Early Spanish Explorers and Indians

It is a grave question whether the first entry into Arizona was made by Juan de la Asunsion, or by Estevan, the Negro, the former slave of Dorantes, who was sent forward by Fra Marcos de Niza in advance of his expedition to the Seven Cities of Cibola. Bancroft accords this honor to the Negro and does not mention the priest.

In an essay upon the subject, A. F. Bandelier, of the Heminway Southwestern Archaeological Expedition, in his “Contributions to the History of the Southwestern Portion of the United States,” gives a very exhaustive account of the supposed expedition of Juan de la Asunsion, which leaves us still in doubt as to whether or not such an expedition was ever made. Bandelier sums up his researches in the following paragraph:

”I frankly confess that, while all the evidence presented above does not come up to the requirements of historical certainty, and while I should not be surprised nor disappointed if subsequently proof were furnished that the story originated through a confusion with the reports of Fra Marcos, the present condition of the case leads me to believe that the journey was really made, that Fra Juan de la Asunsion was the man who performed it, and that he reached as far north as the Lower Gila, and perhaps the lower course of the Colorado of the West; and that consequently there was a discovery of Southern Arizona one year previous to that of New Mexico by Fra Marcos of Niza.”

During the year 1536, when Cabeza de Vaca and his companions appeared in Culiacan, which was then the outpost of Spanish civilization in Mexico, Antonio de Mendoza was Viceroy, having succeeded the cruel and avaricious Guzman in that position. Guzman had alienated all the native races from the Spaniards by an attempt to enslave them. The policy of Mendoza was one of friendliness and kindness towards the Indians, and in 1539, he sent forward Marcos de Niza, a native of the city of Niza, in the Duchy of Savoy, accompanied by Fra Honorato, a Savoyard brother, who only accompanied his superior for a short distance, and Estevan, the Negro slave, whose liberty had been purchased by Mendoza from his owner Dorantes, as a guide to explore the country lying to the north and, i3articularly, the Seven Cities of Cibola, which were said to be rich in gold and precious metals. Accompanying them were eight Indians who came with Alvar Nuñez and had been detained in the city of Mexico where they had received instructions in the Christian religion.

The instructions given to Marcos de Niza by the Viceroy were contained in a very able State paper, which Bandelier prints in full. Fra Marcos de Niza was to assure the Indians whom he met that their rights would be protected, and that there would be no further cruelty practiced against them; that the Spaniards who had been guilty of such conduct had been punished by the Emperor; he was to be careful to note the different native tribes, if they were numerous or not, and if they were dispersed or lived together; the quality and fertility of the land, its climate, the trees and plants, domestic or savage animals, the aspect of the country, whether rugged or level; the streams, if large or small, and the rocks and metals; and of whatever objects it was possible to bring or send samples, to bring or send them in order that His Majesty be informed of everything.

He was to inform himself if there was any knowledge of the seacoast, that to the north as well as that to the south, and if he should reach the coast of the South Sea, he was to bury, at the foot of some strikingly tall tree on the beach of a bay, letters, in which he was to give information of what might seem to him proper, and that he should mark such trees with a cross in order that they might be recognized. He was to do the same thing at the mouths of rivers and on the shores of what might be proper for seaports. If he found some large settlement where it was desirable to erect a monastery and to send thither ecclesiastics fitted for the work of conversion, he was to send word thereof by Indians, or return to Culiacan himself; he was to send the message with due secrecy that there might be no commotion, and that, “in the pacification of what may be discovered the service of our Lord and the good of the people of the country be properly secured.”

He was also instructed to explain to the Indians that he was sent in the name of His Majesty, to tell them that the Spaniards would treat them well, and that they might know the sorrow caused by the information received of the sufferings to which they had been exposed, and that thereafter they would not be slaves nor taken out of the country, but, on the contrary, would be allowed to remain, no harm being done to them.

On the 7th of March, 1539, (old style), Fra Marcos de Niza left Culiacan with his guide, the lay brother, and the Indians above spoken of. Thus escorted, he received a kindly reception as far as Petatlan. The natives everywhere treated him with great kindness, provided food and prepared his camp at night. At Petatlan, his companion, Fra Honorato, fell sick, and he had to leave him there and continue his journey alone.

From Petatlan on, the Negro and the Indians whom the Viceroy had sent from Mexico, became the regular escort of Fra Marcos, but the natives of Northern Sinaloa attached themselves to the little caravan in numbers, and their presence was useful for they provided food for the travellers and insured them a kindly reception from the different tribes.

The aborigines who had come from the city of Mexico belonged to the Pima tribe, and consequently spoke a language similar to that of the Yaquis and Mayos, and, above all, of the Opatas, so these Indians were useful as interpreters and enabled Fra Marcos to hold conversations with the natives along the route as far as the Gila River. His route lay within easy reach of the seacoast, and about twenty-five or thirty leagues northwest from the Kio del Fuerte, as the Petatlan River is called today, the explorer was in the country of the Mayos and probably beyond the mouth of the river of that name, where he met the Indians of the Gulf of California, who wore many conch shells suspended from their necks in which there used to be pearls, and, to quote his own words: “When I showed them a pearl which I had taken along, they said there were some of these on those islands, but I did not see any.”

An uninhabited country for four days separated the point where he met these islanders from the next Indian tribe, who were greatly surprised to see him, and called him “the man from the Sky,” or “from Heaven.”

Bandelier thinks this is the expanse between the northern end of the Valley of Bacuachi and the upper course of the San Pedro River in Southern Arizona. Mountain fastnesses, not treeless, but rugged and wild, separate the site of Mututicachi from the present Palominas or Ochoaville on the San Pedro in Arizona.

Estevan had been sent forward from Vacapa, now called Metapa, in Central Sonora, with instructions to proceed to the north fifty or sixty leagues, and then either to return in person or await the arrival of de Niza. These instructions he disobeyed. Bancroft thinks his route was through the Pima Villages near Tucson. Bandelier fixes it as crossing the San Pedro River at about the town of Ochoaville, aforementioned, and from thence across the Apache Reservation to the Zuni Villages or towns.

Estevan, however, provided well for the journey of his chief, erecting at stated intervals, sheds for his accommodation. He was accompanied by a large number of Indians and a number of squaws who were given to him by the several tribes.

“It was, therefore, on the last day of May, 1539, that Fra Marcos, when within two or three days’ journey of Cibola, according to the statements of his guides, was surprised at meeting one of the Indians who had gone thither with the Negro. The man was on his return, and that return was a precipitate flight. He brought sad tidings. Estevan had reached Cibola, but the people of that place had killed him, with many of his escort, and the survivors were fleeing for their lives.”

The effect of these tidings was such that the Indians refused to accompany the monk any further, but were finally persuaded to accompany him a day’s journey from Cibola through the distribution of presents which he carried along to be given to the citizens of Cibola. Here they encountered two more fugitives “whose bleeding bodies and frightened faces alone told the woeful tale of the dangers from which they had escaped.”

It took Fra Marcos some time to induce them to accompany him any further. Finally two of the number agreed to conduct him to a high hill from which he could see the town of Ahacus, which is identified as that of Hawikuh, a pueblo occupied by the Zunis until 1670, when the Apaches compelled its abandonment. This city de Niza reported to be a well built city with houses of from two to four stories high, laid out in regular streets and squares, with a population as large as that of the city of Mexico at that time.

Having taken possession of the country by building a monument here and there in the name of his Emperor, he returned in hot haste to Culiacan from whence he gave his report of all he had seen and heard: The country of the Yaquis and the Pimas: ”An agricultural, pottery making people, who dressed in cotton and prepared skins, and wore flashy ornaments. They occupied villages on the upper Yaqui, and irrigated by means of artificial canals. The houses were large sized adobes, and the center of the village was frequently occupied by a particularly solid and extensive structure, the walls of which were perforated with loopholes. Thither the inhabitants retreated in case of attack.”

Also a description of the people and the lands of the Sonora River and San Pedro Valley; the people of Cibola and of the kingdom of Totontiac, where were houses eleven stories high, built of stone and lime, and where the people dressed in garments of cotton and wool.

Notes About Book:

Source: History Of Arizona Volume 1, By Thomas Edwin Farish, 1915, Printed and Published by Direction of the Second Legislature of the State of Arizona, A. D.

Notes about Online Publication: This manuscript has been ocr’d and heavily edited. Many of the Native American words have been reproduced as clearly as online publication will allow us, but not all are exactly the way they were in the original work. The structure of this manuscript has been changed to allow better online presentation.

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