Accounts of momentous historical events that took place when the area encompassing the present State of Nebraska was claimed by Spain are few and far between. However there have been sketchy tales about an inauspicious battle about 50 odd miles South of my home.
A Spanish Colonial military contingent led by Sir Pedro de Villasur left Santa Fe in June of 1720. His outfit consisted of 45 soldiers; some 60 Pueblo native warrior allies; a dozen Apache scouts; a black explorer familiar with the central Great Plains named Jose Naranjo; an Indian trader named Juan L’Archeveque; and a Chaplin, Father Juan Minguez.
Two years earlier, The War of the Quadruple Alliance erupted between Spain and France. Initially, Coronado’s Spanish expedition claimed The Great Plains of North America for the monarchy of Spain, in the 1500s. Later, the territory came under the auspices of the Spanish Colony of Nuevo México with the provincial capital in Santa Fe.
Villasur’s expedition was assigned to investigate the activities of the French, who had been reported to be trading with natives and surveying land in the contested territory near the Missouri River. His investigatory exploration would be the deepest officially recorded penetration of the Midwest by Spanish military forces.
The expedition rode Northeast from Santa Fe to Jicarilla in southern present day Colorado. The route continued east to present day Scott County in western Kansas. From there, they travelled northward until they reached the Rio de Jesus-Maria (now the Platte River). By August of 1720, the party came close to the confluence of the Jesus-Maria and the Rio de San Lorenzo (now the Loup River).
According to recently revised dates, on August tenth, the Villasur Expedition encountered a very large party of Otoe and Pawnee Indians, who were allied with France. Villasure attempted, several times, to negotiate with the native Americans but failed. His troops did not engage with the Otoes and Pawnees.
On August 11, 1720, the Spanish expedition withdrew to the west to camp overnight. The exact location of that camp is still not precisely known. It is commonly believed that the Spaniards’ encampment was somewhere between present day Columbus and the present day village of Linwood near Schuyler, Nebraska. A commemorative monument has been constructed south of Columbus, in Platte County, Nebraska.
According to letters from the Archives of the French colonial Provinces of Nouvelle France and Louisiana, the attack commenced before dawn, the next morning. Otoe, Pawnee, Pani-Maha, with Missouri Indians assisted by a few French traders, swept into the sleeping Spanish camp. The force quickly killed Villasur, most of his soldiers, Naranjo, ten of the Pueblo allies, and Father Minguez.
At a separate encampment, were the other 50 Pueblos and some “horse holders” Spaniards. A few members of that party were ordered to escape while everyone else attempted to defend themselves from the Otoe-Pawnee war party.
One of the few surviving Spanish troopers, Felipe de Tamaris, delivered the news of the massacre and defeat to the Governor in Santa Fe, on September 6, 1720. The expedition suffered the greatest losses of any Europeans battling native Americans on land that would later become Nebraska.