Coronado’s Expedition of the Southwest

Francisco Vazquez de Coronado

Francisco Vazquez de Coronado

The immediate effect of his report, in which he stated that the city he saw from the top of the hill was “larger than the city of Mexico,” was to awaken the curiosity of the people of New Spain and create a desire to visit the newly discovered region. In response to this sentiment, Mendoza issued an order for a force to assemble at Compostela, ready to march to Cibola in the spring of 1540. Arms, horses, and supplies were collected and the greater part of the winter was spent in preparations. In casting about for a leader, the viceroy’s choice fell on Governor Francisco Vasquez de Coronado

In addition to the 300 Spaniards, there were from 800 to 1,000 Indians. Of the Spaniards, about 260 rode horses, while 60 marched along with the some 1,000 Indians. They were equipped with 6 swivel guns, more than 1,000 spare horses, and a large number of sheep and swine.

On February 23, 1540, Coronado left Compostela with his army and reached Culiacan late in March. Here, the expedition rested until April 22nd, when the real march to the “Seven Cities” began. Coronado followed the coast, bearing off to the left,” and in June entered the White Mountain Apache country of Arizona. Mendoza, believing the destination of the expedition to be somewhere near the coast, sent from Natividad, two ships, under command of Pedro d’Alarcon, to take to Xalisco all the soldiers and supplies the command could not carry.

As the expedition advanced, detachments were sent out in various directions to explore the country. In June, Coronado reached the valley of the Corazones — so named by Cabeça de Vaca because the natives there offered him the hearts of animals for food. Here, the army built the town of San Hieronimo de los Corazones (St. Jerome of the Hearts), and then moved on toward Cibola. There has been considerable speculation as to the location of the fabled “Seven Cities,” but it was thought to have been the site of the Zuni pueblos in the western part of New Mexico.

On July 7, 1540, Coronado captured the first city, the Pueblo of Hawikuh, which he named Granada. After the capture of this place, the Indians retired to their stronghold on Thunder Mountain. Coronado reconnoitered and on August 3rd, dispatched Juan Gallego with a letter to Mendoza, advising him of the progress and achievements of the expedition.

The army went into winter quarters at Tiguex, near the present city of Albuquerque, New Mexico and during the winter subjugated the hostile natives in the pueblos of the Rio Grande. While at Tiguex, Coronado heard from one of the Plains Indians, a slave in the village of Cicuye, the stories about Quivira. This Indian, whom the Spaniards called “The Turk,” told them his masters had instructed him to lead them to certain barren plains, where water and food could not be obtained, and leave them there to perish, or, if they succeeded in finding their way back they would be so weakened as to fall an easy prey.

Seekers of the Seven Cities of Gold

Seekers of the Seven Cities of Gold

George Parker Winship, in his 1896 book, The Coronado Expedition, said:

“The Turk may have accompanied Alvarado on the first visit to the great plains, and he doubtless told the white men about his distant home and the roving life on the prairies. It was later, when the Spaniards began to question him about nations and rulers, gold and treasures, that he received, perhaps from the Spaniards themselves, the hints which led him to tell them what they were rejoiced to hear, and to develop the fanciful pictures which appealed so forcibly to all the desires of his hearers. The Turk, we cannot doubt, told the Spaniards many things which were not true. But in trying to trace these early dealings of the Europeans with the American aborigines, we must never forget how much may be explained by the possibilities of misrepresentation on the part of the white men, who so often heard of what they wished to find, and who learned, very gradually and in the end very imperfectly, to understand only a few of their native languages and dialects . . . . Much of what the Turk said was very likely true the first time he said it, although the memories of home were heightened, no doubt, by absence and distance. Moreover, Castaneda, who is the chief source for the stories of gold and lordly kings which are said to have been told by the Turk, in all probability did not know anything more than the reports of what the Turk was telling to the superior officers, which were passed about among the common foot soldiers. The present narrative (Castenada’s) has already shown the wonderful power of gossip, and when it is gossip recorded twenty years afterward, we may properly be cautious in believing it.”

Whatever the nature of the stories told by the Turk, they influenced Coronado to undertake an expedition to the province of Quivira. On April 10, 1541, he wrote from Tigeux to the king. That letter has been lost, but it no doubt contained a review of the information he had received concerning Quivira and an announcement of his determination to visit the province. The trusted messenger, Juan Gallego, was sent back to the Corazones for reinforcements but found the town of San Hieronomo almost deserted. He then hastened to Mexico, where he raised a small body of recruits, with which he met Coronado as the latter was returning from Quivira.

Ruins of the old mission at Pecos Pueblo, New Mexico

Ruins of the old mission at Pecos Pueblo, New Mexico

On April 23, 1541, guided by the Turk, Coronado left Tiguex, taking with him every member of his army who was present at the time. The march was first to Sicuye (the Pecos Pueblo), a fortified village five days distant from Tiguex. From this point, the route followed by the expedition has been the subject of considerable discussion.

General J.H. Simpson, who devoted much time and study to the Spanish explorations of the southwest, prepared a map of the Coronado Expedition, showing that he crossed the Canadian River near the boundary between the present counties of Mora and San Miguel in New Mexico, then north to a point about half-way between the Arkansas and Canadian Rivers, and almost to the present line dividing Colorado and New Mexico. There, the course changed to the northeast and continued in that general direction to a tributary of the Arkansas River, about 50 miles west of Wichita, Kansas.

A.F.A. Bandelier, in his 1893 book, Gilded Man, said the general direction from Cicuye was northeast, and that “on the fourth day he crossed a river that was so deep that they had to throw a bridge across it. This was perhaps the Rio de Mora, and not, as I formerly thought, the Little Gallinas River, which flows by Las Vegas, New Mexico. But it was more probably the Canadian River, into which the Mora River empties.” The same writer, in his reports of the Hemenway Archaeological Expedition, said that after crossing the river Coronado moved northeast for 20 days, when the course was changed to almost east until he reached a stream “which flowed in the bottom of a broad and deep ravine, where the army divided, Coronado, with 30 picked horsemen, going north and the remainder of the force returning to Mexico.

Frederick W. Hodge’s map, in his 1907 book, Spanish Explorations in the Southern United States, shows the course of the expedition to be southeast from Cicuye to the crossing of the Canadian River; then east and southeast to the headwaters of the Colorado River in Texas, where the division of the army took place.

George Parker Winship, in his 1896 book, The Coronado Expedition, goes a little more into detail than any of the other writers, saying: “The two texts of the Relacion del Suceso differ on a vital point; but in spite of this fact, I am inclined to accept the evidence of this anonymous document as the most reliable testimony concerning the direction of the army’s march. According to this, the Spaniards traveled due east across the plains for 100 leagues (265 miles) and then 50 leagues either south or southeast. The latter is the reading I should prefer to adopt, because it accommodates the other details somewhat better. This took them to the point of separation, which can hardly have been south of the Red River, and was much more likely somewhere along the north fork of the Canadian River, not far above its junction with the mainstream.”

1 thought on “Coronado’s Expedition of the Southwest”

  1. The man who arrested Nuno de Guzman was none other then a former soldier who worked for him named Cristobal Romero. Romero was also on the Coronado expedition.

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