Francisco Vasquez de Coronado
Francisco Vasquez de Coronado
Born around 1510 in Salamanca, Spain, Francisco Vasquez, better known as Coronado, explored large regions of the American Southwest, including Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. His name would forever link Mexico with the United States.
As one of the younger sons of a wealthy father, he was raised and educated in good circumstances but without hope of inheriting any portion of the family estate. The daughters received dowries to ensure suitable marriages but the younger sons were sent out to make their own ways in the world. Coronado chose Mexico; his brother, Juan, opted for Costa Rica.
Coronado received a warm welcome from Viceroy Mendoza and began his career with the government of Mexico. He was said to be attractive, popular, and competent, and within two years he married the beautiful (and extremely wealthy) Dona Beatriz, daughter of Alonso de Estrada.
He moved up the political ladder quickly. By the time he was 28 years of age, he was appointed Governor of Nueva Galacia with all its responsibilities and the need to distinguish himself. The opportunity arose when Fray Marcos de Niza (?-1558) returned from an exploratory mission to New Mexico and told eager listeners of a wealthy, golden city named Cíbola. The story generated the same kind of unreasonable excitement that inspired Jason to chase the Golden Fleece, thousands of Americans to the goldfields of California, and millions of today's population to the lottery machines.
Coronado saw this as his opportunity to replenish the government coffers and to secure his position in his adopted country. He assembled 340 Spanish, 300 Indians, and 1,000 Native American and African slaves and left Mexico City with the entire force in 1540. They headed north toward the territory that was west of today's New Mexico. When the impressive body of explorers reached Cíbola, they found nothing to resemble the golden city described by Fray Marcos. Instead, they met and easily overcame a modest pueblo of Zuni Indians. Further searches revealed six other Zuni encampments, but nothing to indicate the existence of any treasures to be taken home.
After sending Fray Marcos back to Mexico in disgrace, Coronado sent out various expedition parties to map the source of the Colorado River, to confirm the rumor of another great river in the west and to pick up supplies he was expecting from Mexico City. The search for the second "great river" led to the discovery of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
When most of the journals, reports, maps, and other records were finally assembled, it appeared that Coronado accomplished far more than what was originally believed. He acquainted himself with many Indian tribes besides the Zunis and was the first foreigner to see the famous City in the Sky, built by and inhabited by the Acoma tribe near present-day Albuquerque. Reportedly, Coronado and his men were the first explorers to pass through the Texas panhandle, then Oklahoma, finding the Cimarron and Arkansas rivers on their way to eastern Kansas. Most of the territories they passed through and mapped appear in American atlases as the south central and far southwest portions of the United States. As a matter of record, though Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo (1498?-1543) is credited with discovering California, Coronado preceded him by two full years.
When Coronado returned to Mexico in 1542, he was accompanied by only 100 of his original force. The quest for the City of Gold was a dismal failure but Coronado retained his post as Governor of Nueva Galacia for another two years. He died in 1554, only 44 years of age but living in retirement.
Today, the name "Coronado" is in widespread use throughout the United States. Everything from state monuments, forests, bridges, parks, cities, and schools, to beaches, automobiles, industries, and hotels bear the name that unites the United States with its southern neighbor, Mexico.