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Friar Marcos de Niza

Friar Marcos de Niza

Friar Marcos de Niza (ca. 1500-1558), Franciscan missionary in Spanish America, set the route to the fabled "Seven Cities of Cibola" for the expedition of Coronado.

The birthplace of Marcos de Niza is unknown, but he was either French or Italian, probably the former. In his youth he lived at Nice in the duchy of Savoy. He became a Franciscan and went to Santo Domingo as a missionary in 1531, later going to Guatemala, Peru, and Mexico City.

The reports of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and three companions, who walked from the Texas coast to Culiacán in 1536, raised hopes in Mexico of fabulous riches to the north. Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza prepared the expedition of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado to investigate. However, in 1539 he dispatched Marcos de Niza with Estabanico (who had been with Cabeza de Vaca) to explore in advance. The friar sent his companion ahead. Estabanico reached the Zuni pueblo of Hawikuh in western New Mexico and was killed by Indians. Marcos learned of his companion's death but pressed on, escorted by friendly Mexican Indians, until he saw Hawikuh from a neighboring hillside. He gained an "incredibly distorted impression of Hawikuh," and it has been suggested that the sun shining on the dwellings made them look like gold and silver.

Marcos believed he had seen one of the "Seven Cities," originally located by legend on an Atlantic island but now thought to be westward. Returning to Mexico, he described the place as larger than Mexico City, with houses 10 stories high whose doors and fronts were made of turquoise.

Mendoza needed no more convincing. The Coronado expedition, with the friar as guide, departed early in 1540. They reached Hawikuh on July 7 and captured it. But the soldiers were enraged on finding nothing but a poor Indian village. They cursed the friar so vehemently that Coronado, not wishing to have the blood of a churchman on his hands, sent him back to Mexico City. The accompanying message stated, "Friar Marcos has not told the truth in a single thing that he said."

The rest of the friar's career proved uneventful. He apparently became stricken with paralysis and lived first at Jalapa and then in a monastery at Xochimilco. Bishop Juan de Zumárraga gave him aid until his own death in 1548. Nothing more is known other than that the friar died on March 25, 1558.

Further Reading

Mendoza's instructions to Marcos de Niza and the friar's report of Hawikuh were edited and translated by George P. Hammond and Agapito Rey, Narratives of the Coronado Expedition, 1540-1542 (1940). All that is known of Marcos is discussed in Herbert Eugene Bolton, Coronado: Knight of Pueblos and Plains (1949). Also useful is A. Grove Day, Coronado's Quest: The Discovery of the Southwestern States (1940). A brief account which contains the essential information is George P. Hammond, Coronado's Seven Cities (1940).

Additional Sources

Hallenbeck, Cleve, The journey of Fray Marcos de Niz, Westport, Conn., Greenwood Press 1973, 1949; Dallas, Tex.: Southern Methodist University Press, 1987. □

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Marcos de Niza

Marcos de Niza (mär´kōs dā nē´sä), c.1495–1558, missionary explorer in Spanish North America. A Franciscan friar, he served in Peru and Guatemala before going to Mexico. There he headed an expedition (1539) planned by Antonio de Mendoza, who had been excited by Cabeza de Vaca's stories of rich Native American pueblos. Fray Marcos traveled north at least into SE Arizona and perhaps into New Mexico. Probably duped by Zuñi legends, the friar described with enthusiasm and great inaccuracy the fabulous riches of the Seven Cities of Cibola. They proved to be only fables when Francisco Vásquez de Coronado led (1540) his soldiers there. Fray Marcos was dismissed as guide and sent back in disgrace.

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Niza, Marcos de

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Niza, Marcos de

NIZA, MARCOS DE

Franciscan priest, discoverer of Arizona and New Mexico; b. c. 1495; d. Mexico City, March 25, 1558. Fray Marco was probably a native of Nice, hence a Savoyard and neither French nor Italian. He was already a priest, a member of the Friars Minor of the Regular Observance, and reputed a learned man when, in 1531, he left Europe for New Spain. Nothing is known of his earlier life.

While being detained at Hispaniola he heard about Peru, which was then being conquered, and volunteered his services for that region. Once commissioned by the commissary general of the Indies to act in his name, Fr. Marcos de Niza, as vice-commissary, became the leader of the first Franciscan friars to enter Peru, then comprising Ecuador and the present Peru. He participated in two expeditions there between 1531 and January 1535. His memorandum, executed at Santiago del Quito (Riobamba), Aug. 29, 1534, might be regarded as the official proclamation of the existence of the Custody of the Name of Jesus.

From April 20, 1535, to at least Sept. 25, 1536, Fray Marcos was in Guatemala. From there he proceeded to Mexico, arriving before April 4, 1537. In 1538 he was commissioned to explore the land north of Mexico; upon his return in August of 1539, he submitted a report, his Relación,

De Niza is credited with discovering present-day New Mexico. In 1540 he accompanied Coronado on his conquering expedition. From 1540 to 1543 Fray Marcos served also as provincial of the Province of the Holy Gospel in Mexico. Fray Marcos, crippled by paralysis induced by the hardships suffered during two of his later expeditions, was sent to the warmer climate of Jalapa, where Mendieta met him in 1554. Shortly before his death he asked to be brought back to Mexico City to be laid to rest.

Bibliography: a. bandalier, The Discovery of New Mexico by the Franciscan Monk Friar Marcos de Niza in 1539, trans. m. t. rodack (Tucson 1981). c. hallenbeck, The Journey of Fray Marcos de Niza (Dallas 1987).

[g. j. undreiner]

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