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Finding Anzas 1779 battle site

Article by Earle Kittleman

Anza – October 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

THE SAYING THAT “all politics is local” could be applied to history as well. The Sixth Annual World Anza Conference in Pueblo over the Labor Day weekend brought together an ardent band of local historians, genealogists, and all-out fans of Juan Bautista de Anza.

The continuing purpose of the conference is to illuminate the military and political genius of the man who served as the King of Spain’s colonial governor of New Mexico from 1777 until 1787.

In California, Anza is well known as the founder of San Francisco. And there’s a National Historic Trail designated in his honor which traces his route from present-day Nogales, Arizona, to the Bay City. But in Colorado, Anza’s name was largely forgotten until Monte Vista historian Ron Kessler became interested in the Old Spanish trail and Anza’s 1779 Comanche Campaign.

On August 15, 1779, Anza and his men left Santa Fé and rode up through what is now Colorado on a mission to destroy a Comanche war band that was creating havoc in the Spanish settlements in New Mexico. Anza’s journal of that campaign, written in Spanish, tracks every day of their progress, and it fascinates Colorado historians because it predates most other accounts of this region — it is the first written account of Poncha Pass and the sites of Poncha Springs and Salida.

Kessler, a dedicated Anza Fan who has traced Anza’s route on the ground several times since 1993, is one of the founders of the World Anza Conference, and he brought copies of his second book on Anza’s campaign to the conference.

Lieutenant Colonel Anza had been appointed Governor of New Mexico because of his proven military prowess, and he soon applied it. He led the 1779 expedition of several hundred leather-jacket soldiers — along with Ute and Apache scouts and warriors he picked up in the San Luis Valley — across Poncha Pass and South Park; then he engaged the Comanche in a running battle from present-day Colorado Springs to south of Pueblo. The decisive battle occurred on September 2 and 3, leaving Comanche Chief Cuerno Verde (Greenhorn) and his eldest son and six of his sub-chiefs dead. According to new analysis presented at the conference, the exact location of that battle may be a mystery solved .

Fixing the battle site

A field trip to the battlefield was the high point of the conference. Led by retired educator Wilfred O. Martinez, an organizer of this year’s conference and the author of the newly published book Anza and Cuerno Verde: Decisive Battle, the group stopped at Cascade, above Colorado Springs, where Anza’s scouts reported seeing a Comanche village. Another stop was near the confluence of Fountain (Rio Sacramento) and Monument Creeks where the first battle started.

Martinez believes the final battle, where Chief Cuerno Verde was killed, took place 18 miles south of Pueblo on the Burnt Mill Road Bridge over the St. Charles River (Rio San Carlos). Standing on the bridge, Martinez pointed upstream to the narrow gully and described his reconstruction of events.

“Gully,” in Spanish the word is “zanja,” has been an important clue to Martinez’s discovery. He’s convinced that this spot matches all of the landmark descriptions in Anza’s journal and that “zanja” had been misspelled several times in the original journal and then mistranslated into English as “swamp or bog.” The result of correcting that mistranslation, was to place the battle site here, rather than some 9 miles away in Colorado City where a historical marker had been placed in 1932, (it’s been moved at least twice since then).

Martinez made his breakthrough last year after downloading Anza’s journals from the Internet in both English and Spanish, then comparing them to his own ground surveys. But he hastened to add that he could be proved wrong by artifacts — which no one has ever found on the ground — or by other evidence. Local history turns on such detail and can prove significant, so perhaps the historical marker will have to be moved once again.

Martinez’s interest in genealogy has also led him to new discoveries in the Records and Archives Center in Santa Fé. There he found an official enlistment roster with 185 names of soldiers that Anza probably drew from to form his expedition. In addition, Martinez told the conference, he discovered the burial record for the only battle casualty of the campaign, the soldier Domingo Anaya. The water-stained document was in the LDS Family History Center in Pueblo.

Those are the kind of heart-pounding discoveries that make local history and genealogy worthwhile, and they’re especially important for those seeking their Hispanic roots.

Voices of the Native American

Local historians seem to have one thing in common. “It’s the passion we amateur historians have for our subject that keeps professional historians on their toes,” said author Celinda Reynolds Kaelin. She introduced a conference panel discussion meant to balance the dominant cultural view of events with the Indian perspective.

Kaelin, the author of Pikes Peak Back Country, lives near Florissant, and she introduced Roland McCook, past tribal chairman of the Northern Ute Nation of Utah, who said he represented the Uncompaghre Band, or People of the Red Waters.

Although the Utes were nomadic and sometimes clashed with other tribes over hunting lands, they were usually not war-like, McCook said. And when they did fight, they acquired honor by getting so close they could touch the enemy with a coupe stick. But the Spanish didn’t give you that option — they killed you. Scalping, he explained, originated in the East where whites paid bounties for the scalps of Indians. The Utes in Utah thought that the Mormons would be temporary, he told us smiling, because the Spanish had come and gone.

But McCook wanted to talk about the present. He has worked to bring a high-tech credit card business to the Ute Reservation and to market bottled water, NuPah and Crystal Blue, from a spring on tribal lands. He is also proud that his tribe has regained 83,000 acres of federal land that the Department of Energy took for oil shale development and then turned over to the BLM as discarded land.

Karen Knight of Chipeta Park talked about another proud tribe, the Kiowa, who competed for territory on the plains from Montana to Texas. The Kiowa were noted for their picture language which was mostly written on buffalo skins, and for silversmithing which they learned from the Spanish. Knight said the Garden of the Gods was a very spiritual place — a realm where the bones of Mother Earth were exposed — and a neutral zone for all Indians. Nearby, Father Earth was represented by Pikes Peak.

Jimmy Atterberry, of Oklahoma, an official Comanche oral history keeper, told the conference that Chief Cuerno Verde was remembered as an honorable individual who fought for his own turf. Atterberry understandably rejects the adjective used in Anza’s journal, which describes Cuerno Verde as “arrogant.”

Of the search for Cuerno Verde’s headdress, which was taken as a war souvenir and may still exist somewhere in the Spanish or Vatican archives, Atterberry seemed to be saying that it may be time to “move on.” In the tribe, you never mention the name of a person after the person dies, he said.

In a conference like this one, you realize how much commonly accepted history relies on the written record, and you wonder if the Indian point of view can get fair treatment since it is rarely backed up with written records.

But ironically, it is the name of the deceased Comanche, not Anza, that lives on in place names such as the Greenhorn Mountains, the Greenhorn River and the Cuerno Verde rest stop located at exit 74 on I-25.

The Anza Legacy

Anza’s presence at the conference was felt when he was impersonated in a living-history presentation by author/historian Don Garate, chief of interpretation at Tumacacori National Historic Park, Tumacacori, NM. Garate, who was raised on a cattle ranch in California, wrote an Anza trail guide for the National Park Service and is currently working on a biography of the Anza family.

When Anza (impersonated by Garate) walked on stage dressed as he would have been in 1787, he was on a peaceful visit in the area of present-day Pueblo to see the local Comanche village he helped establish. He told his audience about how his father was killed by the Apache when he was three years old, and how he was raised by Jesuits and later taught soldiering by his brother-in-law.

“We wanted peace,” he said. “Although we had to kill Cuerno Verde and his chiefs, at the end of the battle we let most of the Comanche go so they could tell the rest of their people that the Spanish wanted peace.”

A formal peace treaty was finally signed with all three Comanche bands in 1786 and it apparently lasted longer than most. It was in effect until the Americans came, a fact that adds to Anza’s appeal as a colonizer, as opposed to a conquistador.

Anza commanded a remarkable military success with very few casualties, but the written record of his remarkable journey through Colorado — an estimated 615 miles in 26 days by horseback — is what keeps local historians searching for more answers. Clearly there are new revelations to be made about the Comanche campaign of Juan Bautista de Anza by local historians as they study their heritage in Central Colorado and New Mexico. Where exactly did he cross the Arkansas at Salida, and what route up Ute Trail did he take into South Park? What physical evidence might still exist of such a large expedition? (It’s estimated that Anza traveled with more than 1,600 horses). Do the Ute Trail and the Anza route have enough historic significance and physical integrity to be commemorated officially?

A military historian participating in the conference suggested that an official “after-action” report of the famous battle surely must have been written and could be lying somewhere in Spain in the mountains of paper generated by her colonies.

The first Anza World Conference was held in Arizpe, Mexico where Anza returned from Santa Fe after retiring as governor. He died there in 1788 at the age of 52 and is buried in the local church. Conference planners want to maintain the international facet of the Anza conference by returning to Arizpe in August 2002.

This year’s conference attracted about 90 participants from as far away as California and Minnesota. Sessions were held in the Hoag Auditorium on the campus of Pueblo Community College, a sponsor of the conference. Other sponsors included the Pueblo Chieftain, Pueblo Chamber of Commerce and the Fray Angelico Chavez Chapter of the Genealogical Society of Hispanic America. Participants at this year’s conference resolved to: organize as a non-profit, develop a website and return to Arizpe.

Earle Kittleman lives in Salida, where he retired after a career with the National Park Service.