Ever Further North...
On September 2nd, 1539, Father Marcos de Niza returned to Culican from a six month journey into the unknown. The party made significant advances for the Spanish crown, but any real contributions were over-shadowed by his elaborate report to the Viceroy that he had discovered the fabled Cibola, the "Cities of Gold".
"When I showed the natives the samples of gold I had, they said there were vessels of it among their people. They wore ornaments of it hanging from their noses and ears, and also that they have blades of gold to scrape the sweat from their bodies. Many of the people I saw wore silk clothing down to their feet. Of the richness of that country I cannot write, because it is so great it does not seem possible. They have temples of metal covered with precious stones, emeralds I think. They use vessels of gold and silver for they have no other metal."
Needless to say, Father Marcos caused great excitement in Culican. The settlement was deserted almost over night. One of the first parties known to leave was that of Melchior Diaz. Diaz traveled north with a party of 15 men and is believed to have gone as far as the Tizon (Colorado) River, although the exact location is not known. As was the fate of countless other adventurers who rushed north to claim their share of the wealth, the Diaz expedition was doomed to fade into obscurity in the wake of the greatest expedition of discovery the west has ever known.
On January 6th, 1540, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, who was previously Governor of Nueva Galicia, was commissioned by King Charles I as Captain General of the Indies and charged with the specific task of exploring the land of Cibola. He chose Garcia Lopez de Cardenas as his Maestro de Campo, or second in command, while Don Pedro de Tovar was designated as Ensign General. Pedro Castenada was the chronicler of the expedition. Father Marcos reluctantly accompanied the party only because he was ordered to do so. He had every reason to be troubled by this.
The party left the outpost of Compstela on February 23rd, 1540. The group consisted of approximately 250 cavalry, 62 foot soldiers, and several hundred Indian slaves to act as servants to the Spaniards and herdsmen for 1,000 head of cattle, sheep and hogs that were driven along for food. They traveled north along a well used trail trod before them by Cabeza de Vaca, Father Marcos, Melchior Diaz and countless other illegal and uncommissioned parties who had sought for mines of gold and Indian slaves.
Coronados' army made its way north into what is now Arizona, and it was along the Gila River that he met up with Melchior Diaz, who had left before him. Diaz joined Coronado and together they made their way north into the Zuni pueblos that Marcos had described as being the Cities of Gold. What Coronado found here was not Cibola but a small huddle of stone and adobe shacks. At Hawikuh, they encountered hostile Indians who met them with a hail of stones and arrows. Coronado was struck on the head and slightly injured. In retaliation, his army attacked and seized the village killing many Indians. They found nothing at Hawikuh, or any of the Zuni pueblos, that remotely resembled what Marcos had described. Castenada wrote:
"When we first saw the villages that Father Marcos said were Cibola, such were the curses that were hurled at him that I pray God may protect him from them!" Coronado feared for the life of Father Marcos and he sent him back to Mexico with a report for the Viceroy of their disappointing finds and their distrust in Marcos. Father Marcos fell into distrust with the crown and was reassigned to a small desert outpost at Jolap where he died in poverty in 1558.
Coronados' army searched the Zuni pueblos and dealt very harshly with the Indians as they tried to find out where the gold was. The Indians insisted that they had none, but that it was plentiful in a region to the north and also to the west at Tusayan. Coronado dispatched Pedro de Tovar and twenty men to find these riches at Tusayan while the remainder of Coronados' army rested at Zuni. Tovar reached Tusayan sometime in July after five days march. There were no cities of gold here either, but they were told of a rich province still further north, where on the shores of a great lake called Copalla lived a people of great wealth where the mines of gold and silver were plentiful. It was the land of Teguayo, home of the Yutahs.
Tovar returned to the Zuni pueblos on August 25th, 1540, reporting that Tusayan was a scenic land but there was no gold. He also related the story of Teguayo and the great lake of Copolla. Coronado wasted no time in sending Captain Cardenas and 25 men to explore "further north" than de Tovar had, Coronado allowed him "80 days to go and return and to search for gold, not scenery."
With ample provisions, Cardenas traveled for 25 days through a harsh desert country until he finally arrived at a great river. The party was suffering greatly from thirst and had difficulty finding a way down to the river. There is some confusion as to exactly what river it was that Cardenas discovered. Some historians believe it was the Little Colorado. Others say that it was the San Juan. I personally believe that he would not have had to travel for 25 days to encounter the Little Colorado. I also do not think the party would have been suffering from thirst as bad as they were if they had only traveled as far north as the Little Colorado.
Cardenas had probably discovered the San Juan River, which he explored to it's confluence with the Tizon. Cardenas was likely the first European to have explored what is now Utah. When Cardenas returned to the Zuni Pueblos he found the Indians to be on the verge of a revolt because of the food that had been stolen and the abuses they had suffered at the hands of the Spaniards. Coronado ordered that 200 Indians be captured and burned alive to make an example out of them. When the Indians saw what was in store for them, they struggled to escape.
"Our men attacked on all sides, so that there was great confusion, and the horsemen gave chase to those who tried to escape. As the country here is level, not a man of them remained alive." But there were those that escaped, and news of the Spaniards cruelty soon spread throughout the land. In an effort to be rid of Coronado, the Indians always told him that what he sought was somewhere else, always further north. In the spring of 1541, Coronado set out to the north east to the land of Quivira. He traveled across New Mexico, into northern Texas and Oklahoma, even as far as the plains of Kansas.
"All there is at Quivira is a very brutish people, without any decency whatever. In their homes or in anything." With his supplies running low and winter approaching, Coronado began the long trek back to Mexico. Upon reaching Zuni, three of the Franciscan priests asked permission to remain behind and establish a mission. As soon as Coronodo and his army were again on their way south, Fray Juan de Padilla, Fray Luis de Escalona, and Fray Juan de la Cruz were killed by the Indians.
Upon his return to Mexico, Coronado was arrested. Cardenas was also arrested and was sent back to Spain, never to return to the New World. Although the charges against Coronado were eventually dismissed, he died in disgrace and was buried at the church of Santo Domingo in Mexico City. Coronado had claimed more territory in two years than the Roman Empire had in five centurys.
Copyright © 2010 Lost Treasures Of Utah. Reproduced with permission.