Ulibarri Claims Colorado for Spain, 1706

El Cuartelejo drawing UlibarriUlibarri Claims Colorado for Spain, 1706

A hundred years before Ulibarri, in 1598, Spanish Conquistador Juan de Onate founded a capital at an Indian Pueblo at San Gabriel, north of Santa Fe, in the Province of New Mexico.

Onate served as the first Governor and may also have followed the Rio Grande River north into the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado.

(see artist sketch of adobe pueblo at El Cuartelejo)

Pueblo Revolt

After many years of harsh Spanish rule, the Pueblo Indians along the Rio Grande staged the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, and expelled the Spanish for 12 years. The Spanish returned in 1692 for a reconquest, and a plan for more friendly treatment of the Indians, with more tolerance for native culture and religion.

Picuris Pueblo at El Cuartelejo

Picuris Pueblo San Lorenzo missionSome Picuris Pueblo (see photo of mission) Indians south of Taos had fled the region in 1696, and moved northeast to live with a federation of Apache tribes on the Great Plains. The Pueblo Indians built adobe housing and irrigated crop fields in a region known as El Cuartelejo (“The Far Quarter”).

In 1706, Captain Juan de Ulibarri, at age 36, led 40 soldiers and militia, and 100 Indian allies north from Taos, New Mexico to retrieve the Picuris from El Cuartelejo.

Juan de Ulibarri

Ulibarri was born in the New World and came to New Mexico in 1693 with Don Diego de Vargas during the reconquest.  He served as a “sergeant-major” at Santa Fe when he was picked for the mission to El Cuartelejo.  Afterward, he was promoted to general.

He had a Pueblo Indian scout named Jose Naranjo, who had assisted Governor Vargas during the reconquest.  Naranjo knew about the land beyond the frontier, and served as a guide for other Spaniards in Colorado in later years.

French Encroachment

The region north of Taos was regarded as frontier, inhabited by hostile Indians.  After the French explorations of Joliet (1673) and La Salle (1682), the Spanish feared that the French were encroaching into the Colorado region.

Ulibarri’s Route to El Cuartelejo

After Coronado book AB Thomas

Ulibarri traveled north from Santa Fe, then Taos, along the Wet Mountains, through Cuchara Pass, west of the Spanish Peaks from Lathrop State ParkSpanish Peaks, (see photo) near La Veta.  He reached the Rio de San Juan Baptista (Huerfano River) at Badito.  He crossed the Arkansas River, (which he named the Río Grande de San Francisco), near current-day Pueblo, Colorado.

From there, the expedition continued east, along the Arkansas River.  On August 4, 1706, Ulibarri reached El Cuartelejo, 20 days after leaving Santa Fe.

(Also see Spanish exploration map of Ulibarri route from the book, After Coronado, Spanish Exploration Northeast of New Mexico, 1696‑1727, Documents from the Archives of Spain, Mexico and New Mexico, published in 1935, translated and edited by Alfred Barnaby Thomas (A. B. Thomas), which includes The Diary of Juan de Ulibarri to El Cuartelejo, 1706.)

French Guns on the Great Plains

The Picurís were happy to leave, with a Spanish escort, because mounted Comanches and Pawnees, in possession of firearms supplied by French traders from the Mississippi Valley, now invaded the region.  The Apaches showed Ulibarri the French-made guns they had recovered in battle.  This confirmed Spanish fears of French encroachment.  The Apaches begged Ulibarri to stay and fight their enemies, but he declined to join a planned war party.

French musket Charleville 1866The first guns used were lightweight, smoothbore, French flintlock muskets, made in Charleville, France.

Spanish Claim to Colorado

El Quartelejo map Ulibarri routeTo strengthen the claim of Spain on the region, Ulibarri had the Apache leaders swear an oath of loyalty to King Philip V.  He also made the first recorded claim to Colorado soil in the name of Spain.  He claimed the land drained by the Rio Grande and Arkansas River as the Province of San Luis.  (France had already claimed the land drained by the Arkansas as part of Louisiana in 1682.) In a ceremony he recorded in his journal, after mounting a hill, with a Spanish padre, soldiers and Apache chiefs, Ulibarri wrote:

“Wednesday, the fourth (of August, 1706).
“….we ascended to the ridge where many chiefs of the settlements of El Cuartelejo were awaiting us. After we joined them with great pleasure to one another, we went on together…until we arrived on the last hill, where there was a most holy cross which the Apaches had set up.

“A chief of the Apaches came to me and took me forward to where the most holy cross stood.  After he had showed it to us, all the Spaniards and Christian Indians alighted, kissed, adored, and worshipped it.  Then the Royal Ensign Don Francisco de Valdes took it up, and we carried it in procession as far as the Rancherias, which was very close, at the foot of the hill.

“We continued thus until we arrived at the plaza which the rancherias formed.  The Reverend Father Fray Domingo de Aranz took up in his hand the most holy cross and intoned the Te Deum Laudemus (O God, we praise Thee) and the rest of the prayers and sang three times the hymn in praise of the sacrament. After these holy ceremonies were over, the Royal Ensign Don Francisco de Valdes drew his sword, and I, after making a note of the events of the day and the hours on which we arrived, said in a clear, intelligible voice:

New Spain Coat of Arms‘Knights, Companions and Friends: Let the broad new province of San Luis and the great settlement of Santo Domingo of El Cuartelejo be pacified by the arms of us who are the vassals of our monarch, king and natural lord, Don Philip V – may he live forever.’”

The royal ensign said: ‘Is there any one to contradict?’  All responded, ‘No.’  Then he said: ‘Long live the king! Long live the king! Long live the king!’ and cutting the air in all four directions with his sword the ensign signaled for the discharge of the guns.

After throwing up our hats and making other signs of rejoicing, the ceremony came to an end.”

Epilogue, After Ulibarri

When a Spanish expedition of 100 men led by Villasur returned to El Cuartelejo and the plains region in 1720, to capture French fur traders to learn about French ambitions, more than half of the troops were massacred by Pawnee Indians at the Platte and Loup Rivers.  With no gold found, the Spanish lost interest and influence in the Great Plains.

French fur traders traveled further west to trap and trade beaver pelts.  Over time, the Comanches drove the Apaches from the plains, southwest to New Mexico and Arizona.  Comanches raided Taos and Pecos for Spanish horses, which they used and traded to the French for guns.

In 1779, Comanche Chief Cuerno Verde (Green Horn) was killed in battle, near Rye, south of Pueblo, during a Spanish campaign of 800 soldiers, led by Governor Juan Bautista de Anza.  Eventually, the plains buffalo were gone and the Indians were moved to reservations after the Civil War.


  1. The Franciscan padres carried a missal book. The Spanish arrived on the feast day of Saint Dominic, or Santo Domingo.
  2. The location of El Cuartelejo is disputed.  Some historians place it in eastern Colorado, near Las Animas, or in Kiowa County, others place it further east, in Scott County, Kansas.  There are adobe ruins at Lake Scott State Park, near Scott City.  Ulibarri left a journal of his trip, but scholars argue theories about at least three different routes taken. Alfred B. Thomas, translated the Spanish journal for his 1935 book “After Coronado: Spanish Exploration Northeast of New Mexico.”  Thomas, believed El Cuartelejo lay along Horse Creek in Crowley County, about 50 miles east of current day Pueblo.
  3. Coronado called the Arkansas River the Rio San Pedro y San Pablo (Saints Peter and Paul) in 1541.  Other Spanish explorers called it or the Rio Napestle or Napeste, from an Indian word.  Ulibarri named it the Río Grande de San Francisco, when he crossed in 1706.  The name Arkansas came from a French word, based on the name used by Indians near the river’s mouth on the Mississippi.
  4. Further research is needed to determine if a notary accompanied Ulibarri in 1706.  Other journals of that time period name Antonio Duran de Armijo, long-time resident of Santa Fe, as a notary and physician, who accompanied Ulibarri in 1709, in pursuit of raiding Navajos.  He also served as a militia sergeant in 1715, and in Governor Cosio’s campaign against the Utes in 1719.  He died in June 1753.

Photo credits:
1.  El Cuartelejo drawing, Lake Scott State Park, Kansas
2.  Picuris Pueblo, San Lorenzo mission by Davidhc9 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
3.  After Coronado, Alfred B. Thomas, book cover
4.  Spanish Peaks from Lathrop State Park by Cassandra from Columbus, Ohio, USA [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
5.  French flintlock musket by Sejan (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
6.  Map of El Cuartelejo, in eastern Colorado, from Alfred B. Thomas
7.  New Spain Coat of Arms by PavelD [Public domain, CC0 or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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 [Last-Modified Date 2017-09-18] edit French fur traders

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