To study the expeditions of Juan Pardo and other Spanish explorers requires looking back
at what archaeologist Charles Hudson calls an unknown South.
The South of 400-plus years ago when
Spanish explorers trekked from Florida to Tennessee and out to Texas and Arkansas
indeed seems completely unfamiliar to most Southerners. The series Ive done on the
Pardo expedition has tried to shed some light on that unknown period. In the
process, the series has demonstrated that Rowan County can lay claim to a notable part of
W.J. Cash, a Charlotte
newspaperman, rightly observed in his 1941 book The Mind of the South that
Southern history consists of important connections linking one era to the next. He likened
the construction of the regions history to that of certain English church buildings.
The exterior might have a late Gothic look, but inside, one can find Norman arches from
the 1100s. And if you look into the crypt, Cash wrote, you may even find
stones cut by Saxons, brick made by Roman hands.
So it is with Rowan Countys
documented history. Many of the earliest, sturdiest bricks are well-known:They are the
remarkable achievements from the 1700s of the countys English, Scotch-Irish and
German pioneers. But Rowans actual foundation was laid nearly 200 years earlier, by
In the 1560s, Spaniards built a
fort at Guatari, an Indian settlement at the Yadkin. Spanish documents sang praises about
the quality of the land. The Spanish governor intended to create his personal estate
there. The Spanish renamed Guatari after one of Spains proudest cities, Salamanca. A
Spanish missionary, Sebastian Montero, taught the Guatari Indians to recite the
Lords Prayer. He tutored them in the Spanish language. He taught some of the Indians
how to write. He led them in communion.
He may even have erected a wooden
cross on the banks of the Yadkin in an era when William Shakespeare was only a
And Monteros efforts at
Guatari, although transitory, still stand as the first documented success by a Christian
missionary in all of North America.
The Guatari, too, deserve study.
At the time of Pardos arrival, their chief was a woman. One of the most prominent
lesser chiefs at Guatari was also female.
Guatari, located near Trading
Ford, was one of two influential chiefdoms the Spanish found in North Carolina. But
deciphering the Indian leaders true intentions and the actual strength or
weakness of their chiefdoms is a highly uncertain endeavor. The Spanish documents
are too unclear; the archaeological evidence, too fragmentary.
The Guatari series has also looked
at the animals and landscapes of precolonial Rowan. It turns out that some modest-looking
plants now found along Rowans fences and power poles are the remnants of what were
once important natural habitats here, habitats that supported elk and even bison.
Telling the many stories from the
Pardo era has been an immense privilege for me. What began as a straightforward historical
study gradually branched out in unexpected directions, into archaeology and natural
history. I will never have an opportunity to paint on such a grand canvas again.
The project began, surprisingly
enough, through happenstance. About seven years ago I was to meet with Steve Bouser, then
the Posts editor, in his office. Steve was out but was expected to return
momentarily, so to pass the time I looked at a pile of newspapers in his office. Ipicked
up a paper from South Carolina and saw that it included a small feature story about a
Spanish explorer named Juan Pardo. I glanced at an accompanying map, which showed that the
Spanish had marched right into the North Carolina Piedmont.
From that moment, I knew that a
door was opening.
I wont be around in 2067 for
the 500th anniversary of Juan Pardos arrival in Rowan, but I would hope the county
comes up with a proper way to acknowledge the role the the expedition played in the
countys early history.
Imagining what Rowan will be like
2067 is about as difficult as comprehending what it was like in 1567. The imagination can
run wild. Given the ways of the modern world, its not impossible that by 2067 some
corporation will have bought up all of High Rock and built a Juan Pardo Theme Park
complete with a Conquistador roller-coaster, Sebastian Montero water park, and laser-light
show depicting the first meeting of Pardo and the Guatari chief.
The discovery of Rowans part
of the Pardo story can accomplish something quite positive, though: It can lead Rowan to
think of itself anew. What better outcome could be asked for than for Rowan residents to
appreciate the true richness of their history and to ponder the unexpected connections
that abound in the human experience?
The Posts series ends today,
but Rowans exploration of the Guatari story is only beginning.
Geitner Simmons has been a staff
member of the Salisbury Post since 1988. He starts work in September with the Omaha
World-Herald in Omaha, Neb.