Francisco Vasquez de Coronado

Francisco Vasquez de Coronado

(1510-1554)

Coronado and his conquistidors Perhaps the man who most embodies the best and the worst qualities of the conquistadors is Francisco Vasquez de Coronado from Salamanca, Spain. Coronado went to Mexico in 1535 and became governor of the northern Mexican province of Neuva Galicia in 1538.

Early Spanish conquistadoes had heard from Indians rumors of fabulous cities and riches to the north. There was one particularly intriguing story about the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola. These rumors increased after Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca (see no. 3) returned to Mexico in 1536 from his incredible adventures.

Fray Marcos de Niza aroused further interest when he returned from his expedition of 1538-1539, reporting great wealth to be found to the north. The Spanish leaders in Mexico City were eager to learn more, and it fell to Coronado to head a new and more ambitious expedition. Coronado organized a group of 400 European men, women and children, 1,300 Indians, and many cattle, sheep, and pigs.

The expedition set off in February 1540.Coronado and his men proceeded into southwestern Arizona. They arrived at the great Zuni Indian pueblo, a communal village, in Hawikuh in New Mexico. There was no gold here, however, only hostile natives.

The Zuni revolted when Coronado tried to impose Spanish rule over the pueblo, but the Spanish soon triumphed. Meanwhile, Coronado dispatched small scouting parties into other regions. Some went to the pueblos of New Mexico and Arizona. Another party, led by Captain Lopez de Cardenas, proceeded west and became the first Europeans to see the Grand Canyon.

A third group explored the region around Albuquerque and marched through the upper Rio Grande and eastward along the Pecos River. The expeditions returned to the pueblos near Santa Fe, where Coronado gathered all his men to spend the winter of 1540-1541.

Coronado’s men treated the inhabitants of the pueblos terribly, stealing their food and possessions. This led to fights throughout the winter. At one point, Coronado ordered 200 Indians burned at the stake. Then in April 1541, he set off with part of his group to find the city of Quivira, the fabled city of riches. Proceeding with only 30 men, Coronado reached Quivira, most likely modern-day Wichita, Kansas. It was little more than a village. Coronado left the region in August, 1541 and spent the winter near Albuquerque.

Along the way, Coronado had been injured in a horse accident. Ailing and disillusioned, he led his expedition back to Mexico City, arriving there in July 1 542. The Spanish authorities charged Coronado with mistreatment of the Native Americans and the general failures of his expedition, but he was found innocent. Coronado died in Mexico City in 1554.