hear from you.
Frederic W. Pearsall.
Vol VII, no 3, part 2
Return to NE History & Record of Pioneer Days
© 2001 for NEGenWeb Project by Ted & Carole Miller