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Gerald Erichsen

What Does "Llano Estacado" Mean?

By May 12, 2010

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From the mailbox (link added):

I have a question regarding the meaning of Llano Estacado. It is a plain in the Southwestern USA and I have read that it was called Llano Estacado because of the stakes driven into the ground as landmarks showing the way through the plain, and the translation in English should be "Staked Plain." According to other sources, the plain was called Llano Estacado because it is surrounded with cliffs resembling palisades or stockades, and the correct translation should be "Palisaded Plain" or Stockaded Plain."

Estacado is the participle of estacar and my question is: Is it possible for estacar to be used in both contexts, and what would a native Spanish speaker assume if he/she heard "Llano Estacado"?

My educated guess about how a native speaker would understand Llano Estacado is that it would be the same as how an English speaker would understand "Staked Plain" (which, to be honest, doesn't put much of an image in my mind at all). That understanding would likely be different for someone living in suburban Madrid than it would be for someone living on the plains of Argentina.

That said, there isn't really not much difference in meaning of the English terms you're using. As shown in my list of English words derived from Spanish, the English word "stockade" comes from the Spanish word estaca — so originally "stockade" and "staked" meant basically the same thing. The same goes for "palisade" — it comes from French palissade, which in turn comes from a word meaning "stake." (It's related to the Spanish word palo, meaning "stick," which itself may be a distant cousin of "stake," although I haven't been able to confirm that.)

So "Staked Plain," "Stockaded Plain" and "Palisaded Plain" are all legitimate translations. As to why that name was adopted, that's a question for the historian.


May 13, 2010 at 11:49 am
(1) Woodrow Smith says:

I chased the llano estacdo phrase down a long time ago. Purportedly when the explorers looked across the plain, they weren’t actually seeing the land, they seeing the fields of grass and it sort of waved in the wind and while “flat” it looked like it was in motion

May 13, 2010 at 8:53 pm
(2) Prof. Joe says:

From Wikipedia:
“…Coronado named the region after seeing the cliffs of the Caprock Escarpment from the north on his way east from Cíbola. They appeared to be an impenetrable defense for the land, and he called it Llano Estacado, Spanish for “Palisaded Plains.” The name is often mistranslated as “staked plain,” giving rise to fanciful stories to explain it. Some allude to yucca stems, others to stakes driven into the ground as landmarks, and still others to similar, even less plausible objects. None of these has been proven the reason for the name.[..”

December 13, 2010 at 5:12 pm
(3) Jack Westbrook says:

I grew up in Lubbock, Tx where Spanish was the prevalent language in my neighborhood. I always thought it meant the plain that is dropped. Llano (plain) esta (that is) cado (drop or fallen). Nobody told me that — it just made sense to me — especially after travelling off the caprock a couple of times.

May 6, 2011 at 3:22 pm
(4) Gerald L. Summers says:

The problem with most of these interpretations are that they don’t take into consideration the colloquial Spanish then in use. Every interpretation I have seen has attempted to determine the meaning of Ilano Estacado literally in English. In fact, the Spanish used the term, “staked plain,” to describe a polo field.

The Spanish Conquistadors were big polo players, and when they set out to have a game, they found a flat area and marked the boundaries with stakes. Thus, when Coronado came upon the huge flat area of the Texas Panhandle, it resembled a gigantic polo field, and he named it thus. There is no secret to it.

May 25, 2011 at 8:25 pm
(5) Gerald L. Summers says:

There are those who continue to assert that when Coronado first saw the Ilano Estacado, he also saw it was on a huge elevated cap rock with high cliffs on two sides. But the records of the exploration do not say that. They describe the huge flat area as full of buffalo, grass, and little water

Further, it is unlikely he would have used a secondary definition to describe what he saw. The Spanish would not have used a secondary definition, such as estacado, if they were intending to refer to it as a palisade. They would have used the word, “Empalisade.”

The Spanish used their horses to impress the Indians, and it is well established by the memoirs of others in the group, that in one of Coronado’s demonstration, “races,” he fell from his horse and was badly hurt.

This is all in the exploration records and clearly supports the polo field version. In addition, Coronado mentions that the area contained not a stick of wood, which forced them to burn buffalo chips for fires. How would they have used stakes for direction markers if there was no wood? And to suggest that he needed such markers is not supported in the record. He notes in his writings that they had reached as far north as the 40th meridian, which suggests that they had all the navigation tools they needed. It is true that their guides got lost on the way to find Quivira, but does not mean Coronado did not know approximately where he was vs the rest of the world.

April 18, 2013 at 12:23 pm
(6) Gerald Lane Summers says:

The Texas state geographer has accepted the palisade interpretation of Llano Estacado, but he is guessing along with the rest of us. What would we expect a geographer to do but look first to a geographical or geological explanation. He was impressed with the cliffs on the North and East sides of the Llano, so naturally he assumed that Coronado would have been as impressed. The problem is that with the exception of a small portion of the Northwest corner of the Llano, Coronado could not have realized these cliffs circled far to the east and south. He traveled Southwest down the middle of the Llano to the Lubbock area, and then turned around to exit near the Northeast. If he had been impressed with the cliffs, he would have said so. Instead, he was impressed by the flat land and the buffalo that roamed on it.

I maintain that the best guess is the one that most closely resembles something he and his men did frequently. They rode and raced their horses to impress the Indians. In Pedro De Casteneda’s chronicle of the journey, he discusses Coronado’s fall from his horse during a race at Tiquex, and mentions that he did this every day. The race track was almost certainly staked off just as they would have for a polo match.

June 17, 2013 at 8:15 am
(7) William says:

I go along with Llano Estacado meaning…llano meaning Plain, Estacado meaning….Staked which I’n reverse means Staked Plains which makes more since than other explanations. If there were no stakes or trees, the Spanish probably brought stakes with them to mark the way back if they had to backtrack….

June 20, 2013 at 5:54 am
(8) Alfredo says:

I’m Spanish (living in Madrid), and in my opinion, in spanish, Llano Estacado clearly means “staked plain”. I completely agree with William: “If there were no stakes or trees, the Spanish probably brought stakes with them to mark the way back if they had to backtrack….”, for me it’s the better explanation, simple and logical. Stakes were an usual method to avoid getting lost when exploring big plains or deserts…

January 4, 2014 at 2:30 pm
(9) TJ says:

I believe it could be translated in part as “Smooth Steps” for the rolling hills and cliffs that gradually ascend.

January 4, 2014 at 2:47 pm
(10) TJ says:

I loosely base it on llano being an adjective for smooth or flat and estecado is close to the word stacked or stepped as in a closely related word in modern English, the “esca”lator— so in theory I believe it could mean flat steps or “steeps” after the rolling hills and cliffs or interpreted as smooth steps just as well.

February 22, 2014 at 6:04 am
(11) Gerardo del Caz says:

As a Spanish native speaker, I would like to leave the possibility that the name derives from “llano estancado” or ” flooded plain”. It is not uncommon in some Spanish names to change phonetically and evolve to different pronunciations. In TX we have many examples…

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