Spanish Explorers and Exploration

In the year 1530, Nunc de Guzman, who was President of New Spain, had in his possession an Indian, a native of the Valley of Oxitipar, who was called Tejo by the Spaniards. This Indian said he was the son of a trader who was dead, and that when he was a boy his father had gone into the back country with fine feathers to trade for ornaments, and that when he came back, he brought a large amount of gold and silver, of which there was a large amount in that country. He went with him once or twice, and saw some very large villages which compared with Mexico and its environs. He had seen seven large towns which had streets of silver workers. It took thirty days to go there from his country, through a wilderness in which nothing grew except some very small plants about a span high.

Upon this information Nuño de Guzman gathered an army of 400 Spaniards and 20,000 of the friendly Indians of New Spain, and prepared to explore the country which was already named ”The Seven Cities.”

They went as far as the province of Culiacan where his government ended, and where the New Kingdom of Galicia then was, but on account of the difficulties encountered in crossing the mountains, and the discouragement of many of the capitalists interested in the expedition, and also on account of political intrigues, this expedition was abandoned.

Six years later, Cabeza de Vaca, and his companions, came to Culiacan. They gave Antonio de Mendoza, who had succeeded to the office of Viceroy in New Spain, an extended account of some of the “powerful villages, four and five stories high, of which they had heard a great deal in the countries they had crossed, and other things very different from what turned out to be the truth.”

Upon this information, the expedition of Friar Marcos de Niza was organized, and, as we have seen, reached the country wherein was located the Seven Cities of Cibola, one of which he saw from a distance. Upon the return of Friar Marcos, he gave a most glowing account of the country through which he had passed, much of which was hearsay evidence and greatly exaggerated. The country was described as populous and ease of access, the people, probably the Pima Indians, from hearsay evidence, were said to have gold in plenty out of which they manufactured their utensils. It was easy enough for Friar Marcos to believe these stories because of his experience in Peru, where the Indians understood the art of metal working, and it also corresponded with the information which had been given prior to this by the Indian, Tejo.

Corona do, who was at this time Governor of New Galicia, by appointment from Mendoza, accompanied Friar Marcos to the city of Mexico, where he gave the Viceroy a succinct account of his travels and discoveries. Friar Marcos was, undoubtedly, very optimistic and easily imposed upon by the Indians, who gave such glowing accounts of the different tribes adjacent to those tribes through which he passed, and also of the wealth of the Seven Cities of Cibola, and, like any other optimist similarly situated, no doubt he was over enthusiastic, consequently his statements, while not intended to be unreliable, were, as events proved, almost entirely without foundation.

Mendoza, seeing an opportunity to add to the dominions of his Sovereign a territory as rich or richer than that of Peru, or that of the Aztecs of Mexico, lost no time in organizing an expedition for its exploration and conquest.

This expedition was organized in the year 1539, and was placed under the charge of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, a native of Salamanca, Spain, and of noble descent, who had already attained some prominence as a soldier and statesman.

Friar Marcos was made a Provincial of the Franciscans, and the Franciscan Order encouraged the expedition.
In the meantime, Captain Melchior Diaz, with a company of cavalrymen, was sent from Culiacan to verify the reports of Friar Marcos, and the army, composed of 300 Spaniards and 700 Indians, was gathered at Compostela, and advanced as far as Culiacan. Diaz went north as far as Chichiltecale (Little Red House), which was, as near as can be determined at present, about thirty miles west from the present town of Safford upon the edge of the Apache Reservation, where he was detained on account of heavy snows in the mountains. From this point he sent word to Coronado that the road was very different from what Marcos de Niza had described it; that there was but little provisions; that the country was very sparsely settled, and that from the point where he was it was thirty or forty days’ travel through the wilderness to the Seven Cities.

This news had a discouraging effect upon Coronado and his forces, but the army advanced to Ures, also known as Corazones, or the Village of the Hearts. At this place they were short of provisions, and Coronado sent an expedition into the Sonora Valley to treat with the natives there, receiving a small supply of corn for their immediate use, and being advised that the country from there to Chichiltecale was barren of provisions of any kind except game, he left the main body of his army there, and went ahead with seventy horsemen and a few Indians to Chichiltecale, from which point they crossed through the Apache Reservation to the first village of the Seven Cities.

The army was in poor condition, some of the Indians and slaves had died of starvation en route, and they were all in a famished condition, having only two bushels of corn left.

The first city reached was “a little, crowded village, looking as if it had been crumpled all up together. There are ranch houses in New Spain which make a better appearance at a distance. It is a village of about 200 warriors, is three and four stories high, with the houses small and having only a few rooms, and without a courtyard. One yard serves for each section. The people of the whole district had collected here, for there are seven villages in the province, and some of the others are even larger and stronger than Cibola. These folks waited for the army, drawn up by divisions in front of the village. When they refused to have peace on the terms the interpreters extended to them, but appeared defiant, the ‘Santiago’ (the warcry of the Spaniards) was given, and they were at once put to flight. The Spaniards then attacked the village, which was taken with not a little difficulty, since they held the narrow and crooked entrance.”

The Indians fought with bows and arrows and from the tops of their houses they hurled stones upon the attacking party. During the attack Coronado was knocked down with a large stone, and his life was saved through the efforts of Don Garcia Lopez de Cardenas and Hernando de Alvarado, who threw themselves above him and drew him away, receiving the blows of the stones, which were not few. In less than an hour, the village was captured and a plentiful supply of food, which was the thing they most desired, was discovered. After this the entire province was at peace.

Before the army left Culiacan, Hernando de Alarcon was sent in command of a naval expedition to explore the coast and to cooperate with the land expedition. He proceeded from Acapulco up the Gulf of California, and discovered the Colorado River, following it up in boats quite a distance, some authorities say beyond the junction of the Gila with the Colorado. If he did this he makes no mention of the Gila River, and his explorations were up the river, where he had some difficulties with the natives, which settled the point that California was a peninsula and not an island. Waiting for some time, he sailed for Acapulco on his return.

Friar Marcos had been sent back from Galicia with Captain Diaz and Gallego because Coronado did not think it safe for him to stay in Cibola, seeing that his report had turned out to be entirely false, because the kingdoms that he had told about had not been found, nor the populous cities, nor the wealth of gold, nor the precious stones which he had reported, nor the fine clothes, nor other things that had been proclaimed from the pulpits.”

Melchior Diaz was sent to the Village of the Hearts, with instructions to send the balance of the army located there to Cibola, except a guard of about 80 men, with which he was to establish a military post and remain in command.

Juan Gallego was to go to New Spain with messages for the Viceroy, Friar Marcos accompanying him.

Captain Diaz remained in charge of the town with his eighty men, the balance of the army joining Coronado at Cibola, setting out about the middle of September.

Melchior Diaz also had instructions to organize an expedition and go to the coast to learn what had become of Alarcon and his naval expedition. He took 25 of his most efficient men upon this expedition, leaving in command Diego de Alcaraz, who seems to have been unfitted for the place for, from the time he was placed in command, there was nothing but mutinies and strife. Diaz took guides and went north and west. After journeying about 150 leagues, he came to a province of tall and strong men like giants, who were naked and lived in large straw cabins built underground like smoke houses, with only the straw roof above ground, which they entered at one end and came out at the other. One cabin housed more than a hundred persons, young and old. They ate bread cooked in ashes, as big as the large two pound loaves of Castile. On account of the great cold they carried a great firebrand (tison) in the hand, when going from one place to another, with which they warmed the other hand and the body as well. On this account the large river was called the Rio del Tison (Firebrand River). At the point where they reached the river, it was half a league across. Here Diaz heard that there had been ships seen at a point three days down toward the sea, and when he reached the place, more than fifteen leagues up the river from the harbor, they found written on a tree: ”Alarcon reached this place; there are letters at the foot of this tree.” Diaz dug up the letters and learned from them how long Alarcon had waited for news from the army, and that he had gone back with the ships to New Spain, because he was unable to proceed further, since this sea was a bay, which was formed by the Isle of the Marquis, which is called California, and that California was not an island, but a point of the mainland forming the other side of the Gulf.

After going up the river some distance, Diaz started on his return to Corazones, and while on his return, was killed by a lance while driving away a dog which was worrying their sheep.

In the meantime, Coronado found out from the people of Cibola something of their neighbors, and was informed of a province of seven villages, the same as theirs, called “Tusayan,” situated twenty-five leagues from Cibola. The villages were high, and the people warlike.

Don Pedro de Tovar, with seventeen horsemen and three or four foot soldiers, was sent out by Coronado to explore these villages, and entered the country quietly, arriving after nightfall and concealing themselves on the edge of the village. In the morning they were discovered by the natives, who came out to meet them with bows, and shields and wooden clubs, drawn up in lines without any confusion. They insisted that the Spaniards should not cross the lines which they had made towards their villages.

While they were talking, some of the Spaniards attempted to cross the lines, and, one of the natives, losing control of himself, struck a horse on the cheek of the bridle with his club, and, urged by Friar John, who accompanied them, the Spaniards gave the cry of “Santiago” and attacked so suddenly, that they ran down many of the Indians, and the others fled to the town in confusion, when the people of the town came out with presents, asking for peace. The captain established his headquarters near the village, and the natives came forward peacefully, saying they had come to give in the submission of the whole province, and. wanted him to be friends with them and to accept the presents which they offered him which were some cotton cloth, not much, because they did not make it in that district. They also gave him dressed skins, corn meal, pine nuts, corn and birds of the country. Afterwards they presented some turquoises, but not many. The people of the whole district came together that day and submitted themselves, and they allowed him to enter their villages freely to visit, buy, sell and barter with them.

Like Cibola, this province was governed by an assembly of the oldest men. They had their governors and generals. Here Tovar obtained the information about a large river, and that several days down the river there were some people with very large bodies. Don Pedro de Tovar was not instructed to go further, so he returned from this expedition to Coronado, who dispatched Don Garcia Lopez de Cardenas with about twelve companions to go and see the river.

“He was well received when he reached Tusayan and was entertained by the natives, who gave him guides for his journey. They started from here loaded with provisions, for they had to go through a desert country before reaching the inhabited region, which the Indians said was more than twenty days ‘ journey. After they had gone twenty days, they came to the banks of the river. It seemed to be more than 3 or 4 leagues in an air line across to the other bank of the stream which flowed between them. They spent three days on this bank, looking for a passage down to the river, which looked from above as if the water was 6 feet across, although the Indians said it was half a league wide. It was impossible to descend, for after these three days, Captain Melgosa and one Juan Galeras and another companion, who were the three lightest and most agile men, made an attempt to go down at the least difficult place and went down until those who were above them were unable to keep sight of them. They returned about 4 o ‘clock in the afternoon, not having succeeded in reaching the bottom on account of the great difficulties which they found, because what seemed to be easy from above was not so, but instead was very hard and difficult. They said that they had been down about a third of the way and that the river seemed very large from the place which they reached, and that from what they saw, they thought the Indians had given the width correctly. Those who stayed above had estimated that some huge rocks on the sides of the cliffs seemed to be about as tall as a man, but those who went down swore that when they reached these rocks, they were bigger than the great tower of Seville. They did not go further up the river, because they could not get water.”

Thus we have, as related by Casteñada, the historian of the Coronado expedition, a brief outline of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, at that time called the Tison (Firebrand) River, which was discovered by Melchior Diaz and his company.

On their return Cardenas and his companions saw some water falling over a rock, and learned from the guides that some bunches of crystals which were hanging there were salt, of which they gathered a quantity and brought it back to Cibola, dividing it among those who were there. They gave a written report of the expedition to the commanding general. The villages of that province remained peaceful since they were never visited again, nor was any other exploration made in that direction.

This, I think, comprises all the explorations or discoveries made by Coronado in what is now the state of Arizona, but he extended his explorations east, taking possession of all the Pueblo villages, which Casteñada says were sixty-six in number, with a population of over twenty thousand.

The army reached Tiguex, where they met an Indian whom the Spaniards called the Turk, who told them fabulous stories of the great richness in gold and silver of the District of Quivira, of which he claimed to be a native. An expedition was organized to explore it under the guidance of the Indian, who led them a wild goose chase across the plains of New Mexico, Texas and Kansas to near the southern boundary of the State of Nebraska. Of course, the stories of the Turk were proven false, he confessing that he had misled Coronado at the instigation of the Indians whom he had left behind, the intention being to lead the Spaniards into a wild country where they could be starved out and easily captured.

The Indian, of course, was killed.

While there was no immediate advantage to the Spanish Crown in the discovery of gold and silver, yet the expedition of Coronado was not unfruitful in ultimate results for it extended the Spanish domain in the New World over a very wide area of country, extending, as I have said, north to near the boundary line of Nebraska, south to within a hundred miles of Austin, in Texas, all New Mexico, and a portion of Colorado.

Bancroft lays out a route for Coronado from Ures (Corazones, or the Village of the Hearts), to Cibola, which would have carried him farther west through the Pima Villages, thence northwest to within about ten miles of what is now known as the Casa Grande, which Bancroft says Coronado may have seen. This seems utterly improbable, however, for had the general been cognizant of these ruins, it is hardly possible that he should not have mentioned them in some of his official dispatches, or that they should not have been named by Casteñada, the historian of the expedition, and others who wrote about it. The route I have adopted is that approved by such eminent scholars as Bandelier, Winship and others, which, commencing at Ures, went northeast, following the course of the Sonora River, entering Arizona about fifty miles from its eastern boundary. After entering Arizona, Coronado followed the course of the San Pedro River for some leagues, and then branched off to the northeast, passing through ”The Wilderness,” now the Apache Reservation, turning still more to the east at the site of Fort Apache, and thence across the New Mexican line to the Seven Cities of Cibola, or the Zuni villages.

“In the spring of 1542, Coronado started back with his men to Cibola-Zuni, through the rough mountain passages of the Gulf of California, and so on down to the city of Mexico, where he arrived in the early autumn, ‘very sad and very weary, completely worn out and shamefaced.”

Utterly unconscious that he had written his name among the immortals, he resigned from the governorship and retired to his estates. There is no further mention of his name in the annals of New Spain.

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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