Out of the musty old Spanish documents of two hundred years ago comes to us the strange story of Don Diego de Penalosa and his wonderful expedition across the plains to the kingdom of Quivira. It was in the year 1660, so runs the tale, that Don Diego came to Santa Fe to be governor and captain general of New Mexico. He drove back the fierce Apaches who raided the peaceful Pueblos along the Rio Grande, but his heart was restless and unsatisfied. He longed to make a great name for himself as did Cortez in Mexico and Pizarro in Peru. It was a hundred and twenty years since Coronado marched to Quivira and found there nothing but straw houses and naked savages. Still the old story of a kingdom full of gold and silver beyond the great plains persisted. Still the mystery of the great unknown region in the north stirred the Spanish love of conquest.
It was on March 6,1662, that Don Diego de Penalosa left the province of New Mexico to find and conquer this fabled land of riches. With him there marched eighty Spanish knights and a thousand Indian allies, while six cannon, eight hundred horses, three hundred mules and thirty-six wagons bore their baggage.
Like Coronado, Penalosa marched north two hundred leagues, nearly seven hundred miles. On his way he found the great Indian nation of the Escanzaques with 3,000 warriors starting for war with the people of Quivira. These joined the Spaniards. Together they traveled northeast until they came to a broad river flowing east. They followed its southern bank for a day, when the river made a great bend and flowed from the north. Signal fires blazed from the hills telling that their approach was seen. They kept on until they saw another fine river of clear water flowing from the north to join the one along whose banks they marched. Westward of this was a great city in a vast level plain. There were thousands of houses, some two, some three, some four stories high, well built of hard wood resembling walnut. The city extended for leagues westward along the plain to where another clear flowing stream came from the north to join the broad river along which they marched.
Seventy chiefs came from this city to greet Penalosa, bringing rich presents of fur robes, pumpkins, corn and beans and fresh fish for food. A great council was held and peace proposed.
A Spanish Stirrup, Found in Nebraska.
(From photograph collection of A. E. Sheldon.)
That night the warriors of the Escanzaque tribe stole away from the Spanish camp and raided the city of Quivira, killing, plundering, and burning. In the morning it was in ashes and thousands of its peaceful people dead or dying. Among its blackened ruins the Spanish commander sought in vain for chiefs who met him in friendly council the day before. The great city was destroyed never to be rebuilt and its few survivors scattered never to return. On June 11, 1662, Don Diego de Penalosa with his great train marched sadly back to the Rio Grande there to relate the destruction of the great city of Quivira.
A Nebraska author, Judge Savage, of Omaha, has traced the route of Penalosa upon the map, has measured the miles marched from Santa Fe and found that Penalosa reached the Platte near Louisville. He believes that Penalosa marched one day west to the site of Ashland where the Platte makes a bend and flows from the north, that the Elkhorn was the first river flowing from the north to join the Platte and the Loup the second river, and that between the Loup and the Elkhorn rivers not far from the present town of Columbus was the city of Quivira destroyed by the Escanzaques, who were the Kanzas tribe. The numerous sites between the Loup and Elkhorn rivers where fragments of pottery and other Indian relics are found to-day are remains of the great city of Quivira destroyed two hundred and fifty years ago.
The legend of Penalosa is too wonderful to be true. It is now known to be a fiction. There was a Governor Don Diego de Penalosa of New Mexico but no such army as related was led by him across the plains and there certainly was no great city of Quivira with houses three and four stories high covering the plain between the Loup and Elkhorn rivers. We must part with Penalosa's expedition as an historical event, but bid it welcome and give it place in the realm of romance with other wonder stories of the time when people knew but very little of the land where we now live and used their imagination instead of their eyes in describing it.