Traipsin’, tradin’ and explorin’: Who was first?

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Depicted here are Archuleta County’s first public school, built by the county in 1885 and the first Catholic Church in town, possibly built in 1897. The location is on the north side of Lewis Street with the school abutting 3rd Street on the west side of the building.

Many historians viewed guides as the most important members of their entourage. In this article I’m using guide and scout as synonyms. Some opine that if Custer had paid more attention to his scout’s warnings, he might have enjoyed another home-cooked meal with his wife and family after returning home from his Montana vacation. Lewis and Clark might still be chompin’ high-grade Pacific salmon along coastal Oregon if Sacagawea, a Lemhi Shoshone tribal member, hadn’t saved their bacon.
The padres leading the Dominguez/Escalante expedition were wiser. They chose three Timpanagos Utes as guides.
First was the main guide, Silvestre, named after Silvestre Escalante. Largely because he was recognized and trusted as a brother, the party was not challenged by the fierce Ute warriors who stood on the sideline and waived as the party traipsed across New Mexico, Western Colorado, Utah and Arizona.
A 12-year-old boy named Joaquin joined Silvestre as a guide. After leaving Silvestre’s village near today’s Provo, Utah, despite his lack of age, Joaquin helped guide the entire expedition on the return trip to Santa Fe, N.M., where he remained and was baptized into the Catholic Church.
The third guide, Jose Maria, joined the expedition in Silvestre’s village. He, too, was a boy of but 12 years. He did not complete the journey to Santa Fe. After watching the terrible treatment inflicted on one of the servants by his Hispaño masters, he evidenced more wisdom than his 12-year-old intelligence should have contained and turned tail for home.
Now that we know the names of the players, let the games begin. On the first night of the Dominguez/Escalante journey, the travelers camped at the Santa Clara Indian Pueblo north of Santa Fe near today’s Escalante.
Coronado, the first Hispaño explorer of New Mexico, appropriated food and shelter from this same Pueblo in 1541 on his epic journey to Kansas and back.
In those days, there was no town of Escalante, just a collection of small Indian villages. It was a popular gathering place for regional Native Americans.

This story was posted on March 6, 2019.