Francisco Atanasio Domínguez (18th Century)

  Diario y Derrotero

Edition, Translation, Annotation, and Introduction by Jarom McDonald


Very little is known about the early lives of Francisco Atanasio Domínguez and Francisco Silvestre Vélez de Escalante. Though the former was born in Mexico City and the latter in Treceño, Spain, both joined the Franciscan Order at the age of seventeen, and both had served in a variety of missionary capacities and locales before being assigned to the Villa de Santa Fé in the mid 1770s. Domínguez, the canonical inspector of the New Mexico Missions, determined that one of his objectives during his period of service would be to find an overland route from Santa Fé to Monterey, California. Escalante, already with a reputation as not only a strong missionary but a strong explorer, had spent several years among the Hopi pueblos, an experience which stimulated not only a desire to, like Domínguez, find a route to Monterey, but also to discover a "lost" tribe of Spaniards which many Spanish explorers believed existed in the southwest part of the continent, living as a tribe of Indians (Sánchez 58). Their common interest in exploration and documentation naturally brought the two Fathers together, and a strong friendship was formed.In the summer of 1776, Domínguez and Escalante, receiving reports that Francisco Hermenegildo Garcés was beginning from Monterey to forge a trail to Santa Fé directly through the center of the Hopi country, felt the time was right to set into motion their own expedition. Believing that traveling in the midst of the aggressive, warring Hopi tribes would be fruitless, the two Fathers instead felt that a successful trail could be laid through the newly discovered and partially explored territory of the Ute (also known as Yuta) Indians that lay northwest of Santa Fé. With Domínguez taking the lead in the exploration, Escalante serving as the chief scribe, Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco working as the cartographer, and seven other men joining the expedition, the group set out on July 27, 1776.

This is the text of that journey, chronicled by the hand of Escalante. The expedition itself, as told in this diario y derrotero (journal and itinerary), details the geography, the flora, and the fauna of Northern New Mexico and of the eastern half of what is present day Utah, including a description of Utah Lake and Mount Timpanogas, located around what is currently the city of Provo. Even more importantly, the journal of the missionaries narrates the encounter with the Utes, the Sabuaganas, the Lagunas, the Payuchis, and other Indian tribes. Though the party, not wanting to be stranded in unknown territory during the winter, eventually changed course and returned to Santa Fé, the journal which resulted from it is, perhaps, of even greater worth than the trail itself might have been. Escalante died in 1780. Domínguez spent the next thirty years of his life defending himself against charges leveled against him concerning his activities as inspector. But the record of their exploration, their observations, and their recommendations was priceless for contemporaneous Spanish colonial settlement and political strategy, as it allowed the governors of New Mexico and California to gain an insight into the nature of the bordering Indian tribes and their lands. It also is invaluable as a historical record today, allowing us to look back at the character of these two Franciscan explorers, their methods of observation and knowledge production, their development of a sense of authorship, and the relationship of the missionary/Indian encounter to the politics of late 18th century Mexico.

The Text

The history of the text is perhaps not quite as simple to narrate as the history of the authors. Once the party returned to Santa Fé, Escalante, with the help of several others, set about making copies of the manuscript for distribution and preservation. Yet the actual manuscript created during the day-to-day traveling is no longer extant. Additionally, there are no known manuscripts copied by Escalante's hand. Among the manuscripts copied by others, notable are the Ayer copy in the Newberry library at the University of Illinois, the Antonio Bonilla copy in the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, Spain, and a copy in the Archivo General y Público de la Nación in Mexico City. Antonio Bonilla also made a second copy, which now currently resides in the University of Arizona special collections. However, because they were all copied at different times, they all slightly differ in small details, most notably in several instances where noroueste (northwest) is written as nordeste (northeast) or where individual lines are omitted. For this reason, it has historically been difficult to retrace the complete route taken by Domínguez and Escalante.Contepmorary editing of the various manuscripts, however, has reached a general consensus as to the "correctness" or "incorrectness" of these variations (which are few and far between), in that most who have studied the various witnesses agree as to what the original Escalante copy would have said. Additionally, much work has been done to correlate the various extant manuscripts, and previous published editions have annotated and catalogued the differences. The multiple textual witnesses, therefore, do not provide the editorial obstacles which they once might have.

Perhaps a more notable history has to do with the printed publication of the manuscript. The earliest known Spanish printing was part of Documentos para la Historia de México, Segunda Série, 1854. However, this publication contains many discrepancies between the print copy and the manuscript copy. A more "faithful" Spanish transcription was edited by Otto Mass in 1915 and included in his printing of his book Viajes de Misioneros Franciscanos á la Conquista del Nuevo México, although this, too, has one notable variation from the manuscript: Maas begins his publication with the month of October, after the expedition turned back toward Santa Fé, and thus Maas editorially erases more than two months of the journey and the majority of the Indian encounters. English translations have also faced their share of obstacles in the editing process. The first print publication of the journal was included in W.R. Harris's The Catholic Church in Utah (1909), and the second was published in the Utah Historical Quarterly in 1943 by Herbert S. Auerbach. Ted Warner argues that while both publications are good pioneer efforts, because they were translated from the 1854 Spanish printing rather than the manuscripts themselves, they perpetuate the state of error that he sees in the initial Spanish print transcription (4). More significantly, Auerbach's edition was limited in outreach, quickly went out of print, and was never re-issued, making it very difficult to get ahold of today. In 1950, prominent historian of the American West Herbert Bolton, under the direction of the Utah State Historical Society, published his own translation of the Domínguez-Escalante journal (using not just the Documentos printing but also the Otto Maas printing as his source material), along with a wealth of contextual information and his own dramatization of the journey. Retold as a narrative of "great adventure," Bolton titled his publication Pageant in the Wilderness.

In 1976, in conjunction with the 200 year anniversary of the missionary expedition, Ted Warner published the first complete re-translation of the journal directly from the manuscripts themselves. Using the Ayer manuscript as his basis and employing the translation skills of native New Mexican Fray Angelico Chávez, Warner created what he called the most complete and "correct" version of the text. While meticulous in editing and immeasurable in importance, this, as well as all previous editions, used the mask of the print publication to deprecate the fact that the document was originally a manuscript, written by an actual hand during a day to day process. In other words, Warner privileged accuracy in language and the "authority" of print over the various manuscript witnesses, taking the writer out of the author, so to speak. Additionally, Warner's publication, along with all other print publications, made opaque their own editorial assumptions and biases. And, most significantly, with the exception of Bolton's attempt to publish a translation, the journal of Dominguez and Escalante has always been viewed by its print editors as a scientific, anthropological document rather than a literary, narrative one.

Contexts: The Role of the Missionary

As earlier mentioned, the text of Diario y Derrotero has a weighty significance within the cultural context of 18th-century Spanish social and political life in the continental southwest. New Mexico, as a colony, was founded in 1598 and became a stronghold not only of Spanish territory, but also of Catholic power. The missions and settlements established among the Pueblo Indians became a fixed focal point for public and religious policy from Mexico City. 150 years later, California was founded, and Mexico City quickly recognized the importance of having a solid line of communication between the two areas (Bolton 1). At the same time, the current governor of New Mexico, Mendinueta, was striving to develop a plan of defense against what he felt was an aggressive encroachment by the Hopi (also called Moqui) tribes living throughout Arizona, and hence existing right in the middle of California and Old and New Mexico. Mendinueta was hoping for reports from the officials of New Mexico, especially of Domínguez and Escalante, as to how the Hopi could best be conquered militarily. Escalante had already written a letter to Mendinueta suggesting that the Hopi be attended to first by missionary influence, in the hopes that the military could then advance and find "the Moqui already pacified and subjected" (qtd. in Thomas 154). His idea of searching for the Monterey route through Ute territory was directly influenced by the fact that missionaries had already had more success with them in their limited contact than they had with the Hopi tribes during the course of the nearly 200 years they had lived together as neighbors.Escalante's attitude was somewhat representative of the Franciscan order throughout New Mexico; while the missions were sincere in their desire to spread their religion, as evident throughout the journal and through other documents left by various friars, they also acutely understood the relationship between religious proselytizing and political power. For example, The Marqués de Altamira wrote a letter to Vélez Cachupin in which he advised the governor that "the whole province of New Mexico is surrounded and enclosed on all sides by innumerable and warlike nations of heathen enemies. If pacified, they would not only insure God those innumerable future souls but would free the king from the larger annual costs of presidios and appropriations for missionaries" (Snow 448). The missions themselves relied primarily upon the labor of natives (Weber 123), and therefore exploration and proselytizing would not only open up new ground for converts and not only protect the interior society (by expanding the border of Spanish influence), but would help recapitulate the means by which the missions could continue. Hence the journal may be read as a political and an economic document, with the characters Domínguez and Escalante acting simultaneously as Catholic missionaries, government ambassadors, military spies, and pragmatic businessmen in search of new sources of labor.

Finally, the missionary profession takes an additional form within the text of the journal-that of sociologist. Racial classification was an important part of Spanish colonization throughout New Mexico. The 1790 census divided the population into several different ethnic groups: Spanish, Indian, mestizo [Spanish and Mexican Indian], coyote [Spanish and New Mexican Indian], mulatto, genízaro [detribalized Indians who converted to Catholicism], and color quebrado [broken color] (Vigil 121). Such descriptions of multiculturalisms grew out of the missionary encounters with Indian tribes, as did the social caste system into which the differing ethnicities fell; Domínguez, for example, once reported that the genízaros "were not very fluent in Spanish" and would not "become so even with practice" (118). In fact, as touched upon earlier, one of Escalante's underlying motivations for this expedition was his belief that one of the Indian tribes were composed of pure Spanish descent. His descriptions of the physical features of each tribe are notable in the way that they are compared to the "Spanish ideal." It is especially interesting to note their surprise at encountering bearded Utes, whom Escalante at first thought could be his lost Spanish tribe.

Contexts: Geopolitical Relationships

The missionary explorations, and specifically that of Domínguez and Escalante's in 1776, had a strong relationship to the events occurring on the other side of the continent in the same year. With the British colonies declaring war on England the Spanish rulers in Spain felt an immediate ease along the Florida border, and could hence concentrate more on the condition of Mexico, Old and New (Weber 131). Spain had much to gain from U.S. independence, and became a major contributor (both monetarily and militarily) to the revolution. Yet at the same time, the idea of colonies rebelling had to have been a bit unsettling to Spain. This, perhaps, strengthened the impetus for opening the overland route and for creating a buffer zone of pacified Indian tribes. The British colonies declared independence on July 4, 1776, and almost instantly, Domínguez and Escalante received permission to start their journey, setting out three weeks later.What's more, the push to open a route to Monterey underscores the prophetic importance the Spanish placed on California. From 1540 to 1768, mariners exploring areas north of New Spain would frequently stop along the coast to gather data and observe conditions. Strategically, the territory of California offered invaluable sea access for the established colonies as well as provide a geographical buffer against the encroachment of Russian explorers from the northwest. California had also been settled in fears that the English would try to expand their colonies to the other end of the continent. Yet access to the territory was difficult for reasons already stated. Ultimately, the settlement of Indian territory between New Mexico and California would serve not just to link the two areas or expand Spanish influence, but to establish a complete stronghold on the western half of the continent. The evangelical missions were just a means to an imperialistic end as different colonizing forces played out their exploratory games.

Contexts: Methods of Observation and Perception

In addition to the historical, cultural value of Diario y Derrotero, the journal of Domínguez and Escalante provides important insights into the New Mexico-Franciscan way of observing and comprehending the landscape. Throughout Escalante's minutely detailed description of the terrain, we get a strong sense of his desire to register the use value of the new lands-the location of precious metals, the amount of pasturage, the nature of the pools, lakes, and streams, the density of the groves, and so forth. The record also relies on incessant consistency in organization, from the order in which the daily events are told to the methodical strategies of periodically summarizing the distance traveled, the various sierras encountered, etc. Yet as opposed to the previously mentioned imperialistic descriptive language, in these summary sections, as well as in the recounting of accidents and injuries which occurred along the route, the voice of the travelers is extremely respectful in its cataloging of the vastness and beauty of the land. The narrative strategy is therefore at once both imperialistic and sensitive, as if the exploration itself represented a consciousness seeking knowledge from competing mind sets-it reveals a tension between the European drive for expansion and accumulation and the Native attitude of reverence and deference to the powers of nature.On another level, the journal also reveals a conflict between the epistemologies of personal perception and scientific observation. Escalante constantly records the Cartesian coordinates of their location, including descriptions of the scientific instruments used to calculate them, yet at the same time periodically expresses a lack of faith in their exactness, needing to double-check by using the sun, or the stars, or other methods based in physical sensory input. Though these occurrences may at first seem unimportant, these two "authorities" upon which the journeyers rely signify a much deeper conflict between an "enlightened" Euro-centric science (the Cartesian system assumes Greenwich, England as the center) and a "less civilized" method, one no doubt practiced by all of the Indian tribes among which the Franciscans were serving. What the text ultimately reveals, then, is that as Domínguez and Escalante found themselves crossing a myriad of borders and frontiers, they felt themselves caught between cultures. The narrative progression and methodology of the journal reflects these tensions and portrays some of the real theoretical struggles between cultures encountering one another in such a setting as this.

Editorial Issues: Assumptions

Hopefully, this electronic edition will go a long way in making more apparent some of the major obstacles and problems encountered in the several previous editions of the journal as described earlier. First of all, as a digital creation, this edition will not suffer from lack of access, as is often the case with scholarly editions of rare texts. Even more importantly, the technology of hypertext allows for the Spanish transcription and the English translation to exist not just one after another, but in direct relation to each other--hyperlinks and named anchors allow the user to easily click back and forth between the two languages, hence neither privileging one nor the other.This edition also has the advantage, by displaying photostatic scans of the manuscript from which the transcription was taken, of being based in the manuscript record, not the printed one. It is important to remember that the record of the expedition was one that was written by hand, reproduced by hand, and distributed by hand. The manuscript copies of the journal stand as a stark contrast to the print culture developing in the colonies of the East and throughout much of Europe--indeed, Mexican colonial communication was contingent on the circulation of manuscripts, both official documents as well as letters. Manuscript culture was also a vital part of the Catholic Church at the time, in its record keeping and historical chronologies. By providing the user with images of the manuscript, this culture is re-emphasized rather than masked behind editorial influence and the "machine" of the printed book. The manuscript images, along with the very nature of the genre of the "journal and itinerary," also changes the notion of what an author is; rather than the Franklin-esque notion of a rhetorical construction of the man behind the print, the handwritten nature brings the author to the forefront. Arguably, one could point out that these manuscript images were not written in Escalante's hand, and therefore lose credibility. However, by allowing users to examine the handwritten documents and treating them as textual objects worthy of analysis alongside both Spanish transcription and English translation, this electronic edition redefines the notion of author, seeing the word more in the sense of cultural, context-based, humanized "creator"(s) of text(s) rather than ahistorical, infallible, untouchable personae.

Most importantly, however, this edition is not designed as a historical text. As earlier mentioned, the previous editions were all "scholarly" in their creation of printed objects for "professorial" use; that is, they worked under the assumption that this was not a text to be read, but a text to be studied. For example, Warner's 480 annotations are concerned with such issues as noting the locations of present day natural landmarks and cities, explaining mention of other historical figures, and translation issues. These previous editions treat the journal of Domínguez and Escalante as an ethnographic document, not a literary document, and it's evident through their editorial practices--their choices of contextual material, their focus on geography--that they do not read any sort of literary value into the text. In other words, they conceive of their editions as fixtures in the library of a Utah Historical Society rather than as texts of an undergraduate English class.

This reveals the ultimate goal of this new edition--a creation of a literary text that allows for the exploration of issues such as rhetoric, performance, intertextuality, and authorship. Conceiving of the journal as such also allows for a much deeper inquiry into the new historicist-oriented relationship between 18th century Spanish writing and some of the cultural contexts set forth in this introduction--epistemology, cross-cultural encounters, and political motivations. Editorial assumptions here conceive of a much larger audience for the text, one concerned with the literary constructions of Escalante the writer rather than Escalante the ethnographer. What's more, as a literary text, the journal recogizes the complexities in attempting to define what counts as "early American literature." Working with the humanist assumption that recognizes an importance in trying to collaboratively build awareness of competing literary voices that occured historically, this text can aid in emphasizing that "American" literature in 1776 goes beyond Brown, Franklin, and Barlow in terms of culture, style, and genre. Thus this edition is labeled as a "reader's" edition, the term "reader" emphasizing the importance of viewing the text with the type of critical, analytical literary reading that has yet to be applied to this text.

Editorial Issues: Choices

As with any editorial work, there were certain choices that had to be made for either theoretical or pragmatic reasons. One has to do with the choice of the manuscript itself. As mentioned in the preceding section, the images here are of Bonilla's copy instead of one of the others. This choice was primarily economic--reproductions of the University of Arizona manuscript were available for purchase, while those of the Ayer, the Seville, or the Mexico City manuscripts were not. Due to the nature of the Internet itself, however, this is not as large an obstacle as one might initially think--as opposed to both print and manuscript, electronic publication is never finished and always allows for the possibility of revision, updates, corrections, and additions. It is hoped that in the future images of several of the manuscripts will be available for comparison by the user.In terms of annotation, given the editorial assumptions as enumerated in the previous paragraph concerning audience and conception of literary value, this edition tries to minimize the amount of notes within the text. When notes do exist, they are primarily analytical in nature--that is, they give examples of the ways in which Escalante sets up his rhetoric, or they emphasize certain cultural issues that are important in understanding the workings of the text beyond ethnographic moments. They are by no means exhaustive, but are models of the ways in which the text is more complex than the typically conceived historical record. As with all editorial concerns, because of the digital nature of the edition, notes can be added or amended as needed. It is envisioned that there could even soon be a user-based interface for a multiplicity of readers to add annotations.

Finally, while care has been taken in the course of transcription to preserve paragraph level elements (relative script size, paragraph divisions, spelling, etc.), some regularizations have been made. These all have to do with modernization and printing; for example, the relative imperceptibility in Spanish between the phonemes represented by the characters "b" and "v" often, especially 200 years ago before regularized standards in spelling, led to a transposition of the characters. Where the manuscript hand sometimes transposes such characters, in print these have been substituted to reflect modern spelling of the Spanish words.


  Axtell, James. The Invasion Within: The Contest of Cultures in Colonial North America. New York: Oxford University, 1985.Bolton, Herbert E., ed. Pageant in the Wilderness: The Story of the Escalante Expedition to the Interior Basin, 1776. Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society, 1950.

Domínguez , Francisco Atanasio and Silvestre Vélez de Escalante. Derrotero y Diario de los R.R.P.P. Fray Francisco Atanasio Domínguez y Fray Silvestre Vélez de Escalante, para descrubir el camino desde el Presidio de Santa Fe del Nuevo Mexico, al de Monterey, en la California Septentrional. Manuscript housed in the special collections of the University of Arizona.

Maas, Otto. Viajes de misionarios francescanos a la conquista del Nuevo Mexico. Sevilla, España, 1915.

Sanchez, Joseph P. Explorers, Traders, and Slavers: Forging the Old Spanish Trail. Salt Lake City: University of Utah, 1997.

Snow, David H., ed. The Native American and Spanish Colonial Experience in the Greater Southwest. New York: Garland Publishing, 1992.

Thomas, Alfred Barnaby, ed. Forgotten Frontiers: A Study of the Spanish Indian Policy of Don Juan Bautista de Anza. 2nd ed. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma, 1969.

Vigil, Ralph H., Frances W. Kaye, and John R. Wunder, eds. Spain and the Plains: Myths and Realities of Spanish Exploration and Settlement of the Great Plains. Boulder, CO: University of Colorado, 1994.

Warner, Ted J., ed. The Domínguez -Escalante Journal. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, 1976.

Weber, David J. The Spanish Frontier in North America. New Haven, CT: Yale University, 1992.


EADA Entries:

Itinerary and diary of Francisco Atanasio Domínguez and Francisco Silvestre Vélez de Escalante