American Journeys
Home Find a Document Images Advanced Search Highlights Teachers Help  
Document Number: AJ-106
Author: Vélez de Escalante, Silvestre, died 1792
Title: Diary and Itinerary
Source: Bolton, Herbert E. (editor and translator). Pageant in the Wilderness: The Story of the Escalante Expedition to the Interior Basin, 1776. Including the Diary and Itinerary of Father Escalante Translated and Annotated by Herbert E. Bolton. (Salt Lake City: Utah Historical Society, 1950). Pages 133-239.
Pages/Illustrations: 111 / 3
Citable URL: www.americanjourneys.org/aj-106/

Author Note

Born in Trenceño, Spain, Silvestre Vélez de Escalante (1750-1780) travelled to Mexico and joined the Catholic order of Franciscan s at age seventeen. Before his expedition to Utah, he served as a missionary among the Zuñi and Hopi Indians in present-day New Mexico and Arizona. In 1780, en route to Mexico City, Escalante died before he reached age of thirty.

Expedition of 1776

The Spanish authorities in New Mexico wanted to establish an overland route to Monterey, California, both to tie the northern and western parts of the Spanish Empire together and to bring Indians in these areas under Spanish control. To avoid the deserts and hostile Indians to the west, Escalante’s superior, Father Francisco Atanasio Domínguez, proposed a northwestern route through the little-known territory of the Ute Indians. So on July 29, 1776, the expedition left Santa Fe, travelling through northern New Mexico, southwestern Colorado and into Utah.

While the Spanish explorers were travelling north through western Colorado, two Timpanogot Ute Indians joined them as guides and were given European names. The twelve-year-old Joaquin accompanied the party through the entire journey and Escalante’s journal records some of his adventures. After crossing the Green River, Escalante turned west and entered the Utah Valley near the present city of Provo, Utah. In early October the party turned back due the onset of winter. On their return, the Spanish suffered from terrible cold and snow and a severe shortage of food, but the Southern Paiute Indians saved them from starvation. They returned to Santa Fe on January 2, 1777.

Document Note

Escalante and his fellow Spanish were the first Europeans known to travel across the Great Basin. Escalante’s journal maps out the landscape of the west and describes land, the plants, animals, and the missionaries’ encounters with Ute, Paiute, Laguna, and other Indian tribes. While Escalante and Dominguez failed to establish a link between New Mexico and California, the journey opened up an unknown part of the West to Europeans. Sections later became part of the Spanish Trail.

The original manuscript no longer exists but some copies made by Escalante remain in museums and libraries.

Other Internet and Reference Sources

To learn more about the Escalante expedition’s place in Utah history see the Utah State Historical Society web site at http://historytogo.utah.gov/domingzesca.html and http://www.statehousegirls.net/ut/history/.

To view images of the Escalante manuscript, go to the University of Arizona Library, http://www.library.arizona.edu/branches/spc/homepage/ dominguez.htm.

For information on the Spanish trail, see the appropriately titled web site, “Old Spanish Trail” at http://www.oldspanishtrail.org/index.htm

Read this Document
Print or Download
Read Background
View Reference Map (PDF)
How to Cite
Copyright and Permissions
© 2014 Wisconsin Historical Society Feedback | Site Help
Wisconsin history