Rice County

Story of
Early Rice County

Published, December, 1928


Early Exploration

It is unfortunate that history does not hold for us the name of the first white man to visit what is now Rice county, or for that matter any part of the present state of Kansas. There are numerous theories. At least one archaeologist believes the Indians whom Coronado found were descendants of Prince Madoc who set sail from Wales late in the twelfth century at the head of a colony of Welsh, Irish and Picts, and that white men were living in the land of Harahey which Coronado mentioned as being to the north of Quivira and the people of which were related to the Quivirans. The Madocian theory is generally discredited by students of Indian history, but it has persisted among a few and is worthy of the brief mention given it here.

Then there is the story of Cabeza de Vaca of the Narvaez expedition of 1527 which, as it applies to Rice county, may be as impossible as that of Madoc. But let us review it for its adventure for it is incomparable in American history and, what is more, had a definite influence upon the coming of Coronado.

Narvaez-and with him Cabeza de Vaca-set sail from Spain in June of the year mentioned, with the express intention of conquering the vast and little known territory of Florida. De Vaca was treasurer of the expedition.

Putting in at Cuba they tied up temporarily while overhauling the fleet, adding another vessel to replace one lost enroute. Then they continued toward the coast of Texas but were driven from their course by storms and halted at Apalache bay. Here Narvaez ordered one ship to return for recruits, the others to skirt the coastline in the region of the Rio Grande, while the balance, 300 men and 50 horses, began a march through the wilds to the west and north.

Stopping at a large river, Cabeza de Vaca in command of a party started on foot toward the sea in search of the ships, but meeting with disappointment turned back and rejoined the main group. A little later when another river was reached, the performance was again ordered and again proved futile.

They were by this time greatly discouraged. They had seen but little favorable country and no cities of wealth to conquer, as they had expected. Having failed to locate their fleet there was but one choice if they were to extricate themselves from the uncomfortable predicament. They must take to the sea. And to do this they must have boats, of course.

Makeshift shops were established. They sacrificed every bit of metal in their possession in the manufacture of nails and tools, and slowly, laboriously fitted together five vessels. For sails they used their own clothing and the skins of their horses; for rigging ropes the hair from the manes and tails of the animals. The ships were capable of carrying forty-five men each and in these none too sturdy craft they put out, equipped with typical Spanish courage but little knowledge of navigation.
It was a courageous effort and worthy of success, but if failed. The two vessels bearing Narvaez and the Friars were wrecked at the mouth of a turbulent river, and the remaining three were cast upon the shores by a storm.

Here the men were met by natives who, tho frightening them at first, proved friendly, and with them the Spaniards formed an alliance, building huts and remaining the rest of their lives.

All but four!

De Vaca, Dorantes, Meldonado and Esteban-the latter a negro, soon tired of the existence among savages and set out afoot in an effort to reach New Spain, a previously established province. They did reach it after many months of travel. Mile after mile they trudged across vast prairies, through and over mountain ranges and forests and rivers, eventually striking the western coast of the continent, near the Gulf of California. Here they were discovered by men of their own country.
They related marvelous and thrilling stories of privation and adventure. Months of suffering from the elements and primitive fastness, contact with and escape from hostile tribes, the use of food of any nature that was edible and afforded nourishment-these and scores of other episodes constituted their recitation to Viceroy Mendoza to whom they were presented.

Cabeza de Vaca returned to Spain, but not before he had dropped a few remarks accepted by the Spaniards as proof of wealth in the land through which he had passed. And to further augment these tales, which were no doubt harmless at first, the negro Este-ban remained behind to draw golden word pictures for his eager listeners.

The route of Cabeza de Vaca was never recorded and is now of course impossible to trace. It has been said that it reached a point as far north as the Arkansas river, where the four men struck upward with the stream to near its source in the Rocky mountains. This may have led them through Rice county, but the possibility is denied by the best authorities.

Stories of Esteban, if not of de Vaca, fitted in nicely with accounts of the seven wealthy cities of Cibola as related to the men of New Spain at about the same time by northern Indians who had been taken captive. Unplausible to begin with, any tale becomes more or less credible if heard from enough different sources. So it was with the fable of wealthy cities to the north of New Spain. The Spaniards were at the time wild in their lust for gold. They had been hearing of the success of countrymen in the pillaging of Peru and naturally were seeking new lands of wealth for conquest.

Francisco Vasquez Coronado, governor of Galicia and related to the royal family through marriage, was eventually chosen to command an expedition into the unexplored country from whence had emanated so many reports of wealth. He was fitted for the venture, no doubt, since he had previously been successful in quelling a mutiny in the silver mines of Amatapeque.

To Coronado's charge went an enormous and formidable army. Three hundred Spaniards, 1,000 Indians, 2,500 horses-the whole equipped at a cost of $250,000-were out to stake their lives and that huge sum against the odds of finding a gold-laden kingdom in a vast and unknown land.

The expedition, which started in 1540, was soon placed under the guidance of an Indian known as "The Turk," who led them toward the east and southeast for many weary miles until at last his followers became suspicious and forced from him the admission that he was purposely leading them astray, expecting them to die of hunger or thirst, or at the hands of hostile Indians. "The Turk," it is almost needless to relate, was strangled for his infidelity.

At this juncture, Coronado and a small part of his army, about thirty picked men, took another Indian, Isopete, as their guide and proceeded as he directed them, while the balance of the expedition returned to a previously established post.

Isopete, who is accredited with having been sincere and who had insisted all along that "The Turk" was lying, led the picked group toward the northwest where he told them they would come upon a river-a large one-and beyond that the Kingdom of Quivira. This they did, arriving in the summer of 1541.

Jaramillo, a member of Coronado's band, says in his writings: "On St. Peter and Paul's day we reached a river which we found to be there below Quivira. When we reached it the Indian recognized it and said that was it and that it was below the settlements. We crossed it there and went up the other side on the north, the direction turning toward the northeast, and after marching three days we found some Indians who were going hunting, killing the cows to take the meat to their villages which was about three or four days still farther away from us. So the Indians went to their houses which was at the distance mentioned, and we also proceeded at our rate of marching until we reached the settlements. There were if I recall correctly six or seven settlements at quite a distance from one another, among which we traveled four or five days, since it was understood to be uninhabited between one stream and another. We reached what they said was the end of Quivira to which they took us. Here there was a river, with more water and more inhabitants than the others.

From this and other of the Winship translations of the original Coronado documents, has come the recent realization that Rice county is the ancient Kingdom of Quivira. It must be acknowledged that Cor-onado's estimate of the distance does not coincide with the claim, but as has been pointed out by Isely and other historians, Coronado's trek was a long and roundabout one, due to the early treachery of "The Turk," and further, careful measurements by a footman of the Onate expedition to Quivira a half century afterward bear it out almost exactly.

Therefore, until such a time as it may be generally accepted as fact or proven faulty beyond question, we are justified in regarding Coronado as the first white man to set foot upon the soil of what is now Rice county.

In this connection the viewpoint of Joseph B. Thoburn, curator of the Oklahoma Historical Society, will be pointed out in the chapter immediately following.
The belief of William E. Connelley, leading Kansas historian and secretary of the state historical society, while not bringing Coronado into Rice county from the region of Great Bend, is none the less favorable to the local claim. As presented here it was written expressly for this book:

My contention is that Coronado, coming north and striking the Arkansas river somewhere near the Oklahoma line, and marching then up the river to the mouth of the Little Arkansas, found there the principal town of old Quivira, and that Quivira embraced the Arkansas river valley west of the possessions of the Quapaw Indians, which in my judgment extended down the Arkansas river to about the Oklahoma line. These Quapaw Indians are sometimes spoken of as the Escansaques.

The Wichitas were an extensive tribe in that day and had villages in various parts of the Arkansas river valley, and on the branches of the Arkansas river, one of which was uncovered and explored (in Rice county) last year.

And so we leave Coronado to whatever the fate of further discovery or interpretation may hold for him. Let us accept his visit to Rice county as fact and continue the account of our earliest visitors with a word about Father Padilla who accompanied him here in the capacity of Friar and who returned to Quivira a short time later to bring the teachings of Christ to the prairie savages.

Frey Juan de Padilla was one of three Franciscans to come with Coronado to Quivira. In 1542, feeling that the Indians in their native barbarous condition needed the spiritual enlightenment and attendant education of Christianity, he retraced his steps, bringing with him at least several others in a company organized at Tiquex.
All that happened to Padilla is not known, but it is generally agreed that he was killed by the Quivirans when he attempted to leave them for missionary work among their enemies. Castenada, who wrote about the Padilla expedition as well as that of Coronado, a few years later, has the following to say:

A friar named Juan Padilla remained in this province together with a Spanish-Portuguese and a negro and a half-blood and some Indians from the province of Capothan. They killed the Friar because he wanted to go to the province of the Guaes (sometimes regarded as the Kaws) who were their enemies. The Spaniard scaped by taking flight on a mare and afterward reached New Spain, coming out by way of Panuco. The Indians from New Spain who accompanied the friar were allowed to bury him, and they followed the Spaniard and overtook him. The Spaniard was a Portuguese named Campo.

Next in turn to visit Quivira was the expedition of the Spaniards Humana and Bonilla, who are presumed to have come on a mission of their own, following the course of Coronado and Padilla. Bonilla was murdered by his partner, Humana, who took sole charge of the force. This was in 1594. Humana seems to have paid with his own life, for history relates that only one man of the expedition lived to return and that after he had been held captive a year.

Juan de Onate came to Quivira in 1601, six or seven years after Humana and Bonilla. He is said to have fallen in with the Escansaques with whom he formed an alliance in the burning and plundering of Quiviran villages. It is not probable that he gained much by his depredations, and he may not have been altogether responsible for the destruction, which is attributed by some writers to the belligerancy of the accompanying natives. In fact there is an account of a fierce battle between the Spanish and the Escansaques as a result of their (the Escansaques') treatment of their enemies. Onate's expedition was gone only between June 23 and November 24.

With the passing of Onate, the natives of Quivira seem to have been freed of invasion bv white men for more than a century, during which time they are presumed to have been disbanded by other Indians or natural causes and to have moved on, for they are not mentioned as having been found by the next white men to penetrate the plains.

It is highly probable that no other civilized person viewed that part of the prairie region now known as Rice county until a part of Long's expedition, returning from the west in 1820, skirted the southern portion in following the Arkansas river down its course. Zebulon Pike, in the earlier years of the nineteenth century, had missed Rice county by the margin of a few miles, passing from the northeastern part of the state through what are now Ellsworth and Barton counties to strike the Arkansas river near the present city of Great Bend, and continuing westward to discover the majestic mountain which has since been named in his honor.

Major Stephen H. Long was sent out with his party to learn more about the vast Louisiana country of which this was a part. In his return from the Rocky mountains, Long and a part of his group turned south away from the Arkansas river, while the balance followed on down it, passing entirely through the section of Kansas bordering upon it, including of course several miles of the present Rice county. These men, according to Gonnelley's history of Kansas, were Captain Bell, Mr. Say, Mr. Seymour, Lieutenant Swift, three Frenchmen named Bijeau, Le Doux and Julien, and five soldiers. They passed out of Kansas on August 17, reaching Ft. Smith, Arkansas on September 13, and Cape Girardeau on October 10.



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