Coronado Expeditions

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CORONADO EXPEDITIONS. From 1540 to 1542, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, the governor of Nueva Galicia, commanded an entrada (entrance) licensed by the Spanish Crown. Funded by Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza and the governor's wealthy wife, Beatriz de Estrada, the expeditions explored the mysterious country north of the Rio Grande. The thirty-year-old conquistador donned a plumed helmet and gilded armor as he marched his army away from Compostela, Mexico, on 22 February 1540. The rank and file included 336 Spaniards, more than 800 Tlaxcalan warriors, and 6 Franciscans. The Franciscan Fray Marcos de Niza vowed to guide them to "the greatest and best discoveries," particularly the seven golden cities Native informants called Cíbola. They reached the Zuni pueblo of Hawikuh on 7 July. The Zunis attempted to ambush Coronado's party, but the guns and steel swords of the army overwhelmed them. However, the village of stone and adobe hardly matched the Spanish expectations for splendid wealth.

Resolved to continue his search for fortune, Coronado in 1541 dispatched expeditions in all directions. Don Pedro de Tovar led one scouting party across the Painted Desert and eventually encountered the Hopis. García López de Cárdenas reconnoitered to the Colorado River and observed the Grand Canyon near Moran Point. To support Coronado's expeditions, the viceroy ordered three ships commanded by Hernando de Alarcón up the western coast of New Spain. Alarcón, who failed to make contact with any of Coronado's other parties, investigated the banks of the Colorado River before returning home. Coronado sent Hernando de Alvarado beyond the "sky city" of Acoma into Tiguex, where he encountered the modest dwellings of the Tiwas. The Spanish pushed on to Cicuye and dubbed one unusual captive from Pecos "El Turco" because his Apache headdress reminded them of the Turks in Europe. El Turco told them of Gran Quivira, a rich land to the east. Buoyed by the tale, Coronado camped for the winter at Alcanfor.

In April 1541, Coronado followed El Turco, his new guide, through the Llano Estacado. He took a small detachment of thirty mounted men along the great bend of the Arkansas River to the mud huts of the Wichitas, where the Spaniards became convinced of El Turco's duplicity. Before the Spanish garroted him, El Turco admitted he had exaggerated to rid his homeland of their presence. Finally disillusioned, Coronado followed his compass to the Rio Grande for the winter and departed for Mexico City the following spring.

Although they discovered little of interest to the booty seekers of the age, the Coronado expeditions extended Spanish influence in the New World. The reconnaissance, coupled with the near simultaneous wanderings of Hernando de Soto, inaugurated the conquest of the North American borderlands.


Bolton, Herbert E. Coronado: Knight of Pueblos and Plains. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1990.

Castañeda de Nájera, Pedro de. The Journey of Coronado, 1540– 1542. Translated and edited by George Parker Winship. Golden, Colo.: Fulcrum Publishers, 1990.

Weber, David J. The Spanish Frontier in North America. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992.

Brad D.Lookingbill

See alsoConquistadores ; Exploration of America, Early ; Explorations and Expeditions: Spanish ; Western Exploration .

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Coronado Expeditions

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