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1542 A.D.:  Juan de Padilla Becomes the United States' First Martyr!


   Here is an interesting quiz question:  Where did the first Christian Martyr within the boundaries of present day USA meet his death?  I don't think many of us have ever heard of this one.


  Kansans proudly commemorate the event!  Some of my ancestors and their relations dwelled near Mulberry, Kansas in the late 1800's and even into the later 1900's, after which point I'm not certain if they remained in that vicinity or not.  I got to meet some of them then living near there.  They seemed like good people!


  When the explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado set out from Mexico into what would one day become the United States, it was with about 300 Spanish, and about 1000 Mexican natives.  There were seven 'cities of gold' out there somewhere - the rumors had been around for a long time.  Coronado hoped to find them and become famous and rich.

  With him came some priests to spread the faith and perhaps perform rites for the dead for those Spaniards that might meet their demise on such a dangerous journey, and among them was Franciscan friar Juan de Padilla.  Juan had started as a soldier earlier in his life, but had traded it in for the cossack of a priest.  He was said to be a man posessing talents of a high order. 

  He made it to the New World, and worked in ministry there.  He labored for years in Mexico seeking souls for the Lord.  He had even helped found a monastery there.  But when he heard about the Coronado expedition, heading out into the fable filled unknown of the northern New World lands.....he just wanted to go!  And he managed to become a member of the explorers party, along with three other Franciscans friars.

  There were many adventures.  Coronado sent parties out in different directions to search and enquire of the various Native American tribes that they might meet, to try to discover hints of where the cities of gold lay.  Juan is said in some writings to have been sent with an expedition that first sighted the Grand Canyon.  If true, that might be another first for Juan - one of the first Europeans to sight the Grand Canyon.  I highly doubt that anyone in Coronado's party was the first though, personally.  I suspect that there is a lot of European or Old World involvement with the Americas that has gone unchronicled, or the knowledge of which now is lost.


  Map of Coronado Expedition's Long Travels


  Before long, the larger expedition made a move to the country of a native tribe named the 'Quivirans'.  Which tribe they were is today no longer certain.  Many believe they were the Wichita tribe.  Coronado noted them to be a healthy strong people, many of the men being over 6 feet tall.  This was pretty giant by the standard of the Spaniards, who were in the middle of the 5 foot range most often.  The Quivirans farmed corn, beans, and squash, and lived in straw thatched houses.  When it was warm, they went about nearly naked, at least by the Spaniards standards. 



  An example of the sort of dwelling constructed by some Kansas area tribes of Native Americans

  According to the Coronado expedition's chronicler, a man named Castaneda, when the main expedition finally left those tribes...:  "A friar named  Juan de Padilla remained in this province, together with a Spanish Portugese (Andres del Campo) and a negro (name not given) and a half-breed  (name not given) and some Indians from the province of Capothan (Capetlan), in New Spain.  They killed the friar, because he wanted to go to the province of Guas, who were their enemies. "

  So, whatever the success of their missionary work with the Quiviras, the Quiviras took it poorly that they would want to go teach Christ to other Native American tribes it would appear.  Particularly to the enemies of the Quivira tribe, at least.

  According to eye witnesses "the Indians came out in battle array to receive them, when the friar, knowing their intentions, told the Portugese and his attendants to take to flight, while he would await their coming in order that they (the Quivirans) might vent their fury on him as they (his companions) ran.  The former took to flight, and placing themselves on a height within view, saw what happened to the friar.  Padilla waited their coming upon his knees (apparently in prayer: author) and when they arrived they immediately put him to death."

  The Portugese and his attendants made it safely to Mexico, thanks to this courageous delaying tactic by Juan de Padillo, which allowed them to escape.     

  Father Padilla's grave marker, made by Indians friendly towards him, is a pile of stones around 6 ft by 6 ft by 10 ft tall, which can be found crowning the summit of a small hill near Council Grove, Kansas.  Interestingly, the center of the nations lower 48 states is not too far away - it is in Lebanon, Kansas.  But that geographic center was determined using a certain card board cut out of the lower 48 states, I have read.  It could be off by quite a ways. 

  Yes Kansas, you have the distinction, according to the sources I found, of having the first know blood of a martyr spilled upon your soil - the first in the 50 states.  It's quite possible there is someone else, but if you look it up, the name Juan de Padilla is usually the man mentioned - the first of Jesus's servants to die for the spreading of His living word in what would become the largest missionary nation to come along for quite a good long while - the USA!  Good job Juan!  Congratulations, Kansas!  No wonder you are one of the states so often seen standing up for what is right in in our nation.  It runs in your blood!  Didn't they used to say "Bloody Kansas!" ?  The blood of Jesus' martyrs is dear to the Lord.

©2017 Daniel Curry & 'Deeds of God' Website