ARKANSAS CITY, Kan. — Donald Blakeslee says he's found Etzanoa, a long-lost city.
Etzanoa is the second-biggest settlement of Native Americans found in the United States, Blakeslee said. Now it is the known location of a 1601 battle pitting outnumbered Spaniards firing cannons into waves of attacking Indian warriors.
Etzanoa has been a mystery for 400 years. Archaeologists could not find it. Historians thought reports of a permanent settlement with 20,000 Native Americans in it were exaggerated.
But in Arkansas City, at the confluence of the Walnut and Arkansas Rivers, Blakeslee, an anthropologist and archaeologist at Wichita State University, has found evidence of a town stretching across thousands of acres of bluffs and rich bottomland along two rivers. What clinched it was the discovery, by a high school student, of a half-inch iron cannon ball.
He even found a still-functional water shrine, depicting communication with the spirit world, carved into a limestone boulder in Tami and Greg Norwood's backyard.
It's a good story, all true, Blakeslee said: A lost city, a forgotten mythology — and the story of the once-great Wichita Nation, decimated by European diseases, and then pushed aside by white settlers and the United States Army.
With the discovery, Arkansas City leaders hope to turn the town into a tourist destination.
"We always knew we once had a whole bunch of Indians living around here, because we had found way too many artifacts to think otherwise," said Jay Warren, an Arkansas City Commission member. "But we had no idea until Dr. Blakeslee came along about how big it was."
Etzanoa might have been comparable in size to Cahokia, Blakeslee said. That alone should bring world attention.
The Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in western Illinois, with its pyramid Monk's Mound, is the biggest Native American urban complex ever built in the United States. It showcases the 14.4-acre mound that was the centerpiece of the ancient city and the outlines of the city, enclosed by fortress walls and filled with shrines of a powerful mythology and culture outside St. Louis.
Cahokia — the remnants of the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico — attracts 400,000 visitors a year, which gets the attention of Arkansas Citians. If Etzanoa was bigger, "and it might have been," that will rewrite American history, Blakeslee said.
"The Spaniards were amazed by the size of Etzanoa," Blakeslee said. "They counted 2,000 houses that could hold 10 people each. They said it would take two or three days to walk through it all."
But for four centuries, the story of a big Native American town in Kansas made no sense to historians.
When French explorers came in the 1700s, 100 years after the Spanish battle, they met only migratory bands of Kanza, Wichita, Pawnee, Kiowa, Cheyenne and Apache tribes.
So historians read the Spanish accounts and raised questions: If there were a permanent site named Etzanoa, where was the huge accumulation of pottery shards?
And where did those tens of thousands of people go?
And where were the Spanish cannonballs fired by outnumbered Spaniards?