What The Omaha World-Herald Didn’t Know About The Spanish Origins of Nebraska

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August 18, 499 A.C.

The Mexican American Historical Society of the Midlands, a local non-profit based in South Omaha, has since before its beginning in 2009 traveled throughout Nebraska making presentations on the Spanish Presence on the Plains, that included the Villasur Expedition of 1720.

Why, I ask, were we not contacted by the Omaha World Herald, as they were writing about the 300th Anniversary of this historic event? We would have definitely advised not using the byline, “A Deadly Surprise on the Plains”, for the story.

I first came across this story in the early 1990’s during a visit to the Columbus Nebraska’s public library, where my esposa/wife Linda, was facilitating a Mexican folk-lore storytelling hour. In the library building I discovered a detailed version of the story of the Villasur Expedition and a mural of Segasser Hide #2.

The Omaha World Herald article was informative, bringing a Native American perspective to this 1st historical event involving Spanish colonial forces and Indigenous Amerindian tribes in what would become the Nebraska Plains.

Reading the entire story, I found that the historical aspect was not nourished by a narrative that would have presented literature profoundly diverse and indicative of the Spanish influences that went beyond the carnage and betrayal that resulted in the Villasur Massacre at or near Columbus, Nebraska, August 14, 1720.

For instance, a major personage in the expedition was one Jose’ Naranjo, who was correctly described as a faithful Pueblo scout.

One important description of Naranjo was missing. He was a Mulatto. He was the grandson of a black onetime slave and an Indian woman. Of eminent importance, he was also the son of Domingo Naranjo, who is said to have instigated the great Pueblo Revolt of 1680 in New Mexico. Naranjo was counted as a casualty of the attack.

Another point of information that would have shown the strong Spanish influence in the narrative is the fact that that Spanish explorers had named the Platte River during this historical period “El Rio de Jesus Maria”. The Loup River had the Spanish name also, the “Rio San Lorenzo”.

Then there was the narrative involving animal hides used as a canvas for a painted descriptive image of the attack on the Expedition. The replica of the original that is housed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is currently on exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum and is referred to as Segesser Hide # 2. There were actually 3 distinct images, all rendered on animal hides, that made up the paintings sent to Europe by Father Phillip von Segesser von Brunegg some years after the Expedition. The 1st continues to be in the hands of Europeans….the 3rd painting has been lost.

An additional detail left out of the OWH story is a probable explanation as to the intent for creating those images….The artist of Segesser Hide #2, has remained unknown. Yet, the painting bears similarities to manuscript art, which are historical documents that may have been done to accompany written reports of Colonial activities and sent to monarchical authorities in Spain, to meet administrative requirements. Much like the ‘lienzos’, sixteenth century fold-out cloth paintings executed by Indigenous artists under the tutelage of Spanish priests, during the 300 year colonial period in Mexico.

Another opportunity missed that amplified the Spanish influence, was the introduction of Spanish horses to the Plains beginning in the latter half of the 17th Century. This along with other Spanish artifacts found in the Sand Hills and the involvement of Spanish traders up and down the Oregon Trail through what would become Nebraska, are strong indicators of the Spanish Influence on the Plains, generally ignored when stories of European settlers are favored for public consumption.

These details are part of the National Mestizaje. Mestizaje of the 21st century includes not only people of European and indigenous descent, but also those from Africa and their children born in the Americas. Early in the 16th century Africans and African Americans became integral members of Spanish American society either as freemen or slaves experiences among people of mixed blood.

These realities and historical benchmarks would have been accessible if the Omaha World Herald had reached out to the Mexican American Historical Society of the Midlands for historical perspective.
Until the status quo begins to practice what they preach and take the ‘gag order’ down, organizations such as ours will forever be silenced.

José Francisco García
Director – Curatorial Operations
Mexican American Historical Society of the Midlands.
4923 S 24th st
Omaha, Nebraska
MAHSM.org

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