Villasur Expedition Hide Painting Reproduction

VillasurBanner

In recognition of the 300th anniversary of the Villasur Expedition, the Nebraska History Museum displayed a reproduction of the hide painting that was created to document the attack that ended the expedition.

Although French traders and trappers were in the region, the Villasur expedition was the first large-scale European incursion to occur in what would become Nebraska. Subsequently, the battle contributed to ending the eastward expansion of Spanish exploration in North America.

The painted scene is a rare example of the earliest known depictions of colonial life in the United States. It is also the earliest known illustration of an event in the place we now call Nebraska.


The Historical Background

In the early 17th century, trade potential with Plains Native Americans elevated competition between the Spanish and the French. Upon hearing the French were trading near the Platte and Missouri rivers, the Spanish government ordered countermoves. Lieutenant-General Pedro de Villasur (pronounced vee-yah-SOOR) was appointed to lead an army into this territory. On June 16, 1720, Villasur set out from Santa Fe accompanied by forty-five Spanish soldiers, sixty Pueblo Indians, an interpreter, and a priest.

On August 13, 1720, Villasur’s party, while camped near Columbus, Nebraska, met Pawnee and Otoe Indians, who were French allies. After failed negotiation attempts, Indians attacked the next morning — possibly with the support of French traders — and Villasur was killed along with most of his company.

The thirteen surviving Spaniards returned to Sante Fe. The government commissioned a battle painting based on their descriptions. A 17-by-4 1/2-foot mural was painted on three, sewn together skins (likely buffalo hides). The original is in the collection of the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe.


The Painted Scene

The massacre scene occurs on the point of land formed by the confluence of two rivers. The Platte River is near the top of the painting and two Indians are wading across the Loup River.

The center of the scene portrays French soldiers, and Native American warriors surrounding the Spanish camp. The Pawnee and Otoe are illustrated with painted and unclothed bodies and shaved heads. In addition to their bows, arrows, and spears, many are shown armed with swords and hatchets received from French traders. The French attackers are depicted wearing either three cornered hats or pointed caps and firing longarm rifles. However, oral and written accounts of the battle do not mention French soldiers in the area. French trade items were recoverd from archeological work at Pawnee and Otoe villages of the period.

Spanish soldiers are illustrated wearing broad brimmed hats, long coats, and some carried leather shields. They are grouped together in a defensive circle. Villasur is shown in a red officer’s coat lying on his back below his dead horse. Father Juan Minguez, a Dominican priest, is shown giving last rites to his fallen comrades. He died in the battle, as well.

 

How the Villasur Expedition painting reproduction was made

 

Archeological attempts to find the Villasur battle site

 

 

An Otoe-Missouria perspective on the Villasur Expedition

 

 

A Pawnee perspective on the Villasur Expedition

 

 

Elsie Whitehorn on the Otoe-Missouria tribe’s role in Villasur Expedition battle

 

 

0 Comments

You May Also Enjoy

Marker Monday: Spade Ranch

Marker Monday: Spade Ranch

Nebraska’s Japanese American History

Nebraska’s Japanese American History

The Blacksmith Shop

The Blacksmith Shop

Marker Monday: Long Pine – A Railroad Town

Marker Monday: Long Pine – A Railroad Town

Fred Astaire’s Omaha Origins

Fred Astaire’s Omaha Origins

About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.