Dominguez / Escalante...

The Dominguez/Escalante expedition left Santa Fe on July 29th, 1776, led by Fray Francisco Atanasio Dominguez. Fray Francisco Silvestre Valez de Escalante was the chronicler of the expedition while Don Bernardo Miera was the map maker, and Andres and Lucrecio Munez, from the Rivera expedition, acted as guides. The main purpose of the expedition was to blaze a trail from Utah Lake to the missions in Monterrey, California.

The expedition noted the remains of smelters near the San Juan River where metals were forged from raw ore. Their trail took them past Mission San Gabriel at the fork of the Chama River. The party then made it's way northward to the Animas River where Escalante wrote:

"It flows through a canyon in which there are veins of metal. Although many years ago several persons were sent out to investigate and carry away some ore, but it was not learned what metal it was. The indians and some citizens of this Kingdom said they were silver mines, which caused these mountains to be called Sierra la Plata."  From here they traveled to the Green River, where Escalante makes mention of Fray Posada's expedition to the Uintas over 100 years earlier.

"The Rio de San Buenaventura is the largest river we have yet come to, and is the same which Fray Posada described in his report to the King in 1678. According to his record we find it to be the same distance which he places it from Santa Fe."

From their camp on the Green River, they went southwest to the Duchesne River, which they followed past Red Creek, up the Strawberry River to Strawberry Valley. From here they turned down Diamond Fork Canyon into Spanish Fork Canyon. Escalante named this river Rio de Aqua Cailentas for the hot springs that can be found along its course. On September 23rd, 1776, they came to the valley long known as Teguayo and the fresh water lake named Copalla.

Escalante named the valley Nuestra Senora de la Merced de Timpanocutzis, which he wrote is surrounded by five peaks and had a lake 6 leagues wide by 15 leagues long and had 4 rivers running into it. He also gave name to the rivers north of Rio de Aqua Cailentas. The first was Rio de San Nicolas, now Hobble Creek, Rio San Antonio de Padua, the Provo River, and Rio de Santa Ana, American Fork River. Don Miera wrote in his diary that it was the best place he had yet seen.

"Several presidios and missions should be established here, the principle one at the Lake of Timpanocutzis or on one of the rivers that flow into it, for this is the most pleasing, beautiful and fertile spot in all of New Mexico." Escalante apparently agreed with this, for in his official report he wrote: "The sierras towards the east are likewise very fertile, having many rivers and springs, and timber, including royal and other pines.....The veins which are seen in the sierras appear from a distance to have minerals."

It was late in the season, fresh snow was already dusting the top of Mt. Timpanogos. Father Dominguez started off towards the southwest, still hoping to reach Monterrey by winter. Escalante promised the Indians he would return to establish a mission at the lake. The party followed the Sevier River to Sevier Lake. On October 3rd, they passed by the Cricket Hills in the Black Rock desert west of Fillmore, Utah. Their Indian guide Jose Maria deserted them here, and with winter fast approaching they made the decision to return to Santa Fe. They continued south to the Virgin River, and with great difficulty made their way down to the Colorado River, which they forded at Crossing of the Fathers. They then traveled to the south-east into Colorado and picked up the main trail arriving back in Santa Fe on January 2nd, 1777.

A little over a year later, Spain unexpectedly declared war on England and there were no troops available to defend the northern borders. Yet small bands of miners and traders still made their way into Utah in the coming years. One of these unknown groups left a large artillery cannon in Kamas Valley sometime during this period. The cannon was found by Johnstons' army, on their way into the Salt Lake Valley, and is now on display at the National Guard Armory near the University of Utah. It is about 6 feet long, made of solid bronze and was cast in Seville, Spain in 1776.

In 1844, the Ute's rebelled against the Spaniards, despite their treaty and over 100 years of brisk trade with the Spanish. All of the Spaniards were driven away from their mines in the north, and their missions and visitas were burned, never to be rebuilt. The Spanish and Mexican miners continued to come to Utah in small numbers into the latter half of the 19th century. Early Mormon pioneer diaries mention Mexican pack trains coming from the mountains, their mules heavily laden with ore. And it is here that this story ends, and a new chapter of Utah history begins.

Copyright © 1999 "Lost Treasures Of Utah". Reproduced with permission.