A large cross stands north of US Highway 400 east of Fort Dodge. Many know what it signifies. But after 40 years, few know how it got there.
The Coronado Cross commemorates Francisco de Coronado's Spanish 1541 expedition to North America and the start of Christianity in our state.
The expedition's arduous journey began in Mexico, and their crossing of the Arkansas River was not easy. The explorers crossed the River six miles east of Dodge City near present day Fort Dodge on June 29 which is the Holy Day of Saints Peter and Paul, so they named the turbulent river El Rio de San Pedro y San Pablo.
Among those in Coronado's party was Catholic Father Juan De Padilla who, on June 29, 1541, held the first Christian service in what is now the State of Kansas. The Mass was in thanksgiving for having brought them safely so far.
Despite this auspicious beginning of religion in Kansas, things did not go well for Father Padilla in the long run. Coronado’s expedition slowly continued east along the north bank of the river and encountered a Quivera Indian village near Lyons, Kansas.
The entourage spent 25 days in this settlement and Father Padilla’s ministries were well received by the Indians.
Padilla wished to extend his missionary work to surrounding areas. Despite warnings not to, the father went to the neighboring Kaw, or Kansas Indians, village. Two days into the trip his party was besieged by a group of angry warriors.
As the Father knelt in prayer, the warriors pierced his body numerous times with arrows and stole his holy vestments; they then threw his body into a pit and piled rocks upon him.
Some historians have his place of death near Herrington, Kansas. Though the exact time and place of his death is uncertain, a marker south of Council Grove, Kansas states his death was on Christmas Day, 1542.
Father Juan De Padilla goes down in history as America’s first Christian martyr.
In 1950, the Kansas Knights of Columbus, at a cost of $12.000, erected a 26 foot high white marble cross near Lyons in memory of Padilla's proto-martyrdom.
As quoted from the Kansas Knights of Columbus website, "The square, quartered by the cross, denotes the four corners of the World brought into Christian unity when Father Padilla carried the cross of Christianity to the center of the New World."
Just east of Fort Dodge, the Ford County Historical Society installed a 38 high pressed concrete cross in June 1975 as a U.S. Bicentennial project. It is on 10 acres of prairie land donated by the Karl Miller family.
The late Miller was a pioneer judge who had erected a wood cross on this land in 1940.
The Historical Society maintains the Coronado Cross and its surrounding land.