Coronado’s Expedition of the Southwest

Coronado's Expedition by Frederic Remington

Coronado’s Expedition by Frederic Remington

At the time the army divided in May, Coronado reckoned that he was 250 leagues from Tiguex. The reasons for the separation were the scarcity of food for the men and the weakened condition of many of the horses, which were unable to continue the march. During the march to this point, a native kept insisting that the Turk was lying, and the Indians whom they met failed to corroborate the Turk’s account.

Coronado’s suspicions were finally aroused. He sent for the Turk, questioned him closely, and made him confess that he had been untruthful. The Indian still maintained, however, that Quivira existed, though not as he had described it. From the time the army divided, all accounts agree that Coronado and his 30 selected men went due north to a large stream, which they crossed and descended in a northeasterly direction for some distance, and then, continuing their course, soon came to the southern border of Quivira.

George Parker Winship said that the army returned due west to the Pecos River, “while Coronado rode north ‘by the needle.’ From these premises, which are broad enough to be safe, I should be inclined to doubt if Coronado went much beyond the southern branch of the Kansas River, even if he reached that stream.”

The “large stream” mentioned in the relations is believed to have been the Arkansas River, which the expedition crossed somewhere near present-day Dodge City, Kansas, then followed down the left bank to the vicinity of Great Bend, where the river changes its course, while Coronado proceeded in almost a straight line to the neighborhood of Junction City. At the limit of his journey, he set up a cross bearing the inscription: “Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, commander of an expedition, arrived at this place.”

Toward the latter part of August, Coronado left Quivira and started on his return trip. On October 20th he was back in Tiguex, where he wrote his report to the king. The army wintered again at Tiguex and in the spring of 1542 started for New Spain, where they arrived the following fall. His report to the viceroy was coldly received, which seems to have piqued the gallant captain general, as soon afterward, he resigned his position as governor of New Galicia and retired to his estate. True, his expedition was a failure, so far as finding gold and silver was concerned, but the failure was not the fault of the commander. On the other hand, the Spaniards gained accurate geographical information — accurate at least for that day — of a large section of the interior of the continent.

Four priests started with the expedition, including Father Marcos, who had previously been sent out to find the seven cities of Cibola, Juan de Padilla, Luis de Ubeda and Juan de la Cruz. Father Marcos returned to Mexico with Juan Gallego in August 1541 and was not again mentioned in connection with the expedition. The other three friars remained as missionaries among the Indians, by whom they were killed. Father Padilla was killed in Quivira; Father Cruz at Tiguex, and Father Ubeda at Cicuye.

Arkansas River in Kansas

Arkansas River in Kansas

Following the narratives of Castaneda and Jaramillo and the Relacion del Suceso, it is comparatively easy to distinguish certain landmarks which seem to establish conclusively the fact that the terminus of Coronado’s Expedition was somewhere in central or northeastern Kansas. The first of these landmarks is the crossing of the Arkansas River, near where the crossing of the Santa Fe Trail was afterward established. The second is the three days’ march along the north bank of that stream to where the river changes its course.

The next is the southwest border of Quivira, where Coronado first saw the hills along the Smoky Hill River, and another is the ravines mentioned by Castaneda as forming the eastern boundary of Quivira, which corresponds to the surface of the country about Fort Riley and Junction City. In addition to these landmarks, there have been found in southwestern Kansas several relics of Spanish origin. Professor J. A. Udden, of Bethany College, found in a mound near Lindsborg, a fragment of Spanish chain mail. W.F. Richey, of Harveyville, Kansas, presented to the State Historical Society a sword found in Finney County bearing a Spanish motto and the name of Juan Gallego near the hilt.  Richey also reported the finding of another sword in Greeley County — a two-edged sword of the style of the Spanish rapier of the 16th century. And, near Lindsborg, were found the iron portion of a Spanish bridle and a bar of lead marked with a Spanish brand. In the light of all this circumstantial evidence, it is almost certain that Coronado’s expedition terminated somewhere near the junction of the Smoky Hill and Republican Rivers.

One sad feature of the expedition was the fate of the Turk, whom Coronado put to death upon finding that the Indian had misled him, although the poor native’s state of mind had no doubt been encouraged, if not actually inspired by the covetousness of the Spanish soldiers.


Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of Kansas, updated June 2018.

About the Article: The majority of this historic text was published in Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Volume I; edited by Frank W. Blackmar,  A.M. Ph. D.; Standard Publishing Company, Chicago, IL 1912. However, the text that appears on these pages is not verbatim, as additions, updates, and editing has occurred.

Also See:

Explorers & Frontiersman List

Francisco Vazquez de Coronado – Exploring the Southwest

The Kingdom of Quivira

The Mythical Seven Cities of Cíbola

The Spanish Explore America

Tiguex War

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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