When most Americans think of 1776 it is usually about the Declaration of Independence or the Revolutionary War. Whatever else they remember, it tends to be geographically located on the east coast. However, about a decade ago an astute Utah Park Service Volunteer stumbled onto a piece of history that shows other parts of the future United States was alive and well — and filled with explorers.
A Lake Powell volunteer was removing graffiti from the side of a cliff when he noticed what appeared to be a Spanish phrase and 1776 hidden under the graffiti. Due to the inscription’s significance it was recently enclosed with a steel fence.
Park officials determined the phrase, Paso por aqui, Anyo 1776 (Passed through here, the year 1776) was left by a pair of Spanish priests. The pair, along with less than a dozen men, crisscrossed what is now Utah on horseback trying to establish a route from Santa Fe (New Mexico) to Monterey (California).
The priests kept a diary of the 1,700 mile, six-month adventure. Accompanying them on their journey was a 12-year-old Ute boy who served as their guide. They called him by the Spanish name — Joaquin. The boy was nearly killed in a horse riding incident. The priests wrote,
Joaquín, for a prank, mounted a too spirited horse. While galloping through the valley the horse plunged its forelegs into a hole, and fell, sending the rider a long distance through the air. We were frightened, thinking that the Laguna was very much hurt by the fall. When he had recovered from his fright he cried a great deal, but the Lord willed that the poor horse received all the injury because it broke its neck.
You can learn more about their journey — as well as additional excerpts from their diaries — here.
What I find intriguing about the story is it lends support to the 11 Nations theory written about in American Nations. Even in the country’s beginning not all of the inhabitants, of what would become the United States, were English-speaking British-Americans. Besides the British, Irish, Dutch, German, African-Americans and French in the colonial area, the Spanish were populating parts of the West and modern-day Florida.