United States #898 (1940)

de Soto and Coronado (1540-1542)

United States #898 (1940)
United States #898 (1940)

On October 18, 1540, Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernando de Soto — leading the first European expedition deep into the territory of the modern-day United States — arrived at Mabila, a heavily fortified village situated on a plain in a region of present-day central Alabama. Mabila was a Trojan-horse, fake village concealing over 2500 native warriors, planning to attack de Soto’s expedition.

Tuskaloosa was a paramount chief of a Mississippian chiefdom which consisted of a series of villages, mostly along the Coosa and Alabama Rivers. Each village had its own chief who was a vassal to Tuskaloosa. After traveling through the Coosa Province, the de Soto expedition came to the village of Talisi on September 18, 1540, near the modern town of Childersburg, Alabama. The chief of Talisi and his vassals had fled the town before them, but de Soto sent messages to the chief, who returned on September 25. Once Chief Talisi had shown his obedience by supplying the Spaniards with deerskins, food, bearers, and women, de Soto released the paramount chief of Coosa, whom they had held hostage while traveling through his territory. Chief Coosa was angry that he was taken so far from his home village and that de Soto still held his sister, who was probably the mother of his successor as chief according to the region’s matrilineal system. De Soto evidently thought Talisi was subject to Coosa, although the village was closer to Tuskaloosa. As such the chief may have had dual allegiances to both chiefdoms and balanced between them.

Tuskaloosa sent an envoy led by his son and several head men to meet the Spanish in Talisi. The envoy intended to assess Spanish expedition in order to prepare a trap for them. The Spanish rested at Talisi for several weeks, then departed on October 5. During the next several days, they reached about one village of the Tuskaloosa province per day. These included Casiste, situated on a stream; and Caxa, another village on a stream, possibly Hatchett Creek, the boundary between the Coosa and the Tuskaloosa. The next day they camped on the Coosa River, across from the village of Humati, near the mouth of Shoal Creek. On October 8, they came to a newly built settlement named Uxapita, possibly near modern Wetumpka, Alabama. On October 9, de Soto crossed the Tallapoosa River, and by the end of the day, his party was within a few miles of Tuskalusa’s village, Atahachi.

De Soto sent a messenger to tell the chief he and his army had arrived, and the chief responded that they could go to the court whenever de Soto liked. The next day de Soto sent Luis de Moscoso Alvarado to tell the chief that they were on their way. The paramount village was a large, recently built, fortified community with a platform mound and plaza. Upon entering the village, de Soto was taken to meet the chief under a portico on top of the mound.

Chapter VII-In which is related what happened to the commander Hernando de Soto, in his intercourse with the Chief of Tascaluza…who was such a tall man that he seemed a giant: Sunday, October 10, 1540, the Governor entered the village of Tascaluça, which is called Athahachi, a recent village. And the chief was on a kind of balcony on a mound at one side of the square, his head covered by a kind of coif like the almaizal, so that his headdress was like a Moor’s which gave him an aspect of authority; he also wore a pelote or mantle of feathers down to his feet, very imposing; he was seated on some high cushions, and many of the principal men among his Indians were with him. He was as tall as that Tony (Antonico) of the Emperor, our lord’s guard, and well proportioned, a fine and comely figure of a man. He had a son, a young man as tall as himself but more slender. Before this chief there stood always an Indian of graceful mien holding a parasol on a handle something like a round and very large fly fan, with a cross similar to that of the Knights of the Order of St. John of Rhodes, in the middle of a black field, and the cross was white. And although the Governor entered the plaza and alighted from his horse and went up to him, he did not rise, but remained passive in perfect composure and as if he had been a king.

—Rodrigo Ranjel, 1544

Moscoso and his men mounted their horses and galloped around the plaza, playing juego de cañas, a dangerous sport involving jousting with lances. The men occasionally feinted toward Tuskaloosa, hoping to frighten him, a technique of manipulation de Soto had used against the Inca Atahualpa at Cajamarca. The chief sat as though unconcerned. Afterward the Indians served the Spaniards food, and the residents of Atahachi danced in the plaza, reminding the Spaniards of rural dances in their own country. When de Soto demanded porters and women from the chief, the chief said that he was accustomed to being served, and not vice versa. De Soto had Tuskaloosa taken hostage. The expedition began making plans to leave the next day, and Tuskaloosa relented, providing bearers for the Spaniards. He informed de Soto that they would have to go to his town of Mabila (or Mauvila) to receive the women. De Soto gave the chief a pair of boots and a red cloak to reward him for his cooperation.

The expedition departed Atachaci on October 12, and the next day arrived in the village of Piachi, situated high on a cliff overlooking the Alabama River. Here the Spaniards began noticing signs of resistance from the native population. De Soto demanded canoes from the people of Piachi, but the chief claimed his people did not have any. The expedition was forced to wait two days as they built rafts to cross to the north side of the river. After crossing, they noticed that two Spaniards were missing, Juan de Villalobos (who liked to explore the countryside) and an unnamed man looking for a runaway Indian slave. De Soto ordered Tuskaloosa to have his people produced or he would be burned at the stake; the chief said only that the men would be returned at Mabila.

On October 18, de Soto and the expedition arrived at Mabila, a small, heavily fortified village situated on a plain. It had a wooden palisade encircling it, with bastions every so often for archers to shoot from. The Spaniards knew something was amiss: the population of the town was almost exclusively male, young warriors and men of status. There were several women, but no children. The Spaniards also noticed the palisade had been recently strengthened, and that all trees, bushes and even weeds had been cleared from outside the settlement for the length of a crossbow shot. Outside the palisade in the field, they saw an older warrior haranguing younger men, or leading them in mock skirmishes and military exercises.

As de Soto approached the town, the chief of Mabila came out to greet him, bringing him three robes of marten skins as a gift. De Soto and several of his men dismounted and entered the town, as the native bearers placed the Spaniards’ supplies next to the palisade. The Mabilians danced and sang to the Spaniards, seemingly to allay their fears and to distract them. While the spectacle unfolded, Tuskaloosa told de Soto he was tired of marching with the Spaniards, and wished to stay in Mabila. De Soto refused, and the chief asked to confer with some of his nobles in one of the large wattle and daub houses on the plaza. De Soto sent Juan Ortiz to retrieve him, but the Mabilians refused him entrance to the house. Tuskaloosa told de Soto and his expedition to leave in peace, or he and his allies would force him to leave.

When de Soto sent men into the house to retrieve the chief, they discovered it was full of armed warriors prepared to protect their chief. De Soto asked the Chief of Mabila to demand the porters promised by Tuskaloosa, and the Spaniards would leave. The man refused, and a Spaniard grabbed him; in the ensuing scuffle, the chief had his arm cut off by the Spaniard’s sword. With this, the Mabilians attacked the Spanish, who immediately ran for the gate and their horses. Natives came from all of the houses and attacked the Spaniards. The Mabilians grabbed the provisions and equipment left outside the palisade and brought the supplies into the town. After making it outside, the Spaniards regrouped and assaulted the village. After numerous assaults and many hours (the battle lasted eight or nine hours), the Spaniards were able to hack holes into the walls of the palisade and reenter the town.

We entered the town and set it on fire, whereby a number of Indians were burned, and all that we had was consumed, so that there remained not a thing. We fought that day until nightfall, without a single Indian having surrendered to us- they fighting bravely on like lions. We killed them all, either with fire or the sword, or, such of them as came out, with the lance, so that when it was nearly dark there remained only three alive; and these, taking the women that had been brought to dance, placed the twenty in front, who, crossing their hands, made signs to us that we should come for them. The Christians advancing toward the women, these turned aside, and the three men behind them shot their arrows at us, when we killed two of them. The last Indian, not to surrender, climbed a tree that was in the fence, and taking the cord from his bow, tied it about his neck, and from a limb hanged himself.

— Luys Biedma 1544

The Spaniards burned down Mabila, and nearly all the Mabilians and their allies were killed, either in the battle, in the subsequent fires, or by suicide. Chief Tuskaloosa’s son was found among the dead, although the chief was not. Biedma asserts that over five thousand were in the town, of which almost none was able to escape. For several weeks afterward, the Spanish made forays to neighboring villages for supplies of maize, deerskins, and other goods, finding many wounded and dead Mabilians in the houses. The natives had made two serious mistakes: they had not realized Spaniards’ advantage when mounted on horses, and they had relied too heavily on their palisade. Once the Spanish breached the palisade, the Mabilians were too crowded in the village to mount a successful defense. The exact count of the dead is not known, but Spanish accounts at the time put the number of Indian dead at between 2,500 and 3,000. This range would make the battle one of the bloodiest in recorded North American history.

The Spaniards won a Pyrrhic victory, as they had lost most of their possessions and nearly one-quarter of their horses. The Spaniards were wounded and sickened, surrounded by enemies and without equipment in an unknown territory. Fearing that word of this would reach Spain if his men reached the ships at Mobile Bay, de Soto led them away from the Gulf Coast, into Mississippi, most likely near present-day Tupelo, where they spent the winter. In the spring of 1541, de Soto demanded 200 men as porters from the Chickasaw. They refused his demand and attacked the Spanish camp during the night. The Spaniards lost about 40 men and the remainder of their limited equipment. According to participating chroniclers, the expedition could have been destroyed at this point, but the Chickasaw let them go.

On May 8, 1541, de Soto’s troops reached the Mississippi River. De Soto had little interest in the river, which in his view was an obstacle to his mission. There has been considerable research into the exact location de Soto crossed the Mississippi River. A commission appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 determined that Sunflower Landing, Mississippi was the “most likely” crossing place, where de Soto and his men spent a month building flatboats, and then crossed the river at night to avoid the Native Americans who were patrolling the river, and with whom de Soto had previously hostile relations. Once across the river, they continued their travels westward through modern-day Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. They wintered in Autiamique, on the Arkansas River.

In 1541, the expedition became the first Europeans to see what Native Americans referred to as the Valley of the Vapors, now called Hot Springs, Arkansas. Members of many tribes had gathered at the valley over many years to enjoy the healing properties of the thermal springs. The tribes had developed agreements to put aside their weapons and partake of the healing waters in peace while in the valley. De Soto and his men stayed just long enough to claim the area for Spain.

After a harsh winter, the Spanish expedition decamped and moved on more erratically. Their interpreter Juan Ortiz had died, making it more difficult for them to get directions and food sources, and generally to communicate with the Natives. The expedition went as far inward as the Caddo River, where they clashed with a Native American tribe called the Tula in October 1541. The Spaniards characterized them as the most skilled and dangerous warriors they had encountered. This may have happened in the area of present-day Caddo Gap, Arkansas. Eventually, the Spaniards returned to the Mississippi River.

De Soto died of a fever on May 21, 1542, in the native village of Guachoya (historical sources disagree as to whether de Soto died near present-day McArthur, Arkansas, or in Louisiana) on the western banks of the Mississippi. Before his death, de Soto chose his former maestro de campo (or field commander) Luis de Moscoso Alvarado to assume command of the expedition. His possessions at death were four Indian slaves, three horses and 700 hogs.

Since de Soto had encouraged the local natives to believe that he was an imposter diety sun god as a ploy to gain their submission without conflict, his men had to conceal his death. The actual location of his burial is not known. According to one source, de Soto’s men hid his corpse in blankets weighted with sand and sank it in the middle of the Mississippi River during the night.

De Soto’s expedition had explored La Florida for three years without finding the expected treasures or a hospitable site for colonization efforts. They had lost nearly half their men, most of the horses had been killed, the soldiers wore animal skins for clothing, and many were injured and in poor health. The leaders came to a consensus (although not total) to abort the expedition and try to find a way home, either down the Mississippi River, or overland across Texas to the Spanish colony of Mexico City.

They decided that building boats would be too difficult and time-consuming, and that navigating the Gulf of Mexico too risky, so they headed overland to the southwest. Eventually they reached a region in present-day Texas that was dry. The native populations had thinned out to subsistence hunter-gatherers. There were no villages for the soldiers to raid for food and the army was too large to live off the land. They were forced to backtrack to the more developed agricultural regions along the Mississippi, where They began building seven bergantínes, or brigantines. They melted down all the iron, including horse tackle and slave shackles, to make nails for the boats. Winter came and went, and the spring floods delayed them another two months, but by July they set off down the Mississippi for the coast.

Taking about two weeks to make the journey, the expedition encountered hostile tribes along the whole course. Natives followed the boats in canoes, shooting arrows at the soldiers for days on end as they drifted through their territory. The Spanish had no effective offensive weapons on the water, as their crossbows had long ceased working. They relied on armor and sleeping mats to block the arrows. About 11 Spaniards were killed along this stretch and many more wounded.

On reaching the mouth of the Mississippi, they stayed close to the Gulf shore heading south and west. After about 50 days, they made it to the Pánuco River and the Spanish frontier town of Pánuco. There they rested for about a month. During this time many of the Spaniards, having safely returned and reflecting on their accomplishments, decided they had left La Florida too soon, leading to fights and some deaths. However, after they reached Mexico City and Viceroy Don Antonio de Mendoza offered to lead another expedition to La Florida, few of the survivors volunteered. Of the initial 700 participants, between 300 and 350 survived (311 is a commonly accepted figure). Most of the men stayed in the New World, settling in Mexico, Peru, Cuba and other Spanish colonies.

During the time that de Soto’s expedition was battling Chief Tuskaloosa in Alabama, another Spanish conquistador was making his way towards the pueblos along the Rio Grande in present-day New Mexico. Francisco Vázquez de Coronado y Luján led a large expedition from Mexico to present-day Kansas through parts of the southwestern United States between 1540 and 1542, hoping to reach the Cities of Cíbola. His expedition marked the first European sightings of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River, among other landmarks. The journey also sparked the first named war between Europeans and Native Americans in what is now the United States. The Tiguex War was fought in the winter of 1540-41 by the expedition of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado against the twelve or thirteen pueblos of Tiwa Indians as well as other Puebloan tribes along both sides of the Rio Grande, north and south of present-day Bernalillo, New Mexico.

Coronado was born into a noble family in Salamanca, Spain, in 1510 as the second son of Juan Vázquez de Coronado y Sosa de Ulloa and Isabel de Luján. Juan Vázquez held various positions in the administration of the recently captured Emirate of Granada under Iñigo López de Mendoza, its first Spanish governor. Francisco Vázquez de Coronado went to New Spain (present-day Mexico) in 1535 at about age 25, in the entourage of its first Viceroy, Antonio de Mendoza, the son of his father’s patron and Coronado’s personal friend. In New Spain, he married twelve-year-old Beatriz de Estrada, called “the Saint” (la Santa), sister of Leonor de Estrada, ancestor of the de Alvarado family and daughter of Treasurer and Governor Alonso de Estrada y Hidalgo, Lord of Picón, and wife Marina Flores Gutiérrez de la Caballería, from a converso Jewish family. Coronado inherited a large portion of a Mexican encomendero estate through Beatriz and had eight children by her.

Coronado was named the the Governor of the Kingdom of Nueva Galicia (New Galicia), a province of New Spain located northwest of Mexico and comprising the contemporary Mexican states of Jalisco, Sinaloa and Nayarit. In 1539, he dispatched Friar Marcos de Niza and Estevanico (more properly known as Estevan) on an expedition north from Compostela toward present-day New Mexico. When de Niza returned, he told of a city of vast wealth, a golden city called Cíbola, whose Zuni residents were assumed to have killed Estevan. Though he did not claim to have entered the city of Cíbola, he mentioned that it stood on a high hill and that it appeared wealthy and as large as Mexico City.

Coronado assembled an expedition with two components. One component carried the bulk of the expedition’s supplies, traveling via the Guadalupe River under the leadership of Hernando de Alarcón. The other component traveled by land, along the trail on which Friar Marcos de Niza had followed Estevan. Coronado and Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza invested large sums of their own money in the venture. Mendoza appointed Coronado the commander of the expedition, with the mission to find the fabled Seven Cities of Gold. This is the reason he pawned his wife’s estates and was lent 70,000 more pesos.

In the autumn of 1539, Mendoza ordered Melchior Díaz, commander of the Spanish outpost at San Miguel de Culiacán, to investigate Friar de Niza’s findings, and on November 17, 1539, Díaz departed for Cíbola with fifteen horsemen. At the ruins of Chichilticalli, he turned around because of “snows and fierce winds from across the wilderness”. Diaz had encountered Coronado before he had departed San Miguel de Culiacán, and reported that initial investigations into Friar de Niza’s report disproved the existence of the bountiful land he had described. Díaz’s report was delivered to Viceroy Mendoza on March 20, 1540.

Coronado set out from Compostela on February 23, 1540, at the head of a much larger expedition composed of about 400 European men-at-arms (mostly Spaniards), 1,300 to 2,000 Mexican Indian allies, four Franciscan monks (the most notable of whom were Juan de Padilla and the newly appointed provincial superior of the Franciscan order in the New World, Marcos de Niza), and several slaves, both natives and Africans. Many other family members and servants also joined the party.

He followed the Sinaloan coast northward, keeping the Gulf of California to his left until he reached the northernmost Spanish settlement in Mexico, San Miguel de Culiacán, about March 28, 1540, whereupon he rested his expedition before they began trekking the inland trail. Aside from his mission to verify Friar de Niza’s report, Melchior Díaz had also taken notice of the forage and food situation along the trail, and reported that the land along the route would not be able to support a large concentrated body of soldiers and animals. Coronado therefore decided to divide his expedition into small groups and time their departures so that grazing lands and water holes along the trail could recover.

At intervals along the trail, Coronado established camps and garrisoned soldiers to keep the supply route open. For example, in September 1540, Melchior Díaz, along with “seventy or eighty of the weakest and least reliable men” in Coronado’s army, remained at the town of San Hieronimo, in the valley of Corazones, or Hearts. Once the scouting and planning was done, Coronado led the first group of soldiers up the trail. They were horsemen and foot soldiers who were able to travel quickly, while the main bulk of the expedition would set out later.

After leaving Culiacán on April 22, 1540, Coronado followed the coast, “bearing off to the left”, as Mota Padilla says, by an extremely rough way, to the Sinaloa River. The configuration of the country made it necessary to follow the river valley until he could find a passage across the mountains to the course of the Yaqui River. He traveled alongside this stream for some distance, then crossed to the Rio Sonora, which he followed nearly to its source before a pass was discovered. On the southern side of the mountains he found a stream he called the Nexpa, which may have been either the Santa Cruz or the San Pedro of modern maps, most likely the northward-flowing San Pedro River. The party followed this river valley until they reached the edge of the wilderness, where, as Friar Marcos had described it to them, they found Chichilticalli,

Chichilticalli is in southern Arizona in the Sulfur Springs Valley, within the bend of the Dos Cabezas and Chiricahua Mountains. This fits the chronicle of Laus Deo description, which reports that “at Chichilticalli the country changes its character again and the spiky vegetation ceases. The reason is that … the mountain chain changes its direction at the same time that the coast does. Here they had to cross and pass the mountains in order to get into the level country.” There Coronado met a crushing disappointment: Cíbola was nothing like the great golden city that de Niza had described. Instead, it was just a village of simple pueblos constructed by the Zuni Indians. The soldiers were upset with de Niza for his mendacious imagination, so Coronado sent him back to New Spain in disgrace.

Coronado traveled north on one side or the other of today’s Arizona–New Mexico state line, and from the headwaters of the Little Colorado River he continued on until he came to the Zuni River. He followed the Zuni until he found the region inhabited by the Zuni people. The members of the expedition were almost starving and demanded entrance into the village of Hawikuh (of which the preferred Zuni word is Hawikku). The natives refused, denying the expedition entrance to the village. Coronado and his expeditionaries attacked the Zunis. The ensuing skirmish constituted the extent of what can be called the Spanish “Conquest of Cíbola”. During the battle, Coronado was injured. He never personally led his men-at-arms in any subsequent battles. During the weeks that the expedition stayed at Zuni, he sent out several scouting expeditions.

The first scouting expedition was led by Pedro de Tovar. This expedition headed northwest to the Hopi villages, which they recorded as Tusayan. Upon arrival, the Spanish were denied entrance to the village that they came across and, once again, resorted to using force to enter. Materially, the Hopi region was just as poor as the Zuni in precious metals, but the Spaniards did learn that a large river (the Colorado) lay to the west.

Three leaders affiliated with the Coronado expedition were able to reach the Colorado River. The first was Hernando de Alarcón, then Melchior Díaz and lastly Garcia Lopez de Cárdenas. Alarcón’s fleet was tasked to carry supplies and to establish contact with the main body of Coronado’s expedition but was unable to do so because of the extreme distance to Cibola. He traveled up the Sea of Cortés and then the Colorado River until the river entered the lower half of the Grand Canyon. In this exploration, he hauled some supplies for Coronado, but eventually he buried them with a note in a bottle.

Melchior Díaz was sent down from Cibola by Coronado to take charge of the camp of Corazones and to establish contact with the fleet. Soon after arriving at the camp he set out from the valley of Corazones in Sonora and traveled overland in a north/northwesterly direction until he arrived at the junction of the Colorado River and Gila River. There the local natives, probably the Coco Maricopa, told him that Alarcón’s sailors had buried supplies and left a note in a bottle. The supplies were retrieved and the note stated that Alarcón’s men had rowed up the river as far as they could, searching in vain for the Coronado expedition. They had given up and decided to return to their departure point because worms were eating holes in their ships. Díaz named the river the “Firebrand (Tison) River” because the natives in the area used firebrands to keep their bodies warm in the winter. Díaz died on the trip back to the camp in the valley of the Corazones.

While at Hawikuh, Coronado sent another scouting expedition overland to find the Colorado River, led by Don Garcia López de Cárdenas. The expedition returned to Hopi territory to acquire scouts and supplies. Members of Cárdenas’s party eventually reached the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, where they could see the Colorado River thousands of feet below, becoming the first Europeans to do so. After trying and failing to climb down into the canyon to reach the river, the expedition reported that they would not be able to use the Colorado River to link up with Hernando de Alarcón’s fleet. After this, the main body of the expedition began its journey to the next populated center of pueblos, along the Rio Grande in New Mexico.

While in Hawikuh, Coronado was visited by a delegation from Pecos Pueblo. One of the leaders of this delegation, after exchanging gifts, offered to guide the expedition to Pecos and the buffalo herds of the Great Plains. He had a mustache, which was unusual for a Native American, and so the Spaniards called him Bigotes (Spanish for “mustaches”). Coronado sent Hernando de Alvarado as commander for the journey.

Alvarado was one of two soldiers who had used their bodies to protect the fallen Coronado at the battle of Hawikuh, saving him from being bludgeoned to death by stones dropped by the Zuni defenders. Bigotes guided Alvarado and twenty-three other Spaniards and an unknown number of Mexican Indian allies east, past Acoma and into the Rio Grande valley. There they found a cluster of Tiwa pueblos they called the province of Tiguex, named after the occupying Tiwa Puebloans. They traveled north along the river as far as Taos, claiming for Spain the land of several pueblos along the way. They finally arrived at Bigotes’s community of Pecos. This was the easternmost of the pueblos with a well-developed commerce with the plains Indians. Alvarado journeyed another five days easterly to see the vast buffalo herds that Bigotes had earlier described to Coronado. He returned to Tiguex at about the same time an advance party led by Field Master García López de Cárdenas also arrived.

The Tiguex Province was described as the most prosperous area the expeditionaries had seen, with the Rio Grande flowing through a wide, level, desert with vast irrigated cornfields. Alvarado notified Coronado that the expedition should move there for the oncoming winter. To establish a headquarters, Cárdenas commandeered a pueblo the Spaniards renamed as Coofor, forcing the Pueblo inhabitants out with nothing but the clothes they wore. Although Spanish accounts imply the Puebloans left Coofor voluntarily, archaeological excavations in the 1930’s prove that an unreported battle took place there.

Coronado used Coofor as a military base from which to demand supplies from the Tiwas and also the Keres and Tewa pueblos north of Tiguex. The expedition traded beads and trinkets for food and clothing for their winters in Coofor from the Tiguex pueblos at first. But as provisions became scarce for the pueblos, they resisted further trades. Then Coronado ordered his men to simply take what they needed. In the winter of 1540-1541, at least one of the pueblo women was raped, and the expedition’s livestock consumed much of the post-harvest cornstalks normally used by the Puebloans for cooking and heating fuel during the winters.

In December 1540, Tiwas retaliated for the abuses by killing 40 to 60 of the expedition’s free-roaming horses and mules. As a result, Coronado declared a war of “fire and blood,” which became the Tiguex War. He sent Cárdenas with a large force of Europeans and Mexican Indian allies to conquer a Tiwa pueblo the Spaniards called Arenal. All of Arenal’s defenders were killed, including an estimated 30 Tiwas who the Spaniards burned alive at the stake. The Tiwas abandoned their riverside pueblos and made their last stand in a mesa-top stronghold the Spaniards called Moho. There probably was a second mesa-top stronghold as well, but Spanish accounts differ on its existence. Coronado was not able to conquer the stronghold by force, so he laid siege to Moho (and the second stronghold if it existed) for about 80 days in January–March 1541. Finally, Moho’s defenders ran out of water and attempted to escape in the night. The Tiguex War ended in a slaughter when Spaniards heard the escapees and killed almost all the men and several women. The women survivors would spend the next year in slavery as captives.

Coronado then set off on his 1541 foray across the Great Plains to central Kansas in search of the chimerical riches of Quivira. Coronado had heard of a wealthy civilization far to the east from an Indian the Spanish called “the Turk”. In the spring of 1541, he led his army, priests and Indian allies onto the Great Plains to search for Quivira. The Turk was probably either a Wichita or a Pawnee and his intention seems to have been to lead Coronado astray and hope that he got lost in the wilderness.

With the Turk guiding him, Coronado and his army might have crossed the flat and featureless steppe called the Llano Estacado in the Texas Panhandle, passing through the present-day communities of Hereford and Canadian. The Spanish were awed by the Llano. “The country they [the buffalo] traveled over was so smooth that if one looked at them the sky could be seen between their legs.” Men and horses became lost in the featureless plain and Coronado felt like he had been swallowed up by the sea. On the Llano, Coronado encountered vast herds of bison—the American buffalo. “I found such a quantity of cows … that it is impossible to number them, for while I was journeying through these plains … there was not a day that I lost sight of them.”

Coronado found a settlement of Indians he called Querechos. The Querechos were not awed or impressed by the Spanish, their weapons, and their “big dogs” (horses). “They did nothing unusual when they saw our army, except to come out of their tents to look at us, after which they came to talk to the advance guard, and asked who we were.” As Coronado described them, the Querechos were nomads, following the buffalo herds on the plains. The Querechos were numerous. Chroniclers mentioned one settlement of two hundred tipis — which implies a population of more than one thousand people living together for at least part of the year. Authorities agree that the Querechos (Becquerel’s) were Apache Indians.

Coronado left the Querechos behind and continued southeast in the direction in which the Turk told him that Quivira was located. He and his army descended off the tabletop of the Llano Estacado into the caprock canyon country. He soon met with another group of Indians, the Teyas, enemies of the Querechos. The Teyas, like the Querechos, were numerous and buffalo hunters, although they had additional resources. The canyons they inhabited had trees and flowing streams and they grew or foraged for beans, but not corn. The Spanish, however, did note the presence of mulberries, roses, grapes, walnuts, and plums.

An intriguing event was Coronado’s meeting among the Teyas an old blind bearded man who said that he had met many years before “four others like us”. He was probably talking about Cabeza de Vaca, who with Estevan and two other Spanish survivors of the Narváez expedition to Florida made his way across southern Texas fourteen years before Coronado.

Scholars differ in their opinions as to which historical Indian group were the Teyas. A plurality believe they were Caddoan speakers and related to the Wichita. The place where Coronado found the Teyas has also been debated. The mystery may have been cleared up by the discovery of a likely Coronado campsite. While Coronado was in the canyon country, his army suffered one of the violent climatic events so common on the plains. “A tempest came up one afternoon with a very high wind and hail … The hail broke many tents and tattered many helmets, and wounded many of the horses, and broke all the crockery of the army, and the gourds which was no small loss.”

In 1993, crossbow points were found in Blanco Canyon in Crosby County, Texas, near the town of Floydada in Floyd County. Archaeologists subsequently searched the site and found pottery sherds, more than forty crossbow points, and dozens of horseshoe nails of Spanish manufacture, plus a Mexican-style stone blade. This find strengthens the evidence that Coronado found the Teyas in Blanco Canyon.

Another guide named Ysopete told Coronado that he was going in the wrong direction, saying Quivira lay to the north. By this time, Coronado seems to have lost his confidence that fortune awaited him. He sent most of his expedition back to New Mexico and continued with only forty Spanish soldiers and priests and an unknown number of Indian soldiers, servants, and guides. Coronado, thus, dedicated himself to a reconnaissance rather than a mission of conquest.

After more than thirty days journey, Coronado found a river larger than any he had seen before. This was the Arkansas, probably a few miles east of present-day Dodge City, Kansas. The Spaniards and their Indian allies followed the Arkansas northeast for three days and found Quivirans hunting buffalo. The Indians greeted the Spanish with wonderment and fear, but calmed down when one of Coronado’s guides addressed them in their own language.

Coronado reached Quivira itself after a few more days of traveling. He found Quivira “well settled … along good river bottoms, although without much water, and good streams which flow into another”. Coronado believed that there were twenty-five settlements in Quivira. Both men and women Quivirans were nearly naked. Coronado was impressed with the size of the Quivirans and all the other Indians he met. They were “large people of very good build”. Coronado spent twenty-five days among the Quivirans trying to learn of richer kingdoms just over the horizon. He found nothing but straw-thatched villages of up to two hundred houses and fields containing corn, beans, and squash. A copper pendant was the only evidence of wealth he discovered. The Quivirans were almost certainly the ancestors of the Wichita people.

Coronado was escorted to the further edge of Quivira, called Tabas, where the neighboring land of Harahey began. He summoned the “Lord of Harahey” who, with two hundred followers, came to meet with the Spanish. He was disappointed. The Harahey Indians were “all naked — with bows, and some sort of things on their heads, and their privy parts slightly covered”. They were not the wealthy people Coronado sought. Disappointed, he returned to the Tiguex Province in New Mexico. Before leaving Quivira, Coronado ordered the Turk garroted.

The Turk is regarded as an Indian hero in a display at Albuquerque’s Indian Pueblo Cultural Center because he led Coronado onto the Great Plains and thus relieved the beleaguered pueblos of Spanish depredations for at least a few months. The Tiwas had abandoned all pueblos until the expedition left for Kansas, then abandoned them again upon the expedition’s return. The Tiwas waged guerilla warfare from their mountain sanctuaries throughout the second winter.

Coronado was badly injured in a fall from his horse “after the winter was over”, according to the chronicler Castañeda — probably in March 1542. During a long convalescence, he and his expeditionaries decided to return to New Spain (Mexico). Coronado and his expedition departed New Mexico in early April 1542, leaving behind two friars. The Spaniards would not return for 39 years.

Coronado’s expedition had been a failure. Although he remained governor of Nueva Galicia until 1544, the expedition forced him into bankruptcy and resulted in charges of war crimes being brought against him and his field master, Cárdenas. Coronado was cleared by his friends on the Audiencia, but Cárdenas was convicted in Spain of basically the same charges by the Council of the Indies. Coronado remained in Mexico City, where he died of an infectious disease on September 22, 1554. He was buried under the altar of the Church of Santo Domingo in Mexico City.

Coronado caused a large loss of life among the Puebloans, both from the battles he fought with them in the Tiguex War and from the demands for food and clothing that he levied on their fragile economies. However, thirty-nine years later when the Spanish again visited the Southwestern United States, they found little evidence that Coronado had any lasting cultural influences on the Indians except for their surprise at seeing several light-skinned and light-haired Puebloans.

By the time of the Spanish colonization led by Juan de Oñate in 1598, the pueblo people in the Tiguex Province had reestablished themselves. During the period of colonization, pueblo peoples were ravaged by disease. Franciscan missionaries also consolidated most Towa, Tiwa, Keres, and Tewa pueblos from south of Albuquerque to north of Santa Fe, reducing the number of pueblos. After the 1680 Pueblo Revolt and reconquest in the 1690’s, the only remaining Tiwa pueblos in the old Tiguex Province were Alameda and Isleta. The Sandia Pueblo land grant was created in 1748 for several Puebloan refugees who had fled Spanish domination by living several decades with the Hopi in western Arizona. Sandia is now the only Tiwa pueblo community existing within the boundary of that part of the Tiguex Province that Coronado waged war against, although fifteen other Tiwa, Keres, Tewa, and Towa pueblos still remain on or near the same sites where Coronado found them in 1540. For nearly ten years, I lived just five miles from Sandia Pueblo.

Scott #898 was issued by the United States Post Office Department on September 7, 1940, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Coronado’s expedition through the American Southwest. The 3 cent violet stamp reproduces Gerald Cassidy’s painting “Coronado and His Captains.” Printed in sheets of 50 and perforated 11 x 10½, it’s first day of issue city was Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Coronado Expedition
Coronado Expedition

One thought on “de Soto and Coronado (1540-1542)

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