Padilla, Juan de (unknown–1544)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: September 24, 2020

Fray Juan de Padilla came to the New World from his native Andalucia in Spain, where he had been a soldier before joining the Franciscan order. The exact date of his arrival is not known, but his signature did appear on a letter from the New World dated October 19, 1529. He was among the friars selected to sail from Tehuantepec to the Orient as part of an expedition organized by Hernando Cortés, but the ships proved unseaworthy. Subsequently, Padilla labored among the Indians at Ponzitlán and Tuchpán. Some sources record him as being at Matatlan and Hueytlapa missions at Tulancingo and at Zapotlán in Jalisco in 1531–32. Padilla was one of the two ordained priests chosen to accompany Fray Marcos de Niza on the Coronado expedition in 1540. After Coronado's capture of Cíbola (or Háwikuh), the westernmost Zuñi pueblo, in July, Padilla, in the company of Pedro de Tovar, visited the Moqui (Hopi) villages in Arizona. In August he accompanied the advance guard under Capt. Hernando de Alvarado to the Cicuye (Pecos) and Taos pueblos and the buffalo plains beyond. Padilla was among the select party that journeyed in 1541 with Francisco Vázquez de Coronado to Quivira, the Wichita village in present Kansas. Among other things, he reportedly conducted a service of thanksgiving in Palo Duro Canyon. When the disillusioned Coronado declared his intention to return to New Spain in the spring of 1542, Padilla chose to remain in New Mexico and return to Quivira to continue missionary efforts among the plains tribes. With him were two lay brothers, Luis de Escalona and Juan de la Cruz, who worked in the New Mexico pueblos and reportedly were martyred. Three Blacks, one of whom was accompanied by his family; a Portuguese soldier named Andrés do Campo; and several Indian converts from the monastery of Zapotlán likewise volunteered to remain with Padilla. Leaving Escalona at Cicuye, Padilla and his companions set out for the buffalo plains. Some accounts claim that they followed the Canadian River as far as the area of present Hutchinson and Roberts counties before turning north to Quivira, where they were warmly received by the natives. After working in the area about two years, Padilla, do Campo, and two Tarascan mission Indians named Lucas and Sebastián sought to expand their ministry to neighboring tribes in unexplored territory. About November 30, 1544, at a little more than a day's journey from their home base, they were suddenly set upon by a war party of enemy tribesmen. Urging his companions to flee, the account goes, the friar knelt and deliberately sacrificed himself to "the arrows of those barbarous Indians, who threw him into a pit, covering his body with innumerable stones." Do Campo and the two Tarascans were allegedly held captive by the Indians, but later escaped. Afterwards they made their way south to Pánuco, Mexico, and reported the incident. The actual location of Padilla's death is disputed, as are certain details surrounding the episode, such as who was really with him. However, he had been revered by Texans as the first Christian martyr of Texas, and possibly of the United States. In 1936 a monument commemorating the martyrdom of Juan de Padilla was erected jointly by the state of Texas and the Knights of Columbus in Amarillo's Ellwood Park.

Herbert Eugene Bolton, Coronado: Knight of Pueblos and Plains (New York: Whittlesey; Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1949). Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1936–58; rpt., New York: Arno, 1976). Angelico Chávez, Coronado's Friars (Washington: Academy of American Franciscan History, 1968). Dianna Everett, ed., Coronado and the Myth of Quivira (Canyon, Texas: Panhandle-Plains Historical Society, 1985). Charles W. Hackett, ed., Pichardo's Treatise on the Limits of Louisiana and Texas (4 vols., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1931–46). George P. Hammond and Agapito Rey, eds. and trans., Narratives of the Coronado Expedition, 1540–1542 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1940). Frederick Webb Hodge and Theodore H. Lewis, eds., Spanish Explorers in the Southern United States, 1528–1543 (New York: Scribner, 1907; rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1984). Harold Schoen, comp., Monuments Erected by the State of Texas to Commemorate the Centenary of Texas Independence (Austin: Commission of Control for Texas Centennial Celebrations, 1938).

  • Exploration
  • Explorers (Spanish)
  • Religion
  • Catholic
Time Periods:
  • Spanish Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

H. Allen Anderson, “Padilla, Juan de,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 24, 2020

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