The practice of presenting medals to Native American tribes by the colonial powers began in the sixteenth century and continued through the late nineteenth to early twentieth century. They were generally of silver composition with an image of the European Monarch or American President (their “Great White Father”) on their obverse, coupled with various reverse designs that were often symbolic of friendly relations between the parties.
Genuine examples of many of these medals are scarce, and some types are so rare that only a few examples remain. They have been cherished and collected by museums and dedicated collectors for more than a hundred years. While their history has been extensively researched and documented by both historians and numismatists over the last century, that research neglected the Spanish medals and focused primarily on those issued by the United States, and by the British and French in the United States and Canada.
The study of the medals awarded by the Spanish to Native Americans has, until recently, been limited to scattered historical sources that were generally unknown to numismatic scholars. Following the practice of the other European powers, they were issued in two sizes with the larger medal intended to recognize important chiefs, and the smaller ones awarded to lesser chiefs. The large Carlos III silver Al Mérito medal, engraved by Tomás Prieto (1716- 1782), was intended solely for award as an Indian peace medal. The smaller silver Al Mérito medal, which was initially intended only as a military award, subsequently served a dual purpose as it also was awarded as an Indian peace medal.1 The smaller medal was also struck in gold only for use as a military award.2 There is evidence that various unofficial medals were used likely out of necessity such as the Carolus IIII eight reales set into a large hand engraved medallion excavated from a Pawnee village that is depicted in Prucha.3 Given that award, it is tempting to assume that silver eight reales of Carolus III by themselves may also have been awarded as Indian peace medals in place of the small Al Mérito medals. They are nearly the same size as the small Al Mérito medal, had the requisite portrait of the monarch on the obverse, and when holed, can been worn as a medal.
Moreover, the small Al Mérito medal first struck in 1764, and the Carolus III 8 reales first struck in 1772, were both in use until the death of Carolus III in 1788. However, the authors are unaware of any credible evidence confirming any such use as either official or local Spanish policy. Thus, their use as Indian peace medals remains speculative. In addition, claims that other Spanish medals may also have been pressed into service as Indian peace medals similarly remain uncertain absent credible historical evidence.
We are therefore limiting our work solely to the royal Spanish Indian peace medals engraved by Tomás Prieto that we can document were indeed awarded as Indian peace medals in the United States. While those medals were issued in quantity, research reveals that few examples remain today.
Spanish influence extended throughout the Pacific and the Pacific Northwest from the border of Mexico as far north as Alaska, the Southwest from Arizona to Texas, the far South including Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi, plus the Mississippi River Valley and Central Plains in what would become the Louisiana Purchase, as well as the Central Northeast into Michigan4 and Wisconsin, and as far north as Minnesota5, crossing over into south central Canada. This massive geographical area with its large num ber of native tribes, coupled with Spain's limited resources demanded that the Spanish negotiate treaties and establish alliances with the Native Americans on an extensive basis. As discussed in detail later in this article, an examination of the large number of Spanish Indian peace medals awarded to the chiefs in only a single tribe within the limited geographic area in and around Mobile, Alabama, indicate s how widespread the Spanish practice was. When extrapolating these numbers across the many Native tribes within the entire Spanish colonial territory throughout North America, the conclusion must be that medals were given out in great numbers.
Medals Looking over the available numismatic research on Spanish Indian peace medals, the first significant mention of a Spanish Indian peace medal was included in American Colonial History Illustrated by Contemporary Medals (1894) by Charles Wyllys Betts. Bett’s efforts are substantial though he misinterpreted the reverse legend as “Por Mérito” rather than “Al Mérito” due to the worn condition of the specimen he observed which was exhumed from an Indian burial site (Betts 1894). Betts lists a “Spanish Indian(?) Medal” and catalogues the medal as number 536 (commonly referred to as “Betts-536”), describing the medal as follows:
SPANISH INDIAN(?) MEDAL
536. Obv. CARLOS III REY D’espana E DE LAS INDIAS. (Charles III, King of Spain and the Indies.) Bust of the King. Rev. Por Mérito (For merit) within a wreath of cactus. Silver. Size 36. (size measured in sixteenths of an inch) Rare. This medal was discovered at Prairie du Chien about 1864, and is now in the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Cabinet. It is supposed to have been given by Don Francisco Cruzat, the Spanish Governor, to Huisconsin, a Mitasse chief of the Sauks and Foxes.” 6
Almost eighty years later, in Indian Peace Medals in American History (1971), Fr. Francis Paul Prucha, S. J. included an excellent chapter on the Spanish Indian peace medals.7 Prucha provided extensive historical information about their use and importance, noting that both large and small medals were issued. However, although he was able to illustrate a crude, awarded Spanish Carlos IV medal found in an Indian burial site (as listed above), he did not identify the official Royal Spanish Al Mérito Indian peace medals and repeated the mistake first stated by Betts that the reverse of the Spanish medal found in Wisconsin bore the inscription “Por Mérito”.
On August 4, 1997, medal expert and dealer Paul J. Bosco became the first—known to us—to catalog a large Spanish Indian peace medal for sale when he listed a 55 mm silver “Very Rare Spanish/Mexican Indian Peace medal” in his auction catalog as lot #709A (our census number 3). He adds that it was “N.d. (ca 1780s) Silver Indian Peace medal with a bust of Carlos III. A variant of Betts-listed pieces. 55mm with original 14mm mount. By T. Prieto. . .” He went on to note:
Betts lists all pre-1784 Indian Peace medals known to him. I cannot recall any pieces ever offered that conformed exactly to his description, nor any variant that was offered more than once. . . Spanish (Mexican) Indian Peace medal s took in large parts of Southern and Western present-day United States. The medals have been found at Indian sites as far as Wisconsin. They seem to be rarer than French, British, U.S. and Canadian Indian Peace medals. It’s possible that their greater age gave them more time to disappear, but other possible explanations come to mind rather easily, and previous research does not.
Research failed to uncover any example of the Al Mérito Spanish Indian peace medal offered for sale or auction for over a century prior to the 1997 Bosco sale, despite many great collections being dispersed during this period. As a consequence, they are similarly absent from most of the great institutional collections today. Bosco realized at the time that the medal was “A variant of Betts-listed pieces,” but given Betts mistaken “Por Mérito” description of the reverse inscription and the extremely poor condition of the Wisconsin medal8 Bosco deserves much credit for insightfully concluding that his medal was in fact an Indian peace medal used in Spanish Provincial Louisiana and beyond.
In 2000, author and scholar Dr. Elvira Villena resolved the mystery behind the Spanish Indian peace medal described in Betts (Betts 536). Dr. Villena concluded that there was an official medal authorized by Royal order of Carlos III, specifically designated for use in the Spanish Province of Louisiana. Her important research in the Spanish archives documented the creation of a medal intended solely for use with the Indians in North America.
In “The First Spanish Military Decorations (I): Tomás Francisco Prieto’s Al Mérito Medals” published in The British Art Medal Society’s The Medal (Volume 36, Pages 24- 32), Villena identified a large (54 millimeter diameter) silver Carlos III medal with a hanger, having a large bust of the King wearing the Golden Fleece on a ribbon around his neck on the obverse, and a reverse with the inscription Al Mérito surrounded by a laurel wreath. Her research conclusively proved that, unlike the similar smaller (38 millimeter diameter) Al Mérito medal which was primarily intended as a military decoration, the larger medal was to be awarded only to important Native Chiefs in North America.9 (The large medal is, of course, the same noted above by Betts with the reverse incorrectly described as “POR MÉRITO.”)
In recent history, there have been several important collections of Indian peace medals auctioned, including the 1986 Chris Schenkel collection, the 2001 Lucien M. LaRiviere collection, and 2006 John J. Ford, Jr. collection, the largest offering of Indian peace medals to be offered at auction. Other than the Bosco 1997 auction, none of these important collections included any example of the large Al Mérito Spanish Indian peace medals. In 2009, the John W. Adams collection of Indian peace medals was auctioned and included an example of the rare large size Al Mérito medal (our census number 4). To our knowledge, the 1997 Bosco and 2009 Adams large Al Mérito medals are the only examples to come into the marketplace. (Authors note: there has been two other examples that has come to market after the publication of this article)
On November 13, 1762, near the end of the French and Indian War, King Carlos III of Spain and King Louis XV of France entered a secret treaty known as the Treaty of Fontainebleau. Under the terms of the treaty, France ceded her Louisiana Territory to Spain, compensating the Spanish for loss of Florida to Britain. The treaty also reduced France’s colonial presence north of the Caribbean solely to the small North Atlantic islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, consolidating the Spanish empire in North America.10
During this critical period, some Indian tribes were considered strong enough to rival the Spanish authorities. The use of gifts, including staffs, military uniforms and commissions, weapons, and Indian peace medals was critical.
Referencing the importance of the medals, on March 14, 1767 Governor of Louisiana Antonio de Ulloa wrote the following to Captain Don Francisco Riu, leader of the official expedition up the Mississippi from New Orleans:
Since it may happen that one must honor the chiefs of certain tribes who come from the fort, as has always been practiced, by giving them the medal of the king, a report will be given to the government of the tribes which come there with information of the names and relations of the principal and secondary chiefs, in order that these medals may be sent. This is to be understood in regards to the tribes which can a new to offer their friendship. Since the old tribes have them from the time of the French government. And so far as they are concerned it is the same as though the medals were those of our king, for the Indians have been told so, in order that they might understand that no innovation is being made in anything.11
The presentation ceremonies were often elaborate and impressive. In October 1769, General Don Alejandro O’Reilly, Governor of Spanish Louisiana, summoned nine chiefs of the tribes living within sixty leagues of New Orleans to his home. He assured them that the Spanish King “did not wish to demand of them any other gratitude than their constant fidelity.”12 The details of this event were explained as such:
At the end of the speech, His Excellency arose from his chair to place about the necks of each one of the chiefs the medal which hung from a silk ribbon of deep scarlet color. He first had them kiss the royal effigy, and then with his bare sword touched them on both shoulders and chest, and made over their heads the sign of the cross, and finally gave each an embrace and his hand, where upon they again showed such admiration that it was evident how pleasing to them was the ceremony and that it was the first time they had seen it.13
It was most often the Spanish aim to keep the Indians hostile to foreigners, as well as to control the tribes and keep them peaceful.14 On April 21, 1770, Athanase de Mezières, Lieutenant Governor at Natchitoches, made this statement regarding an agreement with the Caddo tribes:
...They have ceded him (the King) all proprietorship in the land which they inhabit, have promised him blind fidelity and obedience, and have received his royal emblem and his august medal with the very greatest veneration. They have engaged to aid with their good offices and their persuasion, in maintaining the general peace, and, in consequence, not to furnish any arms or munitions of war to the Naytanes, Taovayaches, Tuacanas, Quitseys, etc.; to employ themselves peaceably in their hunting, both for their entertainment and for their subsistence; and to arrest and conduct to this post all coureurs de bois and persons without occupation whom they may meet in the future, protesting that they will never forget their promise, which is just and very conformable to the harangue which has been brought to them by us, in the name of the captain-general of this province.15
In Natchitoches in Fall, 1770, Athanase de Mezières went to the village of the Cadodacho, on the Red River, to undertake the task of winning the friendship of the nations of the north. On his journey from Natchitoches he passed through the villages of the Adai, Yatasi, and Petit Cado. The Caciques (Chiefs) and principal men of these villages gladly accompanied him to the Cadodacho village. De Mezières met at the appointed place the chiefs of the Taovayas, Tawakoni, Yscanis, and Kichai tribes; who were hostile to the Spanish; and made peace with them. De Mezieres said, “I am indebted to the Cacique Tinhiouen and that of the Yatasi, called Cocay, both decorated with his majesty’s medals, and alike devoted to our Nation, for seconding my discourse with forceful arguments.”16
Large medals were also given in the south. In 1779 the First Chief of the Cadodacho visited New Orleans. De Mezières informed Governor Bernardo de Gálvez of the chief’s intention of visiting him. He said:
The first chief of the Cadauzdakioux, who has never gone down to that capital, has decided to make this long journey, attracted by your reputation and moved by the strongest desire to see you and know you. This Indian (of whom I have had the honor of reporting to you) is friendly, and is very commendable both because of an inviolable fidelity to us as well as by reason of a courage which never fails. It is to him principally that we owe in this district a constant barrier against the incursions of the Osages; moreover, it is to the love and respect which the villages of the surrounding district show him that we owe the fact that they generally entertain the same sentiments for us. ...As the Cadaudakious nation is very much enfeebled by the continual war of the Osages, and since the last epidemic has still more diminished its numbers, it has created a faction amongst them who desire to abandon the great village. This would leave the interior of the country exposed to incursions of foreigners and its Indian enemies, a design so fatal that it will not succeed if Monsieur the Governor uses his prodigious influence to frustrate it. ...The medal chief being accompanied by all the principal men of the nation...it will be well for your Lordship to treat them kindly, and to recommend them to love both our nation and their chief. Since many hunters of the Arkansas River are introducing themselves among the Cadaudakioux, to the prejudice of their creditors; I pray your Lordship to remedy this abuse by intimating to the medal chief not to receive them in the future, and even to force them to appear in this post, because this sort of hunters, seeking only to flatter the Indians, very often give them very bad impressions Your Lordship will make known how interested you are in maintaining peace among the Caddodoukioux, the Arkansas, and other allies. 17
Gálvez replied to De Mezières on June 1, 1779:
The head chief of the Cados nation who came to this capitol to visit me, I received with all the affection and kindness merited by the fidelity, love, and other qualities which you indicate, I keeping in mind in the conversation which I had with him, everything which you suggested to me; and after remaining here some days he returned to his country with a present of considerable importance which I gave him, and decorated with the large medal.18
When the Spanish made alliances with the Indian tribes it was customary to exchange their medal for those previously given by the French or British. This is discussed in the following letter from Don Franciso Cruzat to Bernardo de Gálvez, in December 1780:
Dear Sir: Such are the movements which the English show in this barbarous and inhuman war, in order that they might succeed in their attempts, that even in the Misury (Missouri) they had introduced two of their banners, which I have had surrendered to me by telling the tribes, who had received them, that in order to be our allies they ought not to have in their villages other ensigns than the Spanish. I send them to Your Lordship by Don Agustin Choteau, together with two others and thirteen medals which the Sac tribe had surrendered to him, as I have informed Your Lordship under date of September twenty-ninth, and also another banner and medal which a chief of the Pu (Pottawatomies) tribe just surrendered to me.
All these chiefs, who have surrendered these medals, desire that they be replaced by Spanish medals, but I have not been able to do that because enough of them were not brought up for all of them. Consequently, I shall desire that, if there is an opportunity, some of them be sent me, so that I may content said chiefs, as well as some copies of the printed permits, since, of those which I brought up with me, only two remain, and those who have received them have been caused great joy. With these we can succeed in contenting them.19
In 1780, Domingo Cabello y Robles, Governor of Spanish Texas sent agents into the Comanche lands. These efforts were useless until the late summer of 1784. Cabello y Robles’ first agent to score any success among the Comanche was Juan Bautista Bousquet, a trader from Louisiana. Bousquet visited Wichita Indians and carried messages that the Spaniards wanted peace. After receiving his words the Wichita and Taovaya chiefs accompanied him traveling to San Antonio to meet Governor Cabello y Robles, who gave small gifts to all the Indian leaders, and a medal to the most important Taovaya Chief, a man named Guersec. 20
In the Mobile Treaty of July 14, 1784, between the Spanish Government in the Province of Louisiana and the Choctaw Indian tribe in and around Mobile (Alabama), signatories include 27 “Large Medal Chiefs”, 42 “Small Medal Chiefs” and 127 Indian “Captains”.21 This treaty is for only one tribe, in one small area of the enormous Louisiana province that stretches north to Canada, and within that single tribe, 69 medals and 196 awards in total were given by the Spanish Government.
One of the more unusual episodes of the history of these medals occurred in late 1785. Esteban Miró, who was then Proprietary Governor of the State of Louisiana, beckoned two Osage chiefs, and the great chief of the Caddo, Tenihuan, to meet with him in New Orleans. At the meet- ing, Miró obtained a promise from the older chief, Brueacaiguais, to make peace with the Caddo tribe. Later that year, Miró sent a small medal, suit, and hat to a different Osage leader, whom he wanted to bring to New Orleans, so he could impress him with the marvels of the city. Brueacaiguais, now jealous that another man of his tribe was given that invitation and privilege by Miró, violated his promised agreement with the Spanish. He broke his promise to Miró and renewed open warfare upon the Caddo. Brueacaiguais also prevented the Osage rival from going down the Arkansas to New Orleans. 22
Governor Miró became aware of the defiant actions of Brueacaiguais, and ordered the old Osage Chief to be brought to New Orleans as a hostage to assure the good behavior of the other Osage Indians. When the Governor’s order reached Arkansas Post, it was discovered that Brueacaiguais was near death, and unable to travel. Nevertheless, Brueacaiguais was degraded from his rank, and his medal, commission, and flag were taken and returned to Miró in New Orleans. 23 This event must have been rare; according to Ewers this is the only known event in which a medal chief was striped of his rank and medal. 24
Many contemporary sources reference a “large” medal, but it is rarely described in detail. Thus it is often impossible to specifically identify the type of medal awarded. In 1785, correspondence between New Mexico Governor Juan Bautista de Anza and Commandant-General José Antonio Rengel (located in Chihuahua, Mexico) describes medals for use with Indians sent to Anza:
The bust of his Majesty was stamped on one side and on the other a crown of laurel with the words Al Mérito.25
The letter further states that:
The large medal was intended for a chief of all the Navahos, and the small medal either for a secondary Navaho or Comanche. 26
This correspondence is the earliest reference found by the authors describing the large Al Mérito medal being used with Native Chiefs. It also confirms their use in other areas in North America outside of the Spanish Province of Louisiana.
Governor de Anza greatly valued the relationships signified by the giving of gifts, titles, and awards to the Indians in New Mexico. In 1786, he made peace with the Comanche at Pecos Pueblo, twenty-five miles east of Santa Fe. At that time, he elevated the status of Comanche Chief Ecueracapa to that of Head Chief of all the Comanche, promising him both a medal and a staff of office to be dis- played in all the Comanche camps as symbols of his importance. On July 15, 1786, de Anza formally “decorated Captain Ecueracapa with his Majesty’s medal.” 27 Ecueracapa, whose name is a derivative for the Spanish words for “leather jacket” and “cape” was also presented with a Spanish officer’s uniform, a military commission as General of the Comanches, as well as a sabre, the Spanish Flag, and the personal staff of Governor de Anza.
Beginning in 1764, a Spanish military award medal was created for acts of bravery and merit 28, and as an aid in Spain’s restructuring of their military from the old militia style to a more professional one. It was then that the deter- mination was made that the military medal would bear the bust of Carlos III (Charles III) on the obverse and the words “AL MERITO” on the reverse.29 The first known reference to the creation and use of this medal was on February 14, 1769 from Julián de Arriaga, then Secretary of the Marine and the Indies, to Miguel de Múzquiz, Secretary of the Treasury:
In a communication of the 24th April 1764 the Marquis of Esquilache advised me that, in order that the new militias that had been established in Havana could be zealous in the service of their King, the King had resolved to have some gold and silver medals bearing the words Al Mérito, to reward with them those who most dis- tinguished themselves in some action, to which effect when the governor felt it appropriate he should make representation, giving information about the character of the person.30
Tomás Francisco Prieto was already considered the most important Spanish medalist of his time and accepted the commission to engrave the dies. In 1764, the dies were approved and used to strike small 38 mm Al Mérito medals in both gold and silver, with twelve gold and thirty-two silver medals initially struck. Records reflect that they were subsequently struck as needed. This earlier and smaller Al Mérito medal measured approximately 38 millimeters, and was originally intended solely for use as a military decoration. 31
The use of the smaller Al Mérito medal as an Indian peace medal was addressed by Steve Cox in his article published in The MCA Advisory which illustrated two such medals with hangers.32 Significantly, one of those medals was presented to a Quapaw Chief (Ki-He-Kah) Buffalo Chief that was still in the possession of his descen- dents. The medal is also illustrated by Morris Arnold in his 2000 book The Rumble of a Distant Drum: The Quapaws and Old World Newcomers, 1673-1804. In Cox’s article he also illus- trates a second specimen that he discovered on a “historic Choctaw meeting place.” The authors are aware of a third example with hanger (Museo Casa de la Moneda Collection), which does not appear to exhibit any evidence of use that is in the collection of the Museo Casa de la Moneda, Madrid. Since the small Al Mérito medal served a dual purpose as both a military medal and an Indian peace medal, the determination of whether a particular example is in fact an Indian peace medal can only be verified by historical or archeological evidence.
The French and British also made great use of medals with the Indian tribes. Both were using a much larger size medal; the largest French silver medal measuring 54 millimeters in diameter and the largest British silver medal, issued in 1776, even larger measuring 76 millimeters. This soon became a point of contention in the minds of the Indians, who equated the size of the medals as a sign of the importance of their stature and found the smaller Spanish medals unacceptable. An early notable instance of this occurred in 1771, when a Quapaw chief, Cazenon point, rejected a Spanish medal because it was smaller than one given to him by the French and implied that his status was diminished. 33
The history of the larger Al Mérito Indian peace medal begins in 1777.34 At the request of José de Gálvez, Secretary for the Indies, King Carlos III ordered the creation of a new, larger diameter medal explicitly intended to placate the Indians in the New World, “who believed themselves to be less esteemed than those of the neighboring English territory, due to the fact that the later are given medal in the name of their sovereign for their actions or as an encouragement to them that are larger than the ones with the image of the king Carlos III, that have been sent to the governor for distribution at the appropriate moment.” 35
The new larger Al Mérito medal was nearly identical to the smaller one in its design; however, it had one major design difference: the addition of Carlos III wearing the Order of the Golden Fleece on a ribbon around his neck.36 On January 9, 1778, the design and dies created by Tomás Prieto were approved by the King and the Minister of the Indies. By April of 1778, fifty large Al Mérito medals were struck at the Spanish Mint. On May 6 1778, twenty-four of the large Al Mérito medals were delivered to Secretary Gálvez.37 Under a Royal Order of March 11, 1779 an additional 102 medals were struck. According to correspondence from Tomás Prieto, at some point a new die was needed “since the old one had split,” indicating there were two obverse die varieties of the large medal.38 There was extensive use of the large Al Mérito Medal with successive strikings continuing through 1783.39
The authors have determined that all of the known large medals have identical reverses from the same die. This common reverse design has a laurel wreath (misidentified in Betts as a “wreath of cactus”) surrounding the inscription “AL MERITO”. Our examination of the few remaining examples of the large medals confirmed the use of a second replacement obverse die designated as “Obverse Type #1” and “Obverse Type #2.” The basic designs of these obverse designs both feature the high relief bust of King Carlos III in profile facing right, wear- ing a laurel wreath, with the Order of the Golden Fleece around his neck. Also, as described in Betts and elsewhere, both share the surrounding legend CARLOS III • REY DE ESP • EMP • DE LAS INDIAS (Charles III, King of Spain, Emperor of the Indies). Despite these common major design elements, under close examination the differences between the two obverses are easily distinguished. The fol- lowing is a list of important characteristics, which can be used for differentiating and identifying the two different obverses:
Remaining examples of both size silver Al Mérito are extremely rare, with only seven large examples known, with three (and perhaps only two) in private hands, and only three of the small size known. Perhaps the best known of these medals is a large Al Mérito medal currently in the collection of the Wisconsin Historical Society. Chief’s medals were often prized sacred possessions, and at times they would be buried along with their original recipient’s remains. The large Al Mérito medal at the Wisconsin Historical Society was uncovered in an Indian burial mound at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. This medal is widely accepted as the actual medal presented to either Chief Huisconsin or Mitasse, Chiefs of the Sauk and Fox. The records show that these two Chiefs traveled to St. Louis, and were presented with medals by the Spanish Provincial Governor of Louisiana, Don Francisco Cruzat, on November 20, 1781.40
Given the historical evidence that the Spanish issued significant numbers of both small, and large medals to the Indians throughout the vast territory under their dominion, one is left to speculate as to why so few have survived. The reasons are likely fourfold. As evidence of their importance to their Indian recipients, some were buried with their owners, as in the case of examples numbers 1, and 7, in our survey. Some were exchanged for American medals or the medals of other European powers. Given the significant value of their silver content at a time when few had access to hard currency, it is highly likely that, out of necessity, some may have been melted for their bullion to make arm bands or other decorative silver items. Finally, in view of the large silver medallion found in a Pawnee grave site that contained an 8 reales of Carlos IV, it is likely that some of the awarded small medals may have been pierced portrait 8 reales that cannot now be identified as Indian peace medals in the absence of credible historical documentation, or archeological evidence.
An extensive search has located only seven of the large silver Prieto Al Mérito medals:
1. Wisconsin Historical Society collection. Silver. The heavily worn specimen from an Indian grave in Prairie du Chien is the example used and misidentified by Betts (Betts 536) in American Colonial History Illustrated by Contemporary Medals. Silver. Diameter 53.97 mm, Weight 50.28 grams. Obverse type #1. Widely accepted as that being presented to Huisconsin, or Mitasse, chiefs of the Sauk and Fox, on November 20, 1781, in St. Louis, Missouri, by the Spanish governor, Don Francisco Cruzat. Transparent overlays of this medal, as well as the medal’s size, identify this as a large Al Mérito medal.
2. Missouri Historical Society collection. Silver, gilt specimen. Diameter unknown, weight 82.4 grams. Obverse type #2. The gilt specimen presented to Charles Dehault Delassus, the last lieutenant governor of Upper Louisiana, whose duty it was to turn over the territory to the United States. That example was presented by his descendants, along with his sword, to the Missouri Historical Society and remains in their collection today. Noteworthy is the fact that the transfer document he signed on March 9, 1804, was also signed by Meriwether Lewis as a witness.
3. Paul Bosco Auction. Silver. The example was auc- tioned on August 4, 1997, lot # 709 A, by medal dealer and expert Paul Bosco, now in a private collection. Silver with hanger. Diameter 55 mm, weight unknown. Obverse type #2.
4. The John W. Adams example sold by Stack’s (New York) now in a private collection. Silver with hanger. Diameter 55.5 mm, Weight 81.86 grams. Obverse type #2.
5. Museum Lázaro collection, Madrid, Spain. Silver with hanger; without ring. Silver, gilt specimen. Diameter 56 mm, weight unknown. Obverse type #2. The authors discovered this medal online. It appears to be a gilt example, and the museum’s listing describes the medal as “plata” or silver, but also “medalla de plata dorada”, (translating as gilded silver) indicating the medal is gilt.
6. Museo Casa de la Moneda (Fábrica Nacional de Moneda y Timbre), Madrid, Spain. Silver with hanger. Diameter 55.4 mm, weight unknown. Obverse type #2. Identified by Dr. Elvira Villena in her article and also plated on page 418 in her book El Arte De La Medalla En La España Illustrada (2004). It is a high grade silver example with hanger, and ring that is identified by the fact that the ring is slightly bent.
7. The Asa Thomas Hill example. Silver. Diameter and weight unknown. Obverse type #2. Medal found in a Pawnee grave and pictured on page 130 of The Pawnee Indians by George E. Hyde (2007). The medal was once owned by Nebraska State Historical Society Director Asa Thomas Hill. He excavated the medal from a Pawnee gravesite on land he purchased at the Pawnee Republican Village in southern Nebraska for the purpose of locating Pawnee artifacts. Showing clear signs of burial, it shows heavy wear and possibly corrosion. The medal has also been extensively retooled to make the lettering and designs more prominent, likely in an amateur attempt to restore the details on the buried medal.
Hill later sold many of his artifacts, including other medals and Pawnee skeletal remains, to the Nebraska State Historical Society (NSHS). Many of these items, including medals (counting the large Spanish medal containing a 1797 8-reales coin mentioned earlier), and 398 Native American skeletal remains, were returned to the Pawnees under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) in the early 1990s and presumably reburied. The NSHS records, however, do not show any history of having acquired this Carlos III Al Mérito medal, and Asa Hill’s widow has no recollection of the medal. The whereabouts of this medal is unknown today. According to the Diary of Pedro Vial, in 1794, a Pawnee Indian Chief claimed “that his Father in the east had sent him a medal.” 41
Three examples of the large Prieto Al Mérito medals, struck in bronze without hangers are in institutions in Spain. One is located at the Museo Arqueoloxico Provincial de Ourense collection, in Ourense; a second at the Museo Casa de la Moneda (Fábrica Nacional de Moneda y Timbre, in Madrid; and the final one in the Museo del Ejército (colección Romero Ortíz), in Toledo. The example in the Museo Arqueoloxico Provincial de Ourense was critical in identifying the differences between the two obverse dies, as it was struck from the first die.
Barry D. Tayman, Tony Lopez & Skyler Liechty, the authors, would like to acknowledge and express their gratitude to the following individuals for their assistance invaluable assistance with this article. Dr. Elvira Villena inspired the authors and provided us with critical input and research necessary to understand the history of the Spanish-Indian medals. John W. Adams, noteworthy author and medal expert made his extensive research files available for our use, without which this study never could have gotten off the ground. Dr. Fernando Chao shared his knowledge and research on the use of Spanish-Indian medals throughout the New World. Also, the assistance, patience, and forbearance of Dr. Robert B. Pickering, Senior Curator at the Gilcrease Museum were critical to the completion of the article. Gail DeBuse Potter, Director, Museum of the Fur Trade and Laura Mooney, Registrar, Nebraska State Historical Society provided important details regarding the disposition of the Al Mérito medal once owned by Asa Thomas Hill. Paul Bosco provided us with images and permission to publish the Al Mérito medal sold in his August 4, 1997 auction as lot #709 A. Xulio Rodríguez Gonzáles from the Museo Arqueoloxico Provincial de Ourense provided us with images and permission to publish the unique Obverse Type # 1 bronze Prieto Al Mérito medal in their collection. Juan V. Teodoro, Director, del Museo Casa de la Moneda, in Madrid, Spain provided us with images and permission to publish the Al Mérito medals in their collection. John Kraljevich alerted us regarding medal number 2 in our census. Warren Baker provided us with important documentation regarding the Lewis and Clark expedition. Antonio Prieto Barrio provided important information regarding the small Al Mérito medal and the location of one example. Dr. Ute Wartenberg Kagin, Executive Director, The American Numismatic Society, provided us with valuable insight that the medals were also gifts of considerable intrinsic value.
1. The Medal 2000, vol. 36:27-28.
2. Ibid, P. 29.
3. Indian Peace Medals in American History 1971:12.
4. History of Michigan 1906:86. On February 12, 1781 Captain Don Eugenio Pouré dispatched by Don Francisco Cruzat, Commandant of St. Louis, attacked and plundered the British held Fort St. Joseph in modern day Niles, Michigan. The Spanish flag was raised, and Spain claimed lands east of the Mississippi based upon the success of the raid. These claims were not released until Pickney’s Treaty with the United States in 1795.
5. Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society V6. 1894:440. In his Journal, Indian Agent Major Lawrence Taliaferro records that in 1821, at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, an old Sioux named Ma-Ga-Iyah-He visited the fort and produced a Spanish Commission signed by Louisiana Military Provincial Governor Colonel Francisco Cruzat in 1781, “the Valley of the Minnesota at that time having been a portion of the Spanish domain.”
6. American Colonial History Illustrated by Contemporary Medals 1894:239.
7. Indian Peace Medals in American History 1971:11-16.
8. Described as AR Medal, Spain, 1789-1808. 0000.999.33062.
9. The Medal 2000, Vol. 36:27-29.
10. The History of the United States of America Vol. 2 1849:502.
11. Indian Peace Medals in American History 1971:11.
12. Plains Indian History and Culture 1998:104.
13. Indian Peace Medals in American History 1971:12.
14. Ibid, P. 13.
15. Spain in the West 1914:157-158.
16. Ibid, P. 211.
17. A History of the Caddo Indians 1935:895-896.
18. Ibid, P. 89.
19. The Spanish Regime in Missouri 1909:17.
20. Explorers and Settlers of Spanish Texas 2001:170-171.
21. Documents of American Indian Diplomacy, Vol. I 1999:127-130.
22. Plains Indian History and Culture 1998:114-115.
23. Ibid, P. 115.
24. Ibid, P. 115.
25. New Mexico Historical Review 1960:223.
26. Ibid, P. 223.
27. Plains Indian History and Culture 1998:106.
28. The Medal 2000, Vol. 36:25.
29. Ibid, P. 25.
30. Ibid, P. 25.
31. Ibid, P. 25.
32. “The MCA Advisory” 2010, Medal Collectors of America 13:7:4-9.
33. Barbaros: Spaniards and their savages in the Age of Enlightenment 2006:187.
34. The Medal 2000, 36:27-28.
35. Ibid, P. 27.
36. Ibid, P. 29.
37. Ibid, P. 29.
38. Ibid, P. 30.
39. Ibid, P. 31.
40. Report and Collection of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin 1882, 10:123.
41. Chronicles of Oklahoma 1931:203.
Any reproduction of this material in whole or part must first receive permission. The authors want to thank the Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, OK for granting permission to reproduce this article here.
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