KS Make note of the name Etzanoa, a long-lost city. Donald
Blakeslee says he's found it.
State anthropologist Donald Blakeslee talks about the Wichita
Indian settlement of Etzanoa, which was discovered near present-day
Arkansas City by Spanish explorers in 1602. It is estimated
the settlement was home to 20,000 Plains Indians. email@example.com
The discovery could put south-central Kansas on the map as the
second-biggest settlement of Native Americans found in the United
States, Blakeslee said. And it's now, finally, the known location
of a 1601 battle pitting outnumbered Spaniards firing cannon into
waves of attacking Indian warriors.
Etzanoa has remained 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.
But here 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 massive town
stretching across thousands of acres of bluffs and rich bottomland
along two rivers. What clinched it was the discovery, by a high
school kid, 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, then pushed aside by American
settlers and the United States Army.
Amazed By The Size
With the discovery, Arkansas City leaders are hoping
to turn their 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 council 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.
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, along with 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, a fact
that gets the attention of Arkansas Citians. If Etzanoa was bigger,
"and it might have been," that will rewrite American history, Blakeslee
described finding a city of 2,000 beehive-shaped houses. Shown
is a traditional Wichita grass house in a file photo from
"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 mega-site named Etzanoa, where was the
huge accumulation of pottery shards?
sacred shrine discovered, rooted in Wichita mythology
And where did those tens of thousands of people go? Twenty thousand,
as the Spaniards estimated in 1601, is equivalent to modern-day
Derby, Liberal or Hays.
And how could Plains hunters feed tens of thousands day after
day? Bison are dangerous. The Wichita had no horses and hunted on
And where were the Spanish cannonballs, fired by outnumbered
and terrified Spaniards?
For years, Blakeslee, 73, had 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
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
The attackers were Escanxaques, a tribe enemy to the Wichita.
They had come to attack Etzanoa and now attacked the Spanish.
Sixty of the 70 Spaniards were wounded. Their four cannons saved
them, clusters of iron bullets fired from cannon-like shotgun blasts,
whistling into trees and boulders. The Escanxaques, stunned, regrouped
in a rock-lined ravine, but then charged repeatedly uphill to attack
before finally backing off.
map was drawn in 1602 by a Wichita Indian who was captured
by the Spanish. The circular figures represent native settlements.
Etzanoa is depicted by two circles with a diagonal line between
them at the top center of the map.
Image Credit: General Archives of Maps and Plans, Mexico City
It was a high school kid, Adam Ziegler, who made the
link that cinched the verification of Etzanoa.
Blakeslee says artifacts he and Ziegler found in the past two
years show the old stories were true, and that between the years
1450 and 1700, at least 20,000 ancestors of today's Wichita Nation
thrived in and near what is now Arkansas City.
Blakeslee realized the confluence of the Walnut and Arkansas
rivers could be the one described by the Spanish. He found traces
of houses and granaries. He's walked over much of Arkansas City
and saw that the ravines and bluffs fit the Spanish accounts.
After locals like Hap McCleod told him people had been digging
up "literally tons" of flint tools and clay pottery shards for generations,
Blakeslee dug up his own shards, flint arrowheads, knife blades,
hide-scrapers and awls.
Two years ago he found a rock-lined ravine in McLeod's backyard
that matched the Spanish account of where the Escanxaques regrouped
under fire to attack. He took a metal detector there, along with
Ziegler, a Lawrence Free-State High School freshman.
"They couldn't find anything that day," Ziegler recalled. "Dr.
Blakeslee said I could use his metal detector. An hour or two later,
I found the little ball, buried four inches deep."
Blakeslee found two more Spanish cannonballs.
That did it, Blakeslee said. The old story was true.
Tough Beyond Belief
Blakeslee says the Wichita were wronged by fate, disease
epidemics and war. He's going to try to set right what he can.
Smallpox and other illnesses killed probably tens of thousands
after 1600, he said.
War and relocation forced survivors to Oklahoma reservations.
The tribe lost most of its culture. The
tribe's last fluent speaker of the Wichita language, Doris McLemore,
died last year.
The Wichita were organized, cultured "and tough almost
beyond belief," he said.
They and their Wichita cousins in Quivira, in Rice County, built
a trade network with ancestors of the Pueblo Indians in New Mexico.
They strapped 50-pound packages of dried meat and hides to themselves
and their pack dogs, and walked 550 miles to the Pueblos. They'd
then walk back, bringing home cotton fabric, obsidian and turquoise.
They had no horses. The women and children likely helped hunt
bison, Blakeslee said, forming lines and waving hide blankets while
driving bison toward warriors carrying bows and arrows. "Think of
the courage that took," Blakeslee said.
They cultivated beans, maize (corn), pumpkin and squash. They
slaughtered bison meat and hides on an industrial scale. The men
likely scouted, walking miles a day, shadowing herds. The women
used flint hide-scrapers to thin down bison hides. "From doing that
all day, they probably had the toughest fists," Blakeslee said.
"You'd never want to get in a fistfight with a Wichita woman."
Modern-day Wichitas number about 3,000, based now
in Anadarko, Okla., said Gary McAdams, who has held several leadership
positions with the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes.
The Wichita are intrigued and concerned by what
might come next, McAdams said. Blakeslee has consulted with them
for years, telling what he's found, inviting them to visit sites
at Arkansas City and at the 160-foot-long serpent symbol still visible
in the pasture grass in Rice County. Wichitas have helped on some
of his digs.
"We would have some concern about how they go about developing
their thinking about Etzanoa as a tourist center," McAdams said.
"We are supportive of any respectful endeavor they want to pursue
there but would want to provide our input."
Jay Warren, a city council member, says the town will explore
Cahokia, in Illinois, attracts 400,000 visitors a year, but
mostly because of how striking the 100-foot-tall Monk's Mound looks,
and because it's located next to St. Louis and Interstate 70.
Arkansas City, in contrast, has pastureland.
But Civil War battlefields don't have a Monk's Mound either,
Warren said. "And yet they attract thousands of visitors by doing
a great job with walking trails and signs that explain step-by-step
what was going on."
If Arkansas City with its 12,000 people could attract 20,000
students, archaeologists and tourists a year, it would give the
city a boost, said McLeod, in whose backyard Adam Ziegler found
that cannonball. McLeod now runs the Etzanoa Conservancy, and has
worked for two years to polish ideas. "We're really proud that all
this history happened here, and we want to share it with the world,"
"We're not talking about putting together a one-day wonder,"
Warren said. "We're looking at creating something that could be
great for the region, and for 50 years and more down the road. We're
talking with (Unified School District) 470 about how it could enhance
education. And we think the site could also be a hands-on field
training facility for archaeologists from all over the world."
They could build an interactive visitor center, he said. They
could build reconstructions of the grass houses and granaries the
Wichita used. They could employ flint-knappers who could show how
skilled craftsmen made arrowheads and knife blades.
Etzanoa would have been beautiful, McLeod said. The river bluffs
south of Arkansas City look like picture postcards. The bluffs and
hills pour out clear spring water from dells and nooks.
McLeod drove up recently to the tallest point in Arkansas City
where the city's golf course clubhouse sits.
Blakeslee had told him that's where Caratax, the Wichita chief
in 1601, probably kept his home.
"You can see 360 degrees in any direction from here," McLeod
"And it's all beautiful."
State archaeologist and anthropologist Donald Blakeslee points
out man-made depressions on a boulder in what would have been
the lost city of Etzanoa, a home to ancestors of the Wichita
tribe. Researchers like Blakeslee believe that the area was
a sprawling city of 20,000 people when it was first discovered
by Spanish explorers in the early 17th century. The area sits
along the banks of the Walnut River just outside Arkansas
City. (photo by Travis Heying - The Wichita Eagle)
Superimposed over a satellite image of Arkansas City, Kan., and
its surroundings is a graphic of the probable extent of the protohistoric
Wichita settlement of Etzanoa, perhaps the largest Native American
settlement in the United States surpassing Cohokia in what
is today Illinois. Also shown are the route taken by Spanish conquistadors
led by Juan de Oñate and the site of the Battle of