A story of friendship between Spanish explorer Father Escalante and the Ute boy who was his guide through the Utah territory.
In July 1776, a group of Spanish explorers set out from Santa Fe, New Mexico in search of a northern route to one of Spain’s colonial outposts in Monterey, California. Led by two Franciscan friars named Silvestre Velez de Escalante and Francisco Dominguez, the expedition passed through what is now Utah. Father Escalante kept a detailed record of their journey through this unknown terrain, and his journal was instrumental in opening Utah to European eyes. But his journal also provides a fascinating and valuable glimpse into Escalante’s feelings and friendships.
By the time the party reached what is now the Colorado-Utah border, they had ventured into lands unknown by the Spanish and had recruited two men to guide them to Utah Valley. Both were members of the Timpanogots Ute band that lived on the shores of Utah Lake, and the younger of the two was a 12-year old boy whom the Spanish called Joaquin.
Escalante tells of the day that Joaquin, as a prank, mounted a fiery horse and was thrown when the galloping steed tripped and fell. Escalante’s affection for the boy seems clear when he writes: "We were frightened, thinking that [Joaquin] had been badly hurt by the fall because when he had recovered from his fright, he wept copious tears. But God was pleased that the only damage was that done to the horse, which completely broke its neck, leaving it useless."
The party’s trail brought them up the Strawberry River and down Spanish Fork Canyon to Utah Lake.Their meeting with the Timpanogots went smoothly thanks to Joaquin. While initially met with weapons, Escalante wrote that the Utes were persuaded of the party’s good intentions "upon seeing that the boy Joaquin was on such good terms with us that he paid no attention to his own people.” Joaquin refused to leave the Father, leading Escalante to write that, “Such an attitude found in an Indian boy … was an occasion for surprise not only to his own people but to us as well."
Though only twelve years old, Joaquin left Utah Valley with the Dominguez-Escalante Expedition, helping to guide his friends through their entire journey.
Image: Father Escalante Discovers Utah Valley, painting by E. Keith Eddington. Courtesy of National Park Service.
See Patricia H. Kendig, “Father Escalante and the Indian Boy,” Beehive History 1, and Thomas G. Alexander, “Dominguez-Escalante Expedition,” Utah, The Right Place, accessed through http://historytogo.utah.gov/; Dean L. May, Utah: A People’s History (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1987), pp 23-32; Ted J. Warner, The Dominguez-Escalante Journal: Their Expedition Through Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico in 1776 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1995); Original Spanish journal text and English translation available at http://www.mith2.umd.edu/eada/gateway/diario/diary.html