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


For many years, the Old Spanish Trail served as a vital link between Hispanic New Mexico and Hispanic California.
The first footprints on most of this trail were planted in 1776 by Franciscan priests Atanasio Domìnguez and Silvestre Vélez de Escalante, who traipsed in the footprints left by Juan Maria Antonio de Rivera in western Colorado in 1765.
Motivated by the desire to find an overland route from Santa Fe, N.M., to the Roman Catholic mission on the coast of Northern California, the venturesome priests accomplished one of the most famous explorations in the American West. By way of comparison, the USA-sponsored Lewis and Clark expedition was not launched until 1806. In fact, the USA did not become a nation until 1776. By that time, the Spanish had explored most of the Far West.
The two fathers, with Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco acting as cartographer, traveled with 10 men through much of the unexplored American West, including western Colorado, Utah and northern Arizona. Guiding the expedition across this harsh and unforgiving terrain were three members of the indigenous Timpanagos Ute tribe.
Domìnguez was born in Mexico City in about 1740 and joined the Franciscan order in 1772. He arrived in Santa Fe in 1776. Escalante was born in Spain abut 1750. When he was 17, he became a Franciscan in Mexico City. In 1774, he was stationed at Laguna Indian Pueblo and in 1775 was assigned to the Zuni Indians. In 1776, he was summoned by Domìnguez for the California expedition and died two years after completing the expedition. He is remembered for the journal he kept describing the exploration. Closer to our time and place, the high school in Tierra Amarilla about 60 miles south of us in New Mexico is known as Escalante High School.
Pacheco lived in Chihuahua before moving to El Paso in 1743. He was an army engineer, merchant, Indian fighter, government agent, rancher and artist. His experience as a cartographer made the journey historic when he produced several maps of the expedition around 1778. His notes and maps were used by historian Herbert E. Bolton in his classic history “Pageant in the Wilderness: The Story of the Escalante Expedition.”
Editor’s note: Information from the Feb. 7 “Pagosa’s Past” column was taken from the Colorado Encyclopedia’s entry on the subject. It should also be noted that Juan Maria Antonio de Rivera’s second expedition was in 1765, not 1865, as the column stated.