Dig of the Week: Etzanoa


By Carla Charter

ARKANSAS CITY, KS. – An ancient native settlement has been uncovered near Arkansas City, which was once home of the ancestors of the Wichita tribe, by Wichita State University Professor and Archeological Anthropologist, Don Blakslee.  “It was suspected it (the settlement) was there for a long time but there was no proof. It could have been located anywhere from anywhere from north central Kansas south to northern Oklahoma. “

Blakslee’s discovery was made possible through the re-translation of an official account of the 1601 an expedition of Conquistador Juan de Oñate, to the plains. Oñate along with being an explorer was also the founder of the Spanish colony of New Mexico.  “The Spaniards are the only one to record the existence of Etzanoa,” Blakslee said.   The Native American’s left the area sometime after 1700.

Oñate’s descriptions and maps were clear enough to compare the location to known archeological sites.  The old Spanish document is difficult to translate, “It is a chore because the handwriting was awful, the spelling was awful and there was no punctuation,” Blakslee said. “Out of all 6 accounts I took out every detail of the site, and looked at modern topographic maps I was able to match everything, Blakslee said.

“One of the events mentioned in the expedition was a battle “Near one area of the settlement there was a rock lined ravine where the natives took refuge from the Spanish guns and I thought, I have been to that place I knew exactly where it was.”

In 2015 archeological work began at the site including use of a metal detector to  look for evidence of the battle. “It took hours but we found it. It was a piece of iron shot from cannons. The Spaniards used cartridge shot which frequently used iron balls rather than lead.  We found them exactly where the shot would land, Blakslee said.”

In the original journal by the Spaniards there were also descriptions of clusters of houses at Etzanoa. “We found clusters of buried features. We found a Spanish horse shoe and a nail. Oñate sent four soldiers to count the houses over the five-mile settlement.  They counted 2,000 houses estimated 10 people in each house. Etzanoa may have been one of the largest settlements of natives in the United States,” Blakeslee said. “ The Native Etzanoa homes were circular shaped like beehives with a center post. The side posts were made of split cedar tied together on the top. There was horizontal willow thatch tied onto those on the outside.

The translations of Oñate’s logs can be found at www.scholarship.org.  More information on Etzanoa can be found at www.etzanoa.com.


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