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Title: De Soto, Coronado, Cabrillo - Explorers of the Northern Mystery
Author: Lavender, David
Language: English
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                              Handbook 144

                      De Soto, Coronado, Cabrillo
                  Explorers of the _Northern Mystery_

                           By David Lavender
                        Division of Publications
                         National Park Service

                    U.S. Department of the Interior
                            Washington, D.C.

                           _About this book_

American history begins not with the English at Jamestown or the
Pilgrims at Plymouth but with Spanish exploration of the border country
from Florida to California in the 16th century. This handbook describes
the expeditions of three intrepid explorers—De Soto, Coronado, and
Cabrillo—their adventures, their encounters with native inhabitants, and
the consequences, good and ill, of their journeys. This little-known
story is related by David Lavender, author of many books on the American
West. His work gives perspective to the several national parks that
commemorate the first Spanish explorations.

National Park Handbooks, compact introductions to the natural and
historical places administered by the National Park Service, are
designed to promote public understanding and enjoyment of the parks.
These handbooks are intended to be informative reading and useful
guides. More than 100 titles are in print. They are sold at parks and by
mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing
Office, Washington, D.C. 20402.

  _Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data_
    Lavender, David Sievert, 1910-
    De Soto, Coronado, Cabrillo: explorers of the northern mystery/by
          David Lavender.
    p.  cm.—(Handbook; 144)
      1. United States—Discovery and exploration—Spanish.
      2. Soto, Hernando, de, ca. 1500-1542.
      3. Coronado, Francisco Vásques de, 1510-1554.
      4. Cabrillo, Juan Rodrígues, d. 1543.
      5. Explorers—United States—History—16th century.
        I. Title.
        II. Series: Handbook (United States. National Park Service.
              Division of Publications); 144
    E123.L24    1992    973.1—dc20    91-47633
    CIP 1992

  Prologue                                                              5
  The Spanish Entradas                                                 10
      _David Lavender_
      The Ways of the Conquerors                                       13
      The Wanderers                                                    21
      Journey into Darkness                                            37
      Where the Fables Ended                                           55
      The Seafarers                                                    85
  Epilogue                                                             97
  A Guide to Sites                                                     98
      De Soto National Memorial                                       102
      Coronado National Memorial                                      104
      Pecos National Historical Park                                  106
      Cabrillo National Monument                                      108

    [Illustration: This 16th-century woodcut, the product of an artist
    with a fertile imagination but little information, epitomizes the
    contemporary view that European discoverers were bringing
    civilization to the grateful natives of the New World.]


A magic date: 1492. The year began with Christopher Columbus watching
the Moors surrender the city of Granada, their last stronghold in Spain,
to the joint monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. He reminded them of the
triumph in a summation he wrote later of what he too had accomplished
that year. “I saw the banners of your Highnesses raised on the towers of
the Alhambra in the city of Granada, and I saw the Moorish king go out
of the gate of the city and kiss the hands of your Highnesses and of my
lord the Prince.” Shortly after the victory, he added, “your Highnesses
... determined to send me, Christopher Columbus to the countries of
India, so that I might see what they were like, the lands and the
people, and might seek out and know the nature of everything that is

This remarkable coincidence—the expulsion of the Moors from Spain and
Columbus’s almost simultaneous discovery of the “Indies”—resulted in a
burst of explosive expansionism. The following year, 1493, Columbus
established Spain’s first colony in the New World on the island of
Hispaniola, occupied now by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. By 1515
Cuba had been conquered and its cities of Santiago and Havana
established as bases for further exploration. In 1519 Hernán Cortés
swept out of Cuba into Mexico and found a new source of wealth for his
country, his followers, and himself by looting the Aztec empire of
stores of gold and silver the Indians had been accumulating for
centuries. A decade later Francisco Pizarro began his dogged and even
more lucrative conquest of the Incas of Peru.

Meanwhile, what of the Northern Mystery, as historian Herbert E. Bolton
aptly named the unknown lands above Mexico? Was it not logical that
similar treasures awaited discovery there? And so the fever for
adventure and riches drew three more distance-defying explorers—Hernando
de Soto, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, and Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo—into
three different parts of what is now the United States. Each reached as
far as he did because inside him burned the awesome, often
contradictory, but always steel-bright fires of medieval Spain.

Our tangible connection to this age of pathfinding and discovery is a
scattering of historic places stretching from Florida to California.
They are evidence of Spanish life and color in the old borderlands. This
book draws into a whole the stories of several such places. Here are the
beginnings of Spanish North America.

                        Routes of the Explorers

                [Illustration: Routes of the Explorers]

  The first Spanish expeditions into the northern borderlands of New
  Spain sampled the continent’s wondrous diversity. De Soto made his
  great march across a luxuriant country so stunning and productive that
  the expedition’s journals are full of admiring description. He
  encountered complex native societies, which were often organized into
  powerful chiefdoms—generous in peace but formidable in war. Centuries
  of settlement has greatly altered this landscape. Not so Coronado’s
  country. A traveler to the Southwest can still see places evocative of
  the first Spanish encounters with Indians of the pueblos and Plains. A
  sailor retracing Cabrillo’s route up the California coast runs past
  mountains that, in the words of the chronicler, “seem to reach the
  heavens ... [and are] covered with snow”—mountains he called the
  Sierra Nevada. They are today’s Santa Lucia range. Cabrillo’s voyage
  is now best followed in the imagination.


    1440-60    The Portuguese explore coast of Africa
    1492       Moors defeated in Spain; Columbus lands in New World
    1497       Vasco da Gama sails to India by way of Africa
    1513       Ponce de León claims Florida for Spain
    1519-21    Magellan’s fleet sails around the world
    1521       Cortés conquers the Aztecs
    1528       Narváez attempts a colony in Florida
    1529-36    The wanderings of Cabeza de Vaca
    1532       Pizarro overthrows the Incas of Peru
    1539-43    De Soto expedition
    1540-42    Coronado expedition
    1542-43    Cabrillo’s voyage
    1562       French Huguenots settle in Florida
    1565       Menendez establishes St. Augustine
    1584       Ralegh plants colony on North Carolina coast
    1598       Oñate expedition into Southwest
    1607       English settle at Jamestown
    1620       Pilgrims settle at Plymouth

                        First Expeditions North

              De Soto                Coronado                Cabrillo

 1539 Lands in Florida in
      late May; marches
      through upper Florida;
      major battle at
      Napituca; guerilla war
      with Apalachees;
      winter camp at Anhaica
 1540 Following Indian        Departs from            Accompanies an
      trails, expedition      Compostela with an      exploring expedition
      swings in a wide arc    army of 300 cavalry     up the northwest coast
      through Georgia, South  and infantry, several   as _almirante_ (second
      Carolina, North         hundred Indian allies,  in command).
      Carolina, and Alabama,  friars, and a long      Expedition abandoned
      encountering major      pack train. Alarcón     after its leader is
      chiefdoms. Bloody       sails up the Gulf of    killed fighting
      battle at Mabila        California with three   Indians.
      (central Alabama) in    vessels. Expedition
      October                 penetrates American
                              Southwest, reaches
                              Háwikuh in July;
                              engages the Zuñi in
                              battle; Coronado
                              Tovar explores Hopi
                              villages in Arizona.
                              Alarcón reaches mouth
                              of Colorado River.
                              Cárdenas sights the
                              Grand Canyon.
                              Alvarado marches to
                              Acoma, Pecos, and
 1541 Winters among           Journeys to Quivira     Gathers a new
      ancestral Chickasaw     (Kansas). Winters at    exploring fleet for
      Indians of Mississippi  Tiguex; puts down an    Mendoza.
      and suffers attack by   Indian revolt.
      them; crosses
      Mississippi in May;
      travels in great loop
      through Arkansas;
      discovers buffalo
      hunters and a people
      who live in scattered
      houses and not in
      villages; endures
      severe winter at
 1542 Reaches the rich        The army departs for    Dispatched by Mendoza
      chiefdom of Anilco; at  home in April, arrives  to continue
      nearby Guachoya, De     in Mexico City in       exploration of the
      Soto sends out scout    mid-summer. Coronado    northwest.
      parties who find        reports to Viceroy      _June:_ Sails from
      nothing but             Antonio de Mendoza on   Navidad, near Colima,
      wilderness; De Soto     expedition, resumes     Mexico.
      dies, is succeeded by   his governorship of     _September 28:_ Sights
      Moscoso. After          Nueva Galicia. Months   “a sheltered port and
      fruitless wandering in  later Coronado is       a very good one.” This
      east Texas, Moscoso     tried for               is San Diego Bay,
      retraces route to       mismanagement of        which he names San
      Anilco                  expedition but          Miguel.
                              acquitted.              _October:_ Sails
                                                      through the Channel
                                                      Islands, suffers fall
                                                      and injury.
                                                      _November:_ Reaches
                                                      the northernmost point
                                                      of the voyage, perhaps
                                                      Point Reyes,
                                                      California, but turns
 1543 Winter camp at Aminoya                          _January 3:_ Dies on
      on Mississippi;                                 San Miguel Island
      survivors—half the                              (Channel Islands).
      original number—build                           _February:_ The fleet
      boats to float                                  sails north again,
      downriver; in                                   perhaps as far as
      September, they reach                           Oregon before turning
      Pánuco River, in Mexico                         back.
                                                      _April:_ Fleet arrives
                                                      back at Navidad, nine
                                                      months after embarking.

                         The Spanish _Entradas_

    [Illustration: Globe]

    [Illustration: In 1493 on his second voyage Columbus stopped at St.
    Croix, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was then “a very beautiful
    and fertile” island cultivated by Carib Indians. A boat he sent
    ashore met with a canoe full of Caribs. In an ensuing fight, one
    Indian was killed and several captured—the first serious hostilities
    with New World natives. Salt River Bay National Historical Park
    preserves the scene of this fateful encounter.]

                       The Ways of the Conquerors

An estimated 3,000 battles wracked the Iberian Peninsula between AD 711,
when Moors from Africa invaded what became Spain, and 1492, when they
were finally expelled. Nor were battles against the Moors the only ones.
The Christian leaders of the peninsula’s several principalities fought
each other and their recalcitrant nobles in a constant quest for power,
until finally Ferdinand and Isabella welded together, by marriage, all
the units except Portugal.

Centralization of power in the hands of national governments was one of
the characteristics that marked the slow emergence in Europe of what
history calls the modern world. The reasons are manifold. A central
government supported by a rising middle class of merchants and bankers
was able to create big armies of professional soldiers and equip them
with newly introduced gunpowder, a capability quite beyond the reach of
the old feudal nobles. Concurrently, the new governments consolidated
economic power, partly through nationwide taxation. New industries were
encouraged. Feelings of nationalism swelled; people took pride in
considering themselves Spaniards rather than just Castillians.

International trade assumed new importance, especially trade with the
Orient, whose extraordinary wealth had been revealed by the adventures
of the Venetian family of Polo as recounted by Marco, the youngest of
the group. Land caravans to the fabled East were difficult, however, and
limited by interruptions and tributes imposed by Moslem middlemen. So
why not travel to the Orient by water, either by circling the southern
tip of Africa or sailing due west across the Atlantic?

The most logical place in Europe for starting the endeavor was the
Iberian Peninsula, which dipped down toward Africa and all but closed
off the western end of the Mediterranean Sea. The exploration of Africa
was launched during the middle of the 15th century by Prince Henry the
Navigator of tiny Portugal. His success and that of the Portuguese
rulers who followed him was so astounding that Ferdinand and Isabella at
last agreed to support Columbus in a competitive transatlantic attempt.
The point is vital. Spain’s feudal nobles probably could not have
financed the expedition; the central government of newly unified Spain

    [Illustration: Prince Henry of Portugal (1394-1460). His attempts at
    reaching the Indies by outflanking Africa earned for him the title
    of Navigator, though he himself never went on exploring voyages. His
    headquarter at Sagres on the western-most promontory of Portugal was
    a gathering place for cosmographers, astronomers, chartmakers, and
    ship-builders. Their work inaugurated in the 15th century the great
    age of discovery that Spain continued in the next century.]

Columbus took the risk because he believed, as had the ancient Greeks,
that the circumference of the world was much smaller than it actually
was. He also believed, as had Marco Polo, that Asia extended farther
east than it does. When he found land at approximately the longitude
that he expected to, he assumed joyfully that he was close to Cathay
(China) and the islands of India. From that misapprehension comes, of
course, the name West Indies for the islands of the Caribbean and
Indians for their inhabitants, a term that quickly spread throughout the

The islands and the eastern coasts of Central America and the
northwestern part of South America that he and Amerigo Vespucci (hence
the name America) skirted on separate expeditions during the following
decade were disappointing—no teeming cities crowned with exotic
architecture, no kings and queens dressed in flowing silk and laden with
precious gems, no warehouses bulging with expensive spices. To a less
energetic nation than Spain, the failure of expectations might have
ended further activity. But emerging Spain saw opportunities in the
wilderness. Some gold could be taken from the placer mines on the island
of Hispaniola. Plantations worked by enslaved Indians could be developed
on Cuba and Puerto Rico. Those Indians—all Indians—had a greater
attraction than just as laborers, however. Alone of all European
nations, Spain was committed to incorporating the native Americans into
the empire as loyal, taxpaying subjects. Priests accompanied exploring
expeditions. After the _entradas_ were completed, missionaries settled
among the tribes and began the civilizing process, as civilization was
defined by the conquerors.

The Spaniards saw themselves as particularly fitted for carrying out
this God-given program. Eight centuries of war against the Moors had
brought a strong sense of unity to the peninsula’s extraordinary mix of
bloodlines—descendants of ancient Greeks, Romans, Carthegenians, and
Celts as well as indigenous Iberians. Contests with Muslims and attacks
on Jews through the Inquisition (Jews were also expelled from Spain in
1492) had spread a crusading religious fervor throughout the nation.
Many a Spaniard felt in his bones what was in fact the truth: Spain was
poised in the 16th century for a great leap forward that would, for a
time, make her the dominant power in Europe. Supreme confidence
generated in many Spaniards a pride that unfriendly nations such as
England regarded as arrogance.

One side effect of all this was the creation of a large class of
professional soldiers who scorned all other callings. Success in battle
brought them a living of sorts; victors, for example, could force
Muslims to work patches of ground for them. A man could become an
_hidalgo_, entitled to use the word _Don_ in front of his name and pass
it on, generation after generation, to his sons. The first-born of these
families picked up the nation’s plums. They were appointed to
prestigious places in the army, the church, or the royal bureaucracy.
For the rest there was little but their swords and a readiness for

The New World opened new opportunities for these younger sons and their
followers. They could join small private armies that went, with the
monarch’s permission, into the Americas to spread the gospel among the
“heathens” while simultaneously looting the defeated Indians’
storehouses of treasure and taking their lands. Prime examples of this
grasping for treasure are furnished by some of the _conquistadores_ who
hailed from the harsh, barren lands of the Extremadura region of
Castile—names that still ring triumphantly throughout most of the New
World: Hernán Cortés, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, the brothers Pizarro, and
Hernando de Soto.

    [Illustration: Christopher Columbus, whose 1492 voyage opened a new
    world to Europeans. Though many artists have attempted portraits of
    Columbus, none were from life. This portrait is a copy of a painting
    done in 1525.]

    [Illustration: After the First Voyage, the Spanish monarchs granted
    to Columbus and his descendents this coat of arms. It signified his
    new place in the nobility. The gold castle and purple lion linked
    him to the sovereigns. The golden islands in the sea proclaimed his
    discoveries. The anchors were emblems of his rank as admiral.]

The crown gave little except permission and titles—_adelantado_ (“he who
leads the way”) and governor—to men such as these. But if the risks were
great, so too at times were the rewards. As already indicated, there
might be riches to divide after the king had taken his 20 percent share.
There were plantations to be founded and tended by Indians who gave
their labor, however willingly, in exchange for being taught the ways of
Christians. The size of each man’s share in these gains depended partly
on his initial investment in the expedition. Money wasn’t all. The
contribution could be—and this was a crucial point—energy, ability,
intense patriotism, religious zeal, and often ruthlessness.

Each man took with him to the New World what he had. Apparently there
were few full suits of armor, though Francisco Vásquez de Coronado did
possess one that was handsomely gilded to look like the gold he was
searching for.

Partial suits—coats of mail made of small, interlinked rings of metal or
cuirasses of plate armor that protected the wearer’s front and
sides—were more numerous. Most cuirasses were made with a ridge running
down the front and curved in such a way that a lance point striking the
metal would, it was hoped, glance off without penetrating. It was hoped,
too, that arrows would be similarly deflected. The chronicles tell,
however, of Indian bows driving arrows entirely through plate armor and
of cane arrows splintering on striking chain mail. The needle-sharp
pieces then passed through the metal rings, inflicting puncture wounds
that festered. Jackets made of quilted padding or even of tough bullhide
were probably as effective against arrows as metal.

    [Illustration: Priests accompanied most expeditions of discovery.
    Like their countrymen, most clergy were poorly equipped to
    understand and tolerate the new societies they encountered in
    America. One clergyman who rose far above his time and place was
    Bartolomé de las Casas, who spoke out against abuse of the Indians
    but met with great opposition from vested interests.]

Footmen, who constituted the greater part of every New World expedition,
carried pikes or halberds, crossbows or arquebuses, and sometimes maces
or battle axes. A crossbow, whose string was pulled tight by a crank,
propelled iron darts with great force and accuracy from grooves in the
weapon’s stock. An arquebus was a primitive musket about 3 feet in
length but lacked accuracy at distances greater than 75 yards or so.
Indians, it turned out, could shoot several arrows in the time the
handler of a crossbow or arquebus could fire once.

Cavalrymen, the elite of the force, were armed with lances, swords for
slashing, and daggers. Long lances were generally couched against the
rider’s body, as in tournaments or charges against similarly equipped
European adversaries. A lance driven through an Indian’s body, however,
would sometimes hang up and pull the rider from his saddle. Accordingly,
shorter weapons held in an upraised hand were preferred in the New
World. They could be hurled or held and directed at the enemy’s face—an
enemy on foot, for the native Americans did not yet have horses.

The _conquistadores_ were as superb horsemen as the world has seen.
Their animals were loved and pampered. During the early years in the
Americas they were relatively rare and expensive (few survived the
tempestuous sea journey from Europe to become breeding stock), and just
the sight of them terrified Indians. The fearful impact of a cavalry
charge, lances flying or thrusting, swords slashing, and wardogs
sometimes racing beside the horses, goes far to explain how small groups
of Spaniards were able to triumph over great numerical odds. Pedro de
Casteñada, one of the historians of the Coronado expedition, put it
thus: “after God, we owed the victory to the horses.”

Desperation also played a part. The adventurers often found themselves
hundreds of miles from any possibility of help. Stamina in the face of
hunger and hardship, courage and energy in opposition to attack and fear
were the basic elements of salvation. Of necessity the men adopted
whatever methods promised to carry them to their goals. Religious
fanaticism was another motive. To Cortés’s men, the Aztecs, who
regularly offered human sacrifices to a heathen god, were an abomination
and deserved to be annihilated, or at least enslaved, if they did not
accept the Christian salvation held out to them. This attitude carried
over, in somewhat lesser degree, to all Indians, even though Spain’s
rulers constantly exhorted gentleness, and missionaries went with every
major group to offer heaven to souls lost in darkness. That is, if
Indians had souls, which many Europeans of the time sincerely doubted.

Finally, every _conquistador_ was stirred to action by his own
credulity. The Church had brought him up to believe implicitly in
miracles. A large part of his education consisted of peopling the
unknown world with marvels and monsters. A favorite tale, though by no
means the only one, dealt with seven Catholic bishops and their
congregations who fled from the invading Moors to the island of Antilia.
There they burned their ships and diligently built seven glorious
cities, for naturally Christian settlements would be more dazzling than
pagan ones. _Mas allá_: there is more beyond. A wondrous dream,
Spanish-style. It carried, in succession, Pánfilo Narváez, Hernando de
Soto, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, and Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo into
what became the United States. There reality at last took command.

                           Los Conquistadores

    [Illustration: Spanish Soldiers]

  _Cavalryman in armor_
  _Arquebusier, c. 1540_
  _Crossbowman arming his weapon_

With a few thousand soldiers Spain conquered the Americas. Most of the
soldiers were unemployed veterans of an army tempered by long campaigns
against the Moors in Iberia and the French in North Italy. They came to
America, wrote an eyewitness, “to serve God and His Majesty, to give
light to those who were in darkness, and to grow rich, as all men desire
to do.”

_Los conquistadores_ were tough, disciplined, and as ruthless as
circumstances required. Their weapons—evolved in the formal battle of
Europe—were the matchlock musket (sometimes called an arquebus), the
crossbow, pikes, lances (carried by cavalry), swords, cannon, and above
all the horse, which Indians universally regarded as a supernatural
being. This weaponry served well against organized armies in Central
America and Peru that fought in formations mostly with clubs, spears,
and slings. But in North America, the Spaniards faced skilled and
elusive archers who could drive an arrow through armor. The crossbow and
musket soon proved useless. Far more effective were sword-wielding
cavalry and infantry and (for De Soto) wardogs. In the one battle
Southeast Indians had a chance of winning (Mabila, 18 October 1540), De
Soto against great odds slaughtered his antagonists. Thousands died
against only 18 or so Spaniards. Foreshadowing things to come, this
battle demonstrated that Indians fighting with Stone Age weapons were no
match against European arms and tactics.

    [Illustration: An infantryman armed his crossbow by pushing the
    bowspring back with a lever, engaging the trigger catch, and
    inserting a metal-tipped dart. This weapon was effective in Europe
    against formations and armor but less useful against a foe who quite
    sensibly soon learned to fight by stealth and avoid open combat.]

  _Lever for arming the bow_

    [Illustration: The Spanish sword at its best was a superb piece of
    craftsmanship. About 41 inches long, it was double-edged, razor
    sharp, and flexible. A fine Toledo blade could be bent into a
    semi-circle and withstand a hard strike against steel. At
    hand-to-hand combat, Spanish swordsmen were unexcelled in either
    Europe or the New World.]

    [Illustration: Temple of the Sun, religious center of the Aztec city
    of Teotihuacán. A priest ascending this immense pyramid seemingly
    disappeared into the sky.]

                             The Wanderers

Redheaded Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca—Cabeza de Vaca translates as Cow’s
Head—was a man of considerable pride and, apparently, some wry humor. In
1483, about three years after his birth, its exact date unknown, his
paternal grandfather, Pedro de Vera, conquered the Grand Canary Island
off the northwest coast of Africa for Spain, a feat that brought a glow,
in court circles, to the name de Vera. And then there was his mother’s
name, Teresa Cabeza de Vaca. Legend avers that back in 1212 her
ancestor, a shepherd, had used the skull of a cow to mark a mountain
pass that let a Christian army surprise and defeat its Mohammedan enemy.
The shepherd’s sovereign thereupon bestowed the name Cabeza de Vaca on
the family. Young Alvar Nuñez must have enjoyed the story, for he
adopted his mother’s surname rather than his father’s, a not unusual
custom in Spain.

He fought in several battles for Ferdinand and Isabella and for their
grandson, Charles V, and was severely wounded at least once. In 1526,
when he was about 46, Charles appointed him royal treasurer of a large
expedition Pánfilo de Narváez proposed to lead into Florida, a name that
then covered a huge region stretching from the peninsula around the
dimly known north Gulf Coast to the Rio de las Palmas in northeastern
Mexico.[1] If treasure was found—and treasure was Narváez’s goal—it
would be up to Cabeza de Vaca to make sure the king received his 20
percent share. Other financial duties were involved, so that altogether
it seemed a promising appointment for a middle-aged ex-soldier and able
administrator. As events turned out, Vaca could hardly have suffered a
greater misfortune.

The problem, which merits a digression, was Pánfilo de Narváez, the
expedition’s leader. About the same age as Cabeza de Vaca, he was tall,
courtly, and deep voiced, qualities that helped marvelously in advancing
his career. He had prospered as a pioneer settler in Jamaica, and
between 1511 and 1515 had aided Diego Velásquez in the conquest of Cuba,
a feat which had elevated Velásquez to the governorship of the island.
Both men added to their riches by using enforced Indian labor to exploit
the island’s shallow placer mines and embryonic plantations. And
although both could easily have retired to comfortable estates, each
wanted more money, a common itch.

    [Illustration: Charles, King of Spain, 1516-56, and Emperor of the
    Holy Roman Empire, 1519-58. Under his rule, Spain carved out a new
    empire in the Americas to go with its dominions in Europe.]

As chief administrator of Cuba, Velásquez was allowed by the government
in Spain to authorize explorations of the Caribbean. In 1517 and 1518 he
exercised this right by licensing seafarers to explore and trade along
the coasts of Yucatan and Mexico, capture Indian slaves, and scout out
the country for booty. In return for the licenses, Velásquez would share
in whatever gains resulted.

Of his searchers for new wealth, the one whose name would ring down
through history was Hernán Cortés. Cocky, crafty, reckless, and adept
with the ladies, Cortés had come to Cuba as Velásquez’s private
secretary at the same time Narváez had. He, too, had prospered, but
unlike Narváez he had quarreled sharply with his former boss. Though a
reconciliation had been effected, it was touchy. Still, Cortés had money
and was willing to spend it on risky adventures, and so, in 1518, he was
authorized to explore Mexico’s eastern coast. He assembled a fleet of 11
ships, 16 precious horses, and prodigious stores of armaments. People
grew so excited about his prospects that he easily recruited 500 or so
soldiers and 100 sailors—nearly half of Cuba’s male population.

While he was preparing his expedition, some of Velásquez’s other scouts
returned with rumors of a fabulous empire of Aztec Indians and their
capital city, Tenochtitlán, built on an island in a shallow lake that
filled most of a high mountain valley in Mexico. Growing suddenly
nervous about Cortés—how loyal would he be with treasure in front of him
and an army at his back?—Velásquez in February 1519 revoked Cortés’s
commission. Defying him, Cortés slipped away and disappeared.

One of the world’s most fabulous adventures followed. Landing on the
Yucatan coast, Cortés rescued a survivor of one of Velásquez’s earlier
expeditions—a man who in his captivity had learned the Mayan language.
Employing the one-time prisoner as an interpreter, Cortés turned his
fleet northward, probing the coast. Such resistance as developed among
the Indians was quickly crushed by the terrifying aspect of the
expedition’s few horses. During one of those aborted battles, Cortés
rescued yet another captive, a woman named Malinche whom the priest with
the expedition baptized and named Marina.

    [Illustration: Hernán Cortés with 600 men and 16 horses overthrew
    the Aztec empire. This illustration of the conquistador was made
    from life.]

    [Illustration: The map traces his route from the coast to
    Tenochtitlán in 1519.]

Marina was a Nahua, or Aztec. While in captivity she too had learned the
Mayan tongue and could converse with the rescued Spaniard. Through this
linguistic conduit, the _conquistadores_ received exciting information
about Tenochtitlán, the glittering city of the Aztecs, predecessor of
today’s Mexico City. A dazzling prize! And why, Cortés surely wondered,
should he share any of it with Diego Velásquez, sitting safely at home
in Cuba?

On April 21, 1519, the fleet dropped anchor at the sea end of a trail
leading to the city. There Cortés laid the foundations of a port that he
named Vera Cruz (today Veracruz). Calling his men together—they, too,
were excited about prospects—he prevailed on the majority to elect him
captain-general of the expedition, a move that in Cortés’s mind freed
him of his obligations to Velásquez and made him answerable only to King
Charles V. Simultaneously, he sent emissaries to Moctezuma, emperor of
the Aztecs, asking for an audience.

The timing could hardly have been more propitious. The Aztec rule was
harsh; subject nations seethed with discontent; Tenochtitlán itself was
torn with dissensions. Fearful that the strangers might be able to
capitalize on the undercurrents of the rebellion—and fearful, too, that
the newcomers might somehow be descendants of the ancient serpent-god,
Quetzalcoatl—Moctezuma tried to buy off the Spaniards. Down to Veracruz
went five noble diplomats accompanied by 100 porters laden with
treasure. All of it was breathtaking, but what really dumbfounded the
Spaniards were two metal disks the size of cartwheels. One, representing
the Sun God, was of solid gold. The other, dedicated to the Moon, was of

Cortés declined to respond as expected. He loaded the treasure onto one
of his ships and ordered the captain to sail directly to Spain, where he
would use the booty to win the approval of Charles V. The rest of the
ships he burned so that none of the men in the command who were still
loyal to Velásquez could return to Cuba and stir up trouble there. As
for his own men, they too would fight harder if they knew that no ships
were waiting to evacuate them if they were defeated.

    [Illustration: Xipe Totec, Aztec god of fertility, one of many gods
    in the Aztec pantheon, redrawn from the original codex. He wears the
    flayed skin of a sacrificial victim. Ritual killing horrified
    Spaniards and in their eyes justified the conquest. But to Aztecs
    the gods and their extravagant costumes were an important part of
    everyday life, condensations of vital social truths.]

In November 1519, Tenochtitlán capitulated after a short, hard fight.
Cortés took Moctezuma hostage and then paused to contemplate his
enormous prize.

Unknown to the victors, the captain of the ship bound for Spain did
pause in Cuba to check on some land he owned there. It was a short stay
but long enough for the sailors to talk. Astounded couriers sped the
word to Velásquez. The governor was outraged. He was already at work
gathering a strong force of 900 men equipped with 80 horses and 13 ships
to pursue Cortés and arrest him for defying orders. Doubly furious at
what seemed to him Cortés’s latest treachery, he put Pánfilo de Narváez
in charge of a punitive force to bring the disloyal _conquistador_ back
to Cuba in chains!

Warnings from Veracruz reached Cortés at the Aztec capital. He reacted
with characteristic boldness. Leaving two hundred men at Tenochtitlán,
he marched the rest swiftly to the coast. No one there anticipated him
so soon. Late at night, when most of his would-be captors were asleep,
he waded his men across a swollen stream and attacked without warning.
During the chaos that followed, a lance point put out one of Narváez’s
eyes. By dawn the field was in Cortés’s hands. Most of Narváez’s men,
hearing of the riches of Tenochtitlán, deserted their commander and
swore fealty to the victor.

While Narváez remained under guard at Veracruz, nursing his wound,
Cortés marched back to rejoin the rest of his men at Tenochtitlán. The
Aztecs let the returning soldiers reach the palace compound and then
attacked in waves of thousands. The hostage emperor, Moctezuma, was
stoned to death by his own people while pleading for peace. Trying once
again to use the night as cover, Cortés on June 30, 1520, led hundreds
of Spaniards and several thousand Indian allies onto one of the
stone-and-earth causeways that connected the island city to the
mainland. Aztecs swarmed after them in canoes. On that famed _noche
triste_—night of sorrows—850 Spaniards and upwards of 4,000 of their
allies died.

Fortune shifted quickly, however. Wheeling around on the plains outside
the city and making adroit use of his few horses and guns, Cortés
defeated the army pursuing him. Doggedly then he put together a fresh
army of Indians who hated the Aztecs and of whites who were dribbling
into Mexico to see what was going on. The next year, on August 13, 1521,
he recaptured Tenochtitlán, again at heavy cost. By twisting logic only
a little, he could have blamed all these troubles on Narváez’s inept
interference. He did not. He treated the man kindly and then sent him
home to Spain with, so it is said, a bagful of golden artifacts.

    “I saw the things which have been brought to the King from the new
    land of gold, a sun all of gold a whole fathom broad, and a moon all
    of silver of the same size, also two rooms full of the armour of the
    people there, and all manner of wondrous weapons of [the Aztecs],
    harnesses and darts, very strange clothing, beds and all kinds of
    wonderful objects of human use, much better worth of seeing than
    prodigies. These things are so precious that they are valued at a
    hundred thousand florins. All the days of my life I have seen
    nothing that rejoiced my heart so much as these things, for I saw
    among them wonderful works of art, and I marvelled at the subtle
    ingenia of people in foreign lands. Indeed, I cannot express all
    that I thought there.”—_Albrecht Dürer upon seeing the Aztec objects
    Cortés sent Charles V in 1519._

In Spain Narváez intrigued against the nation’s hero, as Cortés then
was, as best he could. He also yearned for a conquest in which he could
redeem himself. When the governorship of Florida fell open, he applied
for the position and won. His plan was to establish his first colony at
Río de las Palmas, north of Pánuco, on Mexico’s northeast coast, where
Cortés had already placed a defensive outpost. From there he could put
pressure on his enemy, who many of the king’s council thought was
growing too big for his boots. He could also search for the treasure
that he was sure lay somewhere in the north, in the land from which he
supposed the Aztecs had originally come—land where the fabled Seven
Cities might lie.

Six hundred soldiers, sailors, and would-be settlers, a few of whom had
their wives with them, left Spain aboard five ships in June 1527. One of
the adventurers was Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, making his first trip to
the New World. It was a hard journey—desertions, groundings, a deadly
hurricane, and finally a series of adverse storms that drove the little
fleet off its intended course for the Río de las Palmas to a landing on
the west coast of the Florida peninsula, probably opposite the head of
Tampa Bay.

In view of the peninsula’s nearness to Cuba, remarkably little was known
about it. Beginning with Alonso Alvarez de Pineda in 1519, a few sea
explorers had groped along its western coast on their way to Mexico.
Occasional traders and slave hunters had poked into some of its lovely
bays—and had often taken severe trouncings from the Indians for their
pains. Juan Ponce de León, the only man to try to establish a colony
there, was mortally wounded during the attempt.

               Tenochtitlán, Capital of the Aztec Empire

    [Illustration: Tenochtitlán]

  Tenochtitlán, predecessor of today’s Mexico City, was one of the most
  magnificent cities in the world when Cortés and his small army arrived
  in 1519. The sight of the radiant city in the center of a large lake
  astonished the Spaniards. “We did not know what to say, or whether
  what appeared before us was real,” wrote a soldier, “for there were
  great cities along the shore and many others in the lake, all filled
  with canoes, and at intervals along the causeways there were many

  About 250,000 persons lived here and in its sister city Tlatelolco
  (left). The market place was huge. “Some of the soldiers with us had
  been in many parts of the world, in Constantinople and all over Italy
  and Rome, and they said they had never seen a public square so
  perfectly laid out, so large, so orderly, and so full of people.”

  At the center of the city—and the Aztec religion—was the _Templo
  Major_, a complex of temples and shrines to the gods of fertility and
  war—the sources of Aztec power. The surfaces of the temples were
  richly ornamented in symbols and myths that expressed their complete
  vision of life. It was this city, which governed a vast empire in
  central Mexico, that the intrepid Cortés and his band overthrew in
  1521. Within a few years a splendid and original civilization lay in

Narváez must have known of the dangers, but when he saw a yellow object
among some fish nets in a village from which the Indians had fled on his
approach, he jumped to the conclusion that it was gold. Hopefully, he
showed the object to some Indians he lured into camp, they pointed north
and said vehemently, “Apalachee! Apalachee!” Straightway Narváez decided
to march there overland with the main part of his force, 40 of them
mounted on the skin-and-bone horses that had survived the sea journey.
The rest of the group, including its women, were directed to sail along
the coast to a harbor supposedly known to the expedition’s pilot. There
the two groups would come together again.

    [Illustration: The Aztecs and kindred people were wonderful artists
    in gold. The lifesize breastplate is Mixtecan, perhaps the
    representation of the god of death.]

    [Illustration: The gold plug is an Aztecan facial ornament. Nobles
    and military leaders routinely wore plugs as a sign of rank. The
    plugs were inserted through a hole below the lip or in the cheek.]

Cabeza de Vaca protested. They couldn’t be sure they understood the
Indians properly. Would the two parties be able to find each other again
on the intricate coast? They did not have food enough for exploring.
First they should locate their colony in an area suitable for farming
and send the ships to Cuba for supplies. Time enough then to search for

Narváez waved him aside. The ships sailed on and the land party headed
north, each man carrying two pounds of biscuits and half a pound of
bacon. After 15 days of hunger they luckily seized some Indians who led
them to a field of maize ripe enough for harvesting. Strengthened
somewhat but beset by clouds of insects, they waded on through bogs,
built rafts for crossing rivers—a drowned horse fed some of them one
night—and then entered a region of enormous trees where piles of fallen
timber created an almost impassable maze.

Apalachee, located close to the site of modern Tallahassee, turned out
to be a village of 40 small houses roofed with thatch. No gold.
Disgruntled, Narváez imprisoned an Apalachee chief and appropriated some
of the houses for shelter. The villagers retaliated by setting fire to
the buildings, a tactic that became common during later years.

The invaders stayed 25 days, scouting the surrounding country and
resting as best they could under constant sniping by displaced
inhabitants. They then headed west toward another town of reputed
richness, Aute, near present-day St. Marks, on Apalachee Bay. Indians
shadowed them, killing or wounding several men with hard-pointed arrows
capable of piercing armor. Cabeza de Vaca was one of those nicked.

On the Spaniards’ approach, the inhabitants of Aute burned their huts
and fled. There was no gold in the ruins. No silver. No jewels. And no
sign of Spanish ships in the bay. As a mysterious fever began felling
the men one by one, Narváez said that Pánuco could not be far away. If
they could build boats....

How? The men knew nothing about the art of shipbuilding. The only
materials they had were what they and their horses wore. Total
helplessness—until God’s will, Cabeza de Vaca wrote years later,
prompted one anonymous fellow to say he thought he could make a bellows
out of deerskin and wooden pipes. With the bellows they could produce
heat enough to transform spurs, bridle-bits, crossbow darts, and iron
stirrups into nails. Excited by that proposal, a Greek spoke up, saying
he knew how to manufacture waterproofing pitch from the resin in the
pine trees surrounding them.

Working with the energy of desperation, the men put together, between
August 5 and September 20 five crude boats, each about 33 feet long.
They made sails out of their clothing, rope out of horse hair and
palmetto fibre, anchors out of stone. Those not involved in the
construction used the surviving horses—a diminishing number since they
killed one every third day for food—to bring in 640 bushels of corn from
the fields at Aute. Several men died from fever or wounds received from
the Indians—not altogether an ill wind, since the five boats could not
have carried more than the 250 or so persons who overloaded them at
sailing time. Narváez, exercising a leader’s prerogative, picked out the
best boat and strongest crew for himself.

They crawled along close to the shore, sat out storms behind islands,
lost more men to Indian attack, and suffered so terribly from thirst—the
water bottles they had made from horsehide soon rotted—that four of them
drank salt water in their misery and perished. A more historic moment
than any of them would ever realize came toward the end of October 1528,
when, as they were edging out past some marshy islands, a powerful
current of fresh water swept them far out to sea. They had discovered
the mouth of a great river—the Mississippi.

As they worked back toward the coast on the far side of the river mouth,
winds and sea currents quickened their pace. Despite strenuous efforts
the crews could not keep the boats together. The men with Cabeza de Vaca
grew so exhausted that they shouted to Narváez to toss them a rope and
help pull them along. Narváez refused. “When the sun sank,” the
treasurer recalled later, “all who were in my boat were fallen one on
another, so near to death that there were few of them in a state of
sensibility.” They lay inert throughout the night. At dawn—it was
November 6, 1528—Cabeza de Vaca heard the tumult of breakers but could
take no measures to meet the threat. A giant wave lifted the boat out of
the water and dropped it with a crash on what was either Galveston
Island off the coast of Texas or a nearby stub of a peninsula.

    [Illustration: The “hunch-backed cows” that Vaca and his companions
    saw were the wide-ranging American bison. “They have small horns
    like the cows of Morocco,” he wrote. “The hair is very long and
    wooly like a rug. Some are tawny, others are black. In my judgment
    the flesh is finer and fatter than cows from [Spain].”]

Karankawa Indians who had gathered at the spot to dig roots succored
them. A little later they joined the crew of another capsized boat that
had been commanded by captains Alonso de Castillo and Andrés Dorantes,
whose black slave Estéban was with him. The combined group numbered
about 80, most of them infirm and next to naked. Numbly, they tried to
repair Cabeza de Vaca’s boat so the strongest could sail to Pánuco for
help. It sank. Four volunteers then agreed to try to reach Mexico by
land. They never returned.

A winter of intense cold, starvation, and fever left only 15 alive,
Cabeza de Vaca barely so. In the spring, 13 of the survivors moved off
with the greater part of the Indians in search of food, leaving Cabeza
de Vaca and a second invalid, Lope de Oviedo, behind with a small band.
As soon as Cabeza de Vaca was able to work, the Indians set him to
digging roots and carrying firewood. To escape the drudgery he became a
trader, traveling far inland with a pack of shells, flints, cane for
arrow shafts, sinews and so on for barter. During the wanderings he
became the first European known to have seen bison.

His great desire was to walk southwest along the coast until he reached
other men of his own kind, and he urged Oviedo to join him. The fellow
kept promising he would as soon as he was better. Not wishing to desert
a fellow Spaniard, Cabeza de Vaca wasted four years through one
postponement after another. At last they started, but then Oviedo caved
in with fear and turned back, preferring familiar miseries to the

Shortly thereafter, in 1532, in the bottomlands of the Colorado River of
Texas, where several bands were harvesting walnuts, Cabeza de Vaca
stumbled joyously across Castillo, Dorantes, and the vigorous black
Estéban. The trio were also ready to strike for Mexico if they could
escape from their masters, but they warned against fierce tribes to the
southwest. They should try a route farther north.

After two years of interruption and frustrations they made the break.
The incredible journey, broken by long stays at various Indian camps,
lasted two years. At times they traveled alone. More often they were
accompanied by Indians. After they had chanced to pray over an ailing
man, who thereupon leaped up and declared himself cured, they became
revered as supernatural medicinemen, children of the sun. Their marches,
often scouted out for them by Estéban, who also served as interpreter—he
learned six languages during those arduous years—became triumphal
processions. Sometimes, says Cabeza de Vaca, as many as 4,000 Indians
would accompany them from one village to the next, a figure that, as
Bernard DeVoto has pointed out, should be taken as a way of saying
“quite a few.” Those who escorted them would often loot the first
village they reached, whereupon its inhabitants, moving on with the
quartet to another village, would recoup their losses by plundering it.

What route did they follow? No one knows. Cabeza de Vaca’s descriptions
of Indian customs, rivers, mountains, vegetation, and so on have led
some students to suggest that the wanderers may have gone as far north
as southern New Mexico and Arizona. Others think they traveled out of
west Texas into Chihuahua. But whatever the way, it eventually merged
with one of the trade trails that ran between the Pueblo Indian towns of
the Southwest and those in the heavily populated, southward trending
valleys of Sonora. They reached the Sonora area in the spring of 1536.

What had they seen along the way? Not much, according to a report that
the survivors sent to the _audiencia_ in Hispaniola in 1537. Just
buffalo robes that had originated in the country of the plains Indians
and beautifully woven cotton mantas that their native hosts had obtained
by trade with Indians somewhere in the north (probably the Pueblos of
the Rio Grande). Bits of coral and turquoise. And miles and miles of
desolation, thinly populated by primitive tribes. Writing a memoir of
the trip six years later, Cabeza de Vaca improved only slightly on the
tales. In Sonora, he related, he was given five emeralds shaped like
arrowheads; the donors said the “jewels” had been purchased in the north
with parrot feathers and plumes. Sadly, he lost the five artifacts
before anyone else saw them. He also told of handling a small bell made
of copper and of hearing stories about large cities filled with big
houses and surrounded by boundless fields of maize.

Such reports were too vague and understated to create much popular
excitement—at first. But as Antonio de Mendoza, New Spain’s first and
recently arrived Viceroy, realized, the calm might not last. For a
similar story told a few years earlier to the infamous Nuño de Guzmán by
an Indian slave named Tejo had stirred up a violent reaction.

At the time Guzmán had been governor of Pánuco on Mexico’s northeast
coast and was making a fortune selling slaves to plantations throughout
the West Indies. But that wasn’t enough, and his ears pricked up when he
listened to Tejo telling about a trip with his father to seven marvelous
cities far to the northwest—cities whose streets were lined with the
shops of goldsmiths and silversmiths.

The story may well have had an element of truth in it. If a trader kept
traveling northwest from Pánuco—and some of Mexico’s early Indian
traders were far-ranging—he would eventually reach the impressive pueblo
towns of today’s New Mexico. Where the notion of goldsmiths came from is
something else, but Guzman believed it because he wanted to.

Instead of taking a direct line to his goal, he put together a strong
force, fought his way across the mountains to the west coast, and hewed
out, as a base of operations for a thrust along the trade trails leading
north, the all-but-independent province of Nueva Galicia. (It embraced
the better part of the present-day Mexican states of Nayarit and
Sinaloa.) Illness and then his arrest for his slave-dealings put a stop
to the northern plans, but the appearance of the Vaca party out of the
wilderness might, Mendoza feared, lead the great Cortés to appropriate
the idea for himself.

Cortés was ripe for trouble. Because of his insubordination to Diego
Velásquez of Cuba, the king had refused to name him Viceroy of New
Spain, but then had tried to compensate for the injustice, as Cortés
considered it, by naming him the Marquís of the Valley of Oaxaca and
giving him the right to explore the South Seas (south of Asia) for new
principalities. On their quests some of his ship captains stirred
Guzmán’s jealousy by sailing north along the coast of Nueva Galicia.
When Guzmán seized one of those ships in the port of Chiametla, the
Marquís rushed up with a small army and took it back. He then used that
ship to cross what he called the Sea of Cortés (today’s Gulf of
California) and claim possession, in the name of the king, of pearl
fisheries his mariners had discovered at La Paz in what we call Baja
California. The fisheries were not proving lucrative, however, and the
least sign that something better existed farther north might tempt him
to push on.

It behooved Mendoza, as the king’s representative, to move first, before
New Spain’s legitimate northward expansion was halted by one of these
semi-autonomous _conquistadores_. Dutifully reporting each of his moves
to Charles V—caution was part of his nature—he asked, in turn, Castillo,
Dorantes, and Cabeza de Vaca to lead a small exploring party into the
north and learn what was really there. Not surprisingly, in view of
their experiences, each refused.

In 1537, Cabeza de Vaca returned to Spain. Skeptics say he wanted to
persuade the king to appoint him _adelantado_ of Florida so that he
could move independently into the north from that direction. On reaching
Madrid, however, he found that Charles had already given the post to
Hernando de Soto.

Years later one of De Soto’s Portuguese officers from the town of
Elvas—he identified himself only as a _hidalgo_ (gentleman) of
Spain—wrote that De Soto offered to take Cabeza de Vaca along as second
in command for the sake of his guidance. Again the wanderer declined.
But, said the _hidalgo_, whose accuracy cannot be checked, Vaca did drop
hints to his friends and relatives that led them to sell everything they
had in order to buy enough equipment to join the expedition. Possibly.
But all we really know is that Cabeza de Vaca, the only man to brush
against both of the _entradas_ that gave the world its first views of
what became the United States, never returned there himself. He was sent
to South America instead.

Mendoza of course learned by ship of De Soto’s appointment and of
necessity had to assume that one of the new _adelantado_’s goals would
be the Seven Cities. So now he had twin worries, Cortés in the west, De
Soto in the east. But before considering the steps he took to checkmate
them, it is well to look at De Soto’s adventure, for he is the one who,
through sheer luck, had the head start.

                     The Odyssey of Cabeza de Vaca

    [Illustration: Routes of Narváez and de Vaca]

    Santiago, Cuba
    {west Florida coast}: Narváez Expedition lands April 1526
    Aute: Expedition builds boats
    {Texas coast}: Expedition wrecks; Cabeza de Vaca continues overland
    Colorado River
    Pecos River
    Gila River
    Rio Sonora
    Culiacán: Cabeza de Vaca arrives 1536

    [Illustration: Desert vista]

Cabeza de Vaca and three companions, sole survivors of the ill-fated
Narváez expedition (1527), were the first Europeans to cross the North
American continent. They spent 8 years traveling 6,000 miles through the
interior of Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and northern Mexico.
The journey itself was an incredible feat of human stamina and pluck.
Equally remarkable is Cabeza de Vaca’s account of his adventure. _La
Relación_, first published In 1542, revised Spanish conceptions about
the size and nature of the continent north of Mexico. The book is also
the first detailed description of native Americans. In his wanderings
Cabeza de Vaca came to admire Indians, whom he came to see as fellow
humans who could be won over only by kindness. His book—which can be
considered the beginning of American literature—is a record of both a
physical and a spiritual journey.

    [Illustration: Mangrove near De Soto National Memorial. Thickets of
    this plant once formed great barriers along the Florida shore.]

                         Journey into Darkness

When Hernando de Soto returned to Spain from two decades of adventure in
the New World, he must have seemed to those who encountered him, or even
heard of him, the embodiment of what a _conquistador_ should be. He
carried his tall, hard, handsome body with the unmistakable air of
triumph that comes from having won by his own efforts wealth, fame, and
a noble bride—all before he was 35 years old. The exact date of his
birth is unknown, but it may have coincided with the last year of the
15th century. His birthplace was in the austere province of Extremadura.
His father was a Méndez, his mother a de Soto; his elder brother Juan
followed the Spanish custom of using both names: Juan Méndez de Soto.
Hernando, the second son, chose to be different. According to his
biographer, Miguel Albornoz, he was his mother’s favorite. He therefore
dropped Méndez from his name and became known to history only as De
Soto—an appellation he carried far.

Another native of Extremadura and a neighbor of the De Soto family was
Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, the fabled conqueror of Darién (Panama) and
discoverer of the Pacific Ocean. Determined to emulate Balboa, who was
still alive somewhere in the New World, young Hernando de Soto made his
way, aged 14 or so, to Seville. There he found employment as a page in
the household of the notorious schemer, 75-year-old Pedro Arias Dávila,
better known as Pedrárias. When Pedrárias sailed to Central America in
1514 as a colonial administrator, De Soto went along.

He witnessed the quarrel that sprang up between his patron and Balboa, a
quarrel that ended in 1519 when Balboa was convicted of treason through
the intrigues of Pedrárias and beheaded. Grieving, De Soto retrieved the
headless corpse and with the help of an Indian girl gave it a Christian
burial. Yet he remained loyal to Pedrárias and followed him to
Nicaragua, where he developed the ice-hard maturity that marked his
later career. He mastered the arts of dealing in Indian slaves, looting
temples, and ransacking Indian graves for valuable mortuary offerings.
By such means he prospered so well that when Pizarro, also a native of
Extremadura, needed help on his expedition to Peru, De Soto was able to
respond with two ships and 200 men.

    [Illustration: De Soto was a leader of experience and resolve. The
    expedition’s chronicler characterized him as “an inflexible man, and
    dry of word, who, although he liked to know what the others all
    thought and had to say, after he once said a thing he did not like
    to be opposed, and as he ever acted as he thought best, all bent to
    his will.” This likeness was published in Antonio Herrera y
    Tordesillas’s _Historia General_, 1728. No authentic portrait is
    known to exist.]

In the final assault on the Incas, De Soto was generally the one chosen
to lead reconnoitering or vanguard parties over the difficult trails of
the Andes. After the first great victory was achieved, he saw a sight
that ever afterwards burned in his memory. The conquered emperor,
Atahualpa (actually one of two brothers contending for the throne),
offered, as his ransom, to pile a room 17 feet wide, 22 feet long, and 9
high with golden ornaments, vases, goblets, statuettes. In addition he
said, he would fill a somewhat smaller adjoining chamber twice over with
silver. In spite of that tremendous gesture, he was then tricked into
ordering the death of his brother, for which he himself was executed.
The treachery drew angry protests from De Soto.

The next conquest was of mountain-perched Cuzco, less rewarding than
anticipated because it had been stripped of treasure during the filling
of the rooms. Though De Soto was named lieutenant-governor, the quarrels
that broke out between the generals led him to give up the position and
return to Spain with his share of the booty. Various estimates of its
size have been given, but since there is no satisfactory way of
comparing purchasing power then and now, the figures are elusive. Still,
it must have been the equivalent of several million of today’s dollars.

He made a point of cutting a fine figure in Spain. Everywhere he went he
was accompanied by a dazzling entourage composed mostly of officers who
had ridden with him in Panama and Peru. He became a favorite of the
King, to whom he loaned money; and he married a daughter of his old
patron, Pedrárias. A plush life. But as the lazy days drifted by, De
Soto grew restless. He needed activity and he wanted gold. Roomfuls of
gold. And fame.

Yielding to his importunities, Charles V made him governor of Cuba and
_adelantado_ of Florida, which then stretched from the Atlantic as far
north as the Carolinas and on around the Gulf of Mexico to the Río de
las Palmas. The usual stipulations about the division of treasure were
spelled out in the license. The King was to have one-fifth of all spoils
of battle, one-fifth of any revenue derived from mining precious metals,
and one-tenth of all loot taken from graves, sepulchres, Indian temples.
Once the region had been explored, De Soto was to become the governor of
whatever 200 leagues of coastal area he picked out. There he was to
found colonies and build three fortified harbors. He was to pacify the
Indians and provide the necessary number of priests and friars to
convert them. He was to bear the entire costs of the expedition. When it
was over, he would receive, in addition to his share of any booty and a
grant of land 12 leagues square (about 50,000 acres), a salary of 2,000
ducats a year, roughly $60,000 today.

The expedition, its quota of men more than filled with volunteers who
supplied their own armor and arms, landed in Cuba in June 1538 and spent
nearly a year there while De Soto attended to administrative duties and
organized the _entrada_. He used far more care than Narváez had. While
scouts searched for a good harbor on Florida’s west coast, the
commissary department rustled up many loads of hard ship biscuit, 5,000
bushels of maize, quantities of bacon, and a herd of rangy hogs. They
also brought with them long, clanking strands of iron chains and
collars, portents of things to come.

The chronicles of the expedition give different figures about the
numbers involved, but this is a reasonable approximation: close to 700
men, perhaps a hundred camp followers, including a few women, many
slaves, eight ecclesiastical persons, and 240 or so horses. Having
learned from Cabeza de Vaca about some of Narváez’s mistakes, De Soto
included among the soldiers several artisans capable of working with
their hands. People, horses, hogs, and big dogs that could be used for
attacking Indians, and a confusion of supplies and equipment were loaded
aboard five low-waisted, high-pooped, square-rigged ships ranging from
500 to 800 tons burden. Overflow was accommodated, uncomfortably, in two
caravels and two small pinnaces.

The fleet spent a week in late May 1539, reaching the southernmost part
of what is generally believed to have been Tampa Bay.[2] While the ships
were groping over the shoals so that unloading could begin, patrols of
both horsemen and footmen, happy to be free of the cramped quarters,
dashed off through the undergrowth to learn what lay ahead. They soon
discovered that the countryside, though sweet-smelling with flowers, was
a maze of bogs, meandering streams, and thick stands of mangroves and
oaks. Another tax on travel were small groups of tall, naked Indians,
probably Timucuans. The Indians eluded the horsemen by dodging nimbly
through swamps and behind trees, now and then letting an arrow flash out
from one of their bows. Fortunately one of the few captives the patrols
seized was Juan Ortiz, a former member of the ill-fated Narváez

Ortiz had returned to Cuba with the explorer’s ships after they had
failed to make contact with the land party and then had been hired by
Narváez’s distraught wife to search for her husband in a pinnace she
provided. On visiting Narváez’s initial landing place at Tampa Bay,
Ortiz had been captured and had lived ever since with a group that
controlled part of the region around the bay. He knew the Timucuans’
language and could speak through interpreters to other Indian groups.
But in all that time he had never been far afield and could report only
rumors about distant places. Gold? There was none near at hand, but far
to the north was a powerful kingdom abounding in maize. Its inhabitants
might know of minerals.

A scouting party dispatched to investigate returned with a tantalizing
message that would be repeated over and over during the long trek: the
gold was somewhere else, this time at a place called Cale, where the
warriors wore golden helmets. De Soto nodded complacently. In a region
as vast as Florida, he told the Gentleman of Elvas, there were bound to
be riches.

Mindful still of the colony he was supposed to found, he left Pedro
Calderón near Tampa Bay with three small ships, their sailors, and a
hundred soldiers. They had two years’ supply of food and seed for
planting. If he found a better place to settle, he would let them know.
Meanwhile the other caravel and the five big ships were to return to
Havana for fresh supplies and new recruits.

Moving inland farther than Narváez had and marching in divisions, the
army moved north. Tough going. Rains were heavy that year. Bogs oozed;
lakes and streams rose. The wayfarers waded some streams and bridged
others. The men herded the pigs through the mud—the sows had farrowed
and there were about 300 now—grooming horses, setting up wet camps and
then, tired out, pulverizing, in curved log mortars, the grain they had
taken from Indian fields and storage cribs so they could boil it into
gruel. Discontent boiled up. There’d better be gold somewhere in this

There was none at Cale, but a little farther on.... They straggled
through the vicinity of today’s Gainesville and, inclining a little west
of north, reached a village called Aguacaliquen. There an advance party
captured several women, one of whom was the daughter of the cacique, or
chief. The father was told he could not get her back until he had guided
the Spaniards into the territory of the next tribe to the west. This he
did while several of his villagers followed, playing on bone flutes as a
sign of peace and begging that father and daughter be released.

When pleas produced nothing—De Soto feared being left in the wilderness
with no guides—the Indians decided to ambush the Spaniards at “a very
pleasant village” called Napituca, near today’s Live Oak, Florida. De
Soto’s interpreter, Juan Ortiz, discovered the plot and gave warning.
Spirits leaped. After two months of being harassed by Indian guerrillas,
the Spaniards could at last vent their frustration on a massed
army—about 400 Indians, as it turned out. Giving thanks to God, the
cavalry charged, lances thrusting, swords slashing. Bellow of
arquebuses, zings of crossbow darts, yells of “Santiago!” from
pike-wielding foot soldiers. Scores of Indians died; hundreds were
captured, including a remnant that fled into two nearby lakes and, by
hiding in the cold, night-shrouded waters, evaded capture until
morning—a brave stand that won both admiration and kind treatment from
the Spanish force.

Not all the captives were handled that generously. Their services were
needed. During marches males were linked by chains and iron collars and
forced to serve as porters for the army. Women, historian Garcilaso de
la Vega wrote after talking to participants in the adventure, served as
“domestics,” grinding the rations of maize, cooking the meals, and so
on. Rodrigo Ranjel, De Soto’s private secretary, was more specific: the
soldiers desired women for “foul use and lewdness.” Whenever the
conquerors seized a new village, its cacique was impressed as a hostage
and guide and released only after his subjects had served as bearers
over the next stretch of the journey. Rebels against the enslavement
received punishments designed to warn other recalcitrants. Some had a
hand or nose cut off, a few were tied to stakes and burned or shot to
death with arrows fired by Indian auxiliaries. Now and then one was torn
to pieces by the Spaniard’s war dogs. They accepted the ordeals with a
stoicism that won the grudging approval of the expedition’s chroniclers.

In October 1539, De Soto’s army entered the land of the Apalachees.
According to Ranjel, they found “much maize and beans and squash and
diverse fruits and many deer and a great diversity of birds and fish.”
Like Narváez before them, they decided to winter at the fruitful spot,
site of today’s Tallahassee.

They evicted the Indians of the main town, Anhaica, and settled down in
the log and straw houses. Taking advantage of a high wind, the Indians
burned most of the place. Later, the intense cold killed almost all of
the despondent Indian slaves captured at the battle of Napituca. In
spite of the misfortunes, De Soto decided to use Apalachee as a center
for future explorations. He sent Juan de Añasco and 30 cavalrymen south
through bogs and sniping Indians to Tampa Bay to bring up Calderón’s
hundred soldiers and the three small ships. When the vessels arrived at
the very harbor from which Narváez had sailed (as revealed by the
remnants of the forge and the grisly piles of horse bones) De Soto
dispatched the ships west under Francisco Maldonado to find a protected
bay to which the reinforcements waiting in Havana could be brought the
following summer.

Meanwhile another distraction arose. Working through a chain of
interpreters, Juan Ortiz learned from an Indian captive that a truly
rich country, Cofitachequi, lay to the northeast, in the vicinity of
what is now Camden, South Carolina. Promptly, De Soto decided to take
his regrouped army there.

They left on March 3, 1540. Because most of their captives had died, the
men again had to carry their own rations and prepare their own meals.
Spring-swollen streams blocked the way; one was so wide the men built a
ferry and hauled it back and forth with hawsers. The cacique of
Cofitachequi turned out to be a woman. Bedecked in furs, feathers, and
the freshwater pearls that were common in the mussels of the southeast,
she greeted them warmly. “Be this coming to these shores most happy,”
she said according to one chronicler. “My ability can in no way equal my
wishes, nor my services [equal] the merits of so great a prince;
nevertheless, good wishes are to be valued more than the treasures of
the earth without them. With sincerest and purest good will, I tender
you my person, my lands, my people, and make you these small gifts.”

             Anhaica: De Soto’s First Winter Camp, 1539-40

  The only site linked with certainty to De Soto is _Anhaica_, once the
  principal town of the Apalachee Indians.

  This numerous and powerful people resisted the Spaniards’ intrusion
  into their country in autumn 1539, harassing the march and burning
  villages to deny food to the army. At _Anhaica_ De Soto found an
  abandoned town of “250 large and good houses.” The Spaniards settled
  in and spent five months here. They scoured the countryside for
  provisions, seizing quantities of maize, pumpkins, beans, and dried
  persimmons. The Indians raided the town twice and set fires. When the
  army departed in spring, they carried enough maize to last them across
  200 miles of wilderness.

    [Illustration: Artifacts from the Tallahassee site: bits of chain
    mail (top), an arrow point (above); a copper coin minted in Spain
    between 1505-17; the metal tip of a cross bow dart.]

    [Illustration: Digging also turned up fragments of olive jars of the
    type shown at left. The chain mail shirt at right above shows the
    type of body armor worn by Spaniards in the first decades of the New
    World conquest. The jar and shirt were not found at the site.]

The exact site of _Anhaica_ lay unknown for 450 years. It was discovered
by accident in 1987 by archeologist Calvin Jones while searching in
downtown Tallahassee, Florida, for a 17th-century Spanish mission.
Digging on land planned for development, he and others recovered many
16th-century Spanish artifacts (iron, coins, olive jar fragments, beads,
the mandible of a pig) in context with Apalachee pottery. Analysis left
no doubt that this was the site of De Soto’s first winter camp.

    [Illustration: The female cacique of Cofitachequi, apparently a
    woman of considerable authority, greeted De Soto’s army with
    ceremony and gifts of food and clothing. Though she had befriended
    the expedition, she was seized as a hostage and guide but eventually
    escaped. Artist Louis S. Glanzman illustrates the cacique as she may
    have appeared at the time of the encounter.]

She gave De Soto strands of freshwater pearls and let the men take more
from tombs located in mounds raised above the ground. They were not very
good pearls and had been discolored by being bored with redhot copper
spindles. But they were the closest things to treasure the men had found
so far, and De Soto filled a cane chest with 350 pounds of them.

Won by the pearls, the lush countryside, and the navigability of the
Wateree-Santee Rivers, which drained southeast into the Atlantic, the
men wanted to found a colony there. De Soto refused. There was not
enough food at Cofitachequi for the army. Moreover, he was still hoping,
in the words of the Gentleman of Elvas, for another windfall “like that
of Atabalipa [Atahualpa] of Peru.”

The place to investigate, he heard, was off across the Appalachian
Mountains to the northwest. Seizing the cacique who had befriended him,
he forced her to enlist a portion of her subjects as porters and
domestics for the disgruntled men. They moved rapidly through South
Carolina into western North Carolina. By trails that had never before
seen a horse, let alone a herd of pigs, they crossed the mountains into
the tumbled region of the French Broad and Pigeon Rivers. There the
cacique of the pearls managed to escape. As usual, there was no gold.

Hoping, presumably, to meet the ships coming from Havana with supplies
and reinforcements, De Soto at last turned south through the land that
Creek Indians later occupied in northern Alabama. As they traveled down
the Coosa River, they entered a new chiefdom and there laid hold of a
tall, disdainful leader named Tascaluza. De Soto demanded women and
slaves. With pretended meekness Tascaluza provided the army with a
hundred porters and then secretly sent word ahead to his warriors in the
stockaded town of Mabila, from which today’s Mobile takes its name, to
prepare an ambush. When the town came into sight, De Soto carelessly let
the main part of the hungry army disperse to forage. Leaving the
fettered bearers outside the entrance, the general and a handful of
aides entered the village with Tascaluza. Hot words soon broke out, and
the Indians hurled themselves at the enemy. The Spaniards clustered
around their leader. Although five were killed and De Soto was knocked
down a time or two, they managed to fight their way back outside. During
the uproar the porters picked up the food, armaments, and other baggage
they had been carrying and rushed inside the stockade with it, to join
Tascaluza’s people.

Assembling his soldiers, De Soto launched attacks against all sides of
the barricaded town. With axes and fire the yelling Spaniards smashed
through the palisades. While the battle raged from house to house, the
tinder-box town went up in flames. Realizing they were being defeated,
some of the Indians threw themselves into the fire rather than
surrender. The last survivor hanged himself with his bowstring. Reports
of Spanish losses range from 18 to 22 killed and 148 wounded, including
De Soto. Somewhere between 7 and 12 irreplaceable horses perished and 28
were injured. Indian losses were estimated by a chronicler at 2,500.

Since landing at Tampa Bay, the Spaniards had lost 102 men from all
causes. The chest of pearls De Soto had hoped to send to Cuba as a lure
for replacements had disappeared in the fire, along with most of the
army’s spare clothing, weapons, and food. Yet when the interpreter, Juan
Ortiz, told De Soto of Indian reports of ships in Mobile Bay a few days
away, he ordered him to stay silent. He knew the men would desert if
they thought they could reach the ships, and his pride could not
tolerate that. Go home empty-handed, beaten, and disgraced? Never.

He rallied the army. For 28 days the healthy doctored the wounded with,
said Garcilaso de la Vega, unguents made from the fat of dead Indians.
Their commander moved among them, bolstering their spirits, so that when
he ordered them to face north again, they obeyed, though they all knew
that ships from Havana had been scheduled to meet them somewhere.

They followed the Tombigbee River into northeastern Mississippi to
Chicaza, where they wintered (1540-41) among the Chickasaw Indians. When
they made their usual request for porters, women, clothing, and food for
the spring march, the Chickasaws responded one day at dawn by setting
fire to the section of the town in which the invaders were bivouacked.
The confusion was total—and perhaps a salvation for the Spaniards.
Several terrified horses broke loose and stampeded wildly. Their squeals
and the pounding of their hooves, and the sight of De Soto and a few
others who had managed to get mounted bearing down on them with lances
(before De Soto’s saddle turned and he fell heavily) frightened the
Indians into flight.

                         De Soto in La Florida

  De Soto was seeking another Peru in Florida. But after three years and
  thousands of miles, his futile quest ended in a watery grave in the
  Mississippi. For natives of the Southeast, the _entrada_ was also
  tragic. The warfare weakened chiefdoms, and Old World diseases ravaged
  populations. By the time the English and French began their invasions
  in the a 17th century, the complex mound-building chiefdoms of the
  region had vanished. They were replaced by the historic tribes whose
  diminished numbers were no match for westward-expanding Americans.

                    [Illustration: Route of De Soto]

    In his swing across the Southeast, De Soto’s men traveled over
    Indian trails and were sustained by Indian supplies. Without native
    help it is unlikely the expedition could have progressed much beyond
    the Florida interior. The encounters with native
    societies—chronicled by several participants—give the expedition
    significance beyond its own time. The journals combined with
    archeological and ethnographic data have enabled scholars to map
    much of the route and to rediscover the lost world of the once
    mighty chiefdoms of the Apalachee, Ichisi, Ocute, Coosa, Pacaha, and
    other groups.

This version of the route is based on the work of Professor Charles
Hudson and others who have attempted to reconstruct the entire route.
There is good scholarly consensus for some segments, but other parts of
the route will remain in dispute unless new archeological evidence is

  De Soto Expedition. Dashed line indicates uncertain route.
      *Known site, possibly visited by De Soto
      ·Uncertain Site
    From Havana, Cuba
      De Soto National Monument
    ·Napituca 15 Sept 1539
      Spaniards route Timacua Indians, take 200 prisoners
      Winter camp 1539-40
      Ocmulgee National Monument
      May 1540 Encounter with female ruler
      Political center of an important Indian chiefdom
      Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site
      19 Oct 1540 Major battle with Chief Tasculuza and his allies
      Mound State Monument
      Winter camp 1540-41
      Spaniards beat off Indian attack in spring
      Parkin Archeological State Park
      Scouting parties
      Winter camp 1541-42
      Winter camp 1542-43
      Spaniards build boats to take them down the Mississippi
      21 May 1542 Death of De Soto
      Scouting parties
      Expedition continues under Moscoso after De Soto’s death
      Scouting parties

It was a disaster, nevertheless. Twelve soldiers and a white woman still
with the army—she was pregnant—were dead as were several score pigs and
57 horses, the latter mourned as deeply as the men, for they were the
army’s true strength. But once again, they rallied, improvised forges
for retempering their weapons, replaced the shafts of their lances, and
learned to patch their clothing with woven grasses, pounded bark, and
pieces of Indian blankets.

On May 9 or so, 1541, after more battles, they reached the Mississippi
at—no one knows, but it seems to have been south of Memphis. While they
were marveling at the river’s size (this is from Elvas), 200 dugout
canoes approached in perfect order. In each canoe warriors, painted with
ochre and bedecked with plumes of many colors, stood erect, protecting
the oarsmen with feathered shields and bows and arrows. The chief man of
the fleet sat in his canoe underneath an awning and likewise each lesser
chief in his canoe. The Spaniards had seen panoply before—bearers
carrying their caciques on feathered litters while flute players marched
beside—but nothing like this. Misunderstood stories of such spectacles,
as we will see later, caused considerable trouble for the expedition
Mendoza sent north under Coronado during this same period.

    [Illustration: The Indians valued the brass bells and brightly
    colored glass beads given them by the Spaniards. Where found, they
    help authenticate Spanish presence in the 16th century. These
    examples were excavated in Florida.]

A brief parley between the cacique and De Soto ended when nervous
crossbowmen, misreading what was going on, shot five or six of the
Indians. At once the fleet withdrew, still in perfect order, “like a
famous armada of galleys,” wrote Elvas. What follows passes
understanding. In spite of clear warnings not to proceed, De Soto
decided to go ahead. During the next hot, humid month, the men felled
trees, sawed them into planks, and constructed barges. To avoid
detection, they crossed the river, with the horses aboard, in the
pre-dawn darkness of June 18 and moved northwest.

They spent most of the summer and fall wandering around western
Arkansas. Many scholars believe they may have traveled up the Arkansas
River almost to eastern Oklahoma before going into their 1541-42 winter
quarters in a town (Autiamque) once again commandeered from the Indians.
Though the weather was severe, the men stayed fairly snug. Their slaves
built a strong stockade around the camp and dragged in ample supplies of
firewood. Local Indians provided them with buffalo robes to use as
overcoats and to sleep on, and showed them how to snare the rabbits that
frequented the nearby cornfields.

During the long days inside the stockade, De Soto at last faced up to
his situation. He had lost half his force. Not all had died in battle. A
few, despairing of seeing the end of the quest, had deserted to live
with the Indians, and the number would increase if he persisted in
wandering as he had been doing. Of the original 223 horses, only 40
remained, most of them lame for want of shoes. The death of Juan Ortiz
that winter deprived him of his best, if very uncertain, means of
communication with the Indians. Reluctantly he decided to turn back to
Mississippi. There he intended to build two brigantines and, manning
them with his most trustworthy men, send one to Havana and one to Pánuco
in hope that one would be able to lead reinforcements back to those who
would wait for them at the river.

They reached the roily Mississippi somewhere near the mouth of the
Arkansas River. By that time a deadly fever, perhaps malaria, was
gnawing at De Soto. Knowing death was near and bitterly resenting the
arrogant hostility of the Indians with whom he tried to treat in his
extremity, he ordered two of his captains to go out with lancers and
infantry and make an example of the nearby town of Anilco. Not expecting
an attack, for they had not been among those taking the lead in defying
the Spaniards, the unarmed townspeople clustered about in curiosity. A
wanton butchery followed. “About one hundred men were slain,” wrote
Elvas. “Many were allowed to get away badly wounded, that they might
strike terror into those who were absent.” Eighty women and children
were taken prisoner.

    [Illustration: This effigy from a gourd-shaped ceramic vessel was
    discovered in a burial at Ocmulgee National Monument in central
    Georgia. De Soto’s expedition passed near this site.]

By the time the bloodletting was over, De Soto could not rise from his
bed. After confessing his sins and making his will, he named Luis de
Moscoso as his successor. On May 21, 1542, he died.

To keep the Indians from knowing the fate of the great Child of the Sun,
as he had been describing himself to them, his followers buried him near
the entrance to the town and rode horses back and forth to destroy signs
of the digging. The Indians were suspicious, however, and so Moscoso had
the corpse disinterred, lest the Indians dig it up and mutilate it. A
handful of men then stealthily wrapped the body in a shroud, weighted
the burden with sand, and in the darkness of the night rowed out onto
the river and dumped it overboard.

De Soto’s plan to build boats for bringing in reinforcements died with
him. The men’s one desire now was to leave this country that had brought
them only misery. But how? Remembering Narváez’s fate, they were
reluctant to try to build enough boats to carry them home by sea.
Instead they decided to march overland to Pánuco in northern Mexico.
They clung to the decision for four months, fighting off Indians when
they had to and living off the country as they had been doing ever since
the landing at Tampa Bay. Then, as the subtropical growth began to give
way to the desert scrub of south central Texas, they encountered, in a
village of poor huts, a woman who said, or they thought she said, that
she had seen Christians at a place nine days’ travel away and that “she
had been in their hands, but had escaped.” Moscoso sent a squad of
cavalrymen with her in the direction she indicated, but when she
contradicted herself, or they thought she did, they abandoned the quest.

The Spaniards were losing heart. They could not live off this land of
semi-nomadic Indians where little maize grew. As winter approached, the
idea of travel by sea no longer seemed so forbidding. Wheeling around,
they regained the Mississippi in two months of hard travel over the same
trails they had come and in December seized, for use as their fourth
winter quarters (1542-43), an Indian town (Aminoya) a little upstream of
the one which they had destroyed seven months before.

    [Illustration: Mississippian culture in the Southeast (AD 1000-1600)
    evolved a rich artistic tradition. The items on these pages come
    from the area De Soto marched through. The effigy vessel (7.5 inches
    high) and the stone axe (13 inches long) are representative of this
    culture in Arkansas. The axe, which is carved from a single piece of
    stone, was probably a badge of office.]

    [Illustration: Stone Axe]

Good timber surrounded the village, and the few artisans still alive had
clung to their tools. They made more nails out of their meager supply of
horseshoes and other iron, contrived ropes out of bark, and sails out of
shawls collected from the Indians. To escape a flood that sent the river
out of its banks, they put their horses on anchored rafts and saved
themselves by climbing to the tops of their huts. Indians kept paddling
around their refuge in canoes. Suspicious of their intent, Moscoso had
one of his men seize a native. Under torture the fellow said that 20
chiefs of the surrounding tribes were conspiring to attack the invaders.
A sign would be the approach of Indians bearing gifts of fish to lull
the camp into relaxing its guard. When the native chiefs showed up with
fish as predicted, the Spanish laid hold of them, cut off each man’s
right hand, and sent the victims back to their villages to report that
their scheme was known. Although some of the chiefs persisted in their
intrigues, Moscoso, very much on guard now, was able to outwit them,
force submission, and acquire through it all more heaps of shawls out of
which to make sails.

By July the fleet was ready—seven brigantines and several Indian-style
war canoes lashed side by side. They loaded the vessels with casks of
fresh water and several hundred bushels of corn scoured from a
countryside that could ill afford the loss. During the last days of work
they killed and ate the poorest of the horses. The soundest, 22 all
told, were put aboard, as were a hundred slaves. The rest of the Indians
they had dragged along with them were turned loose in this country where
the tribes were hostile to them.

The river journey was a series of violent, if intermittent, battles.
Indians from towns they passed swarmed after them in canoes, raining
arrows on them. Ten Spaniards and an unknown number of slaves died, and
because the horses were slowing their flight, Moscoso at last put ashore
at a defensible spot, killed them, and dried the meat.

After 17 days they reached the Gulf, turned west, and on September 10,
1543, after weeks of combatting fretful seas, contrary winds, thirst and
hunger, 311 survivors (again not counting captive Indians) reached the
Pánuco River. Said Elvas: “Many, leaping ashore, kissed the ground; and
all, on bended knees, with hands raised above them and their eyes to
Heaven, remained untiring in giving thanks to God.”

    [Illustration: The artist’s stone palette (12.5 inches in diameter)
    was found at Etowah Mounds State Historic Site, Georgia. The
    engraving has been interpreted as snake emissaries of the sun god,
    which is represented by the eye.]

One of the most extraordinary marches in the annals of the New—or
Old—World had come to a profitless end.

                 Piachi, Village in the Coosa Chiefdom

    [Illustration: Piachi]

  After crossing the Great Smokies, De Soto in August 1540 entered the
  territory of a rich chiefdom called Coosa. It dominated an area from
  the French Broad River in North Carolina into central Alabama. De
  Soto’s chronicler described this country as “Thickly settled in
  numerous and large towns, with fields between, extending from one to
  another, [it] was pleasant and had a rich soil and fair river

  One of the subject towns was _Piachi_ (the King Site to
  archeologists), on the banks of the Coosa River in northwest Georgia.
  De Soto and his expedition spent a day here in early September 1540.
  The chronicles are silent on the visit, but from the archeological
  work of David Hally and others, as interpreted by artist L. Kenneth
  Townsend, we have a good idea of life here.

  _Piachi_ was about 5 acres in extent, protected by a palisade and
  ditch. Inside were about 50 domestic structures and a central plaza
  with several larger buildings perhaps used for ceremony. Nearby were
  several tall poles, from which scalps or war trophies probably hung.
  About 350 persons lived here, less than half the number of the main
  town of Coosa or the substantial village of Itaba (Etowah Indian
  Mounds State Historic Site to the north). A good part of the
  villagers’ living came from growing corn, which they stored in cribs.
  As the Spaniards traveled from village to village, they expected the
  Indians to yield up food, guides, porters, and women. Without this
  sustenance, the expedition could not have covered the territory that
  it did.

    [Illustration: Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico, visited by the Coronado
    expedition in 1540. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited
    communities in the United States.]

                         Where the Fables Ended

Like De Soto, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado[3] was a younger son who
improved his minimal prospects for worldly success by attaching himself
to a patron—in this case it was the king’s fabulously wealthy viceroy,
Antonio de Mendoza—and going with him to the New World. They arrived in
1535, when Coronado was 25.

Because of Mendoza’s position and character, Coronado’s rise was faster
and more genteel than De Soto’s. Two years after settling in Mexico City
(originally Tenochtitlán), he married Beatriz de Estrada, an heiress
whose father had been the illegitimate son of Spain’s first king,
Ferdinand. About the same time Mendoza arranged for his appointment to
Mexico City’s governing council and shortly thereafter named him
governor of the far northern province of Nueva Galicia. (The position
was open because Nuño de Guzmán had been arrested for slave-hunting, and
his successor had been killed while fighting Indians.) The only battling
Coronado did during those years was putting down a revolt of black
slaves in the mining district of Amatepeque. Though he had the rebel
leaders drawn and quartered, a standard punishment of the times, he
seems to have been more humane than many of his contemporaries.

Even before Coronado’s appointment was officially announced, De Soto’s
agents in Mexico notified him that their employer had become
_adelantado_ of Florida. In other words, hands off ... a bluff, since
the limits of De Soto’s jurisdiction had not been established. But the
very fact of the warning shows that De Soto and his people were
suspicious of how the winds might be blowing in Mexico.

They had reason to be. Mendoza had finally put together a reconnoitering
party whose early entrance into the desirable area would give him a
prior claim over either De Soto or Cortés. Take-off point for the group
was to be Culiacán, an outpost on the western fringe of Nueva Galicia,
800 miles from Mexico City, that Guzmán had founded a few years earlier.
The explorers were hurried across those rough miles by Nueva Galicia’s
new governor, Francisco de Coronado, and a retinue of restless young
blades looking for something to do. From Culiacán on, the scouts were
guided by the black, Estéban, who had traversed part of the country with
his owner, Andrés de Dorantes, and Cabeza de Vaca. (Mendoza had
purchased Estéban from Dorantes after the three whites of the party had
turned down the viceroy’s request that they take over the work.) Indians
of the north—some of them had come to Mexico City with Cabeza de
Vaca—acted as porters. Leader of this belatedly assembled group was a
Franciscan friar, Marcos of Niza, assisted by a friend, Fray Onorato.

Fray Marcos, a native of Nice, France, spoke Spanish clumsily, even
though he had spent time with Pedro de Alvarado’s forces in Guatemala
and Pizarro’s in Peru, where he had become familiar with the astonishing
wealth of the Incas. He is said to have been a good cartographer and to
have written learned papers about the Indians, none of which has come to
light. He penned such an entrancing letter about Peru to Mexico’s
Archbishop, Juan de Zumárraga, that the prelate invited him to visit
Mexico City and housed him after his arrival early in 1537. The
impression he made led the archbishop to arrange his appointment to an
important office in the Franciscan order in New Spain, and the Viceroy
to make him leader of the search for the cities of the north.

Coronado and his escort covered the 800 miles to Culiacán on horseback,
as befitted grandees. Marcos’s party walked, the friars in loose gray
robes and sandaled feet. After bidding farewell to the governor at the
outpost, the explorers and their Indian porters forged ahead on March 7,
1539. (In two more months De Soto would leave Cuba for Florida.) Fray
Onorato soon fell ill and turned back. Undeterred, Marcos continued on
to a settlement called Vacapa, close to the boundary between the
present-day states of Sinaloa and Sonora. There he decided to pause
while messengers summoned Indians from the coast, for part of his errand
was to learn whether a big expedition could be supplied by ships.

Estéban refused to wait. Away from the friar’s restraints, he ceased
being a slave and became a king. During his wanderings across the
continent he had learned how to get along with Indians, speak their
languages, win their gifts, and (we can suppose) entice their young
women. But he dared not simply run away. So he said that as he advanced,
accompanied by two huge hounds and part of the Indian bearers, he would
keep Marcos informed of his gleanings. Unable to write, he devised a
symbol that could be delivered by messengers. A small cross would
signify that he had heard of a northern city that sounded moderately
important. A medium-sized cross would proclaim a significant city, and a
big one something truly superlative.

Presumably this tactic was devised to corroborate what the messengers
told Marcos to his face. Told him—this man who knew none of the local
Indian tongues and whose Spanish was not of the best? How?

Actually, it would have been easy, except for Marcos’s dangerous
preconceptions. A long trade trail linked the jungles of Mexico to the
merchandising town of Háwikuh in the Zuñi country of today’s New Mexico.
Háwikuh’s middlemen trans-shipped along the trail tanned buffalo hides
from the plains, turquoise from New Mexico, cotton mantas from the Hopi
villages in Arizona, and bits of clear green olivine called peridot (the
source perhaps of Cabeza de Vaca’s lost arrowheads). They received in
exchange brightly colored parrot and macaw feathers and sometimes the
birds themselves, plus coral and raw carved seashells from the Gulf.
Flowing with the goods was a traders’ _lingua franca_, a melange of the
principal languages the merchants encountered along the way—their own
native tongue, bits of that spoken by the Pimas and Opatas of northern
Mexico, Nahuatl, the tongue of the Aztecs, and bits of Spanish. So there
was a medium by which Estéban’s messengers, especially the one who
brought a cross as big as a man, could talk to the eager friar.

From the cross’s bearers and from other informants along the way, Marcos
heard of, and sent back reports to Mendoza, about the rich kingdom
called Cíbola and its seven cities, one of which, he understood, was
also named Cíbola. Terraced houses of stone rose three and four stories
high. Doors were decorated with turquoise: clothing and ornaments were
lavish. Near to this magnificent kingdom were others, equally rich.

    [Illustration: Antonio de Mendoza, first viceroy of New Spain. A
    capable administrator, he laid the foundations for three centuries
    of Spanish rule in the Americas. He encouraged industry, education,
    and the work of the church. Firm but just, he tried to protect the
    Indians from the worst abuses but was not able to bring about

    [Illustration: Coronado saw country like this south of Santa Fe, New
    Mexico, as he marched toward the Great Plains.]

Mere travelers’ yarns? Not necessarily. Consider who Estéban’s
messengers were. They resided in small, trailside settlements made up of
_jacals_ built of mud-daubed sticks. In comparison, the terraced pueblos
of Arizona and New Mexico, inhabited by hundreds of people who had
sufficient leisure to attend to other pursuits than just getting enough
to eat—such places, which most of them had only heard about from
boastful peddlers, were bound to seem impressive. Talking through
interpreters in signs and their _lingua franca_ jumble, they tried to
convey their wonder to Marcos—as did one person who said he was a native
of Cíbola and apparently enjoyed bragging about it. While listening,
moreover, Marcos was remembering the Incas and Aztecs and the legends of
the Seven Cities of Antilia. Seven in Cíbola as well! Whose imagination
would not be fired?

He never overtook Estéban. According to his report to Mendoza, he and
his retinue of Indians had been toiling for 12 days across a
_despoblado_ (uninhabited region) and were within three days’ march of
the city of Cíbola when one of the black’s erstwhile companions met them
and said, weeping, that the Cíbolans had slain Estéban out of fear that
he had come as a spy for would-be conquerors—as, in fact, he had. Two
days later, the tale was confirmed by other Indians who had fled from
Cíbola “covered with blood and many wounds.”

Convinced they were walking to their deaths, all but a handful of
Marcos’s followers deserted him. With those few, he wrote later, he went
cautiously forward until he glimpsed the city. It rose before his eyes
more magnificent “than the city of Mexico.” And equally wealthy kingdoms
lay beyond.

Deciding to rename Cíbola St. Francis after the patron saint of his
order, Marcos erected a heap of stones, placed a cross atop it, and
announced to the air that he was taking possession for Spain. Then back
he hastened, “more satiated with fear than food.” So he said.

Skeptics have long argued that Fray Marcos never got anywhere near
Cíbola. They point to the vagueness of his report, which nowhere
describes topographical features, vegetation, or soil types, although
his instructions had directed him to study all those things. They also
insist that he could not have tarried in Indian towns and have made side
trips searching for the coast, as he claimed he did, and still have
reached and returned from Cíbola in the time known to have elapsed. And
how could he have mistaken a relatively small, mud-plastered pueblo for
a metropolis grander than Mexico City?

Supporters of the friar, unwilling to believe a man of the cloth could
be an out-and-out liar, juggle time figures their own way and suggest
that his impression of the pueblo was an optical illusion produced by
slanting rays of morning sunlight and made more vivid by the mixture of
weariness, excitement, hope, and fear with which he regarded his goal.
They also point out that when a full-scale expedition marched north to
take possession of the country, he went along. Would he have done that
if his statements were lies that would inevitably be exposed?

It seems likely that he did turn back immediately after learning, at
some distance from Cíbola, of Estéban’s death. But vanity and fear of
consequences would not let him admit the truth to the Viceroy and the
governor. So he concocted a tale out of the descriptions he had heard
from Indians along the way—descriptions he believed, reasonably enough,
were accurate and would bear scrutiny later on.

His temporal superiors accepted his statements partly out of an eager
credulity of their own and partly because they were in a hurry to
complete their claims to the Seven Cities. (De Soto was already in
Florida; three ships outfitted by Cortés and commanded by Francisco de
Ulloa were tacking north along the coast looking for sea approaches to
the new kingdoms.) It has even been charged that the Viceroy, Mendoza,
may have suggested some of the glowing details that were incorporated
into Marcos’s report. Most certainly he rewarded the friar by pressuring
the Order of St. Francis to make him, rather than candidates who had
been around much longer, the father-provincial of the Franciscans in
Mexico. As a result, pulpits began resounding with homilies on the work
that awaited the pious—and, by implication, the enterprising—in the
north. This of course stimulated recruiting, not only of idle _hidalgos_
but of solid men with money enough to equip themselves and their
followers for an extensive journey.

Mendoza reputedly put 60,000 ducats into the venture. Coronado added
50,000 that he raised by mortgaging his wife’s property. But they were
not completely reckless. They ordered Melchior Díaz, mayor of Culiacán,
to go north with soldiers and Indians and gather specifics about
geography that Marcos had neglected to describe (not having seen it) but
that an army on the march would find useful.

By February 22, 1540, less than seven months after Marcos’s return,
Mendoza and Coronado had gathered the bulk of their army at Nueva
Galicia’s drab capital, Compostela, some 525 miles west of Mexico City.
For the place and times it was a brave show: about 225 cavalrymen, 62
foot soldiers, an unrecorded number of black slaves, and upwards of 700
variously painted Indians. The group’s equipment, like that of De Soto’s
army, was a melange. There were a few suits of armor, including
Coronado’s gilded one, some cuirasses, coats of mail, and plumed helmets
but far more jackets of buckskin and padded cotton, high boots, and
leather shields.

The Indians were camptenders, stockherders, and warriors, but not
bearers, for unlike De Soto, Mendoza and Coronado meant to enforce royal
orders that forbade turning natives into beasts of burden. Some of the
Indians had wives and children along, as did three Spaniards, in spite
of edicts against camp followers. Hardly noticeable in the throng were
five gray-robed friars, including Marcos, who probably should not have
left his new job as Father Superior so soon. Yet he, too, had a big
stake in this trip.

Some 1,500 saddle and pack animals, both horses and mules, had been
gathered to provide transportation. Many of the cavalrymen had more than
one mount; Coronado took along 23. Each soldier was responsible for his
personal gear, and since few _hidalgos_ had the least idea of how to
pack a horse, many impromptu rodeos occurred. But “in the end,” wrote
chronicler Pedro de Castañeda, “necessity, which is all-powerful, made
them skillful ... and anybody who despised this work was not considered
a man.” In addition to the horse herd, there was a movable larder of
about a thousand cattle, sheep, and goats.

Though Mendoza had planned to lead the expedition, the demands of his
office prevented it, and he turned command over to Coronado, then aged
30. The next day the confused, dusty march began, over high hills and
through vales full of thickets. Trouble awaited at Chiametla, where once
Cortés and Guzmán had confronted each other over a ship. Resentful
Indians attacked a foraging party led by Coronado’s second-in-command,
killed him, and wounded five or six others. On top of that, in came
Melchoir Díaz with discouraging reports of what he had learned during
his scouting trip. Though heavy snow had kept him from entering the
mountains north of Arizona’s Gila River, he had interviewed several
Indian traders who supposedly knew Cíbola, and they had led him to
believe there was little, if any, silver or gold in the area. And the
road there, which Marcos had said was good, was very bad.

Rumors of the report leaked out and upset the soldiers. Marcos quieted
them during one of his sermons: Díaz hadn’t gone far enough. A
preacher’s word against that of a frontier roughneck. Coronado, at
least, was placated: why let go of either his credulity or his
investment this early in the game? But he was worried about dragging the
whole cumbersome army over a bad trail into a _despoblado_ lacking in
supplies. So he decided to go ahead with a vanguard of 80 horsemen, 30
or so footmen, an unknown number of Indians, some livestock, and the
expedition’s five friars. He placed the main army under; Tristan de
Arellano, told him to stay in Culiacán for 20 more days and then advance
to the Indian town of Corazones in the heart of Sonora, where further
instructions would be sent him.

It took Coronado’s vanguard from April 22 to July 7, 1540—eleven weeks,
counting rest stops—to cover the thousand miles that separated Culiacán
from Cíbola. (During those same weeks De Soto’s hungry men were marching
through Georgia into the city of pearls and on across the Appalachians
into Alabama.) Hard weeks on rough trails. Contrary to what Marcos had
said, they were veering farther and farther from the coast. Yet at that
very time, Hernando de Alarcón was sailing northward with three ships
loaded with supplies for him. How were they to make contact?

As events developed, they never did, and the vanguard crossed the
shimmering San Pedro plains into what was to be the United States with
an increasing apprehension that all gates were shutting behind them.
They followed the tree-shaded San Pedro River north to the vicinity of
Benson, Arizona, and then, with Melchior Díaz pointing the way, left it
and worked on through a series of broad-bottomed, mountain-bracketed
valleys to the Gila River, reaching it where Mt. Turnbull bulks huge
against the sky. An enormity of space and remoteness. One can still feel
it, for unlike the southeastern United States, where De Soto marched,
this land has been but little scarred by man’s devouring technologies.

                         First Blood at Cíbola

    [Illustration: Coronado's March Through Puebloland]

  At Cíbola, Coronado had his first encounter with the Pueblo world. His
  army was six months into the expedition and worn down from crossing a
  wilderness. Food was short, his porters (blacks) and Indians were
  deserting, horses were dying of exhaustion.

  The first sight of Cíbola—the legendary kingdom of the north—dismayed
  the Spaniards. They found not a shining city of gold but only mud huts
  stacked one atop another and a crowd of armed warriors. This was
  Háwikuh, western-most of a cluster of Zuñi towns, now a ruin a few
  miles south of the present pueblo of the same name.

  Wanting food, Coronado sent forward a party with an interpreter,
  friars, and cavalry. This is the moment illustrated by artist Louis S.
  Glanzman. The interpreter tells Háwikuh’s war leaders that the
  Spaniards have come to claim the country for King and Savior and wish
  them no harm. The Indians pay this no attention. An elder draws a line
  of sacred corn meal in the sand. The Spaniards hesitate. Arrows fly.
  The army storms the village. Soon a dozen Indians lie dead while the
  rest flee. The famished soldiers break into the stores. Peace follows
  and this pueblo becomes Coronado’s base camp for the next few months.

They climbed the rough Gila Mountains, found relief in high, open
meadows, but then had to scramble over the Natanes Plateau and pitch
down a steep Indian trail into the Black River gorge. On beyond that
they came to a more difficult crossing of the _barranca_, as they called
the canyon, of the White River. The water was so deep they had to build
rafts to get across. Then on through more pines and meadows whose beauty
they scarcely noticed. They were so hungry that at one camp they ate
lush-looking plants—perhaps wild parsnip, perhaps water hemlocks—that
twisted them with cramps; one Spaniard and two blacks perished.

Two days later, amidst bare, rolling hills, they passed the Little
Colorado and started up Zuñi Creek. Knowing that Cíbola and its food
supplies were near, the men wanted to hurry, but Coronado, ever
cautious, sent out scouts under tough Garcia López de Cárdenas, and kept
the main force moving slowly behind. Near midnight, Indians attacked the
reconnoitering group and stampeded some of its horses. Quelling a brief
panic, the invaders swept the Indians aside, but the portent was clear.
The Cíbolans were going to defend their homes.

As the Spaniards emerged from a scattering of junipers onto a flat
plain, they saw, hardly half a mile away, a low spur protruding from a
line of hills. On top of the spur was a city of sorts. Blank tan walls
rose three and, in places, four stories high. Clusters of people on top.
Cornfields and squat houses at the base of the spur. “There are,”
Casteñada wrote in disgust, “haciendas in New Spain which make a better
appearance at a distance.” And he added, “Such were the curses that some
hurled at Fray Marcos that I pray God may protect him from them.”

Points of view. Modern archeologists have discovered data about the
Pueblo (Anasazi) Indians that were unknown to the Spaniards. For one
thing, population in general was declining in the 16th century, but
towns were growing because survivors were congregating in them, perhaps
as a defense against raiding nomads. One major population center was the
six, not seven, pueblos of the area now known as the Zuñi reservation,
then called Cíbola. (No single “city” had that name; that was just
another misunderstanding of Marcos.) The town of Háwikuh lay farthest to
the southwest and hence dominated the ancient trade trails leading from
the entire Pueblo country to Mexico, the Gulf Coast, and those parts of
Southern California bordering on the Pacific. Háwikuh, accordingly—and
all Cíbola—seemed important to the inhabitants of a considerable area, a
notion Marcos had picked up and relayed to his superiors, as we have

The Spaniards, however, had not come looking for dealers in hides,
feathers, and imported sea shells. In spite of doubts and warnings that
must have troubled them along the way, it was still impossible for them
to adjust in one stunning moment to this thunderclap of reality. They
went on doing what they probably would have done if the army of the
Grand Khan had advanced to meet them. Cavalrymen made sure their saddle
girths were tight, footmen readied their weapons, which had not been
well cared for during the march, and together they moved toward the
Indians, whose leaders drew magic lines of corn-meal on the ground and
blew angrily on conch shell trumpets. With bows and war clubs they
gestured for the invaders to leave. No women or children were in sight,
and the numbers of warriors indicated that the neighboring towns had
sent reinforcements. None seemed awed by the sight of horses.

Dutifully the Spaniards went through the ritual of the _requerimiento_.
Cárdenas, a few cavalrymen, a notary, an interpreter, and two priests
approached the Indians. The interpreter read a proclamation stating that
God’s representative, the Pope, had awarded this part of the world to
the monarchs of Spain. All who submitted to his majesty’s authority and
also accepted Christianity with its promises of salvation would be
embraced as friends. Those who did not would be treated as enemies.

The answer was a shower of arrows that did no harm. Coronado next went
forward, holding out gifts as a sign of peace. Mistaking the offering
for timidity, the Indians rushed forward. The invaders countered with a
charge. Evidently the horses did inspire terror then, for the Indians
broke and fled. Some were downed on the plain, but most gained the town
and climbed onto the flat roofs, where they continued their gestures of

                          To Pecos and Beyond

    [Illustration: Map: Coronado's March Through Puebloland]

Marching from Cíbola to Pecos, Alvarado’s soldiers saw Puebloland in the
morningtide of its history, a time of prosperity and relative peace.
Village after village welcomed the Spaniards. At Acoma, built on a mesa,
“the natives ... came down to meet us peacefully” and gave the Spaniards
supplies for their journey. In Tiguex province, they met Indians “more
devoted to agriculture than to war” who gave them food, cloth, and
skins. At the huge pueblo of Braba (present Taos), more hospitality.
Cicuyé (Pecos), their destination, greeted Alvarado with drums and
flutes and plied the soldiers with clothing and turquoise (but the women
kept hidden). The record is clear that when the intruders came
peacefully, first encounters were not always hostile.

    [Illustration: Coronado’s army on the march]

Perhaps there was no gold in the town, but there was food and the
Spaniards were half-starved. Coronado deployed horsemen entirely around
the town to prevent anyone’s escaping while he himself dismounted and
led an attack on foot up the slope toward the pueblo’s single narrow,
twisting entry. Clad in gilded armor that attracted attention (and must
have been clumsy to run in), he was straightway knocked senseless by a
huge stone. Two officers shielded his body while he was dragged to

Advantage of position was with the defenders, and the Spaniards, we are
told, were in bad shape. The strings of the crossbows, rotted by the
sun, snapped when cranked tight. The arquebusers were too weak from
hunger and heat to join the onslaught. Yet no one was killed and only a
dozen were hurt. Within less than an hour the town surrendered, an
outcome difficult to understand unless the defenders hurled their
missiles so wildly that none took effect, whereupon they gave up,
terrified by the enemy’s relentless momentum and flashing swords, a
weapon they had never before encountered.

After Coronado had recovered from his concussion and his men had sated
their hunger on Háwikuh’s corn, beans, and turkeys (which the Indians
raised for feathers rather than food), he began assessing his situation.
Couriers brought in delegations from the neighboring towns, and he put
what he learned from them into a long letter he wrote Mendoza and dated
August 3, 1540. It is a prized ethnographical document now because of
its generally accurate descriptions of the Pueblos. Mendoza must have
found it discouraging. No gold. But Coronado was determined, he wrote,
to keep pressing the search. To strengthen his forces he sent orders,
via the letter-bearers, for the bulk of the main army to advance to
Háwikuh. The remainder were to establish a halfway station beside the
long trail. This station was entrusted to Melchior Díaz. As soon as Díaz
had put things in shape there, he was to ride to the Gulf in search of
Alarcón’s supply ships. Fray Marcos, ill, disgraced, and fearing for his
safety, went home with the messengers.

    _On Cíbola: “Although [the Seven Cities] are not decorated with
    turquoises, nor made of lime or good bricks, nevertheless they are
    very good houses, three, four, and five storeys high, and they have
    very ... good rooms with corridors, and some quite good apartments
    underground and paved, which are built for winter and are something
    like hot-houses [kivas].... In [Háwikuh] are perhaps 200 houses, all
    surrounded by a wall.... The people of these towns are fairly large
    and seem to me to be quite intelligent ... most of them are entirely
    naked except for the covering required for decency ... they wear the
    hair on their heads like the Mexicans, and are well formed and
    comely ... the food they eat in this country consists of maize, of
    which they have a great abundance, beans, and game.... They make the
    best tortillas I have ever seen anywhere, and this is what everybody
    ordinarily eats.”_

—_Coronado to Mendoza, 3 August 1540_

Meanwhile exploring parties had gone northwest from Háwikuh to lay claim
to the “kingdom of Tusayan,” or, as we would say, the Hopi villages.
Nothing the Spaniards wanted was there, either—except for ill-understood
talk about a big river farther to the west. It could be crucial. It must
flow into the sea and might furnish a route inland for Alarcón. Promptly
Coronado ordered Garcia López de Cárdenas to investigate.

The result was the first sighting, by Europeans, of the Grand Canyon at
a point generally believed to have been Desert View. Awed by the chasm,
the party explored along the rim until thirst turned them back. Clearly
such a stream could not serve as a supply route.

A few weeks later and many hundreds of miles farther downstream Melchior
Díaz at last unearthed (literally) the first clues about Hernando de
Alarcón’s whereabouts. After straightening out affairs at the halfway
station named San Gerónimo, he led 25 cavalrymen and some Indians west
to the Gulf’s torrid coast, driving a herd of sheep along for food. A
swing north along the desolate beaches brought him to the banks of a
river. He continued along it for perhaps 90 miles, until encountering
Indians who showed him where another bearded man like himself had hidden
some letters. The documents he dug up have since disappeared, but from
other sources it is possible to guess what they said.

Alarcón had reached the river mouth about August 25, 1540. He had been
preceded there by Cortés’s man, Francisco de Ulloa, who a year earlier
had been trying to find an inlet that would enable his commander to beat
Mendoza to the Seven Cities. Because Ulloa believed that Baja California
was an island, he had been surprised to find himself pinched into the
head of a gulf. A most disconcerting place—shoals, seemingly bottomless
mudbanks, and a terrifying tidal bore, raging tumults of water caused
when the inflowing tide rushed in a great wave upriver against the

The sight had turned Ulloa back, but Alarcón was more persistent. He
worked a tortuous way through the shoals and, with waves dashing over
the deck of his flagship, rode the bore into the channel on August 26.
Unable to sail upward against the current, he anchored his three vessels
behind a protecting point. Lowering two ship’s launches, he ticked off
20 men, some to work the oars, the others to walk along the bank,
pulling two ropes. Eventually Cócopa Indians appeared, highly excited.
None of them understood the _lingua franca_ of his interpreter, but by
signs and a passing out of trinkets, Alarcón in time prevailed on them
to bring food and to help with the cordelling.

On September 6, two months after the battle at Háwikuh, the slow-moving
boats reached, it is believed, a point near the junction of the Colorado
and Gila rivers, the site of today’s Yuma, Arizona. Nearby, Alarcón’s
interpreter found Indians with whom he could converse. Their news was
startling. Far inland, white men were causing trouble among the native
inhabitants. Coronado’s army, surely, which Alarcón had been directed to
supply. But how?

When none of his own men and none of the Indians would agree to carry a
message to Háwikuh, Alarcón decided to return to the ships, take on
fresh supplies, and go to Cíbola himself. During the attempt he advanced
one day’s journey farther upstream than he had gone before, but then
physical difficulties and the growing hostility of the Indians forced
him to halt. After burying the letter Díaz found, he returned to Mendoza
with valuable information about the new land—but, again, no gold.

Having found the letter, Díaz continued upstream for another five or six
days, perhaps to learn whether this was indeed the lower end of the big
river about which the Hopis had spoken. Evidently satisfied that it was,
he sent the Indian footmen of his party and the sheep across the stream
on rafts made of reeds. Riders swam over on their horses, and the whole
party turned back downstream. At some point in those grisly deserts,
Díaz’s greyhound began tormenting a sheep. Díaz ran at the dog with his
lance. The point stuck in the ground. Before he could stop his horse,
the butt pierced his groin. His distraught men put him on a litter,
recrossed the river (it is very low in the fall of the year), and
hurried toward San Gerónimo, to no avail. He died and was buried no one
knows where.

Of the Coronado party’s far-flung explorations, the one that had the
greatest impact on its future was Hernando de Alvarado’s trip to the
Great Plains. It was touched off by the appearance at Háwikuh, late in
August, of a still undefined party of Indians—traders probably, but
perhaps a group who felt they should learn more about what was going on
in Cíbola.

They hailed from the pueblo of Cicuyé, located near a river we call
Pecos in north-central New Mexico. (Cicuyé was the inhabitants’ name for
their town; Pecos, now applied to both the river and the pueblo ruins,
derives from _Pekush_, a word other Pueblo Indians used in speaking of
the settlement.) The travelers were led by an elder whom the Spaniards
called _Cacique_, as if it were a name. (Actually, it was an Arawak word
meaning “chief.” The _conquistadores_ had picked it up first in the West
Indies and later had applied it to Indian leaders throughout Latin
America.) Accompanying Cacique was a husky, talkative young man adorned
with drooping mustaches, unusual in an Indian. Coronado’s people named
him _Bigotes_, or, in English, Whiskers. Bigotes apparently spoke some
Nahuatl, which meant he could converse after a fashion with a few of the
explorers, notably Father Juan de Padilla, who seems to have been going
slowly mad. Another attention-catcher among the visitors was an Indian
from the Great Plains who had a painted picture of a buffalo on his bare

Coronado considered the newcomers a peace delegation. He gave them glass
trinkets, beads, and little bells that entranced them. They responded
with head dresses, shields, and a wooly hide that, they signified, had
been taken from an animal like the one pictured on the chest of one of
their number. As the concept became clearer, pulses jumped, for here was
a firm tie-in with Cabeza de Vaca’s story about the huge “cows” of the
new land and of multistoried cities nearby.

Eager to learn more, Coronado prevailed on the amiable group to lead a
party of his own men eastward to see Cicuyé and its surrounding lands—24
riders, four crossbowmen, Fray Juan de Padilla, and a lay brother, Luís
de Ubeda. In high spirits they struck off through a malpais of
congealed, jumbled, sharp-edged boulders of black lava that made the
riders dismount and lead their suffering animals. This short-cut brought
them to the amazing town of Acucu (today’s Acoma), perched on the summit
of a butte approachable (as far as the Spaniards saw) only by a stairway
carved into the pink sandstone. After an uneasy confrontation at the
base of the cliffs, the Indians of Acucu invited them to climb arduously
to the top, where they were heaped with presents of hides, cotton cloth,
turkeys and other foods.

    [Illustration: The immense headland of El Morro, also known as
    Inscription Rock, was a landmark for western travelers. Lured by the
    shaded pool at the base, they camped nearby and often left a record
    of their passage in the rock’s soft sandstone face. The party that
    Coronado dispatched to Acoma in August 1540 passed well south of the
    mesa and probably never saw it. The main army that ascended the Zuñi
    Valley several months later may have stopped at El Morro, but if so,
    they left no inscriptions. The headland is now the centerpiece of El
    Morro National Monument.]

                   Acoma: Ancient Village in the Sky

    [Illustration: Acoma]

  Acoma embodies a thousand years of Pueblo life. According to an origin
  belief, the first dwellers were guided here by _Iatiku_, “mother of
  all Indians.” Archeologists trace occupation to at least late
  Basketmaker times (AD 700). A few centuries later, ancestral Pueblos
  are living on top in houses of stone and adobe.

  The native word for Acoma is _ʔá-·k′u_, a word of ancient root that
  means “place of preparedness.” In September 1540, Alvarado’s men
  arrived at the great rock and marveled at the sight of the village and
  its people (about 200) on top. “The village was very strong,” said a
  Spaniard, so difficult of access that no army could assault it.

  The Acomans came down to the plain ready to fight the Spaniards. But
  when they saw that the intruders could not be frightened off, they
  offered peace and gave them food and deerskins.

  This illustration is artist L. Kenneth Townsend’s interpretation of
  the village about 1540—a world outside time.

Pleasant encounters characterized the rest of the journey east. Alvarado
sent a cross ahead of his party to the “province” of Tiguex (rendered
Tiwa today), a concentration of 12 pueblos located on both sides of the
Rio Grande in a broad valley at the foot of the abrupt Sandía Mountains.
Thus prepared, retinues of important elders greeted them, decked out in
ceremonial regalia and marching to the shrill piping of bone flutes.
Presumably either Alvarado or Fray Padilla read them the _requerimiento_
that made each town subject to the King of Spain. To this they added the
Church’s authority by erecting in the villages they visited, as far
north as Braba (Taos), large crosses made by Brother Luis de Ubeda with
an adze and chisel he had brought along for this purpose. Reactions were
surprising, perhaps because the Indians also used varieties of the cross
pattern in some of their ceremonies. They eagerly bedecked Brother
Luis’s Christian symbols with prayer feathers and rosettes made of plant
fiber, sometimes climbing on each other’s shoulders to reach the tops of
the cruciforms.

Impressed by Tiguex’s friendly people and stores of food, Alvarado sent
Coronado a message suggesting that the recombined army winter there
rather than in the high, cold lands of Cíbola. Then on he went across
what is now called Glorieta Pass into the valley of the Pecos River.

There on a flat-topped ridge between a tributary stream and the main
river was the finest pueblo the Spaniards had seen. The pattern was
familiar: terraced houses rising four stories high around several
plazas. Additional storage was provided in extensions running out from
some of the corners of the main square. Balconies that provided walkways
for the people on the upper floors served also to shade those beneath.
Ladders running through holes in the walks served in the place of
stairs. A constant need for firewood and building material had
eliminated the forests for a mile or more around the pueblo, opening
fine vistas of the high peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the
north, the red cliffs of Glorieta Mesa to the west, and the lower
Tecolote foothills to the east.

By dominating the main trail linking the Plains Indians and the Pueblos
of the Southwest, Cicuyé had become an even more powerful trade center
than Háwikuh, and its people boasted that no enemy had been able to
conquer them. But what of these bearded strangers who, with their swords
and horses, had overrun Háwikuh in a single rush? Acting perhaps on the
advice of Bigotes and Cacique, the people of Cicuyé decided to be
friendly. An unarmed delegation marched out beating drums, playing on
bone whistles, and carrying gifts. They listened blankly to the reading
of the _requerimiento_, which demanded their submission to the King of
Spain, then let the strangers rest among them for a few days (meanwhile
keeping their young women out of sight), and gladly furnished guides
when Alvarado announced he wished to continue far enough east to see the
“cows” and the people who lived among them.

The guides were Plains Indians. Though they have been called “slaves” of
Bigotes and Cacique, it seems more likely they were traders who, having
been stranded in Cicuyé after bartering their goods, earned their keep
by performing menial tasks while waiting for an opportunity to return
home. One was named Ysopete, and may have been—accounts vary—the youth
whose chest bore the tattoo of a buffalo. A Wichita Indian from central
Kansas, Ysopete designated his homeland as Quivira: thus a new word in
American mythology. With him was El Turco, the Turk, so-called by the
Spaniards “because,” wrote Pedro de Castañeda, “he looked like one.” The
resemblance probably arose from his turban, a headdress used by the
Pawnees of eastern Kansas, or, in the Turk’s language, Harahey.

Shortly after reaching the plains east of the Pecos River, Alvarado’s
explorers found themselves in the middle of a vast herd of buffalo.
Lancing the huge beasts from a running horse and afterwards dining on
the tender, roasted meat of their humps made for high living, but the
sport was soon forgotten in a greater excitement. The Turk said he knew
where there was gold. In Quivira. And even more in Harahey.

    [Illustration: This ancient pueblo kiva at Pecos is one of two
    restored kivas in the park. At center is the firepit and stone draft

Did the Pawnee (if he was a Pawnee) really say that? Some
anthropologists, Carroll Riley and Mildred Mott Wedell among them, have
wondered. As a trader, the Turk knew a smattering of Nahuatl, as did the
missionary friar, Juan de Padilla, one of his chief interrogators. To
this stumbling _lingua franca_, El Turco added the fluent sign language
of the Plains Indians, bits of which the Spaniards were beginning to
pick up, though not as skillfully as they thought. Moreover, the talkers
on both sides were discussing ideas and objects the others know nothing
about. These opportunities for misunderstanding were immeasurably
increased by the determination of Juan de Padilla to find the legendary
Seven Cities of Antilia.

A word about Padilla. He had served as a soldier under Cortés in Mexico
until deciding to enter the Franciscan order. He was hot-tempered,
obstinate, and consumed with the hope of bringing the lost citizens—the
wealthy, Christian citizens—of Antilia back into the mainstream of
Catholicism. He believed implicitly that their gorgeous metropolises lay
somewhere in the north. Meager Háwikuh and the Hopi villages had shocked
him profoundly, but word of true urban centers farther
east—Quivira!—reinvigorated his faith. He talked earnestly to the Turk
about the kind of places he wanted to discover and listened with intense
preconceptions to the trader’s answers.

Out yonder, the Turk told him, was a wide river full of fish as big as
horses. The canoes on the river held 20 or more rowers to a side, and
their lords sat in the sterns under brilliant awnings. This tale
corresponds with what the Gentleman of Elvas said about the canoes De
Soto saw on reaching the Mississippi half a year later. So maybe El
Turco had witnessed, during his wanderings, the Indian flotillas of the
lower Mississippi and the fish as well—gar can reach 10 feet in length.
The chiefs of the canoe tribes, he went on, were lulled to sleep by
little bells of gold (_acochis_) tinkling in the breeze. They ate (a
standard fantasy) from dishes molded out of _acochis_. But _acochis_, it
developed years later, was a Spanish rendering of _hawichis_, a generic
Pawnee term for any metal. Copper, perhaps? It was rare on the Plains
and in the Southwest, but there was some and it was displayed
conspicuously by important men.

That may be all the Turk said at first. But it was not all that Padilla
and the rest of Alvarado’s explorers heard. They harassed the Indian for
proof that he was telling the truth. Frightened, eager to get them off
his back, and desirous, possibly, of causing trouble for Bigotes, whom
he may not have liked, El Turco said he had once owned a bit of
_acochis_, but that Whiskers had taken it from him. The Spaniards
understood that the object was a bracelet.

By then the autumn days were growing cold, and it was time for Alvarado
to rejoin the army assembling in the Rio Grande Valley. On his way back
through Cicuyé, he confronted Bigotes and Cacique with El Turco’s
charge. They said they know nothing about the matter. Reluctant to set
himself up as judge without Coronado’s authorization, Alvarado seized
the pair, put them in chains—as he later did the Turk and Ysopete when
the one-time guides sought to disappear—and hurried out of the pueblo
through a shower of curses and arrows hurled after him by the outraged

In Tiguex, too, affability had vanished. To provide shelter for the main
army, which was moving eastward in sections, an advance group under
hard-fisted Garcia López de Cárdenas had turned the people of Alcanfor
pueblo out of their homes to find whatever refuge they could in
neighboring towns. Coronado, who had taken a portion of the troops on a
swing through the pueblos northwest of Tiguex, had just moved into the
new quarters when Alvarado appeared with his captives. Immeasurably
relieved by the thought that the costly expedition still might succeed,
the general told Padilla, aflame with visions of the Seven Cities, and
Alvarado to get the truth from Bigotes however they could. The
inquisitors took him into a snowy field and set a war dog on him. Partly
it was bluff; the victim was scarred but not disabled. Cacique, too, was
attacked by a dog but less severely because of his age. Throughout the
ordeal, which created deep resentment along the Rio Grande, both men
persistently denied all knowledge of gold.

No dogs were set on the Turk. Though he, along with Ysopete, was also
kept in chains so that he would be on hand when needed in the spring,
his veracity was not questioned. For if the Turk was not believed, the
expedition lost its meaning.

Until spring did arrive, survival was the goal. At first the Spaniards
paid for the blankets, warm clothing, and food they requisitioned.
Later, when the Indians, who had little surplus, held back, foraging
parties roamed far and wide, taking what they desired without
recompense, including in at least one case, a Puebloan’s wife.

    [Illustration: Restored kiva of Kuaua pueblo, now preserved at
    Coronado State Park, Bernillilo, N.M. This village was long thought
    to be the Alcanfor pueblo that Cárdenas occupied. Though excavations
    in the 1930s failed to prove the speculation, the diggers did find
    these extraordinary kiva murals.]

Sensing correctly that the horses were the Spaniards’ main strength, the
Indians struck at one part of the herd, killing two dozen or so animals
and stampeding many others. Such attacks could portend disaster. With
Coronado’s blessing, Cárdenas stormed Arenal, the center of resistance.
After breaching the walls with battering rams, the Europeans lighted
smudge fires around the houses. As the gasping Indians fled into the
open, making signs of peace, mounted horsemen struck down many. Others
were tied to stakes and burned alive—a scene the Turk, Ysopete, and
Bigotes were forced to watch so that they could tell the people of their
villages what happened to rebels.

The episode occurred in December 1540. Shortly afterwards, the main part
of the army appeared, worn out by forced marches through heavy
snowstorms, but excited by rumors of gold, for the Turk, who by then
knew more about the lusts of the invaders than they knew about him, was
elaborating on his tales. With little to talk about but warm weather and
wealth, the force lost its hold on reality and, like De Soto’s,
disintegrated into a kind of insensate organism responding only to the
dynamics of survival. When a new center of resistance developed at a
pueblo called Moho, the Spaniards burned the town after a long siege,
killed many of the men who tried to flee, and made captives (as the
_requerimiento_ threatened) of more than a hundred women and children.

Some ambiguity surrounds Coronado’s part in these and other suppressions
of “revolt.” Though he was the army’s commanding general, he apparently
was never in the field during the moments of greatest carnage. He later
testified he never authorized the burning of settlements or the use of
dogs in battle. He personally took old Cacique back to Cicuyé and handed
him over to his people, promising to release Bigotes as well when the
army went through on its way to golden Quivira.

There was a practical side to the generosity, of course. He did not want
a hostile fort astride his back trail when he made his final advance.
Emphasize _final_. He badly needed a triumph to save himself from
bankruptcy and to make the king’s _audiencia_ understand that what
seemed atrocities had been necessary steps on the way to treasure for
the empire.

    [Illustration: Coronado’s search for Quivira took him as far east as
    central Kansas. Fragments of chain mail armor found at several sites
    point to a Spanish presence in the 16th century. Coronado’s men very
    likely saw country like this near Lindsborg, Kansas.]

The eastern advance began April 23, 1541. (Fifteen days later De Soto,
heading west, sighted the Mississippi.) Bedlam marked much of the
Spaniards’ travel, especially during the daily making and breaking of
camp. There were about 300 white soldiers, other hundreds of Mexican
Indian allies, some with women and children, a herd of a thousand
horses, 500 beef cattle, and 5,000 sheep—or so says Castañeda, possibly
with exaggeration. The people of Cicuyé, seeing the mass advancing under
a shroud of dust and remembering the fate of Arenal and Moho, became
friendly again. They received Bigotes with rejoicing and heaped supplies
on his one-time captors—anything to get the invaders moving on.

For many miles the Turk led the army east toward the Canadian River,
along the path he had shown Alvarado. They saw so many buffalo—charging
bulls killed a few horses—that Coronado would not venture guessing at
the numbers. They fell in with a meticulously described, to the joy of
future anthropologists, band of nomad Querechos, perhaps forerunners of
the Apaches. As spring waned, they found themselves in the Texas
Panhandle, atop the featureless immensity of the Llano Estacado, the
Staked Plains.

At that point, the Turk, who the previous fall had told Alvarado that
Quivira lay northeast, turned southeast. Why? Was he heading toward the
lower Mississippi and the kind of civilization he thought the Spanish
wanted? Or had he, during the pause in Cicuyé, agreed with the people
there to lead the invaders into a trackless part of the plains where
they would become lost and, deprived of maize, would starve.

Ysopete, who seems to have developed an acute antipathy for the Turk and
who was anxious to reach his home in Kansas, warned Coronado he was
being misled. Alvarado voiced suspicions. Coronado, however, clung to
his necessary faith in the Turk until they reached a point where the
abrupt eastern escarpment of the Staked Plains drops into almost
impassable badlands. There at last he put the Turk in irons and turned
the piloting over to Ysopete, assisted by some local Teyas Indians.

All this had taken precious time. To speed things along and to make food
easier to procure, Coronado ordered the main army to return to Tiguex
while he and 30 picked riders, 6 foot soldiers, Juan de Padilla, and a
few mule packers scouted out Quivira.[4]

Traveling light and sparing their mounts, Coronado’s group rode
northeast for a month. They reached the River of Quivira (now the
Arkansas) not far below present-day Dodge City, Kansas, and followed it,
still northeast, to its Great Bend, where they left it. A little farther
on they found the first Quivira (Wichita) village, a cluster of domed
huts built of stout frameworks of logs overlaid with grass, so that they
looked like haystacks. The surrounding land, rolling and fertile,
produced fine corn, pumpkins, and tobacco. But no gold.

There were another 24 or so similar villages in the kingdom of Quivira.
The Spaniards spent nearly a month riding disconsolately among them,
gradually absorbing the truth that riches of the kind they wanted lay
neither here nor, as far as they could learn, further east. (During the
same period., De Soto was arriving at the same opinion while wandering
through parts of Arkansas.) Angry questions were inevitable. Why had the
Turk sought to mislead them both with his tales and his guidance? Under
pressure he said the people of Cicuyé had put him up to it on the
supposition he could lure the invaders to their doom. Perhaps they had.
Or perhaps El Turco was simply trying, in his extremity, to shift blame.

The last straw came when Ysopete, El Turco’s enemy, said the Pawnee was
trying to stir up the Quivirans against the Spaniards. Acting on
Coronado’s orders, a party of executioners strangled and buried him,
secretly at night lest the Quivirans be aroused.

There were no repercussions. Guided by several young Quivirans, the
scouts returned by a direct route to the Rio Grande Valley, arriving in
mid-September. In Coronado’s mind, the absence of treasure was
conclusive, but among those who had not gone to Quivira were many who
believed that if the scouts had continued eastward, they would have
found the Seven Cities. Coronado agreed half-heartedly to make another
attempt the following spring, but fate intervened. During a horse race
with a friend, his saddle girth broke and he was thrown under the hooves
of his opponent’s mount. Though his body gradually recovered, his
spirits did not. After another miserable winter in Alcanfor, he ordered
the army to start home. He was carried much of the way in a litter swung
between two mules hitched in tandem.

    [Illustration: On the great plains Coronado encountered a nomadic
    people he variously called “Teyas” and “Querechos.” They were the
    buffalo-hunting Apaches, who followed the migrating herds, packing
    their goods from place to place on _travois_ hauled by dogs. They
    impressed the Spaniards more than any Indians they had met. “They
    are a gentle people, not cruel,” wrote the expedition’s chronicler
    of the Apaches, “faithful in their friendship, and skilled in their
    use of sign.”]

By dying, De Soto escaped being tried for failure. Not Coronado. He was
investigated for derelictions in connection with an Indian rebellion
that swept his province immediately after his departure, for mistreating
the Indians of Tiguex, and for failing to press on beyond Quivira. Every
enemy he had and a pack of opportunists and publicity hunters in quest
of an audience took the stand against him, often blurting out scandalous
rumors that had nothing to do with the case. Ill, his mind cloudy, he
testified poorly in his own defense. But he had supporters, too, and in
the end, largely through the help of Viceroy Mendoza, he was cleared of
all legal charges. Though he lost the governorship of Nueva Galicia and
some of his property there, he retained his seat on Mexico City’s
council until his health, poor since his return, broke completely. He
died on September 22, 1554, aged 44.

There is a footnote. A few Mexican Indians stayed in Háwikuh and Cicuyé
and a survivor or two were found in those towns when Spanish exploration
of the Pueblo country resumed four decades later. Some religious people
also stayed. One, old Fray Luís de Ubeda, the builder of crosses,
settled at Cicuyé, hoping to spread Christianity by baptizing children.
His fate is unknown.

Fray Juan de Padilla’s tale is more dramatic. Obsessed with saving
Indian souls by bringing them to the Church and dreaming still of the
Seven Cities, he accompanied the young Quiviran guides back to their
homes from the Rio Grande. Helping him drive along some pack mules, a
horse, and a flock of sheep were two Indian _donados_ of Mexico named
Lucas and Sebastián, Andrés do Campo, a Portuguese, a black
“interpreter,” and a handful of servants. (Indians were not allowed to
become full-fledged friars, but if they were “donated” to the Church by
their parents, they could, as _donados_, serve as assistants.)

The missionary adventure was short-lived. While attempting to press on
east of Quivira, the group was attacked by unidentified assailants.
Padilla died, bristling with arrows. Do Campo, the two _donados_, and
perhaps some others escaped. Separated, the _donados_ and do Campo
traveled along different routes from tribe to tribe for at least four
years until at last they reached Pánuco, Mexico—trips as astonishing but
far less famed than the odyssey of Cabeza de Vaca, whose
cross-continental traverse had put all these ill-fated land expeditions
into motion. And so, except for the salt-water adventures of Juan
Rodríguez Cabrillo, the epics had reached full circle.

    [Illustration: Cabrillo’s voyage of discovery carried him past
    California’s Big Sur. In four centuries, this coast has lost none of
    its enchantment.]

                             The Seafarers

History has preserved only dim outlines of the remarkable career of Juan
Rodríguez Cabrillo, who died in 1543 while attempting to complete the
first exploration of California’s coastline. Though he is generally
supposed to have been Portuguese, the evidence is too scanty to be
sure.[5] There is no firm agreement about the cause or place of his
death. He is variously reported to have used two, three, and even four
vessels on his great exploration. Even his name has invited speculation.
It appears on the few surviving documents he signed in the abbreviated
form _Juan Rodz_. (The Portuguese spelling would normally end in “s,”
the Spanish in “z.”) What then of _Cabrillo_, which means “little goat”?
Was it an affectionate nickname that he liked and used informally to
distinguish himself from numerous other Juan Rodríguezes, a name as
common in Hispanic countries as John Smith is in English-speaking
regions? In any event he should be known formally as Juan Rodríguez. The
name Cabrillo is, however, so firmly fixed in California history that it
will be used in this account.

Whatever his name and origin, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo learned seafaring
in his youth. He arrived in Cuba in the second decade of the 1500s,
perhaps as a sailor or, because of his age, as a page. Yet he apparently
joined the Narváez expedition that was dispatched from Cuba to arrest
Cortés as a crossbowman. Like most of his companions, he deserted
Narváez and joined Cortés at Vera Cruz and afterwards survived the
grisly _noche triste_ when the Aztecs drove the Spaniards from their
capital at Tenochtitlán. Immediately thereafter his chance came to
display his nautical skills.

Cortés knew that if he were to recapture lake-bound Tenochtitlán, he
would have to control the causeways that linked the city to the
mainland. That meant building enough small brigantines to overpower the
Aztec war canoes that had harried the retreating Spaniards so
mercilessly during the _noche triste_. According to the
soldier-historian Bernal Díaz del Castillo, Cortés put Cabrillo in
charge of four “men of the sea” who understood how to make pine tar for
caulking ships. But was that all the younger warrior did? Seamen were
needed in all phases of the operation, beginning with the prefabrication
of thirteen brigantines 50 miles from the capital and then transporting
the pieces on the backs of at least 8,000 porters to the shores of the
lake, where they were reassembled.

Each brigantine was manned by a dozen oarsmen, who also handled the
sails. Each carried several crossbowmen and arquebus marksmen. The
little fleet was important enough that Cortés took charge in person. A
fortuitous wind enabled the brigantines to hoist sails and smash with
devastating effect into a massed gathering of Aztec canoes. Afterwards
they fought a dozen fierce skirmishes while protecting the footmen on
the causeway—opportunity enough for a good sailor and fighter to catch
the general’s eye, if indeed Cabrillo was in the fleet, as he well may
have been.

Tenochtitlán regained, the actual conquest of Mexico began. Small bands
of Spaniards, reinforced by numerous Indian allies, radiated out in all
directions. It is known that Cabrillo participated as an officer of
crossbowmen in the conquest of Oaxaca. Later he joined red-bearded Pedro
de Alvarado, cousin of Coronado’s officer, Hernando de Alvarado, in
seizing Guatemala and El Salvador. During those long, sanguinary
campaigns Cabrillo performed well enough that he was rewarded with
_encomiendas_ in both Guatemala and Honduras.

An _encomienda_ was a grant of land embracing one or more Indian
villages. In exchange for protecting the village and teaching the
inhabitants to become Christian subjects of the king, the _encomendero_
was entitled to exact taxes and labor from them. Most grant holders
ignored duties while concentrating on the privileges. What kind of
master Cabrillo was does not appear. Anyway, for the next 15 years his
Indian laborers grew food for slaves he had put to work in placer mines
on his lands and in the shipyards he supervised on Guatemala’s Pacific
coast. He traded profitably with Peru and meanwhile enriched his
personal life by taking an Indian woman as his consort. With her he
fathered several children. Later he brought a Spanish wife—Beatriz
Sánchez de Ortega—into his extensive and, for the time and place,
luxurious household.

Successful shipbuilding helped keep the excitement of the conquistadors
high, for if the world was as small as generally believed, China, the
islands of Indonesia, and the Philippines, discovered by Magellan in
1521, could not be far away. There might be other islands as well, ruled
by potentates as rich as Moctezuma or inhabited by gorgeous black
Amazons who allowed men to visit them only on certain occasions and
afterwards slew them. There was that mythical “terrestrial paradise”
called California in a popular romance of the time, _Las Sergas de
Esplandián_. According to the author, seductive California was ruled by
dazzling queen Calafia, whose female warriors wielded swords of gold,
there being no other metal in the land, and used man-eating griffins as
beasts of burden. What a spot to find!

The ships charged with searching for these places were built of
materials hauled overland (except for timber) from the Atlantic to the
Pacific by Indian bearers. The vessels were small, ill-designed, cranky,
and often did not have decks. Nevertheless, ships sent out into the
unknown by Cortés during the early 1530s discovered a strip of coast the
sailors believed was part of an island. They were the first, probably,
to refer to it as California, perhaps in derision since the desolate
area was so totally different from the paradise described in the
romance. The notion of nearby Gardens of Eden persisted, however, and
interest soared again when Cabeza de Vaca’s party reached Mexico in 1536
with tales of great cities in the north.

Cortés, who considered himself the legitimate _adelantado_ of the north,
tried to cut in on Mendoza’s plans to exploit the Vaca discoveries.
Rebuffed, he defied the Viceroy by dispatching three ships under a
kinsman, Francisco de Ulloa—one of the vessels soon foundered—to search
for a sea opening to the lands of Cíbola. Finding himself locked in a
gulf, Ulloa retreated along the eastern edge of the 800-mile-long
peninsula that we call Baja California, rounded its tip and continued
north to within 130 miles or so of the present U.S.-Mexico border. No
inlets. His ships battered by adverse winds and his men wracked by
scurvy, he returned to Mexico, only to be murdered, it is said, by one
of his sailors.

The only man remaining who could have saved Cortés’s dimming star was
his old captain, Pedro de Alvarado, then governor of Guatemala. Dreaming
of still more wealth in the sea, Alvarado, too, had built a pair of
shipyards on the Pacific coast and had put Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo in
charge of creating vessels out of materials dragged overland by Indians
from the Atlantic. In 1538 Alvarado went to Spain and returned with 300
volunteers and a license to conquer any islands he found in the South
Seas. By then he commanded 13 vessels, several of which had been built
by Cabrillo. In the fleet were three galleons of 200 tons each, one of
which, the _San Salvador_ was owned and piloted by Cabrillo; seven ships
of 100 tons, and three lesser brigantines. If Alvarado had thrown in
with Cortés ... but prudence dictated that he consult first with
Mendoza, who had already invested some money in the building of the
armada. So he took the fleet north to the port of Colima, due west of
Mexico City and left it at anchor there, under Cabrillo’s watchful eye,
while he went inland to dicker with the Viceroy.

In the end Mendoza and Alvarado agreed to share equally in the expenses
and profits of a double venture: they would send some ships west to the
Philippines and some north to Cíbola and then on to a strait called
Anian, which supposedly sliced through the upper latitudes of the
continent. The arrangements, which ignored Cortés’s claims, sent the
aging conquistador hurrying to Spain in 1540 in search of justice, as he
defined justice. He never returned.

Alvarado had no opportunity to exploit the newly opened field. When an
Indian revolt broke out in provinces of Jalisco and Michacán, the
viceroy called on Alvarado to bring in his volunteers as reinforcements.
During an engagement in the summer of 1541, a horse lost its footing on
a steep hillside, rolled down and crushed Alvarado to death.

    [Illustration: Navigation was still in its infancy in Cabrillo’s
    day. Mariners sailed by “dead” reckoning, a method of figuring
    location by multiplying time by estimated speed over a given course.
    The main instruments were the compass, the hourglass, and the
    astrolabe. None of these devices was exact, and charts and
    mathematical tables were often inaccurate. Hence mariners sailed as
    much by instinct as by science. Skill often meant the difference
    between a successful voyage and wreck.]

Onerous problems followed. Alvarado’s estate had to be put in order;
ships had to be refitted; the chaos of an earthquake at Santiago,
Guatemala, headquarters of Cabrillo’s holdings, had to be confronted. In
due time Mendoza acquired control of the fleet, including the use of
Cabrillo’s _San Salvador_, and in 1542 launched the major explorations
previously agreed on. Ruy Lopéz de Villalobos took ships to the
Philippines. On June 27 of that same year Cabrillo headed north with
three vessels: _San Salvador_, which he captained; _Victoria_, commanded
by pilot Bartolomé Ferrer (a pilot ranked just below a captain and was
far more than a mere guide); and _San Miguel_, a small brigantine used
as a launch and service vessel. It was commanded by Antonio Correa, an
experienced shipmaster. More than 200 persons were crowded aboard the
three vessels.[6]

    [Illustration: Compass and astrolabe]

Because both Ulloa and Alarcón had reported that the Sea of Cortés was a
gulf, Cabrillo made no effort to follow the mainland north, but led his
ships directly toward the tip of the peninsula, calling it California
without comment, as though the name was already in current use. For
nearly three months they sailed along Baja’s outer coast, bordered much
of the way by “high, naked, and rugged mountains.” Because they were
looking for a river entrance to the interior and for a strait leading to
the Atlantic, they sailed as close to land as they dared, constantly
tacking in order to defeat the contrary winds and the Pacific’s erratic

About August 20 they passed the most northerly point (Punta del Engaño)
reached by Ulloa. A little farther on, where the land was flat, they
beached the vessels to make some necessary repairs and, while exploring
the neighborhood, found a camp of Indian fishermen. The native leaders,
their bodies decorated with slashes of white paint, came on board,
looked over the sailors and soldiers and indicated “they had seen other
men like them who had beards and had brought dogs, _ballestas_
[crossbows] and swords.” Since there was no mention of horses, the
strangers probably had come from ships. Ulloa’s men of 1539? Hernando de
Alarcón’s of 1540? Or a later party, for there had been talk of
Alarcón’s returning for another venture inland. Mystified, Cabrillo
entrusted the Indians with a letter for the bearded ones.

They relaunched the ships and another month dragged by—crosswinds,
headwinds, calms. Cabrillo took constant sightings of sun and stars with
his massive astrolabe, no small task for he had to stand with his back
braced against a mast for steadiness on the heaving deck while he called
out the readings that were to be recorded in the log. Speed was computed
by throwing a wooden float over the stern and counting the marks
flashing by as the line holding it unwound from its reel. Compasses were
used, but magnetic declinations were not well understood. All of
Cabrillo’s longitudes and latitudes were wide of the mark, but the fault
was not entirely his or his instruments. He began his reckonings at a
point inaccurately observed by others. Even the precise location of
Mexico City was unknown in 1542.

                  _San Salvador_, Cabrillo’s Flagship

    [Illustration: The San Salvador]

  Cabrillo himself built the ship he sailed up the California coast. It
  was constructed between 1536 and 1540 at Iztapa on the west coast of
  Guatemala. This region was something of a shipbuilding center, with a
  reputation for better quality than the yards of Seville, Spain. Much
  of the labor was furnished by Indians and black slaves, whole villages
  of whom were conscripted to portage supplies, raise food, cut lumber,
  trim timbers, and make pitch, rope, and charcoal.

  _San Salvador_ was a full-rigged galleon, with an approximate length
  of 100 feet, a beam of 25 feet, and a draft of 10 feet. The crew
  numbered about 60: 4 officers, 25 to 30 seamen, and 2 or 3
  apprentices, and two dozen or so slaves, blacks and Indians. On the
  voyage to California, _San Salvador_ also carried about 25 soldiers
  and at least one priest. The ship was armed with several cannon.

  Ship’s fare was wine, hard bread, beans, salt meat, fish, and anything
  fresh picked up along the way, all washed down by mugs of wine.
  Officers, who probably brought along food of their own and servants to
  prepare it, ate better. Slaves lived off rations of soup and bread and
  scraps left by others.

    [Illustration: The ship’s cannon probably resembled this Lombardo of
    the period. It fired a stone ball about 3½ inches in diameter.

This illustration by John Batchelor is based on the research of
Melbourne Smith.]

On September 28, three months after leaving Mexico, the ships crossed
the future international border and put into a “very good enclosed port,
to which they gave the name San Miguel.” It was our San Diego.

The Indians there were afraid. That evening they wounded, with arrows,
three men of a fishing party. Instead of marching forth in retaliation,
Cabrillo sailed slowly on into the harbor, caught two boys, gave them
presents, and let them go. The kindness worked. The next day three large
men partly dressed in furs (the “Summary” says) came to the ship and
galloped around to illustrate horsemen killing Indians far inland.
Melchior Díaz, fighting Yumans during his crossing of the Colorado in
the fall of 1540? Or had word of Coronado’s battles at Háwikuh and on
the Rio Grande trickled this far west along the trade trails? In any
event, Europeans were no longer a mystery. On three more occasions
Cabrillo picked up rumors of Spaniards in the interior.

After easily riding out the first storm of the season in the harbor, the
ships sailed on, pausing at Avalon on Santa Catalina Island and later at
the island we call San Clemente. Along the way they remarked on the many
flat-lying streamers of smoke from Indian villages near San Pedro and,
later, Santa Monica Bays (warnings, unrecognizable then, of temperature
inversions and smog). Somewhere near modern Oxnard, they spent a few
pleasant days with Chumash Indians, admiring their big, conical huts and
their marvelous plank canoes. Tantalized by a fresh rumor of Spaniards
near a large river (the Colorado?), Cabrillo sent out a letter in care
of some Indians “on a chance.” But where the river reached the coast, if
it did, he could not learn.

    [Illustration: A deadeye and a triple-purchase block of the type
    used on _San Salvador_. Deadeyes and lanyards were employed in fixed
    rigging, frequently to secure shrouds that supported the mast; on
    the right is a typical setup, by which lines were tightened and
    secured to the vessel’s frame. A block and tackle were essential for
    hoisting heavy yards. Drawings by John Batchelor.]

The coast from Oxnard to Cabo de Galera (our Point Conception) runs
roughly east and west for nearly a hundred miles before bending sharply
north. This stretch was heavily populated. Many canoes traveled
alongside the ships, and there was a great deal of calling back and
forth and exchanges of gifts. A string of islands, also populated,
paralleled the shore, forming what is now called the Santa Barbara
Channel. On October 18 the Spanish ships endeavored to round Cabo de
Galera but were blown by strong winds out to the westernmost of the
Channel Islands, one the mariners had not yet explored. They named it
Posesión (it is now San Miguel) and remained in the shelter of Cuyler’s
Harbor for about a week.

The idyllic days were over—and so, in many critical ways, is agreement
between Juan Páez’s “Summary” of Cabrillo’s log and the testimony about
the trip given in 1560 to the _audiencia_ of Guatemala by Lázaro de
Cárdenas and Francisco de Vargas, both of whom told the court they had
been on the trip.

During the stay on Posesión, according to the “Summary,” Cabrillo fell
and broke his arm near the shoulder. In spite of that, he resumed the
journey, rounded Point Conception, was again driven back, tried once
more, and in mid-November succeeded. The fleet soon reached the rugged
Santa Lucia Range, in which William Randolph Hearst four centuries later
built fabulous San Simeon. For the mariners it was a heart-stopping
area—“mountains which seem to reach the heavens.... Sailing close to the
land, it appears as though they would fall on the ships. They are
covered with snow.”

They may have sailed as far as the vicinity of Point Reyes, a little
north of San Francisco Bay, or they may have gone no farther than
Monterey Bay, where they almost certainly anchored on November 16.
Whatever their northernmost point, they turned back, probably because of
bad weather, possibly because of Cabrillo’s sufferings. On November 23
they once again landed on San Miguel Island. There, sensing he was about
to die, Cabrillo made the pilot, Bartolomé Ferrer (or Ferrelo in some
accounts) swear to continue the explorations. On January 3, 1543, he
perished and was buried on the island.

Or was he? In 1901, an amateur archeologist, Philip M. Jones, found on
Santa Rosa Island, just east of San Miguel, an old Indian _mano_, or
grinding stone, into one of whose sides a cross and the fused initials
JR had been incised. The stone was stored in a basement at the
University of California, Berkeley, until 1972, when Berkeley’s noted
anthropologist, Dr. Robert Heizer, began wondering whether the curiosity
might have once marked Juan Rodríguez’s grave. So far extensive
examinations have determined nothing about this additional mystery.

                     The Chumash: Village Dwellers

  The Indians that Cabrillo encountered along the Santa Barbara coast
  were the village-dwelling Chumash. Their villages were groupings of
  houses, according to a later traveler, with a sweat-house,
  store-rooms, a ceremonial plaza, a gaming area, and a cemetery some
  distance off. The houses were cone-shaped, spacious and comfortable. A
  hole in the roof admitted light and vented smoke from cook fires.
  Apart from the brief skirmish at San Diego Bay, Cabrillo found the
  California Indians a gentle, friendly people.

    Two views of the Chumash:

    [Illustration: An early illustration of two fishermen, from George
    Shelvocke’s _Voyage Around the World_, 1726.]

    [Illustration: Artist Louis S. Glanzman’s drawing of a woman with a
    garment. “They were dressed in skins,” said Cabrillo’s diarist, “and
    wore their hair very long and tied up with long strings interwoven
    with the hair ... attached to the strings were many gewgaws of
    flint, bone, and wood.”]

    [Illustration: This stone found on Santa Rosa Island may have once
    marked the burial place of Cabrillo.]

And then there is the testimony of Cárdenas and Vargas in 1560. They
said, without giving dates, that Cabrillo decided to winter on Posesión,
which the witnesses called La Capitana, and that on stepping ashore from
the ship’s boats he fell between some rocks, broke his shin bone, and
died 12 days later. Vargas adds that the fall resulted from Cabrillo’s
hurry to help some of his men, who were battling Indians. A splintered
shin bone with its possibilities for gangrene sounds more deadly than a
broken arm.

On February 18, 1543, after beating around the Santa Barbara Channel for
more than a month, exploring and taking on wood and water, Ferrer
resumed the trip, as Cabrillo had asked. Standing well out to sea, he
scudded north until on March 1 he was opposite—who knows? Cape
Mendocino? The California-Oregon border? The mouth of the Rogue River?
Wherever they were, the sea, breaking over the little ships with
terrifying fury, was driving them irresistibly toward the
rock-punctuated shore. They prayed fervently, and suddenly the wind
shifted, driving them south “with a sea so high they became crazed.” The
storm separated the ships, _San Salvador_ ran out of food, and the
sailors were in dire straits until they were able to land at Ventura and
later San Diego, where, in addition to food, they also picked up a half
a dozen Indian boys to train as interpreters in case of a repeat

Miraculously, the ships rejoined at Cedros Island off Baja California,
and on April 14, 1543, they reached Navidad, nine and a half months
after their departure. There was no repeat journey. Like De Soto and
Coronado, they had located neither treasure nor shortcuts to the Orient.
After that, no one else wanted to try, and Spain’s first great era of
exploration of the United States came to an end.

    [Illustration: Mission churches were the vanguard of Spanish
    civilization in the Southwest. They softened the imperatives of the
    state and eased inexorable cultural transitions. San Jose Mission
    was established along the San Antonio River in 1720. Still an active
    parish, the mission today is a unit of San Antonio National
    Historical Park, Texas.]


Judged on the basis of what they set out to do, De Soto, Coronado, and
Cabrillo failed. Yet great consequences flowed from their efforts.
Without intending it, they found truth. They exploded myths and gave a
solid anchor to the Spanish imagination. Undistracted, the people of New
Spain could settle down to developing the resources—the mines,
plantations, and ranches—that lay close at hand. It was the perceived
need to protect this new wealth from potential enemies in the
north—France, England, and Russia—and not the frenetic hope of riches
that eventually brought about the extension of the Spanish empire into
what became the southern United States, from St. Augustine, Florida, to
the Franciscan missions of California.

Another discovery was the tremendous size and geographical diversity of
America north of Mexico. After the truth had trickled out about the
forests and savannahs of the semi-tropical southeast, the vast deserts
and striking headlands of the southwest, the spreading central plains
with their immeasurable herds of buffalo, and the coastal mountains and
misty valleys of California, no one would ever again think of the upper
part of the continent as a mere bulb perched on the thin stem of Central
America and Mexico. These vast stretches, moreover, were peopled by a
race never before known. By bringing back the first sound
anthropological descriptions of these people, the Spanish explorers—and
the French and English after them—gave the philosophers of Europe new
food for speculation concerning the human condition.

Most important, they, along with the explorers of other nations, brought
a sense of release and fresh possibilities to the Old World. Their
reports arrived at a time when custom-bound Europe was struggling to
shake off the constraints of ancient traditions, outworn feudal
institutions, and an almost total lack of specie for implementing the
quickening trade of the Renaissance—an average of less than $2 in
currency for each of the continent’s 100 million people. In the Americas
there were no mossy customs, but there were precious minerals and raw
materials beyond imagination awaiting development. Development by anyone
with daring and ingenuity. The great _conquistadores_ had all arrived
poor and unknown and then had discovered within themselves explosive
energies for meeting unprecedented physical challenges. Such strengths,
once they were turned from brigandage into constructive endeavors,
became the hallmark of the new continent. Pointing the way were Cabeza
de Vaca, De Soto, Coronado, and Cabrillo, all doing their great work
within a decade. It is indeed an era to remember.

                            A Guide To Sites

    [Illustration: Repaired olla]

    [Illustration: Pueblo entrance]

                        Following the Explorers

Though nothing spectacular survives, travelers can find many rewarding
historical places that conjure up the Spanish _conquistadores_ and the
natives they encountered. The four principal NPS sites are described
briefly in the following pages. Many other parks and several Indian
communities also preserve landscapes directly associated with the
explorations. They are listed below. All these places are well worth a
visit and several are worth a journey to anyone interested in the
beginnings of North American history.

  Ocmulgee National Monument       Ancient mounds built by people of
  Macon, GA 31201                  the Mississippian culture. De Soto
                                   passed through this region in 1540.
  Etowah Indian Mounds State       De Soto visited this town (called
  Historic Site                    Itaba) in August 1540.
  Cartersville, GA 30120
  Mound State Monument             A farming town which flourished AD
  Moundville, AL 35474             1000-1500; representative of the
                                   powerful chiefdoms found by De Soto.
  Parkin Archeological State Park  Believed to be a center of an
  Parkin, AR 72373                 important chiefdom (Casqui) visited
                                   by De Soto in 1541.
  Coronado State Monument          A Pueblo village visited by the
  P.O. Box 95                      Coronado expedition in 1540.
  Bernalillo, NM 87004             Polychrome murals in the kiva are a
                                   prize exhibit.
  Pueblo of Acoma                  A fortress town inhabited by
  P.O. Box 309                     descendents of the Pueblo people
  New Mexico 87034                 who befriended the Alvarado party
                                   in 1540.
  Zuni Pueblo                      The original Cibola of Spanish
  Box 339                          legend. Háwikuh, the place of
  Zuni, NM 87327                   Coronado’s first encounter with
                                   Pueblo Indians, is now a ruin.

                   De Soto National Memorial, Florida

    [Illustration: De Soto’s army may well have come ashore at a spot on
    Tampa Bay that resembled this beach within the park. Below: replica
    armor and an early marker commemorating De Soto’s bold march.]

De Soto National Memorial commemorates the first major European
penetration of the southeastern United States. De Soto’s purpose,
sanctioned by the King, was to conquer the land Spaniards called _La
Florida_ and settle it for Spain. He failed in both objects. There was
no rich empire in the north, only a succession of chiefdoms, and his
practice of looting villages and grabbing hostages alienated native
inhabitants and turned his march into a siege. The lasting significance
of the expedition was the information it yielded about the land and its
Mississippian people in a late stage of that remarkable civilization.

The park was established in 1949 on the south shore of Tampa Bay. De
Soto’s fleet may very well have sailed by this point in May 1539 to a
landing spot farther around the bay. Attractions at the park include
replicas of the type of weapons carried by the expedition and thickets
of red mangrove, the so-called Florida land-builder. The journals tell
of De Soto’s men cutting their way inland through mangrove tangles.

For more information about the park and its programs, write:

  De Soto National Memorial
  P.O. Box 15390
  Bradenton, FL 34280

    [Illustration: Map]

    [Illustration: Demonstrations in winter give insight into military
    life and the Spanish world-view in the 16th century.]

                  Coronado National Memorial, Arizona

    [Illustration: The Huachucas rise like islands above the surrounding
    Sonoran desert. This landscape is little changed from Coronado’s

  Following an ancient Indian trade path up the San Pedro valley, the
  Coronado expedition crossed the present Mexico-United States border
  just east of this park. Hikers on the Coronado Peak Trail looking down
  Montezuma Canyon can see in the far distance cottonwood trees that
  mark Coronado’s line of march.

  The national memorial was established in 1941, 400th anniversary of
  the expedition. Its setting high in the Huachuca Mountains is a
  fitting place to recall the first major Spanish _entrada_ into the
  American Southwest in all its color and fire: the gathering of the
  army at Compostela, arduous marches across wilderness, encounters with
  native cultures of great subtlety and art, discovery of a land of vast
  expanse and power, and above all the record of where they had been and
  what they had seen.

  This is a park to see on foot. Trails lead to good viewing points and
  connect with others in Coronado National Forest, which surrounds the

  For information about the park and its programs, write:

  Coronado National Memorial
  4104 E. Montezuma Canyon
  Road, Hereford AZ 85615

    [Illustration: Map]

    [Illustration: The expedition traveled along the San Pedro River,
    east of the park.]

               Pecos National Historical Park, New Mexico

    [Illustration: The kiva and the mission church frame the two worlds
    of the Pecos Indians. During the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, Pecos
    Indians destroyed the first mission and built this kiva (now
    restored) within the mission’s convento. For a few years they
    followed their religion undisturbed.]

The ruins of Pecos Pueblo and Spanish missions of the 17th- and
18th-centuries crown a small ridge overlooking the Pecos Valley in upper
New Mexico. At the time of the Coronado _entrada_, the pueblo was a
giant apartment house, several stories high, with a central plaza, 600
rooms, and many kivas—home to 2,000 souls. The village prospered because
it commanded the trade path between Pueblo farmers of the Rio Grande and
buffalo hunters of the Plains. Pecos was a crossroads of commerce and
culture, and its people grew adept at trade and war. The arrival of
Franciscan priests in the 1600s with Spanish custom, religion, law
inexorably altered Pueblo life. The Spaniards built a spacious mission
church on the south end of the ridge, and a second but smaller one when
the first church was destroyed in the Pueblo revolt of 1680. Pecos
continued as a mission for more than a century. Disease and Comanche
raids spelt decline in the late 18th century. The last inhabitants—fewer
than 20—drifted away in 1838.

The park is 25 miles southeast of Santa Fe. Among its features are the
ruins of the ancient pueblo, two restored kivas, and adobe mission
walls. For information on the park and its programs, write:

  Pecos National Historical
  P.O. Drawer 418
  Pecos NM 87552-0418

    [Illustration: Map]

    [Illustration: Extensive pinyon-juniper forests once surrounded
    Pecos Pueblo.]

    [Illustration: The vessel is a 16th-century olla. The Spanish spur
    dates from the 17th century.]

                 Cabrillo National Monument, California

    [Illustration: The Old Point Loma Lighthouse, built 1854.]

    [Illustration: Gray whale migrations in winter are an annual

  This park honors the man who led the first European exploring
  expedition along the California coast. Sailing under a Spanish flag,
  Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo departed on 27 June 1542 from the port of
  Navidad on Mexico’s west coast. He commanded the ship _San Salvador_
  (with a crew of 60); with him was _Victoria_, and another smaller
  vessel. His objective: “to discover the coast of New Spain.” Three
  months later he hove to in “a very good enclosed port”—San Diego Bay.
  This was the mariner’s first landfall north of Baja peninsula.
  Cabrillo himself died and was buried in the Channel Islands. His crew
  went on to explore as far north as Oregon, seeing new landmarks and
  new peoples, not all friendly.

  The park is located on Point Loma, within the city of San Diego.
  Features include a heroic statue of Cabrillo, dramatic views of the
  Pacific and San Diego Bay, and Old Point Loma Lighthouse, a 1850s
  structure. In winter, the point is a good place to see the annual
  migration of the gray whale.

  For information about the park and its programs, write:

  Cabrillo National Memorial
  P.O. Box 6670
  San Diego CA 92166

    [Illustration: Map]

    [Illustration: The 14-foot sandstone statue of Cabrillo is the work
    of Portuguese sculptor Alvaro DeBree. Completed in 1939 for the San
    Francisco World’s Fair, it was eventually relocated here. The
    portrait is conjectural; there is no known likeness of the

                            Essay on Sources

If any of the leading _conquistadores_ who march through these pages
kept a running account of his adventures, the journal has been lost.
Except for occasional letters, the closest we can come to firsthand
information are reminiscences written or dictated by lesser participants
many years after the events described. Some supplementary material also
comes from court testimony. More immediacy is lost by the fact that most
English readers must depend on translations of varying accuracy and
fluency. There are several translations of all main documents.

The first of the New World adventurers to reminisce in print was Cabeza
de Vaca. His _Relación ..._ appeared in 1542. Buckingham Smith’s English
translation, first printed in 1855, was later included with several
other documents in _Spanish Explorers in the Southern United States,
1528-1543_, edited by Frederick Hodge and Theodore Lewis (New York,

The same work also contains Smith’s translation of _Narratives of the
Career of Hernando de Soto_ by an anonymous Hidalgo (gentleman or
knight) of Elvas, Portugal, first published in Portugal in 1557 by a
survivor of the long march. Smith’s translation, somewhat modified,
reappeared in Gaylord Bourne’s two-volume _Narratives of the Career of
Hernando de Soto_ (New York, 1904). Bourne’s volumes also contain
reminiscences by Rodrigo Ranjel, De Soto’s secretary, and Luis de
Biedma, the latter a spare account. The longest and lushest of the De
Soto tales is _The Florida of the Inca_, the Inca being Garcilaso de la
Vega, son of a Spanish father and an Incan mother. He drew his
information from the oral accounts of three of De Soto’s soldiers and
used his active imagination to embellish what he heard. The first
complete English translation, by John and Jeannette Varner, appeared in
1951 (reprinted by University of Texas Press, 1980). Miguel Albornoz has
published a novelized biography, _Hernando de Soto, Knight of the
Americas_, translated by Bruce Boeglin (New York, 1986).

Some secondary material, which uses anthropological, archeological, and
geographic research to shed light on the early explorations, should be
mentioned. One instance: _Final Report of the United States De Soto
Commission_, John R. Swanton, chairman (Washington, D.C., 1939). The
commission sought to retrace De Soto’s zigzagging route. Jeffery P.
Brain’s new edition of the _Final Report_ for the Smithsonian Press
(Washington, D.C., 1985) revises Swanton’s conclusions in many places.
Another interesting formulation is “De Soto Trail: National Historic
Trail Study, Draft Report” (NPS, 1990). In an appendix Charles Hudson
offers a new reconstruction of De Soto’s route. The articles in _First
Encounters: Spanish Explorations in the Caribbean and the United States,
1492-1570_, Jerald T. Milanich and Susan Milanich, eds., (Gainesville.
1989), fill out our understanding of New World societies during the
first decades of exploration.

Still the best introduction to Coronado and his expedition is Herbert E.
Bolton’s classic biography, _Coronado: Knight of Pueblos and Plains_
(1949). George P. Hammond and Agapito Rey have brought together in
_Narratives of the Coronado Expedition_ (Albuquerque, 1940) all the
primary documents, including testimony from Coronado’s trial, that
anyone except specialists needs to know about the first Spanish
_entrada_ into the American Southwest. The chief items are the
_Relacións_ of Juan de Jaramillo and Pedro de Castañeda. Castañeda’s
_Relación_ also appears in Hodges and Lewis.

A sampling of the historical dispute over Friar Marcos’s doings in the
Southwest can be found in articles by Henry Wagner and Carl Sauer in the
_New Mexico Historical Review_, April 1937, July 1937, and July 1941.
See also Cleve Hallenbeck, _The Journey of Fray Marcos de Niza_ (Dallas
1949). The place of the religious in the Coronado expedition is examined
by Fr. Angelico Chavez of New Mexico in _Coronado’s Friars_ (Academy of
American Franciscan History, Washington, D.C., 1968). John L. Kessell’s
_Kiva, Cross, and Crown_ (National Park Service, Washington, D.C., 1979)
looks at the relationships between the Coronado expedition and the key
pueblo of Pecos. Albert H. Schroeder has analyzed Coronado’s route
across the Plains in _Plains Anthropologist_, February 1962. Carroll L.
Riley, in the _New Mexico Historical Review_, October 1971, and _The
Kiva_, winter 1975, shows that in Coronado’s time long trade routes and
hence a rudimentary system of verbal communications, fortified by signs,
linked Cíbola (Háwikuh) and the Indians of Mexico. Other trade trails
carried goods and knowledge from the interior across the Colorado River
to the Pacific and out onto the Plains. A new account of Coronado’s
march is Stewart L. Udall, _To the Inland Empire_ (New York, 1987).

The principal sources on Cabrillo (Juan Paez’s “Summary Log” and court
testimony about Cabrillo’s accomplishments) were published by the
Cabrillo Historical Association in _The Cabrillo Era and His Voyage of
Discovery_ (San Diego, 1982). The best biography, Harry Kelsey’s _Juan
Rodriguez Cabrillo_ (The Huntington Library, 1986), is based on
extensive new research in sources.

★GPO: 1992—312-246/40005


[1]Paul Horgan in _Great River_ identifies Rio de las Palmas with
    today’s Rio Grande. Other historians favor Soto la Marina, about 30
    miles north of Tampico, formerly Pánuco.

[2]Such is the conclusion of the U.S. De Soto Commission headed by John
    R. Swanton (_Final Report_, Washington, D.C., 1939), which was
    appointed by President Roosevelt to study the explorer’s route to
    commemorate the 400th anniversary of the landing, an opinion
    affirmed by two other scholars, Charles Hudson and Jerald T.
    Milanich. For a contrary opinion that favors the Fort Myers area,
    see R.F. Schell, _De Soto Didn’t Land at Tampa_, Fort Myers Beach,
    1966. Jeffery P. Brain in a new edition of the report for the
    Smithsonian Press (1985) concludes that the most we can now say is
    that De Soto landed somewhere along the central Florida gulf coast,
    “between the Caloosahatchie River to south and the vicinity of Tampa
    Bay to the north.” It is conceivable that future archeological
    studies will narrow down the landing site.

[3]Because Vásquez was the family name of the _conquistador_, the young
    man should properly be called Vásquez. This account, however, will
    follow established American custom and call him Coronado.

[4]Among the 30 riders was Juan de Zaldívar. As a consequence, Zaldívar
    had to leave behind a captive Indian woman he had picked up in
    Tiguex. Rather than return there she fled down a fork of the Brazos
    River that rises in the Staked Plains. Somewhere near present Waco,
    Texas, she perhaps met the survivors of De Soto’s party as they were
    trying to reach Pánuco, Mexico, by land. See page 50 above. If true,
    and it seems likely, it was the only contact between the two groups,
    who at one point were within 300 to 400 miles of each other.

[5]Too few records have survived for anyone to say with certainty where
    Cabrillo was born or grew up. Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, a
    Spanish chronicler, identified him in 1615 as Portuguese. Set
    against this is the testimony of the explorer’s grandson in 1617
    that “My paternal grandfather, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo came [to the
    New World] from the Kingdoms of Spain....” The NPS has adopted the
    view that Cabrillo was Portuguese. Many historians, including
    Cabrillo’s most recent biographer Harry Kelsey, aver that he was
    Spanish. David Lavender believes that the question is both elusive
    and unimportant. What is certain, Lavender points out, is that like
    many adventurers from other countries Cabrillo spent a good part of
    his life in the service of Spain and opened new lands to Spanish
    settlement. _Ed._

[6]Recent scholarship has shown that accounts which say Cabrillo
    commanded two ships on his northern journey, as most accounts do,
    were following mistakes made by the first Spanish historians of the
    expedition. Unfortunately, Cabrillo’s own log has disappeared and is
    known only through an often vague, chronologically mixed-up summary
    attributed to a Juan Páez, of whom little is known. Better sources
    are the testimony given by witnesses in legal actions brought by
    Cabrillo’s heirs to recover property taken from his estate after his
    death. For details see Harry Kelsey’s biography, _Juan Rodríguez
    Cabrillo_ (1986). and the Cabrillo Historical Association’s 1982
    publication, _The Cabrillo Era and His Voyage of Discovery_,
    especially articles by Kelsey and James R. Moriarty, III.

                         National Park Service


  Alabama Museum of Natural History 51 (palette stone)
  Andersen, Roy 68-69; 82
  Batchelor, John 90-91, 92, 93
  Bell, Fred 100
  Cook, Kathleen Norris 84
  Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection 28 (bottom)
  Florida Division of Historical Resources 43 (all except olive jar)
  Florida Museum of Natural History 43 (olive jar)
  Glanzman, Louis S. 16; 18-19; 34-35; 44; 64-65; 94 (Chumash Indian)
  Gnass, Jeff 104; 108 (lighthouse)
  Gray, Tom Back cover (upper left); 36; 102-3
  Harrington, Marshall 108-9 (San Diego, gray whale)
  Hudson, Charles 46-47 (route information)
  Huey, George H. H. 107
  Huntington Library 57
  Jacka, Jerry Back cover (upper right); 58-59; 73; 79; 80; 106
  Lanza, Patricia 77
  Library of Congress 4 (De Bry woodcut); 23 (from _Das Trachtenbuch des
          Christian Weiditz_); 31 (from Gomara’s _History_); 38; 94
  Mang, Fred 96
  Muench, David 54; 98-99
  Museo Civico Navale di Genova-Pegli 15 (portrait)
  Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon 14
  National Geographic Society 24 (artist, Felipe Davalos); 26-27
          (Michael A. Hampshire)
  National Maritime Museum, Greenwich 88
  Odyssey Productions (R. Frerck) 20; 22; 28 (top)
  Palazzo Tursi, Genoa 15 (coat-of-arms)
  Parkin Archeological State Park, Arkansas 48
  Peabody Museum, Harvard University 50
  Smithsonian Institution 51 (stone axe)
  Till, Tom 105
  Townsend, L. Kenneth 54-55, 74-75
  University of California, Berkeley, Lowie Museum of Anthropology 95
  Westlight (Bill Ross) Back cover, lower left; 109

                    U.S. Department of the Interior

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responsibility for American Indian reservation communities and for
people who live in Island Territories under U.S. Administration.

                      De Soto, Coronado, Cabrillo
                  Explorers of the _Northern Mystery_

    [Illustration: De Soto National Memorial]

    [Illustration: Coronado National Memorial]

    [Illustration: Pecos National Historical Park]

    [Illustration: Cabrillo National Monument]

_Here is the story of the first explorations of North America. _De Soto,
Coronado, Cabrillo: Explorers of the Northern Mystery_ traces in
graceful text and illustration the journeys of three captains of
discovery into New Spain’s northern frontier between 1539 and 1543.
Their encounters with a new land and its native peoples mark the
beginnings of American history._

                          Transcriber’s Notes

—Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook
  is public-domain in the country of publication.

—Relocated all image captions to be immediately under the corresponding
  images, removing redundant references like ”preceding page”.

—Inverted the Timeline to better fit a vertical flow model.

—Silently corrected a few palpable typos.

—In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by

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