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Across the Northern Frontier: Spanish Explorations in Colorado, by Phil Carson, Johnson Books, Boulder, Colo., 1998, $27.50, $18 paper.

New Mexico was the northernmost province of New Spain, but there were Spaniards who ventured to the northern frontier beyond–the rugged, mysterious region that would become modern-day Colorado (the Spanish word colorado means “reddish”). Author Phil Carson, who has written many historical articles for Wild West and other publications, points out that Don Francisco Vásquez de Coronado probably never did enter future Colorado, even though, in 1541, the explorer went as far east as future central Kansas. The province of New Mexico was founded in 1598, but the first documented Spanish journey across future Colorado may not have occurred until 1642, when Captain Don Alonso Pacheco de Heredia likely crossed southeastern Colorado on his way to retrieve rebellious Taos Indians from the Apache settlement of El Cuartelejo, north of the Arkansas River on the Colorado-Kansas border. Apparently there were Spaniards who crossed the Rio del Norte (Rio Grande) to trade with the Utes in Colorado’s San Luis Valley even before the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 drove the Spanish out of New Mexico. In 1694, during the reconquest of New Mexico, Governor Diego de Vargas also crossed into that valley. The reconquest was complete when Sergeant Major Juan de Ulibarrí led a successful expedition to El Cuartelejo in 1706. And that was still more than a century before U.S. Lieutenant Zebulon Pike ascended the Arkansas and was arrested by Spanish Lieutenant Ignacio Sotelo in the San Luis Valley. In his last chapter, Carson adeptly summarizes the Spanish legacy in Colorado and elsewhere. “Spanish explorers here often led the way for subsequent settlements,” he writes. “They bequeathed to us a vibrant, living legacy of place names, lore and cultural practices that continues to grow….The sons and daughters of the conquistadors live among us.”