Villasur expedition

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Villasur expedition
Part of the War of the Quadruple Alliance
DateJune 16 – August 14, 1720 (1720-06-16 1720-08-14)
North American Great Plains
Result Pawnee and Otoe victory
Commanders and leaders
  • Pedro de Villasur  
  • Jose Naranjo
  • 40 Spanish soldiers
  • 65 Pueblo warriors
  • 12 Apache warriors
Casualties and losses
47 killed Unknown

The Villasur expedition of 1720 was a Spanish military expedition intended to check New France's growing influence on the North American Great Plains, led by Lieutenant-General Pedro de Villasur. Pawnee and Otoe Indians attacked the expedition in Nebraska, killing 36 of the 40 Spaniards, 10 of their Indian allies, and a French guide. The survivors retreated to their base in New Mexico.

New France Area colonized by France in North America

New France was the area colonized by France in North America during a period beginning with the exploration of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence by Jacques Cartier in 1534 and ending with the cession of New France to Great Britain and Spain in 1763 under the Treaty of Paris (1763).

Great Plains broad expanse of flat land west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States and Canada

The Great Plains is a broad expanse of flat land, much of it covered in prairie, steppe, and grassland, located in America and Canada. It lies west of the Mississippi River tallgrass prairie in the United States and east of the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. and Canada. It embraces:

Pawnee people ethnic group

The Pawnee are a Plains Indian tribe who are headquartered in Pawnee, Oklahoma. Pawnee people are enrolled in the federally recognized Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma. Historically, they lived in Nebraska and Kansas. In the Pawnee language, the Pawnee people refer to themselves as Chatiks si chatiks or "Men of Men."



The Pawnee and their French allies surround and defeat the Villasur expedition, painted on buffalo hides. PawneeVillasur1720.jpg
The Pawnee and their French allies surround and defeat the Villasur expedition, painted on buffalo hides.

In the first part of the 18th century, French explorers and fur traders began to enter the plains west of the Missouri River, in land they claimed as Louisiana. In 1714, Étienne de Veniard, Sieur de Bourgmont became the first colonial explorer known to have reached the mouth of the Platte River, although other French traders may have visited the area and lived among the Indians. [2] Spain had claimed ownership of the Great Plains since the Coronado expedition of the 16th century, but became worried about the growing French influence in the region. In 1718, the War of the Quadruple Alliance broke out between France and Spain. [3]

Missouri River major river in the central United States, tributary of the Mississippi

The Missouri River is the longest river in North America. Rising in the Rocky Mountains of western Montana, the Missouri flows east and south for 2,341 miles (3,767 km) before entering the Mississippi River north of St. Louis, Missouri. The river drains a sparsely populated, semi-arid watershed of more than 500,000 square miles (1,300,000 km2), which includes parts of ten U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. Although nominally considered a tributary of the Mississippi, the Missouri River above the confluence is much longer and carries a comparable volume of water. When combined with the lower Mississippi River, it forms the world's fourth longest river system.

Louisiana (New France) Administrative district of New France

Louisiana or French Louisiana was an administrative district of New France. Under French control 1682 to 1762 and 1801 (nominally) to 1803, the area was named in honor of King Louis XIV, by French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle. It originally covered an expansive territory that included most of the drainage basin of the Mississippi River and stretched from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Appalachian Mountains to the Rocky Mountains.

Étienne de Veniard, Sieur de Bourgmont French explorer

Étienne de Veniard, Sieur de Bourgmont was a French explorer who documented his travels on the Missouri and Platte rivers in North America and made the first European maps of these areas in the early 18th century. He wrote two accounts of his travels, which included descriptions of the Native American tribes he encountered. In 1723, he established Fort Orleans, the first European fort on the Missouri River, near the mouth of the Grand River and present-day Brunswick, Missouri. In 1724, he led an expedition to the Great Plains of Kansas to establish trading relations with the Padouca.


The governor of the Spanish colony of Nuevo México based in Santa Fe ordered Villasur to capture French traders on the plains. Spanish authorities hoped to gather intelligence about French ambitions in the region. Villasur had no experience with Indians, but he left Santa Fe on June 16, 1720, leading an expedition which included about 40 soldiers of a mounted frontier corps, [4] 60 to 70 Pueblo allies, a priest, a Spanish trader, and approximately 12 Apache guides, who were tribal enemies of the Pawnee. Scout leader Jose Naranjo was of African-Hopi parentage, and he might have previously reached the South Platte River area. [5]

Santa Fe de Nuevo México province of New Spain (1598-1821), territory of Mexico (1821-1846), provisional government of the USA (1846-1850)

Santa Fe de Nuevo México was a province of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, and later a territory of independent Mexico. The first capital was San Juan de los Caballeros from 1598 until 1610, and from 1610 onward the capital was La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís. The naming, capital, the Palace of the Governors, and rule of law were retained as the New Mexico Territory, and the subsequent U.S. State of New Mexico, became a part of the United States. The New Mexican citizenry, primarily consisting of Hispano, Pueblo, Navajo, Apache, and Comanche peoples, became citizens of the United States as a result of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

Santa Fe, New Mexico State capital city in New Mexico, United States

Santa Fe is the capital of the U.S. state of New Mexico. It is the fourth-largest city in the state and the seat of Santa Fe County.

The Puebloans or Pueblo peoples, are Native Americans in the Southwestern United States who share common agricultural, material and religious practices. When Spaniards entered the area beginning in the 16th century, they came across complex, multi-story villages built of adobe, stone and other local materials, which they called pueblos, or villages, a term that later came to refer also to the peoples who live in these villages.

The expedition made its way northeast through Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska. In August, they made contact with the Pawnee and Otoe along the Platte and Loup rivers [6] . Villasur made several attempts to negotiate with Indians in the area, using Francisco Sistaca, a Pawnee held as a slave, to translate. On August 13, Sistaca disappeared from camp. Villasur camped that night just south of the Loup–Platte confluence near Columbus, Nebraska, nervous about the possibility of attack and the increasing number and belligerence of the Pawnee and Otoe Indians. [7]

Colorado State of the United States of America

Colorado is a state of the Western United States encompassing most of the southern Rocky Mountains as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains. It is the 8th most extensive and 21st most populous U.S. state. The estimated population of Colorado was 5,695,564 on July 1, 2018, an increase of 13.25% since the 2010 United States Census.

Kansas State of the United States of America

Kansas is a U.S. state in the Midwestern United States. Its capital is Topeka and its largest city is Wichita, with its most populated county being Johnson County. Kansas is bordered by Nebraska on the north; Missouri on the east; Oklahoma on the south; and Colorado on the west. Kansas is named after the Kansas River, which in turn was named after the Kansa Native Americans who lived along its banks. The tribe's name is often said to mean "people of the (south) wind" although this was probably not the term's original meaning. For thousands of years, what is now Kansas was home to numerous and diverse Native American tribes. Tribes in the eastern part of the state generally lived in villages along the river valleys. Tribes in the western part of the state were semi-nomadic and hunted large herds of bison.

Nebraska State of the United States of America

Nebraska is a state that lies in both the Great Plains and the Midwestern United States. It is bordered by South Dakota to the north; Iowa to the east and Missouri to the southeast, both across the Missouri River; Kansas to the south; Colorado to the southwest; and Wyoming to the west. It is the only triply landlocked U.S. state.


The Pawnees and Otoes attacked at dawn on August 14, shooting heavy musketry fire and flights of arrows, then charging into combat clad only in paint, headbands, moccasins, and short leggings. Some survivors reported that Frenchmen had been among the attackers, and men in European dress are shown in a surviving painting of the battle. [7] The Spanish were mostly asleep at this hour; possibly Sistaca had told the Pawnees the best time to attack. In a brief battle, they killed 36 Spaniards, including Villasur and Naranjo, 10 Pueblo scouts, [8] and Jean L'Archevêque, a Frenchman who had been brought as an interpreter. [9] The Pueblo allies were encamped nearby but separately from the Spanish, and they were not the first targets of the attack.[ citation needed ]

Jean L'Archevêque was a French explorer, soldier and merchant-trader. One of the few survivors of the ill-fated French colony Fort Saint Louis (Texas), L'Archevêque, the son of a merchant-trader from Bayonne, France, indentured himself to merchant-trader Sieur Pierre Duhaut in order to participate in the expedition to find the colony. L'Archevêque is known to have been the decoy that led René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle into an ambush in which Duhaut shot La Salle. While Duhaut was killed by expedition members to avenge La Salle's murder, L'Archevêque escaped the same fate because he was viewed more favorably and was thought to be less guilty. L'Archevêque was killed in 1720 near what is now Columbus, Nebraska by Native Americans of the Pawnee tribe during the Villasur expedition.


The Spanish and Pueblo survivors returned to Santa Fe on September 6. The expedition had journeyed farther to the north and east than any other Spanish military expedition, and its defeat marked the end of Spanish influence on the central Great Plains. The French in Illinois were elated to learn of the battle in October, but subsequent French expeditions did not establish French trade and influence in the area. [10]


  1. Jesuit missionary Philipp Segesser sent three buffalo hide paintings to his brother in Switzerland in 1758. [1]

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  1. Chávez, Thomas E. (January 1, 1990). "The Segesser Hide Paintings: History, Discovery". Great Plains Quarterly. University of Nebraska – Lincoln: 96. Retrieved December 18, 2013.
  2. Norall, Frank (1988), Bourgmont, Explorer of the Missouri, 1698–1725, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, pp. 24–27.
  3. "Villasur Sent to Nebraska: Recording the Massacre", Nebraska Studies, accessed August 24, 2011
  4. Chartrand, Rene (2011). The Spanish Army in North America. Osprey Publishing. p. 11. ISBN   9781849085977.
  5. Alfred Thomas, After Coronado: Spanish Exploration Northeast of New Mexico, 1696–1727; Documents from the Archives of Spain Mexico and New Mexico (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1935, third printing 1969) , pp. 156, 275n118.
  6. "Columbus or North Platte? Site of Spanish Massacre", Nebraska History and Record of Pioneer Days, 7 (3), 1924
  7. 1 2 The Pawnee Indians. George E. Hyde 1951. New edition in The Civilization of the American Indian Series, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1974. ISBN   0806120940, pp. 75–76
  8. de Pastino, Blake (March 17, 2014). "First Evidence Found of Storied Battle That Stopped Spain's Eastward Expansion". Western Digs. Archived from the original on March 17, 2014. Retrieved March 23, 2014.
  9. Blake, Robert Bruce, Jean L'Archevêque, Handbook of Texas , retrieved February 7, 2008
  10. "The Villasur Expedition: The Battle", Nebraska Studies, accessed August 24, 2011