Column sent to Frederick Leader and Frederick Press
February 16, 2010
Early Newspapers Reported Discovery
of 1542 Spanish Tombstone
When early railroad builders laid tracks across the raw Territorial prairie, they often dug deep into the Oklahoma soil. In 1907, the rail builders reportedly unearthed a centuries-old Spanish explorer’s tombstone.
The tombstone dated 1542 was dug up near present-day Grandfield in August 1907. The unusual discovery was reported in the Frederick Enterprise and the Temple Tribune.
On August 22, 1907, the Temple Tribune stated, in part:
“On the right of way near Eschiti (later Grandfield) a party of scraper drivers unearthed a historic tombstone that appears to have been set in a graveyard that once existed here. The stone is carved into a diamond shape and consists of a granite base to which is cemented a triangular marble with a vortex pointing upwards. The base is about 10 inches high, six inches wide and three feet long, and the marble about two feet square, the diamond outline of the entire piece being perfected by a triangular composition of cement and adamantine substance attached to the bottom of the granite and holding the entire piece in upright position.
“On the front of the marble slab is an inscription printed in indiscernible Spanish, above the inscription being the name Don Juan Valerez El Padre, Madrid Senor de la Bonito Senorito. Beneath is the date 1542.”
The report stated the tombstone was found “about 10 feet beneath the surface and has been taken to Fort Worth for safekeeping by the railroad company.”
Over the years, numerous researchers and Grandfield historians have tried to track down the stone, apparently without success. No one knows the location or fate of the historic stone that was taken away for “safekeeping”.
According to a Sunday Lawton Constitution article by Paul McClung in February 1975, officials of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad responded to a 1966 query about the stone, saying that they had no record of any kind “of the uncovering of a tombstone in the vicinity of Grandfield, Oklahoma, or anyplace else in the old Indian territory.”
Who was Don Juan Valerez and what brought him to the place that would later be Tillman County? That remains a mystery.
Valerez was obviously a member of an early Spanish expedition, although it has been impossible to identify the exact group.
In 1541 the Spanish explorer Coronado led a group of men through the Great Plains in search of the rumored seven cities of gold. Most researchers believe that Coronado passed through the Oklahoma panhandle area but not through this part of Oklahoma. No Don Juan Valerez was listed on Coronado’s muster roll.
There were several Spanish expeditions in this area, though.
In 1541 another famous Spanish explorer, Hernando DeSoto, entered present-day Oklahoma from the east, but is not believed to have reached this part of Oklahoma. The DeSoto expedition encountered conflict with Indians and only half of his original band of 620 eventually reached Mexico. DeSoto himself died during the expedition in 1542.
A more likely explanation for Valerez to be in our area was a 1542 expedition led by Louis de Moscoso. The Moscoso group was a band of 300 men which wandered lost with no horses in the present-day north Texas area. The Moscoso group is thought to have reached the present site of Wichita Falls on the Wichita River in summer 1542.
Who was Don Juan Valerez? What happened to his tombstone? We will likely never know.