R&D Trip to Zaragoza, Mexico

In the fall of 2017  LeAnne Howe and Joshua Nelson, along with our translator Amanda, flew to San Antonio, TX, rented a car and set out for destinations in Mexico where historical records indicate Sequoyah’s final journey took place. Below is Joshua’s account of the trip.
Our first morning in Mexico, we planned to visit the town of Nacimiento de los Negros. This town came to our attention through some archival documents in the Oklahoma History Center. Back in 1939, the Tulsa Daily World sent a group down to Zaragoza to search for Sequoyah’s grave, on the promise of John Harrington of the Smithsonian Museum in D.C., who said he found documents that promised the grave would be found in a cemetery near some prominent “chalk cliffs.” The expedition didn’t have much luck finding either the grave or the cliffs. Included in Harrington’s notes was a document in Spanish written by the group’s guide, a man named Juan. Our translator, Amanda Cuellar, read the document and found that Juan believed they were looking in the wrong place and should have looked further to the southwest, near Nacimiento, where they would be more likely to find the geographic features they were after, rather than in the flat country around Zaragoza. Amanda’s partner, Oscar, is a geologist, and after researching geological maps of the region, he suggested that the limestone formations near Nacimiento were worth paying a visit. So that’s the direction we headed.

We made it just a little south of the turnoff on Highway 57 to Zaragoza before we discovered at a checkpoint that we didn’t have the right documentation for the rental car, so we made the most of the day and went back to Zaragoza. I’ll leave the bulk of the telling of our fantastic visit to LeAnne. Suffice it to say that the people we met couldn’t have been more helpful or hospitable, and we found more than we ever expected! The alcalde of Zaragoza, Leoncio Martínez Sánchez, and his council members were amazing hosts, especially on such short notice.
The next day, they introduced us to Señor Epigmeño Rodriguez, who was involved with another search for Sequoyah about a decade ago. He visited with us about a possible site near his rancho that some believe was the cave in which Sequoyah died. We weren’t able to visit that particular site, as the landowner was away, but we hope to return and take a closer look. He also shared with us his personal collection of documents related to an earlier search, and took us to a hot spring on his rancho that bubbles up steaming water with a palpable sulfurous smell. In the mesquite-covered landscape, this was a remarkable and beautiful site

The next day we loaded up in a car that Alcalde Sánchez loaned us, helmed by Caesar, a driver for the town of Zaragoza, and drove two hours southwest to Nacimiento de los Negros in the Múzquiz municipality. After an hour or so, the dark mountains appeared in a beautiful mist that Caesar informed us comes from the coal mining operations in the area—so, not so lovely a mist after all. We wound along the eastern edge of the mountain range up to the town of Nacimiento de los Negros, where we were greeted on the outskirts of town by a rock emblazoned with a hand-painted notice on a slab telling us that we were entering the settlement “El Nacimiento Tribu Negros Mascogos y Seminol’s.”

Our early research suggests this town was populated by slaves escaped from Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole tribes around 1850, many years after Sequoyah’s trip. Many Kickapoo people were already there, making this area a destination for tribes from the US, so it’s possible that Sequoyah might have angled there himself, although it’s much further south than most of the history suggests he ventured. We dropped in unannounced at the house of the community leader, who was happy to meet us, but with deference to the town elders, he thought it best we arrange a visit with his mother, then out of town, and others more familiar with the town’s history. We’ll make a point of this on our return, not least for the beauty of the mountain setting.

He directed us to the local cemetery atop a small hill with the shady (not chalky) mountains in the distance. Like other cemeteries we saw in Mexico, many grave sites were simple, shallow resting places covered over with stones, unmarked by tombstone or other indication of who came to lie there. Whether there’s evidence enough to imagine Sequoyah’s travels came to a close near Nacimiento, we won’t know until we find our way back in May, 2018. More to come!

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