Possibly Decimated by Conquistadors 400 Years Ago, Has the Lost City of Etzanoa Finally Been Found?
It may be necessary to add another large nation of Native Americans to the list of peoples wiped out by the rapacious Spanish conquistadors after they arrived in the Americas. The location of the lost city of Etzanoa, found recently in Kansas, mystified historians for 400 years.
When the conquistadors arrived in the New World they wiped out civilizations and/or cultures, including the Arawaks (Taino) in the Caribbean, Peru’s Incas, Central America’s Aztecs and Maya, and populations along what became the Mexico-U.S. border.
The city of Etzanoa was described in historical documents but its whereabouts were unknown until an archaeologist with Wichita State University in the state of Kansas started digging in recent years.
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Part of an ancient water shrine has been discovered, which locals used to bless water. (The Wichita Eagle)
This latest find of the site of Etzanoa was possibly a city of 20,000 or more Wichita tribe people. Its location is in Arkansas City in south central Kansas. It is being explored and researched by an archaeologist named Donald Blakeslee. It is possible that the city was bigger than the pre-Columbian city of Cahokia in nearby Illinois.
Monks Mound at the abandoned Native American city of Cahokia in Illinois. The site is not far from Etzanoa. (Public Domain)
Dr. Blakeslee told the Kansas City Star that with the help of teenager Adam Ziegler he confirmed that the city of Etzanoa, which is now reduced to rubble, was the site of a battle in 1601 where the Spanish opened fire on attacking native warriors with cannon shot. The discovery of three cannonballs helped identify the location of Etzanoa.
The story of Etzanoa is known from writings of soldiers who conquered New Mexico under conquistador Juan de Onate. Onate founded the colony of New Mexico. The soldiers wrote that they traveled north to the Great Plains and fought natives there, 60 years after Coronado went north from Mexico into the American Southwest to find the Seven Golden Cities, as they were known.
Onate and his 70 men set out from New Mexico and discovered a large city at the confluence of two rivers. Native warriors saw them coming and announced their intention to fight the Spanish by throwing dirt into the air, says a story about Etzanoa by Roy Wenzel for the Kansas City Star.
Onate called these Wichita warriors ‘The Rayados’ because they painted and tattooed their faces in stripes.
Armed Spanish patrols entered Etzanoa and found it empty, thousands of Wichita natives having fled north. The patrols found 2,000 large homes in clusters. They were shaped like beehives and could hold about 10 people. Cornfields surrounded the homes.
Painting of a Wichita village. (Cindy’s Open House)
The Spanish soldiers fled south because they were nervous about the size of Etzanoa, Wenzel writes. As they fled, the Spanish encountered hundreds of warriors shooting arrows. The natives charged Onate’s troop of 70. These natives, called Escanxaques, were the enemies of the Wichita and had come to attack them, but they attacked the Spanish instead of Etzanoa.
The Spanish soldiers’ four cannons fended off the Escanxaques, but 60 of the Spanish men were wounded. Indians later told Spanish people that Etzanoa went on for miles past the point where the Spanish stopped exploring the city.
Wenzel wrote in The Kansas City Star: “Blakeslee says the Wichita were wronged by fate, disease epidemics and war. He’s going to try to set right what he can. Smallpox and other illnesses killed probably tens of thousands after 1600, he said.”
Blakeslee believes the Wichita subsisted on corn, beans, pumpkins and squash. He said it’s probable they ate bison meat too. Native Americans were known to use bison for other home goods, including hide blankets, bone tools, and sinews for various purposes. The Wichita may have had a trade network with Pueblo Indian ancestors in New Mexico, 550 miles (885.14 km) away.
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Trade beads dated from circa 1740 found by archaeologists in a Wichita Village site along the Arkansas River in north-central Oklahoma, collection of the Oklahoma History Center. (CC BY SA 3.0)
Professor Blakeslee hopes to build a tourist center, if the tribal members go along with it. He has consulted with the tribe over the years and invited them to dig with him and see what he’s found there.
He has found remnants of homes and granaries. Modern locals in Arkansas City have also found tons of stone tools and potsherds through the years, further evidence of the city. Professor Blakeslee himself has found potsherds, knife blades, arrowheads, awls and scrapers, some made of flint.
The teenager, Adam Ziegler, verified the site of the lost city of Etzanoa three years ago when he found a cannon ball with a metal detector. Professor Blakeslee found two more cannon balls soon after.
Adam Ziegler with the tiny cannon ball which has helped prove the existence of Etzanoa. (Donald Blakeslee)
Excavations continue at Etzanoa. And Blakeslee has published his findings in the peer-reviewed journal Plains Anthropologist.
If it is proven to be the lost city of Etzanoa, the discovery changes the story of the early Great Plains. Most history books say the land was a vast space only occupied by nomads, but this finding suggests at least some tribes created permanent settlements. As Blakeslee said, “So this was not some remote place. The people traded and lived in huge communities. Everything we thought we knew turns out to be wrong. I think this needs a place in every schoolbook.”
An even bigger excavation is planned for next summer because sponsorship has been obtained from the Kansas State Historical Society and the Kansas Anthropological Association. Meanwhile, visitors can join tours to explore three or four of the major sites through the Cherokee Strip Land Rush Museum.
The population of the Wichita tribe today is about 3,000. The Wichita were later removed to reservations in Oklahoma. Little of their tribe’s culture remains to them, and their last fluent speaker, Doris McLemore, died in 2016.
Top image: Wichita Lodge, Thatched with Prairie Grass (1834-1835) by George Catlin. Source: Smithsonian American Art Museum
By Mark Miller