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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

home : features : features November 24, 2015

2/2/2013 10:00:00 PM
Days Past: Conquistadors: They came, they saw, they left
Courtesy illustrationGold, glory and God brought Spanish explorers to the American West, including Arizona. Artist Fredric Remington depicted these bold conquistadors in one of his many heroic illustrations.
Courtesy illustration
Gold, glory and God brought Spanish explorers to the American West, including Arizona. Artist Fredric Remington depicted these bold conquistadors in one of his many heroic illustrations.
Days Past is a weekly feature in the Courier, supplied by Sharlot Hall Museum volunteers, chronicling historic events in Prescott.
Special to the Courier

Prescott, named after the author of the epic Conquest of Mexico, can trace more than street names of Cortez, Montezuma, and Marina to its storied past. In fact, the Spanish also came north from Mexico.

For instance, on Feb. 23, 1540, Captain-General Francisco Vásquez de Coronado commanded an expedition that trekked northward from what had come to be called New Spain in search of the famed City of Cibola and its reported vast riches. They crossed the Gila River, and through many parts of today's Arizona including the Colorado Plateau. After two years, the beleaguered survivors returned without discovering the fabled kingdom.

Four decades later, during early 1583, Antonio de Espejo took up Coronado's mantel. Espejo boldly led nine fellow Spaniards and upwards of 150 Zunis into Arizona. They pressed on as far as today's Jerome where they found precious minerals. After a brief stay, they returned to New Mexico with samples of silver ore. Despite the promise of what might be a bonanza waiting for the taking, years passed before another group followed in Espejo's footsteps.

During October 1598, Captain Marcos Farfán sought a salt spring in present day Arizona. He succeeded in this assignment, then moved westward with eight of his men looking for potential mining sites. His route remains a source of speculation, but like Espejo's group, it is known that he located silver ore in what is now Yavapai County. Yet once more the Spanish made no serious effort to establish mining operations in the area.

Farfán's return, however, did prompt his superior, Juan de Oñate, to set out from New Mexico across northern Arizona. In 1604, he and his followers reached the fork of the Bill Williams River. Then they continued to where it joined the Colorado River, which they named Rio de Buena Esperanza (River of Good Hope). Afterwards they headed to the mouth of the Gila, then onward to the Gulf of California before a difficult return eastward, which brought them home empty handed.

Although evidence of at least the existence of silver resulted from several of these outings by conquistadors, the far-flung Spanish empire failed to exploit of the mineral resources in future Yavapai County. The same lack of follow up continued for centuries. Indeed, efforts by U.S. Army officers to explore, map, and record information about the geography, geology, and natural history of the Southwest during the 1840s and 1850s, ironically did little to further interest in what was destined to become the "Copper State," which was seen by many during this period as an obstacle to be surmounted in order to travel overland to California's diggings.

That was not to be the case with Joseph R. Walker, a noted trapper, explorer and guide now leading a band of hopeful prospectors on his final adventure. In 1863, about five miles south of Prescott, their persistence paid dividends. Some of the men struck pay dirt including one of their number who took some $350 worth of gold from a single pan during a period when gold ranged from around $25 to $30 an ounce!

Soon gold fever spread to others beyond Walker's troop. Local Union military commander Major General of Volunteers James H. Carleton believed there were "vast gold fields" for the taking. During September 1863, he sent samples of Arizona gold to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, who in turn forwarded the news of a possible new source to sustain the North's martial efforts against the South to President Abraham Lincoln. This was encouraging news for the president, who on Feb. 24, 1863, had signed a bill that established the Arizona as a territory separate from its former inclusion as part of New Mexico. Later that year members of the Territory's civilian government backed by troops were about to reach Arizona and establish a capital at a yet undetermined location

In the meantime, another frontiersman, Paulino Weaver, was on his way from California to the Prescott area at the head of another company of gold seekers. Not far from the place where members of Walker's entourage succeeded in finding color, some of the Weaver party followed suit. A.H. Peebles may have been the most fortunate when digging only with a knife during one day he scratched some $1,800 in gold from the ground. Such finds eventually helped Prescott to be selected as the seat of government.

Days Past is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners, International. This and other Days Past articles are available at

The public is encouraged to submit articles for Days Past consideration. Please contact assistant archivist, Scott Anderson, at SHM Archives 445-3122 or via email at for information.

Related Stories:
• Days Past: Arizona becomes a US Territory - Part 1
• Days Past: The Cactus Derby of 1914, Part II: Driven to win
• Days Past: The Cactus Derby of 1914 - Part I

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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, February 04, 2013
Article comment by: They

Baca claimed to be a descendant of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who in the 1530s became the first European to walk across North America (Castaways is an excellent first-hand account of his trip). In 1821, partly on account of Don Luis Maria’s illustrious lineage, the State of Durango, then under Spain, quite generously granted him half a million acres in the vicinity of what is now Las Vegas, New Mexico. This was the original float.
Forty years later, and now under U.S. ownership, this land was given to encroaching settlers in exchange for which his heirs (17 sons by three wives) were allowed to select five 100,000-acre undeveloped tracts, known as floats. Being shepherds, they chose land that was the best for raising sheep, in or near mountains.

Luis Maria Baca Float #5, now the ORO ranch. They left their legacy in many more ways. Why were these ways not brought out in this Days Past article? They "Left", yes, leaving rich history behind.

A history museum Director who doesn't know the local history?

Posted: Monday, February 04, 2013
Article comment by: True True

Yes, its true. The days past articles are no longer being edited by the volunteers who were doing them. Wonder what the real story is behind their dismissal???

Posted: Monday, February 04, 2013
Article comment by: Steven Major

"They came, they saw, they left "

What they left were germs and decease that killed off tens of thousands of the local native human population. Not mentioning this fact in the history of the Conquistadors is a disservice ...

Posted: Sunday, February 03, 2013
Article comment by: Attention Deficit Disorder Director

It is now apparent the Sharlot Hall Days Past articles have been taken away from the Sharlot Hall Volunteers and are being used by the Executive Director, John Langellier, to further his own agenda. This, the second recent article John has authored, stays on topic for only half the article. Having written extensively on the Buffalo Soldiers, the link below would have been a better choice for him, and more interesting instead of this half thought regurgitation.

With the Westerners association, the future pool of Sharlot Hall board of trustees is assured. More of the same in the way of self serving individuals with no accountability for themselves or their charge, the Executive Director.

It is no wonder the museum is now openly advertising for volunteers. The organization does not follow the golden rule, treat others as you would be treated.

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