Just in time for Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15-October 15, the Anza Society International (ASI) is holding its 24th annual conference in Colorado Springs, Thursday, Sept. 12 to Sunday, Sept. 15. An important function of Hispanic Heritage Month is to educate Americans about the contributions of Mexican and Spanish people to the development of what is now the U.S. Southwest.
A significant Hispanic event in the general history of this region is the Anza expedition of 1779. The Anza Society commemorates this event and other exploits of don Juan Bautista de Anza, the governor of New Mexico, 1777-1787. Anza had Spanish antecedents but he was not a Spaniard. Born in Arizpe, Sonora, he was what is known as a Creole, as people born in Mexico were called. Anza’s fame began with his opening of overland routes to California from what is now the Mexican state of Sonora, and the exploration of the present site of San Francisco. He was a renowned military strategist who is credited with saving the isolated colony of New Mexico in 1779 with his decisive defeat of the warlike Comanche tribe and their leader, Cuerno Verde, whose name derived from his buffalo headdress with green painted horns.
As the soldier who saved New Mexico, historians consider Anza instrumental in guaranteeing the existence of the modern Southwest with its strong Mexican and Spanish influence. In 1779 Anza and 600 New Mexico militia and presidential soldiers, with Ute and Apache Indian allies, came down Ute Pass and surprised the Comanches at the confluence of Fountain and Monument Creeks, the present site of America the Beautiful Park. This ties Colorado Springs to Anza, the Creole. The claim is that Anza is responsible for the vital Spanish/Mexican presence in this area. Anza then led his men on a hot pursuit of the Indians south along Fountain Creek, crossing the Arkansas at what is now Pueblo.
Cuerno Verde and other Comanche chiefs died in a battle with Anza and the New Mexicans somewhere between Pueblo and present day Walsenburg. Greenhorn Peak in the Wet Mountains is named after Cuerno Verde, an historic fact unknown to many of us who live in this area.
The complete ASI conference at the Hotel Elegante, Sept. 12-15, is open to the public. We start with a reception on Thursday, 4-6 p.m. History faculty, history buffs, elected officials, dignitaries, and the public are invited. On Friday, we take a bus trip to the Florissant Fossil Beds, hoping to pinpoint any possible Anza expedition camp sites. We then continue to the Cripple Creek Heritage Center and the Cripple Creek District Museum. Friday evening we have a banquet at the Patty Jewett Club House, with a brief history of Patty Jewett and a distinguished guest speaker, Dr. Rick Hendricks, New Mexico State Historian, speaking on the Segesser Hide Paintings (depiction of a battle between Pawnee Indians and Spanish soldiers).
Saturday’s presentations include former El Paso County Sheriff John Anderson and Posse of the Westerners leader Bob DeWitt speaking on the Anza Legacy Project, whose aim is to map the Anza Trail through the San Luis Valley, South Park, Ute Pass, and on to the Cuerno Verde battle field. We hope to involve local governments and the state of Colorado in this historic project, with its potential to enhance tourism in southern Colorado. Along with other speakers, there will be a “Descendants of Anza” panel, and yours truly will present a powerpoint on Anza’s Leather Jacket Soldiers.
Dr. John L. Kessel, professor emeritus at the University of New Mexico, is the Saturday banquet speaker, speaking on Bernardo de Miera, New Mexico mapmaker who drew a map with Pikes Peak, Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River depicted. There is a special rate of $30 for those who wish to attend only on Saturday. We invite you to register for the conference at www.anzasociety.org.
Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS, a lecturer on U.S. Southwest history, and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.