Society

Lost Settlement Uncovered In Arkansas City

| by Simone Stover

A long-lost Native American settlement has been found in Kansas. 

In 1601, a group of Spaniards under the command of Juan de Onate (the first governor of New Mexico) stumbled across a vast settlement at the junction of two rivers, according to The Kansas City Star. It was home to the Wichita people, who -- according to the Crowley Courier Traveler -- had named it "Etzanoa." 

When the Spaniards approached Etzanoa, the Wichita fled. After entering, the Spanish, too, made a retreat, but were met by an enemy tribe of the Wichita, the Escanxaques. The Spanish and Escanxaques engaged in a battle, which the Spanish -- although outnumbered -- managed to escape from through the use of cannons.

In accounts of the event, the Spanish noted the great size of Etzanoa, estimating that it could possibly have housed a population of over 20,000 people. However, since the time of the Spanish expedition -- which was nearly 400 years ago -- no one had been able to confirm its existence. 

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Dr. Donald Blakeslee -- an anthropologist and archeologist at Wichita State University -- had studied for many years the accounts of the Spanish soldiers who were part of the group that encountered Etzanoa. In 2015, he realized that the confluence of the Walnut and Arkansas rivers -- located in Arkansas City, Kansas -- could have been the location of Etzanoa. 

His hypothesis was confirmed with the help of a local high student, Adam Ziegler. Blakeslee had found a rock-lined ravine in the backyard of Arkansas City resident Hap McCleod that matched a description from the accounts of one of the Spanish soldiers. He and Ziegler used metal detectors in the area and were able to find Spanish cannonballs; one was found by Ziegler and two more by Blakeslee. 

"They couldn’t find anything that day," said Ziegler of the event, according to the Kansas City Star. "Dr. Blakeslee said I could use his metal detector. An hour or two later, I found the little ball, buried four inches deep."

At the moment, the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico is considered to be the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in western Illinois, which attracts 400,000 visitors each year. According to Blakeslee, Etzanoa might have been even bigger. With this in mind, Arkansas City officials are hoping to turn Etzanoa into a tourist attraction that would have a positive impact on the community.

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"We’re not talking about putting together a one-day wonder," said Jay Warren, an Arkansas City council member, according to The Kansas City Star. "We’re looking at creating something that could be great for the region, and for 50 years and more down the road ... And we think the site could also be a hands-on field training facility for archaeologists from all over the world."

The impact of Etzanoa has already received some notable attention. On April 5, the Kansas House of Representatives formally recognized the archeological research that suggested that Etzanoa had been found, according to The Crowley Courier Traveler.

"Based on the evidence, the Etzanoa archaeological site of a 5-mile-long settlement of an estimated 20,000 ancestors of the Wichita tribe, thrived from about 1425 to the early 1700s," said Anita Judd-Jenkins, a representative from Arkansas City.

"Archaeologists agree that a city of this size would be the second-largest prehistoric Native American site ever discovered in the U.S. and Canada," she continued, "making it a possible candidate for being designated as both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark."

Sources: The Kansas City Star, The Crowley Courier Traveler / Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall/Wikimedia Commons

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