Coronado, Francisco Vásquez de

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Coronado, Francisco Vásquez de

February 25, 1510

Salamanca, Spain

September 22, 1554

Mexico City, Mexico

Spanish conquistador

"Neither gold nor silver nor any trace of either was found."

A member of Coronado's exploration party.

Francisco Vásquez de Coronado was a Spanish conquistador (Spanish military leader) who was duped into believing that he could find fabulous cities filled with gold in the New World (a European term for the continents of North America and South America). In 1538, as governor of New Galicia (a province northwest of present-day Mexico City), Coronado headed an expedition to locate these cities full of gold and claim their treasures for Spain. During his three-year search for riches he explored parts of the Rio Grande River Valley and Kansas, and became the first European to reach Palo Duro Canyon (near present-day Amarillo, Texas). Yet Coronado returned empty-handed and was later accused of brutal treatment of Native Americans in his army. However, he was eventually exonerated of the charges.

Seeks "Seven Cities of Cibola"

Francisco Vásquez de Coronado was born in 1510 in Salamanca, Spain, into a family of minor nobility. He sailed to Mexico in 1535 as a member of the party of Antonio de Mendoza, the first viceroy (one who rules in the name of the king) of New Spain, as Mexico was then called. After arriving in Mexico, Coronado married Beatriz de Estrada, the wealthy heiress of the former treasurer of New Spain. He took part in crushing an uprising in the Spanish royal mines and in October 1538 was named governor of New Galicia, a province on the west coast of Mexico. As governor he had jurisdiction over Spanish explorations on the northern frontier.

Coronado and the Spanish conquistadors

Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, one of the greatest explorers in history, was a Spanish conquistador. The conquistadors were Spanish military leaders who ruled the New World during the sixteenth century. The first conquistadors were Francisco Pizarro, who conquered Peru, and Hernán Cortés, who conquered Mexico. Antonio de Mendoza, who ruled Mexico and Peru, was also a conquistador.

As a viceroy (one who rules in the name of the king), Mendoza continued the conquest begun by Cortés and established the foundation for Spanish rule in the New World for years to come. Although most conquistadors were considered ruthless, Mendoza was more civilized. Known as "the good viceroy," he encouraged education and religion, improved conditions for Native Americans, and brought the first printing press to America. He also expanded exploration northward.

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca (whose name means "cow's head" in Spanish) was another well-known Spanish conquistador. He arrived in the New World in 1528. The story of his escape from Native Americans with the Moroccan slave Estevanico and two other men led to the legend of the fabulous "Seven Cities of Cibola." This tale grew after Fray Marcos de Niza wrote a fantastic version of Cabeza de Vaca's adventures. Inspired by the words of Fray Marcos, Coronado attempted but failed to discover the cities. Cabeza de Vaca eventually became governor of the Rio de la Plata region in South America.

Soon after taking over his duties, Coronado outfitted an expedition led by Estevanico (see entry), a "Moorish" (part African) slave, and Fray Marcos de Niza, a Franciscan friar (member of a Catholic religious order). They were heading north to verify reports of the fabulous "Seven Cities of Cibola" that had been brought to Mexico by Estevanico, who had been

[Image not available for copyright reasons]

a guide on an earlier expedition headed by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca.

Fray Marcos and Estevanico left the town of Culiacán (the present-day capital of Sinaloa, a state in Mexico) on March 7, 1539. He returned alone about five and a half months later, since Estevanico had been killed at the pueblo (Native American communal dwelling) of Hawikuh. Fray Marcos said he had seen the very rich and very large city of Cibola from a distance. It is believed that he was referring to Hawikuh, which in actuality is a small pueblo. Since his own journal was contradictory, Fray Marcos embellished the story and ignited what would be an ill-fated expedition. At the time, however, Coronado was impressed enough to make plans to travel with Fray Marcos to Mexico City and bring back a report to Mendoza.

Discovers deception

Mendoza had long been interested in exploring the territory north of Mexico and was convinced by the friar's stories that further exploration might bring him wealth and power. He decided to equip an expedition at royal expense and named Coronado to head the venture. Coronado assembled a force of about three hundred Spaniards and nearly a thousand Native Americans at the west coast town of Compostela. Mendoza traveled to Compostela to review the expedition in person before it started out on February 25, 1540. The viceroy also sent two ships up the Gulf of California under the command of Hernando de Alarcón to support the expedition from the sea. Losing contact with Coronado, the ships sailed two hundred miles up the Colorado River.

Coronado traveled with his army to Culiacán. On April 22, he left with an advance force of about one hundred Spaniards, a number of Native Americans, and four friars. They proceeded up the Yaqui River valley (in present-day New Mexico), where they founded the town of San Geronimo. Leaving one of his officers, Melchor Díaz, in charge, Coronado took a group of soldiers toward the Gila River (in present-day New Mexico and Arizona). Díaz went up the Colorado near present-day Yuma, Arizona, and crossed into territory that is now California. He became the first European to explore this region. Meanwhile, Coronado and his men had crossed the Gila River and entered the Colorado Plateau. They reached Hawikuh in what is now western New Mexico in early July. The Spanish had no difficulty in capturing the town, but once inside they realized it did not come close to matching Fray Marcos's glowing description of wealth and riches. As a result, Coronado sent the friar back to Mexico in disgrace. One observer reported, "such were the curses that some hurled at Fray Marcos that I pray God may protect him from them."

On July 15 Coronado sent Pedro de Tovar and Fray Juan Padilla northwest to a province called Tusayan. They encountered the ancient villages of the Hopi (a Native American tribe) in what is now northern Arizona. Then they heard about a great river—the Colorado—to the west. The following month Garcia López de Cárdenas led a group in search of the river. Finally, they reached the edge of a great canyon and became the first Europeans to see Grand Canyon, one of the world's natural wonders.

The "Tiguex War"

In late August 1540 Coronado sent out another party to the east under the command of Pedro de Alvarado. They reached the pueblo of Acoma, perched high on a rock, where the inhabitants gave the Spaniards food. Alvarado then went to the town of Tiguex in the Rio Grande valley (near present-day Bemalillo). When he reported back that Tiguex had plenty of food supplies, Coronado decided to make his headquarters there. During the winter of 1540–41 the demands of the Spaniards for supplies, as well as conflict over women, led to the "Tiguex War." After capturing one pueblo, the Spanish burned two hundred of their captives alive. Several Spaniards were also killed during various engagements, and Coronado was wounded many times.

Coronado foiled again

Alvarado then traveled to the east to Cicuye (on the Pecos River), where he captured a Plains Indian (perhaps a Pawnee), whom the Spanish named "the Turk." The Turk told stories of the land of Quivira that was ruled by a powerful king and contained abundant quantities of gold. On April 23, 1541, Coronado left Tiguex to find Quivira and headed eastward into the Great Plains, where the Spanish saw enormous herds of buffalo. When they finally observed the meager material possessions of the nomadic Plains tribes, the Spanish realized they had been duped once again. A frustrated Coronado sent his main force back to the Rio Grand with large supplies of buffalo meat. He then took command of a small detachment that headed north and east for forty-two days, probably reaching central Kansas near the present-day town of Lyons. A member of the party reported that "Neither gold nor silver nor any trace of either was found." When the Turk confessed that he had lied in order to draw the Spaniards into the interior, some of the soldiers strangled him to death. (It is said that Coronado opposed his execution.)

The People

The story of Coronado is told in The People (1996), a Public Broadcasting System (PBS) television documentary on exploration and discovery in the American West. The program is available on videocassette.

Coronado charged with brutality

Now completely defeated, Coronado returned to Tiguex in October 1541. Shortly thereafter he was seriously injured in a riding accident and lingered near death for some time. By early 1542 the Spaniards were ready to return to Mexico. They left Tiguex in April and arrived in Mexico City in late autumn. Mendoza was angry that the expedition had not resulted in the discovery of treasures, but he gradually realized that Coronado had done his best. Mendoza reappointed Coronado governor of New Galicia in 1544.

In May 1544, however, a royal judge began a formal investigation of accusations that Coronado was guilty of brutality to the Native Americans. He was relieved of his duties as governor but was cleared of all charges two years later. He then became an official in the municipal government of Mexico City. In 1547 Coronado testified in favor of Mendoza during an investigation of the viceroy's rule. In reward for his services, he was given a land grant in 1549. Coronado's health continued to decline, however, and he died in Mexico City on September 22, 1554.

For further research

Bolton, Herbert E. Coronado: Knight of the Pueblos and Plains. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1964.

"Francisco Vásquez de Coronado." Available July 13, 1999.

Jacobs, William Jay. Coronado: Dreamer in Golden Armor. New York: F. Watts, 1994.

The People. Public Broadcasting System, 1996. Videocassette recording.

Syme, Ronald. Francisco Coronado and the Seven Cities of Gold. New York: Morrow, 1965.

Coronado, Francisco Vásquez de (1510?-1554)

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Francisco Vásquez de Coronado (1510?-1554)



Expedition. In 1536 Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and the three other survivors of the Panfilo de Narváez expedition finally reached Mexico City after wandering through present-day Texas for eight years. Though these men had seen no treasure during the time they spent living among the Indians, they had heard rumors of several large, wealthy cities located to the northwest of Spains Mexican possessions. Their story of an Indian civilization akin to the Aztec Empire elicited great interest among the Spaniards living in Mexico City, particularly the viceroy of New Spain, Antonio Mendoza. De Vacas account persuaded Mendoza to send one of his protégés, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, governor of the province of Nueva Galicia, to locate and take possession of what many Spaniards had concluded were the fabled Seven Cities of Cíbola. Coronado was forbidden from indiscriminately attacking Indians or looting their wealth as Hernando Cortés had during his conquest of the Aztecs, however, because Emperor Charles Vs recently promulgated New Laws expressly prohibited such practices.

Zuni and Hopi. Coronados large expedition of 250 cavalry, 80 infantry, 1,000 Indians, and thousands of horses, cows, and sheep departed from Culiacán, the capital of Nueva Galicia, in the spring of 1540. Moving ahead with a small advanced guard, he reached Háwikuh, a Zuni pueblo, in July. Despite Coronados peaceful intentions, fighting broke out almost immediately between the Indians and the Spanish. Equipped with muskets, armor, and horses, his men made short work of it: they killed a dozen Zunis and easily occupied the town. An expedition sent north to the Hopi Indians pueblos likewise resulted in a brief engagement that ended in the Spanish occupying a town. Coronado thus had little trouble dealing with the militarily inferior Pueblo Indians. The economic results of the campaign were disappointing, however; neither the Zunis nor the Hopis possessed precious metals or stones. Coronado nonetheless sent a messenger to New Spain ordering the expeditions main body to join the advanced guard in Pueblo territory.

The Tiguex War. With cold weather approaching, Coronado decided to winter in the part of the Rio Grande valley inhabited by the Tiwa Indians. At first, relations between the Spaniards and the Indians were amicable. Intolerable pressures on the Native Americans food supply and sexual assaults on Indian women soon antagonized the Tiwas, however, and led them to attack the Spaniards horses. Believing that he had to crush the Tiwas decisively to intimidate other tribes, Coronado retaliated by savagely sacking the biggest Tiwa settlement and burning thirty Indians to death at the stake. His men then besieged the large and well-defended pueblo of Moho, which capitulated in March 1541 due to lack of food. Coronado enslaved the survivors and distributed them among his men.

Disappointment. Still hoping to find treasure, Coronado sent out small parties in various directions. He led one group eastward into present-day Kansas in 1541 in search of the Quivira Indians, who were rumored to possess large amounts of gold. Coronado succeeded in finding the Quivirans but discovered that they possessed nothing of value. After spending the winter of 15411542 in the Rio Grande valley, Coronado led his men back to Mexico. Shortly after his return, Coronado faced charges of having violated the New Laws by abusing Indians and by taking goods from them. He eventually cleared himself of these charges but lost his position as governor of Nueva Galicia. He died soon afterward.

Legacy. Coronados expedition had important and lasting consequences for both the Spanish and the Pueblo Indians. For the Pueblos, Coronados invasion demonstrated that the Spanish were a hostile, arrogant people who retaliated viciously for any infraction and who enjoyed a vast military advantage due to their horses, muskets, and iron weapons. For the Spanish, meanwhile, Coronados foray into the Southwest ended the belief that North America contained a wealthy, easily plundered Indian civilization akin to the Aztec or Incan empires. Spain consequently lost interest in the region until settlers under the leadership of Juan de Oñate established the colony of New Mexico in 1598.


Elizabeth H. John, Storms Brewed in Other Mens Worlds: The Confrontation of Indians, Spanish and French in the Southwest, 15401795 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1975);

Alfonso Ortiz, ed., Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 9: Southwest (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1979).

Francisco Vásquez de Coronado

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Francisco Vásquez de Coronado

Francisco Vásquez de Coronado (1510-1554) was a Spanish explorer and colonial official who is credited with one of the first European explorations of Arizona, New Mexico, and the Great Plains of North America.

Francisco Vásquez de Coronado was born in Salamanca, the second son of Juan Vásquez de Coronado, a wealthy nobleman. As a younger son, Francisco could not inherit the family estates. He therefore went to the court of Charles I, where he secured a place in the service of Don Antonio de Mendoza, newly appointed viceroy of Mexico.

After his arrival in Mexico in 1535 Coronado rose rapidly in viceregal favor. In 1537 he married the wealthy Doña Beatriz de Estrada, daughter of the former treasurer of New Spain. In 1538 Mendoza appointed the young Coronado governor of the northern province of Nueva Galicia.

These were exciting times. The famous survivor of the Narváez expedition, Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, arrived at the viceregal court with stories he had heard of seven great cities in "Cíbola," far to the north. Mendoza, anxious to locate and conquer this reputedly golden land, dispatched Father Marcos de Niza and Cabeza de Vaca's companion Estevánico north. When Father de Niza returned in 1539 with a report that he had found the cities, the viceroy immediately outfitted a great expedition and named Coronado to lead it.

In February 1540 the army of more than 230 mounted Spanish gentlemen, 62 foot soldiers, several friars, and nearly 1,000 Indian allies headed north from Compostela. After a long march across northern Mexico and southern Arizona the army reached the Zuñi pueblo of Hawikuh in July. This spot Father de Niza identified as Cíbola, but to the disappointed Spaniards it was only "a little unattractive village" of mud and stone. Although discouraged by the lack of golden cities, Coronado dispatched several small exploring parties. One group marched west to the Colorado River, while another, under Pedro del Tovar, succeeded in reaching the Moqui (Hopi) pueblos north of Zuñi. A third group under García López de Cárdenas pushed northwest to the Grand Canyon. A fourth party under Hernando de Alvarado explored the upper Rio Grande. In the winter of 1540 Coronado moved his army to the Rio Grande and conquered the Tiguex pueblos near present-day Albuquerque.

At the Tiguex villages the Spaniards heard of a rich land called Quivira somewhere to the north. In the spring of 1541 Coronado set out to try to find this fabled kingdom. Marching eastward across the Pecos River, he turned north onto the Llano Estacado, the great grassland plains of North America; but when he arrived at Quivira on the Arkansas River, he discovered only a poor Indian village. Sickened by his failure to find gold and riches, Coronado left three missionaries to convert the Indians of Quivira and returned to Tiguex, where he gathered the remnants of his army and turned homeward. He arrived in Mexico in 1542, a bitter and disappointed man. For the next 2 decades the Spaniards forgot the northern lands and concentrated on developing their Mexican possessions.

In 1544 Coronado faced charges of neglect of duty and cruelty to the Indians and lost the governorship of Nueva Galicia. He returned to Mexico City, where he managed his estates and served as regidor, or member of the city council, until his death.

Further Reading

The diaries and documents pertaining to Coronado's expedition can be found in such collections as George P. Winship, ed., The Coronado Expedition, 1540-1542 (1896; repr. 1964), and George P. Hammond and Agapito Rey, eds., Narratives of the Coronado Expedition, 1540-1542 (1940). The best biography of Coronado is Herbert E. Bolton, Coronado: Knight of Pueblos and Plains (1949). Also helpful are Arthur Grove Day, Coronado's Quest: The Discovery of the Southwestern States (1940; repr. 1964), and his brief Coronado and the Discovery of the Southwest (1967). □

Coronado, Francisco Vásquez de

views updated May 23 2018

Coronado, Francisco Vásquez de (1510–54) Spanish explorer. He went to Mexico in 1535, and in 1540 headed an expedition to locate the seven cities of Cibola, reportedly the repositories of untold wealth. He explored the w coast of Mexico, found the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon, followed the route of the Rio Grande, and then headed n through the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma and e Kansas.

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