Spanish Expeditions

Although Coronado and his party may have visited eastern Fremont County during his expeditions into the high plains of eastern Colorado in the 1540s (Chamblin, 1978) and members of the Dominguez Escalante expedition of 1776 may have viewed South Park from the southwest rim (Nutt, 1983), it was Juan Bautista de Anza who actually crossed through South Park in 1779 (Scott, 1975). Thomas (1932) translated Bautista de Anza's journals, which tell of his travels in South Park. Having been appointed governor of the province of New Mexico (which included parts of present-day Colorado)

in 1777, Bautista de Anza set out from Santa Fe on 15 August 1779, in search of Comanche Chief Cuerno Verde and his formidable band. Bautista de Anza wrote in his diary that the Comanche chief "had exterminated many pueblos, killing hundreds and making as many prisoners whom he afterwards sacrificed in cold blood" (Thomas, 1932:66).

Rather than travel eastward over the Taos Mountains and then north toward the Arkansas River, Bautista de Anza traveled northward along an untried route through the San Luis Valley into Colorado in an attempt to evade discovery by the enemy. He outfitted his force of 573 men with guns, ammunition, provisions, and horses and organized his command into three divisions. On 20 August they were joined by 200 friendly Utes and Apaches just north of the present-day Colorado-New Mexico border near Antonito. From 22 August through 24 August, they moved at night in order to avoid detection. The group crossed Poncha Pass at the northern end of the San Luis Valley on 26 August, then spent the next day traveling 24 km "through a very narrow canyon with almost inaccessible sides, and considerable water," costing them "considerable work to conquer" (Thomas, 1932:128). On 28 August 1779, after crossing the Arkansas River near where Salida is now located, they continued northeastward along the mountainous Ute Trail into South Park. They paused for a day in an arroyo, thought to be in Herring Park (upstream on Herring Creek and within 2 km of Porcupine Cave), to refresh their horses and to dress out and prepare the meat of 50 head of buffalo they had killed within 10 minutes from among a large herd that had interrupted their march. On 30 August Bautista de Anza and his troops left South Park by way of the Cripple Creek area, then traveled over the Front Range just south of Pikes Peak.

Bautista de Anza attacked the Comanches near the Rio de Sacramento (now Fountain Creek) on 31 August 1779, then returned south to Santa Fe via Taos. The number of Co-manche dead was estimated at 131 and total leagues traveled during the expedition at 540 (this would equal 2600-3000 km, depending on what kind of "league" was meant) (Lluch, 1962).

A suit of Spanish armor was reportedly found in a rock crevice in the southwestern part of South Park (Simmons, 1966). If the account is true, the suit probably belonged to one of Bautista de Anza's soldiers, for that expedition was the only recorded penetration of South Park by the Spaniards.


One of the first American explorers in South Park was Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike (Simmons, 1966). Following the Louisiana Purchase, Thomas Jefferson sent Pike to explore the area around the headwaters of the Platte River in 1806. Pike followed Oil Creek (Fourmile Creek on present-day maps) into South Park in the Elevenmile Canyon Reservoir area. His expedition camped several nights in South Park during December 1806 and left the park through Trout Creek Pass to the southwest (Scott, 1975).

The party of Lieutenant John C. Fremont of the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers traveled from Pueblo to St. Vrain's Fort via Manitou Springs, Ute Pass, South Park, and North Park in 1842; Fremont came through South Park again in 1844 on his way from California, returning through South Park in 1845. The trapper Kit Carson, who was very familiar with the South Park region, was his guide for at least two of the trips.

The most notable explorations of South Park were the government surveys under the direction of Ferdinand V. Hayden, U.S. Geologist. Hayden's Report(s) of the . . . Territories (1873, 1874) incorporated reports from various accompanying specialists, including geologists, mineralogists, paleontologists, zoologists, and geographers. During the first trip of the Hay-den Survey into South Park in 1869, the crew entered the basin from the west over Trout Creek Pass, visited the area around the salt springs and Horseshoe Mountain, examined mining and placer operations around Fairplay, and then exited over Kenosha Pass at the north end of the basin. Persifor Frazier Jr., the survey party's mining engineer, described the salt works and the process of salt extraction (Hayden, 1873). Hayden himself (1873) stated that, although very interesting from a geological point of view, the origin of the salt springs remained somewhat obscure to him. Fieldwork during June and the first two weeks of July in 1873 in South Park was much more thorough than that carried out during the 1869 expedition. Survey geologist Dr. Albert C. Peale and other members of Hayden's party reported extensively on the geology of South Park (Hayden, 1874). F. M. Endlich exhaustively examined and reported on the geology in the area surrounding Porcupine Cave, which was known to them as "Ice Cave" (Hayden, 1874; Bloch, 1946).

Captain George M. Wheeler's expedition for the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, under the direction of Lieutenant W. L. Marshall, also surveyed South Park in 1873 and 1874 (Goetzmann, 1966; Simmons, 1990). Members of both Hayden's and Wheeler's expeditions camped together in the Upper Arkansas Valley near Twin Lakes (Simmons 1990).

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