Tag Archives: Native Americans

Silver Bluestem

Silver Bluestem

Silver bluestem (Bothriochloa saccharoides) is a unique, attractive bunchgrass that derives its name from its silky white inflorescences. These silvery plumes range from 2-1/2 to 6 inches in length and obtain their distinctive appearance from their short, bent awns. Another name this species has received from its appearance is silver beardgrass.

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Big Bluestem

Big Bluestem

Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) is one of the most iconic plants of the tallgrass prairie. Its sturdy, upright stems are usually covered with a blue, waxy coating, giving it its name. These stems grow in clumps and vary dramatically in height depending on the environment. Big bluestem can be a modest three feet tall, but it can also reach an amazing nine feet in height. The scale of the stems pale in comparison to the root system, however, which may probe as deep as 13 feet below the surface of the ground!

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Kansas Historical Markers

Kansas Historical MarkersOver 120 historical markers dot the Kansas landscape, telling the story of our fascinating state.

If you are looking for the Kansas historical markers, the Kansas Historical Society offers a complete listing organized by county. Each entry provides the full text of the marker, along with its address and GPS coordinates.

As you visit the historical markers, you will get an idea of the local context and be introduced to many fascinating facts and stories. Topics include:

  • General Frederick Funston.
  • Medicine Lodge peace treaties.
  • The bluestem pasture region.
  • Historic Abilene.
  • The Battle of Coon Creek.
  • American Indians and the buffalo.
  • The first capitol of Kansas.
  • Turkey red wheat.
  • Overland trails.
  • Chouteau’s Island.
  • Fort Leavenworth.
  • The Mennonites.
  • The Osage Catholic Mission.
  • The geodetic center of North America.
  • The birthplace of farm credit.
  • The Pawnee Indian Village Museum.
  • The arrival of the railroad.
  • The Samson of the Cimarron.
  • Beecher Bibles.
  • Much more!

Reading Kansas historical markers is a great way to relive history as you visit the sites where events occurred. Have fun!

El Cuartelejo: Rediscovery

El Cuartelejo: RediscoveryArchaeologists have determined that the ultimate cause of El Cuartelejo’s demise was fire, as testified by the remains of charred posts and corn seeds. The Comanches who later took up residence near the pueblo had a legend that the ruins were struck by lightning.

In any case, for the next hundred years, the walls slowly crumbled and vanished, leaving the pueblo to be buried in a grave of blowing soil. The location was eventually forgotten.


Enter the Steele Family

The Steele family arrived in 1888. They did not discover the fascinating history of their new homestead right away, but sometime in the 1890s the father of the family, Herbert L. Steele, ran across the irrigation ditches. These he quickly put to use watering his garden.

What Steele found next is still debated to this day. But when he discovered other artifacts up on the old hill, whether they were parched corn kernels unearthed by ground squirrels or a large collection of arrowheads and pieces of pottery, he quickly realized that he owned something unusual.

Accordingly, two archaeologists from the University of Kansas, S.W. Williston and H.T. Martin, paid the Steele homestead a visit in 1898. While probing the structure, they noted walls 18 to 24 inches thick, with no apparent openings for doors or windows. How would the inhabitants come and go from the building? There was one answer—through the roof!

The idea that this building might have been a pueblo was further confirmed by the discovery of charred post ends that might once have belonged to a ladder. The archaeologists also found broken pottery similar in style to that of the Southwest during the late 1600s and early 1700s, and they found pieces of obsidian, a volcanic stone common in the native lands of the Taos and the Picuris. Historians quickly realized the implications of the discovery—this might be El Cuartelejo!

While the Steele family made full use of their land, including the parts influenced by the Pueblo refugees, they were careful not to abuse it. They dreamed of someday creating a public park out of their homestead. Accordingly, in the 1920s they donated the pueblo site to the Daughters of the American Revolution, who in 1925 erected a granite marker on the ruins (literally; the marker was later moved). The D.A.R. still own the rights to the ruins. The rest of the Steele homestead went to the Kansas Forestry, Fish, and Game Commission in 1928. A dam for a recreational lake was built the next year.


El Cuartelejo: RediscoverySpeculation

Not all historians were willing to accept the theory that the ruins discovered by the Steele family were part of El Cuartelejo. Based on daily marching distances listed in the expedition diary of Juan de Ulibarrí, some hypothesized that El Cuartelejo was actually in eastern Colorado.

In 1939 and 1940, Smithsonian Institution archaeologist Waldo Wedel paid a visit to the site. He turned up additional artifacts that further confirmed the identity of the ruins. For example, he discovered pieces of pipes, decorated in a style similar to that of Southwestern work of the late 1600s and early 1700s.

However, Wedel found far more Apache artifacts than Pueblo artifacts on the site, including some otherwise distinctly Apache ware that was tempered with mica, similar to the custom of the Southwestern tribes. Therefore, he concluded, the pueblo did not belong to Pueblos, but to Apaches who had contact with Southwestern Indians and who mimicked their customs. If there were Pueblos at the site, either they must have adopted Apache tools or they had remained for a very short time.

However, no evidence for a pueblo in eastern Colorado could be found. Nor was there much evidence of French and Spanish activity in that area. While Spanish records did not pinpoint El Cuartelejo precisely at the location of the Scott County ruins, the Steele discovery fit far better with the maps and descriptions in existence than any other site that had been found or proposed. Furthermore, the Scott County location for El Cuartelejo corresponded with various well-traveled Native American trails that the Spaniards likely would have used.

Unfortunately, El Cuartelejo was still not preserved as the Steele family might have wished. Local artifact collectors did some amateur work on the ruins, but turned up little of value. Furthermore, these would-be archaeologists did considerable damage to the pueblo, digging through the floor and destroying more subtle features. The landmark also continued to deteriorate due to weather for several decades.


Preservation Efforts

El Cuartelejo was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1964, opening new doors for restoration possibilities.

Further excavation was carried out under the supervision of Tom Witty of the Kansas State Historical Society beginning in 1969. The entire floor was disinterred, revealing hearthstones and posts, not to mention more potsherds. Witty was more thorough than the archaeologists before him and revealed the complete outline of the pueblo, only partially found up to that time.

While examining artifacts, archaeologists also started work on an interpretive exhibit, putting El Cuartelejo into historical context. The walls were rebuilt and stabilized up to a height of one or two feet to clearly show the floor plan of the pueblo, consisting of seven rooms. Signs were put up to explain the site for park visitors.

But the previous restoration efforts have failed the test of time. The National Park Service listed El Cuartelejo as an “at risk” site in 2004. The walls continue to crumble in the unforgiving Kansas weather.

All agree that the ruins must be preserved. What the future will bring to El Cuartelejo is yet to be determined, however, as the Kansas State Historical Society, the Scott County Historical Society, and the present-day Picuris tribe continue to iron out a solution.


Helpful Resources

“Ambushed at Dawn: An Archaeological Analysis of the Catastrophic Defeat of the 1720 Villasur Expedition”
Chapter 4 of this thesis makes a solid case for the Scott County location of El Cuartelejo.

“Remains of the Indian pueblo ‘El Cuartelejo’ in Scott County, Kansas, USA”
How El Cuartelejo looks today.

El Cuartelejo: A Place of Refuge

El Cuartelejo: A Place of Refuge
A Taos pueblo in New Mexico

The Pueblo Indians of New Mexico found themselves in frequent conflict with the Spanish conquistadors. The conquerors imprisoned or killed the native religious leaders, compelled the people to accept the religion of Spain at the point of the sword, and put them to work in labor camps.

Repeated uprisings brought the Indians little except bloody reprisals. Some felt that it simply was not worthwhile to risk their lives battling Spaniards and laid down their arms. Others did not.

Sometime around 1664, some Taos Pueblos decided on a bold move—they escaped New Mexico.


The Taos Years

The Pueblos journeyed northeast, traveling long and hard to avoid recapture. In fact, they went farther north than any of their tribe had ever journeyed before, north of the Arkansas River and right into present-day Kansas. Here they found sympathizers among the Plains Apaches. The Apaches allowed the Pueblos to settle among them and build new dwellings in peace, where they could resume their former lives away from the Spaniards.

The Pueblos promptly set to work building the adobe structure associated with their tribe, strengthened along the foundation with native stone from the nearby hills. The pueblo was located up on a hill, providing an excellent view of the valley below and offering a good way to look out for invaders. Down in the valley, the Pueblos planted crops and dug irrigation ditches just as they had in New Mexico, directing water from spring-fed Ladder Creek to their fields.

The arrangement was evidently quite satisfactory to the Apaches, as well. They continued to share the village, leaving regularly to hunt, but always returning to raise crops of their own and possibly to trade hides for Pueblo goods.

Unfortunately, the Taos Indians did not make good their escape. A few years later, Juan de Archuleta appeared on the scene and summarily marched the Pueblos back to New Mexico. The Spaniards named the village El Cuartelejo, or “the old barracks.”


The Picuris Years

El Cuartelejo: A Place of Refuge
A Picuris mission in New Mexico

The 1680s brought a Pueblo revolt to New Mexico. While the rebels were successful for a time, during the first half of the 1690s the Spaniards once again gained the upper hand. In 1696, a group of Picuris Pueblos repeated the attempt of the Taos people years before. They reclaimed the pueblos of El Cuartelejo.

For reasons that have been lost in time, the Picuris did not get along so well with their Apache neighbors. The Apaches enslaved the newcomers and evidently made their lives difficult enough that a Spanish labor camp seemed desirable in comparison. The Picuris asked the Apaches for permission to return to their homes in the Southwest, but were denied. After only a few years at El Cuartelejo, the Picuris chief, Don Lorenzo, sent a letter to Santa Fe pleading for rescue.

In 1706, Juan de Ulibarrí arrived on the scene. He collected all 62 of the Pueblos and escorted them back to New Mexico. Although he duly claimed the valley as a Spanish possession, he was careful not to needlessly offend the Apaches with violence. There was reason to believe that allies among the natives of the Great Plains would be necessary in the years to come.


Frontier Outpost

The Spaniards had previously claimed the Great Plains as their own, but did little to enforce that claim. French explorers and traders had taken an interest in the region, probably feeling it would be easy to take over an area that was so poorly guarded. Frenchmen began making friendly overtures to the Apaches at El Cuartelejo in hopes of winning their trade.

Rumors of French encroachment had reached Spanish ears, and this was one of the reasons that Juan de Ulibarrí had been sent to El Cuartelejo. While working to secure the release of the Picuris slaves, Ulibarrí had been careful to ask the Apaches about other white men in the area. The Apaches showed him a musket and reported that the French had been supplying their Pawnee enemies with such weapons.

In 1720, Don Pedro de Villasur set off for the Great Plains to discover the limits of French involvement. He spent several days at El Cuartelejo, then continued northward with some Apache allies to find out the limits of French involvement. He learned the hard way. His trek brought him all the way north to present-day Nebraska on the Platte River, where the French incited the Pawnee tribe to ambush and massacre his party.

For a time, there was talk among the Spaniards of building a permanent fort at El Cuartelejo, but the dangers of the location were great. Any small outpost constructed there would be isolated from reinforcements and liable to be overwhelmed by the Indian allies of the French.

During the 1730s, the pueblos were abandoned by the Apaches. Comanches and other stronger tribes had all but annihilated the little village, and the Cuartelejo Apaches fled to Texas to take refuge with another Apache band. El Cuartelejo became a camping spot and outpost for both the French and the Comanches.

In 1762, the French ceded the region known as “Louisiana,” including the Great Plains, to Spain by secret treaty. The French retreated from the area, leaving El Cuartelejo to crumble into ruins.


Next week: Rediscovery


Helpful Resource

“Ambushed at Dawn: An Archaeological Analysis of the Catastrophic Defeat of the 1720 Villasur Expedition”
More about El Cuartelejo and the ill-fated Villasur expedition.

Brave the Wild Trail

Brave the Wild TrailThere is nothing Josh Bramlett wants more than a dog. And his father Eben has just the plan to make this dream come true!

Scrub cattle run wild across Florida, just waiting to be rounded up and driven to market—a market hungry for beef in the days just after the Civil War.

If you love inspiring your children with books based on real history, give Brave the Wild Trail by Milly Howard a try. They will get a great introduction to Florida Cracker cattle, Marsh Tacky horses, and even catch dogs. They will learn about the perils of cattle driving, ranging from a ludicrous attempt to milk a wild cow to the deadly danger of robbers.

But there is much more than history and adventure to make this story worth reading. This is also a tale of changed hearts and true friendship.

Great story for younger readers!


Helpful Resource

The Roots of Cattle Driving
Learn more about the background of the events in this book.

Quarter Horse

Quarter Horse

The Quarter Horse is truly an American breed, reflective of the nation’s changing lifestyle and progress westward. Its earliest ancestors came with the Spanish conquistadors. These horses of various bloodlines were captured by Indians and traded as far as the Atlantic seaboard.

The Spanish-derived Indian ponies, particularly those kept by the Chickasaw, were valued for work by the later English colonists. They were crossed with Thoroughbreds introduced throughout the early 1600s to create the ultimate all-purpose horse—the horse that could plow a field during the week, carry a family to church on the weekend, and provide entertainment in the form of short-distance horse races through town when the occasion required. The all-American horse that excelled at this type of quarter-mile sprinting became known as the C.A.Q.R.H., the Celebrated American Quarter Running Horse.

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