By Jim Misunas
LARNED — Donations by Wet/Dry Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail Association has recognized the valuable historical contribution of Spaniard Facundo Melgares, who explored the territory during the era of the Louisiana Purchase in 1806.
The historical dedication is scheduled at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18 during the 2014 Rendezvous of the Santa Fe Trail Association. Leo Oliva will deliver the keynote address Sept. 18 at the Santa Fe Trail Center.
The 4-foot-by-6-foot aluminum sign with a pair of six-foot limestone posts was constructed by Lansing Correctional Facility inmates and installed by chapter members Dale Otte and Doug Springer.
“It is a really nice marker,” said David Clapsaddle, Wet/Dry chapter Santa Fe Trail president, who provided research material on Melgares.
The Melgares Expedition of 1806 featured Facundo Melgares, born into an aristocratic family at Villa Caravaca, Spain, in 1775.
Melgares received an education and entered the Royal Army as a lieutenant. He came to New Spain in 1803 to serve in the frontier army at the Presidio de Carrizal south of El Paso. There he led successful expeditions against the Apaches. Melgares was appointed governor of Spain’s holdings in the New World.
In 1806, Lt. Melgares was sent to Santa Fe, N.M., to lead an expedition onto the Great Plains to meet with Plains Indians and turn back explorers from the United States. He left Santa Fe June 15, 1806, with 105 presidio soldiers, 400 New Mexican militia, 100 Indian allies, and 2,000 horses and mules.
They followed the Red River, meeting with Comanches, and headed north to meet with the Pawnees. One mile southeast of this marker, Melgares left 240 of his men and more than 1,000 horses and mules encamped while he took the rest of his command to meet Pawnees in present-day Nebraska.
“Part of Melgares’ mission was to proceed north and intercede with any interlopers in their territory,” Clapsaddle said. “They camped in present-day Nebraska.”
Two weeks later, the entire army headed back to Santa Fe, arriving there Oct. 1, 1806.
Zebulon Montgomery Pike visited the same Pawnee Village a few weeks later and followed the tracks of Melgares’s army into present Colorado near Pike’s Peak. Pike and 13 soldiers were later arrested by Spanish troops and taken to Santa Fe and Chihuahua.
During the two months Pike was detained, he was accompanied by Lt. Melgares.
During their time together, the men became close friends. Melgares provided Pike with invaluable information about New Spain, which Pike reported in his published journals in 1810.
“They were both well educated and found their had a lot in common. They had a very gracious friendship,” Clapsaddle said. “Within weeks, Zubelon Pike explored the same territory. He came to present-day Nebraska and came to the same Pawnee Village as Melarges. He followed the Melgares route.”
The routing produced maps of the area that helped Missouri travelers to reach Santa Fe. This information stimulated attempts by U.S. citizens to open trade with New Mexico, which were not successful until Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821.
When William Becknell, the “father of the Santa Fe Trail,” reached New Mexico in November 1821, he was welcomed in Santa Fe by New Mexico Governor Facundo Melgares, who deserves to be known as the “grandfather of the Santa Fe Trail.”
Pike described Melgares, whom he called “our friend,” as “a man of immense fortune, and generous in its disposal, almost to profusion, possessed a liberal education, high sense of honor, and a disposition formed for military enterprise.”
Unfortunately, no records have been located about Melgares after his term as governor, 1818-1822.