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The Conqueror of the Southwest: The Epic Tale of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado
The Epic Tale of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado. There was an extraordinary series of encounters between Spanish explorers and native North Americans during the late 1530s and early 1540s. The path Hernando de Soto cuts through parts of ten future states in the Southeast is a path of death and destruction. Over a thousand miles along the Pacific coast of the Americas were sailed and charted by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo.
There was also an expedition led by Francisco Vázquez de Coronado in the Southwest from 1540 to 1542, which went from the northern part of New Spain into the present-day territories of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Coronado was born in 1510 in Salamanca, Spain. He was the son of a wealthy merchant.
His chances for advancement at home were slim since he was the second of four sons, and the family estate had already been promised to his older brother, so he had no chance of advancing at home. After being taken into the retinue of Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza in 1535, he moved to Mexico to continue his military career.
As a result of his relationship with the viceroy, Coronado was appointed governor of Nueva Galicia, which included parts of the modern Mexican states of Sinaloa and Nayarit as well as most of Jalisco. In 1538, led by the Franciscan Father Marcos de Niza, Mendoza and Coronado led a small exploring party, including Cabeza de Vaca’s famous slave Esteban, into the unknown territory of the north, inspired by the incredible journey of Cabeza de Vaca. As Esteban was killed at Cbola, a Zuni town, Marcos returned to tell a wonderful story comparing New Mexico’s material wealth with that of Mexico and Peru’s. Probably, Fray Marcos never actually visited Cbola for fear that he would meet the same fate as Esteban.
As a result of Coronado’s glowing recommendation, however, a much larger expedition was outfitted. This force consisted of 300 Spaniards, more than 1,000 conquered Native Americans from throughout Mexico, and about 1,500 horses. Additionally, a group of Franciscans, led by Fray Marcos, accompanied the expedition as well. Coronado was one of many young Spaniards who had never embarked on a journey of reconnaissance or conquest before, such as many of his companions. He branded the Franciscan a liar and sent him back to Mexico when he found out the discrepancy between Marcos’s description and reality.
A large army led by Francisco Vázquez de Coronado attacked and subdued the town, turning it into a base of operations for future explorations. Hopi pueblo was seized by one Spanish party. Another party struck out in the direction of the great river to the west when they heard about it. The Grand Canyon didn’t hold anything of value for them despite the fact that they came across it. As part of the Coronado expedition, other members explored the vast territory to the east, including the pueblos of New Mexico. The tense relations between Coronado and the Pueblo people deteriorated further during the winter of 1540-1541 when Coronado moved his headquarters to the Rio Grande near Albuquerque.
In response to the Spanish’s appropriation of food, clothing, and women, the Pueblo revolted. In retaliation, Coronado’s lieutenant Garca López de Cárdenas burned the town at Arenal, smoked out the residents, and burned them at the stake. Pueblo people refused to submit despite the destruction of thirteen native towns. A search for the alleged wealth of Quivira, in present-day Kansas, led Coronado to move his main force into the northeast in the spring of 1541. Spanish referred to that country’s natives as Turks, and Coronado relied on their word.
West Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas were explored, but no cities of note or signs of the country’s alleged wealth were found. In fact, Coronado’s army was instructed by the Pueblo to starve to death by the Turk. Discouraged, the Spanish strangled the Turk and retraced their steps southward. Coronado spent years defending his actions in Mexico City after the expedition was considered a failure.
During the expedition, he may have sustained a riding injury, which contributed to his death in 1554. Francisco Vázquez de Coronado died in prison after being tried in Spain for crimes against the American natives by his right-hand man Cácrdenas. Coronado’s explorations of the Southwest region increased Spanish knowledge immensely, despite not finding large inland empires or great wealth. The Spanish, however, irreparably damaged their reputation and relationship with the Pueblos during this process.