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Greenhorn Mountain was named for a Comanche war chief, Cuerno Verde (translated from Spanish to Greenhorn). This young chieftain earned his name by being bold and daring, like a young bull elk when its antlers are still green. Chief Cuerno Verde was killed near the peak in 1779, by Juan Bautista de Anza, Spanish governor of New Mexico, during a well-documented march into Comanche territory.
The creek flowing through Rye and along Highway 165, numerous roads and the valley itself, all bear Cuerno Verde’s name. He and Juan Bautista de Anza were inter-twined for only a few days and yet their story has become legendary and the spots where they made history are as beautiful as they are significant.
Their story begins with the variety of trails crossing southern Colorado at the time. Long before Coronado's men "discovered" them in 1540, the Taos Indians were widely known as gifted traders and were famous for their regional trade fairs. By the 1300's, they had a well-established system of hunting and trading trails into Southern Colorado from their home territory in what is now New Mexico.
In 1598, the first Europeans reached the San Luis Valley from the Spanish settlements to the south. Don Juan Oñate led an expedition which according to legend tried to corral a buffalo herd for an experimental domestication program. The Spanish efforts met with so much resistance from the buffalo that several men were injured and several horses killed.
Four other expeditions followed. All were led by the Spanish and all were in an effort to keep various Indian groups from attacking their settlements. In the 1660’s Juan Archuleta traveled from Santa Fe as far north as the Arkansas River in search of runaway Taos Indians seeking safety among the Apaches of El Cuartelejo (a loose federation of Apache tribes living along the Arkansas).
In 1706, Juan de Ulibarri led troops to El Cuartelejo to retrieve Picuris Indians. In 1719, Governor Valverde’s expedition from Santa Fe reached the Arkansas River in an attempt to punish the Comanches.
And in 1720, Don Pedro de Villasur traveled to the North Fork of the Platte to investigate rumors that the French were supplying weapons to the Pawnees and encouraging the Pawnees to attack Spanish settlements. The rumors were true; Villasur and his men were killed and scalped by the Pawnees as they slept beside the river.
Juan Bautista de Anza was appointed Governor and Commander of New Mexico in 1777. Upon his arrival in late 1778, he quickly determined that previous expeditions against the Comanche raiders all failed for the same reason: the Spaniards took the same route east over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and then north over the Raton Range. The Comanches saw them coming and retreated into the foothills.
He was aware of ‘the Taos Trail’ route and ‘La Canada de los Comanches’ (Comanche Canyon) route often used by Comanche raiders from the 1749 testimony of a group of French traders were arrested in Taos.
As de Anza made his plans to campaign against the Comanches he was determined to use a completely different route to the plains of Colorado. He wanted to enter Comanche territory without alerting his enemies. (To be continued.)