As Father Escalante so appropriately recorded in his diary, the
Dominguez Escalante expedition was made "in behalf of the Light."
Dominguez and Escalante were Franciscan priests, and their religion
strongly influenced the course of their journey. The Franciscan order,
founded in the eleventh century by St. Francis of Assisi, was based on
the three vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. The first
Franciscans to the New World came with Columbus and for four
centuries the order was instrumental in its settlement. The Franciscans'
mission to spread Christianity and care for people led them into hardship
and danger on the many frontiers of the Spanish Empire.
Father Dominguez was thirty-six in 1776, and the leader of all
Franciscan missions in New Mexico. Born in Mexico, he was charged in
1775 with the responsibility of making a thorough investigation of the
New Mexico missions. His report proved him to be a firm and scrupulous
administrator. Twenty-six-year-old Father Escalante was a native of
Spain and the pastor of the Zuni Mission near the borders of the New
Mexico frontier. Both men were meticulous in detail and possessed an
unfailing trust and faith in God.
Twice during their epic journey, the padres cast lots to determine the
direction they would take, believing that God would influence
drawing and point them in the right direction. In the treacherous canyon
of the Dolores River, the lot drawn indicated that they take an easterly
course toward the San Miguel River in central Utah as winter
approached, the lot drawn directed them to abandon their route to
California and return to Santa Fe.
Dominguez and Escalante drew deeply on their faith and inspired their companions, especially during the difficult times of the journey. Equally important, their quest "in behalf of the Light made for peaceful relationships with the Indian peoples they encountered. Truly, they manifested the spirit of the Franciscan greeting: "May God Give You Peace."