Etzanoa -Lost Indian Town Discovered In Kansas after 400 years (2 pages)

Categories: News, Extra, Education

ARKANSAS CITY, Kan. — Donald Blakeslee says he's found Etzanoa, a long-lost city.

Etzanoa is the second-biggest settlement of Native Americans found in the United States, Blakeslee said. Now it is the known location of a 1601 battle pitting outnumbered Spaniards firing cannons into waves of attacking Indian warriors.

Etzanoa has been a mystery for 400 years. Archaeologists could not find it. Historians thought reports of a permanent settlement with 20,000 Native Americans in it were exaggerated.

Wichita State archaeologist and anthropologist Donald Blakeslee points out man-made depressions. Image credit. Travis Heying/Wichita Eagle/TNS

But in Arkansas City, at the confluence of the Walnut and Arkansas Rivers, Blakeslee, an anthropologist and archaeologist at Wichita State University, has found evidence of a town stretching across thousands of acres of bluffs and rich bottomland along two rivers. What clinched it was the discovery, by a high school student, of a half-inch iron cannon ball.

He even found a still-functional water shrine, depicting communication with the spirit world, carved into a limestone boulder in Tami and Greg Norwood's backyard.

It's a good story, all true, Blakeslee said: A lost city, a forgotten mythology — and the story of the once-great Wichita Nation, decimated by European diseases, and then pushed aside by white settlers and the United States Army.

With the discovery, Arkansas City leaders hope to turn the town into a tourist destination.

"We always knew we once had a whole bunch of Indians living around here, because we had found way too many artifacts to think otherwise," said Jay Warren, an Arkansas City Commission member. "But we had no idea until Dr. Blakeslee came along about how big it was."

Etzanoa might have been comparable in size to Cahokia, Blakeslee said. That alone should bring world attention.

Wichita State anthropology professor and archaeologist Don Blakeslee was reading a new translation of an old account of a 1601 hostile encounter between Spanish explorers and Native Americans near the site of a “great settlement.” No one knew for sure just where this was, although there were clues. Image credit: The WSU Alumni Association

The Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in western Illinois, with its pyramid Monk's Mound, is the biggest Native American urban complex ever built in the United States. It showcases the 14.4-acre mound that was the centerpiece of the ancient city and the outlines of the city, enclosed by fortress walls and filled with shrines of a powerful mythology and culture outside St. Louis.

Cahokia — the remnants of the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico — attracts 400,000 visitors a year, which gets the attention of Arkansas Citians. If Etzanoa was bigger, "and it might have been," that will rewrite American history, Blakeslee said.

"The Spaniards were amazed by the size of Etzanoa," Blakeslee said. "They counted 2,000 houses that could hold 10 people each. They said it would take two or three days to walk through it all."

But for four centuries, the story of a big Native American town in Kansas made no sense to historians.

When French explorers came in the 1700s, 100 years after the Spanish battle, they met only migratory bands of Kanza, Wichita, Pawnee, Kiowa, Cheyenne and Apache tribes.

So historians read the Spanish accounts and raised questions: If there were a permanent site named Etzanoa, where was the huge accumulation of pottery shards?

These protohistoric Wichita stone knives were recovered from the site by the Kansas State Historical Society. Credit: Donald Blakeslee  Read more

And where did those tens of thousands of people go?

And where were the Spanish cannonballs fired by outnumbered Spaniards?

For years, Blakeslee read the accounts of soldiers who served under the Conquistador Juan de Onate, the founding governor of the colony of New Mexico. Onate's soldiers said they fought a battle 60 years after Coronado, somewhere in the Great Plains.

The battle reports said Onate led 70 soldiers from New Mexico and found a vast town at the junction of two rivers.

Warriors on the outskirts threw dirt into the air as the Spanish approached, signaling they were ready to fight. "The Rayados," Onate called the Wichitas — "the striped ones," from the way they painted and tattooed their faces.

The Spaniards entered the town, and the Wichita fled, thousands evacuating to the north.

Onate sent armed patrols into the empty town.

What his soldiers saw unnerved them. They told Onate they'd counted 2,000 big beehive-shaped homes — clusters of these homes surrounded by cornfields. Nervous about the size of the place, they turned around. Indians told them later that the settlement extended for miles past where the Spaniards stopped, meaning the true population might have been higher than the 20,000 Spanish estimate.

Onate turned his men south — and came face to face with hundreds of warriors, firing arrows and charging at Onate's small Spanish troop.

The attackers were Escanxaques, a tribe enemy to the Wichita. They had come to attack Etzanoa — and then attacked the Spanish.

Women from the Wichita Nation pecked out these sacred holes in a limestone boulder hundreds of years ago, anthropologist Donald Blakeslee says. They’d use a stone hammer, peck out a hole, fill the hole with water — then drink the water, saying a prayer for a successful pregnancy. Roy Wenzl The Wichita Eagle

Sixty of the 70 Spaniards were wounded. Their four cannons saved them. The Escanxaques regrouped in a rock-lined ravine, but then charged repeatedly uphill to attack before finally backing off.

Adam Ziegler, the high school student, made the link that cinched the verification of Etzanoa.

Blakeslee says artifacts that he and Ziegler found in the past two years show that the old stories were

  Page Turn