Meanwhile other Spanish explorers were trying to pierce the Northern Mystery by way of the Pacific slope.
West as well as east, and somewhere in the north, must lie the waters of the Strait of Anian, that direct passage from the Atlantic to China, if indeed the northwestern territory did not actually abut on Asia. So reasoned the Spanish dons. To the northwest, some said, was an island inhabited solely by giantesque Amazons. Inland were the Seven Cities, situated on a great height. Their doors were studded with turquoises, as if feathers from the wings of the blue sky had dropped and clung there. Within those jeweled cities were whole streets of goldsmiths, so great was the store of shining metal to be worked.
Indians were ever great story-tellers, delighting to weave the tales most pleasant to their hearers. p80 It was an Indian slave of Nuño de Guzmán who regaled that credulous official of New Spain with fanciful description of the Pueblo towns of New Mexico. The myth led Guzmán north, to the ruthless conquest of Sinaloa and the founding of Culiacán, still the capital city of that Mexican state.
Then, in 1535, came Antonio de Mendoza from Old Spain to be the first Viceroy of New Spain. Mendoza had soon set his heart on the acquisition of those Seven Cities. The arrival of Vaca and his companions in the City of Mexico, out of the mysterious north, in July, 1536, added fuel to Mendoza's desires. An expedition must be fitted out immediately, to be led by Vaca's companion Dorantes — since Vaca himself was resolved to go to Spain. This plan came to nothing for the time being, but Vaca left the Moor Estevanico to serve Mendoza.
Three years passed before Mendoza could prepare another expedition. Francisco Vásquez de Coronado was then (1539) made Governor of New Galicia and military head of the force designed to spread the power of Spain northward. To the Franciscan Fray Marcos de Niza was given the spiritual leadership of the expedition. Fray Marcos p81 had already seen strenuous service, for he had been with Pizarro in the conquest of Peru. He had also written several works about the country. He had high acquirements in theology, cosmography, and navigation; and he was a hardy traveler, having tramped from Guatemala to Mexico.
To Culiacán Fray Marcos and Coronado journeyed in company. Coronado there halted to establish his authority over the outposts of New Galicia. Fray Marcos, with the Moor Estevanico, some Mexican Indians, and a few other natives who had come with Vaca's little band to Mexico, went on. Estevanico, having wandered through parts of the northern land with Vaca, was relied upon not alone to guide the friars but to insure the friendship of the Indians.
At Vacapa, somewhere in Sonora, Fray Marcos paused and, "on Passion Sunday after dinner," sent Estevanico ahead to learn what he could. Should Estevanico hear tidings of but a fair country he was to send to the friar a small cross; for great tidings, a cross "two handfuls long"; and, should he discover a country richer than Mexico, he was to send a great cross. Imagine the pleasurable agitation in the friar's breast, when, four days later, some of the Indians who had gone with p82 the Moor came in bearing a cross "as high as a man" and a message urging Fray Marcos to follow at once. Estevanico had found a new people, who had told him of "the greatest thing in the world." He was now at a town but thirty days' journey from the turquoise doors of the Seven Cities which, he had learned, were called Cíbola; and beyond Cíbola there were other rich provinces, each one of which was "a much greater matter than those seven cities." So, as ever in these tales, the splendor within reach was already dimmed by the splendor beyond! To Cíbola,1 therefore, the friar set out on the second day after Easter.
He is supposed to have gone directly north up the Sonora valley, though it may have been the Yaqui valley. As he went, from time to time he planted crosses; for "it appeared to me suitable from here on to perform acts of possession." He heard from the Indians on his route more details of Cíbola and of the cities beyond. And he was much surprised to learn that the natives of those p83 cities dressed in habits of gray wool like his own. These were perhaps the blanket garments made of narrow strips of rabbit fur and yucca fiber which are still woven by the Moqui Indians. Through the valley of the San Pedro in Arizona Fray Marcos continued northward; then, finding that the stream led him too far west, he veered to the northeast and reached the Gila, above its confluence with the San Pedro. Here he learned that Estevanico, with three hundred Indians, was crossing the plains to the northeast, where the Apaches now have their reservation. After a rest, on May 9, 1539, Fray Marcos continued his march to Cíbola, which lay fifteen days beyond. His way now led upward, through rugged country, to a pass not identified, between the Sierra Mogoyon and Sierra Blanca ranges. Bad news met him on the Apache plains. An Indian of the Moor's escort, returning in flight, told him that Estevanico had been seized and made prisoner by the natives of Cíbola.
We know very little about the end of Estevanico, this African who was one of the earliest explorers of North America and had wandered over a greater part of its wilderness than any man before him or than any man for long after him. The Arab was one of a fearless race, loving freedom no doubt as p84 his tribesmen of the Moroccan deserts today love it; and only in the desert could he enjoy it. Lifted again out of the thrall of slavery, which had fastened on him after his great journey from Florida, and given command of some three hundred savages to discover the cities of argent traceries and turquoise doors, he had made his tour like an Oriental chieftain, or like a Moorish prince before the Conquest, with pomp and display and the revels of power. Gifts were brought him and tribute was exacted. His tall, dusky body soon flaunted robes dyed with the colors of the rainbow. Tufts of brilliant feathers and strings of bells dangled from his arms and legs. He carried a magical gourd, decorated with bells and with one white and one scarlet feather; and sent it ahead of him to awe the natives in each town where he demanded entrance. A score, perhaps, of Indians formed his personal retinue and bore on their shoulders the provisions, the turquoises, mantles, and feathered ornaments accumulated on the road. Flutes of reeds, shell fifes, and fish-skin drums played his march across the sunlit mesas. And an ever increasing harem of gayly bedecked young women swelled the parade of Estevanico, the black Berber chief, on his way to the city set in silver and blue. p85 Perhaps, as has been suggested, the belled and feathered gourd was "bad medicine" to the Indians of Hawikuh; for, when Estevanico's messenger presented it with the announcement that their lord was come to make peace and to cure the sick, the Indians became enraged and ordered the interlopers out of their country on pain of death. Estevanico, disdaining fear, went on. Just outside the walls of Cíbola he was seized. The "sun was about a lance high" when the men of Hawikuh suddenly launched their arrows upon his followers. Some of those who, fleeing, looked back, thought they had seen Estevanico fall beneath that thick hail of darts.
"It is to be believed that a long time ago, when roofs lay over the walls of Kya-ki‑me, when smoke hung over the house-tops, and the ladder-rounds were still unbroken in Kya-ki‑me, then the Black Mexicans came from their abodes in Everlasting Summerland. . . . Then and thus was killed by our ancients, right where the stone stands down by the arroyo of Kya-ki‑me, one of Black Mexicans, a large man, with chilli lips [lips swollen from chilli peppers]. . . . Then the rest ran away, chased by our grandfathers, and went back toward their country in the Land of Everlasting Summer." p86 So, in part, runs the Zuñi legend, today, concerning the coming and the death of Estevanico, the Black.2
Fray Marcos was not only depressed by the news of Estevanico's capture, but he was in danger. The Indians accompanying him, from various villages along his route, had looked on him as a hollow yman, invulnerable, under the special protection of the morning and evening star, whose sign he made with his fingers in prayer and erected in wood along his way; for so did they construe the cross, their own symbol for the mystical glory heralding the dawn and the night. Now they were afraid. The friar, after prayer for guidance, opened his bales and, by means of gifts, entreaties, and threats, persuaded them to go on. Even information that surely pointed to Estevanico's death — brought by more Indians, wounded and bleeding — did not deter him. He would at least have a glimpse of that city, if he might not enter it. So from a plateau, looking north, Fray Marcos saw the pueblo of Hawikuh on a bare hill outlined against the high timbered flank of the Zuñi Mountains. Through the rarefied air, to which p87 the monk's eyes were not accustomed, the pueblo appeared much nearer than it was and therefore much larger. He raised a mound of stones, surmounted by a little cross, "having no implements at hand to make it larger," and took possession of the city he could see — and of all cities beyond which he could not see — and named them the New Kingdom of San Francisco. Then he hastened after his Indians, who had not waited for him, on the homeward trail. "I returned," he says, "with more fear than victuals." In spite of the changed demeanor of the tribe on his way back, he reached New Galicia in safety.
In the City of Mexico the descriptions by Fray Marcos of the great city, as he believed he had seen it with his very eyes, caused a tumult. Another Mexico had at last been found! The discovery was proudly proclaimed from every pulpit. It passed from mouth to mouth among the cavalier adventurers, dicing and dueling away their time and impatient for richer hazards and hotter work for their swords. Such a tale loses nothing by oft telling. It may be that the enthusiasm of his audiences even confused the monk's memory somewhat, as he told the story over and over, even to his barber; for he pictured those distant cities as a p88 paradise on earth, until nothing was now thought of by any man but how to reach Cíbola and be rich forevermore.
In a few weeks Mendoza had enlisted a company of three hundred to serve under Coronado. The majority were of the gentry. Coronado assembled his men at Compostela, near the Pacific coast in New Galicia, in February, 1540; and thither went the Viceroy the long journey from Mexico to send them off with appropriate pomp. It was the most brilliant review yet held in New Spain. Most of the cavaliers were astride of the best horses from the stock farms, and had equipped them with colored blankets trailing almost to the ground, besides leathern armor and silver-mounted harness. Their own mail was polished like woven silver, and the tips of their lances, held erect, flickered in the sun like sparks of fire. Their helmets were of iron or tough bullhide. In their train marched the foot soldiers armed with crossbow and arquebus, some, too, with swords and shield. The third division of the army was composed of several hundred Indian allies, their naked bodies splashed with black, ocher, and vermilion; and their faces, painted terribly for war, surmounted by the green and yellow and crimson plumage of parrots. At p89 royal expense the expedition was equipped with pack-mules, cannon, and a thousand horses. For food on the way and to stock the new country there were droves of cattle and sheep, goats, and swine. Leading all this splendor, and dulling it by his own brighter glory, rode Coronado in golden armor. If the gray robe of Fray Marcos showed but dingily amid this military brilliance, yet it drew the awed glances of the spectators no less than the golden scales of Coronado's coat. This shining army, after all, had still to see what the humble monk in the drab gown had already seen — the magical cities of Cíbola.
To coöperate with Coronado by water, the seaman Alarcón was sent up the coast with three vessels. Alarcón sailed to the head of the Gulf of California and ascended the Colorado River •eighty-five leagues, perhaps as far as Yuma. Coronado divided his land forces. Leaving the main body at Culiacán in charge of Arellano, who was later one of the unsuccessful adelantados of Florida, Coronado pushed on ahead with Fray Marcos and his brother monks, eighty horse, twenty-five foot soldiers, some Indians and negroes, and part of the artillery. A month later he passed through Vaca's Town of the Hearts; and, continuing p90 north over the divide into the San Pedro valley, he turned eastward and skirted the Santa Catalina mountains to a small Indian settlement in the vicinity of Fort Grant. Here he turned northward again, crossed the Gila, and, after fifteen days of hard march, reached the Zuñi River. •Some twenty miles farther on, Coronado and his men caught their first glimpse of Hawikuh. The disappointing sight was like a dash of icewater. Says Castañeda, the historian of the expedition: "When they saw the first village, which was Cíbola, such were the curses that some hurled at Friar Marcos that I pray God may protect him from them. It is a little, crowded village, looking as if it had been crumpled all up together."
The ruins of Hawikuh, •fifteen miles southwest of Zuñi, today bear out the description of the disgusted Castañeda. This first of the Seven Cities, however, was not to be taken without a fight. The Zuñi warriors hurled stones on the Spaniards. The golden-plated Coronado was felled and would have been killed but for the heroism of one of his officers who "bestrode him like a good knight, shielded him and dragged him to safety." But the Spaniards could not be resisted. They entered the village and found p91 food there, which was the thing they were most in need of.
Coronado renamed this hill stronghold Granada — possibly in irony — and sojourned there until recovered from his wounds. A deputation of Indians came to him to make peace, while the rest of the tribesmen removed to their war towns on Thunder Mountain. Once more fit for the saddle, Coronado set about the pacification of the province; then sent an expedition to Tusayán, the present Moqui towns in Arizona, and messengers to Mexico with reports to Mendoza. With them went Fray Marcos, "because he did not think it was safe for him to stay in Cíbola, seeing that his report had turned out to be entirely false, because the Kingdoms he had told about had not been found, nor the populous cities, nor the wealth of gold, nor the precious stones which he had reported, nor the fine clothes, nor other things that had been proclaimed from the pulpits." Thus did Castañeda, the historian, twenty years later bitterly enumerate the list of disappointments experienced by himself and others of Coronado's army in the province of the Seven Cities.
While Coronado was at Hawikuh, or "Granada," detachments of his army were penetrating p92 other sections of the new country. Arellano, with the main body left at Culiacán, was marching to Cíbola. Melchior Díaz, one of Coronado's ablest scouts, was trying to make junction with Alarcón's ships. Díaz touched the Colorado River some distance above its mouth. He found letters left by Alarcón, and met the giant Yuma Indians — perhaps in the vicinity of the city of Yuma, where the Gila River empties into the Colorado. These Indians were then as now of unusual height and powerfully made, so that one man could lift a log which several Spaniards could not move. They went stark naked and in cold weather carried firebrands to keep them warm. So Díaz called the Colorado Río El Tizon, or Firebrand River. Here Díaz died from an accidental lance thrust, and his band returned to Sonora.
Meanwhile a report from the Moqui country came to Coronado of a great river flowing far down between red mountain walls. This news inspired Coronado to send López de Cárdenas — the "good knight" who had saved his life — to have a look at it; and here is the description of Grand Canyon by Cárdenas, the first white man to view the great gorge of the Colorado, as set down by Castañeda:
p93 After they had gone twenty days' march they came to the banks of a river, which are so high that from the edge of one bank to the other appeared to be •three or four leagues in the air. The country was elevated and full of low twisted pines, very cold, and lying open toward the north. . . . They spent three days on this bank looking for a passage down to the river, which looked from above as if the water were six feet across, although the Indians said it was •half a league wide. It was impossible to descend, for after these three days Captain Melgosa and one Juan Galeras and another companion, who were the three lightest and most agile men, made an attempt to go down at the least difficult place, and went down until those who were above were unable to keep sight of them. They returned about four o'clock in the afternoon, not having succeeded in reaching the bottom on account of the great difficulties. . . . They said they had been down about a third of the way and that the river seemed very large from the place which they reached. . . . Those who stayed above had estimated that some huge rocks on the sides of the cliffs seemed to be about as tall as a man, but those who went down swore that when they reached these rocks they were bigger than the great tower of Seville.3
While Cárdenas was looking at the Grand Canyon, some Indians, led by one whom the Spaniards nicknamed Bigotes (Whiskers), came to Zuñi from the east. They told of great towns, and brought p94 a picture of a buffalo drawn on a piece of hide. Vaca had told of "humpbacked cows," and here were people who lived on the very borders of the cow country. So Hernando de Alvarado was sent east with twenty men, instructed to return within eighty days, and Fray Juan de Padilla went with him. •Some fifty miles east of Zuñi Alvarado came on the famous pueblo of Ácoma, or People of the White Rock, •three hundred and fifty-seven feet in the air. Ácoma was so lofty, says Castañeda "that it was a very good musket that could throw a ball as high." A broad stairway of about two hundred steps began the ascent, then one hundred narrower steps followed; and "at the top they had to go up about three times as high as a man by means of holes in the rock, in which they put the points of their feet, holding on at the same time by their hands. There was a wall of large and small stones at the top, which they could roll down without showing themselves, so that no army could possibly be strong enough to capture the village. On the top they had room to sow and store a large amount of corn, and cisterns to collect snow and water." The natives came down to the plain and at first offered battle, but presently consented to make peace.
p95 Proceeding eastward, Alvarado went a week's journey beyond to the Tigua villages lying above Albuquerque on both sides of the Río Grande. Pressing on, he visited the towns of Cicuyé, or Pecos (in the valley of the upper Pecos River and at the foot of the Santa Fé mountains) and the Buffalo Plains to the east. The Pecos Indians received him warmly and escorted him into the town "with drums and pipes something like flutes" and gave him presents of cloth and turquoises.
By the close of autumn Coronado's several detachments reassembled in the village of Tiguex near the site of Bernalillo, above Albuquerque. Here they listened to tales of a new El Dorado from an Indian whom Alvarado had picked up and had dubbed El Turco (the Turk) "because he looked like one." The new El Dorado was called Quivira. El Turco said that in Quivira, which was his own country and far to the east, there was a river •two leagues wide, where fish as big as horses sported themselves. Great numbers of huge canoes, with twenty rowers on a side and with high carved golden prows thrusting up among their white sails, floated on its surface like water lilies on a pond. The chief of that country took his afternoon nap under a tall spreading tree decorated p96 with an infinitude of little golden bells on which gentle zephyrs played his lullaby. Even the common folk there had their ordinary dishes made of "wrought plate"; and the pitchers and bowls were of solid gold. El Turco could readily prove his tale if only he could recover his wonderful golden bracelets of which he had been robbed by the natives of Cicuyé, the town of Chief Whiskers' countrymen where Alvarado had recently been entertained with such hospitality and good will.
So Coronado sent Alvarado back to Cicuyé to demand the bracelets. The natives of Cicuyé bluntly said that El Turco was a liar; whereupon Alvarado put Whiskers and the head chief, a very old man, in chains. Enraged at this treachery, the Indians took up their arrows and drove the Spaniards out, denouncing them as men who had no respect for their word. "This began the want of confidence in the word of the Spaniards whenever there was talk of peace from this time on," says Castañeda. Coronado followed up the seizure of Whiskers and the old chief of Cicuyé by a levy of three hundred mantas, or pieces of cloth. The Tiguas, not having the mantas, were stripped of their garments. A Spanish officer forcibly possessed himself of an Indian's handsome young wife. p97 The Indians rose. In the mêlée the Spaniards were victorious; and presently the natives, from the roofs, were making their sign of peace — the cross sign of the evening and morning star. The Spaniards made the same sign by crossing their spears. The natives threw down their arms. Contrary to the peace pledge, some two hundred of them were seized and stakes were erected to burn them. Seeing the rest of their number "beginning to roast," a hundred captives made valiant, if futile, efforts to defend themselves. Only one or two escaped to warn their friends that Spaniards speaking peace must never again be trusted.
Heavy snows and severe cold so hampered the army during the winter that not until early in spring was the surrounding country "pacified." A great many Indians had been slain, but many more had escaped to their mountain retreats. In vain had Coronado sent deputations seeking peace. The invariable answer was that the Spaniards were false men who had desecrated the star symbol, the sign of inviolable peace; the wind of the desert might hearken to their promises, but never the Indians. So when Coronado took up his march he left implacable enemies in his wake.
p98 But the "great good news of the Turk gave no little joy," and the restless conqueror prepared to set out for Golden Quivira. Among the Indians news traveled fast, and it is easy to imagine the consternation felt by the tribes of the lower Mississippi Valley, in the spring of 1541, to hear of the approach of the two great invading expeditions from opposite directions, each of which was conquering every tribe and village on the way. De Soto had reached Tampa Bay in 1539, just about the time when Fray Marcos came in view of Cíbola. Coronado had left Culiacán when De Soto was on the Savannah River; when Coronado reached the Río Grande pueblos, De Soto was marching south through Alabama toward Mobile Bay. While Coronado was in winter quarters at Tiguex, on the Río Grande, in New Mexico, De Soto was in camp at the Chickasaw town in Mississippi; and now Coronado entered the Texas plains shortly before De Soto crossed the Mississippi.
On April 23, 1541, Coronado set out under the guidance of El Turco; and four days later crossed the Pecos in the vicinity of Puerto de Luna, New Mexico. He continued in an easterly course across the great plains (where the Arab-like p99 Apaches roved and hailed him fearlessly from the doors of their painted skin tents) and into Texas. Here enormous herds of buffalo provided an abundance of meat. Castañeda speaks of seeing the skyline between the legs of bison grazing at a distance. "This country," he says, "is like a bowl, so that when a man sits down, the horizon surrounds him all around at the distance of a musket shot." The plains baffled the hunting parties. They wandered in circles about the heaps of "cows" they had killed until musket shots from the main camp gave them direction; and some hunters were lost. It seemed as if the vast prairie itself designed the destruction of the strangers who had invaded its solitude, for it wiped out their trails as the sea obliterates the mark of the keel. Castañeda exclaims, wonderingly: "Who could believe that a thousand horses and five hundred of our cows, and more than five thousand rams and ewes, and more than fifteen hundred friendly Indians and servants, in travelling over these plains, would leave no more trace where they had passed than if nothing had been there — nothing — so that it was necessary to make piles of bones and cow-dung now and then so that the rear-guard could follow the army. The grass never failed to p100 become erect after it had been trodden down, and, although it was short, it was as fresh and straight as before."
June found the army among the Teyas Indians in western Texas. By this time so many of El Turco's tales had been disproved that he traveled in irons. Food and water became scarce. Most important of all, the Teyas guides told Coronado that Quivira was north, not east. Coronado therefore ordered the main body, under Arellano, back to Tiguex, in New Mexico. He himself, with only thirty horsemen and six footmen, would push north, to follow the new directions. In vain his men besought him not to leave them leaderless. The melancholy induced, even in seasoned plainsmen at times, by the broad monotonous stretches of prairie obsessed them. They feared that death would halt them somewhere on their lost march and toss their skeletons among the buffalo bones sprinkling that relentless land which had refused their impress as conquerors. They feared to see their general's gleaming casque disappear once and forever over the northern rim of the sky, leaving no more trace than the wing of a golden eagle passing through the ether. But Coronado stubbornly held on his way —
The army separated near the upper waters of the Brazos. After some thirty days Coronado and his little band crossed the Arkansas into Kansas. They continued in a northeasterly direction and, about a week later, reached the first of the Quivira towns in the vicinity of Great Bend, Kansas,a where, then and for centuries after, lived Wichita Indians. Here no sparkling sails floated like petals on the clear surface of an immeasurable stream. No lordly chief drowsed to the murmur of innumerable bells. The water pitchers on the shoulders of the women, stooping in the low entrances of their grass-thatched huts, were not golden. "Neither gold nor silver nor any trace of either was found among these people." El Turco confessed that he had been detailed by the tribesmen of those whom Coronado had incinerated to lead the lying strangers out on the plains "and lose them." Wandering over the sun-baked prairie, food and water failing and their horses dying, the Spaniards would become so weak that should any return, the Tiguas could "kill them without any trouble, and thus they could take revenge for what had been done to them . . . as p102 for gold he did not know where there was any of it."
So Coronado had the Turk garroted, and set up a cross with the inscription, "Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, general of an expedition, reached this place." Then he turned back, empty-handed; for even explorers whom he had sent out northward, and who may have reached the Nebraska line, had found no sign of rich peoples nor of precious metals. Meanwhile Arellano had reached Tiguex safely. Arrived there some weeks later, Coronado sent out exploring parties, one of which visited Taos, that interesting town still lying between the Río Hondo and the Taos Mountains. Here the Spaniards found a high type of Indian civilization, large well-stocked granaries, and wooden bridges flung across the Taos River to connect the eighteen divisions of the town.4
Winter bore hard on Coronado's men, who were on scant rations and almost naked. The officers seized the most and the best of everything for themselves, and dangerous dissensions arose in p103 the camp. Towards the end of winter Coronado, riding at the ring on a festival day, fell beneath the hoofs of his companion's horse and was dangerously injured in the head. His illness and his failures preyed on his mind; and he resolved to seek no farther for wealth, but to return to his wife in Mexico. In April, 1542, he and his disappointed band turned homeward. At that very time, far to the east, Hernando de Soto also was giving up the Golden Quest and turning his face towards Mexico, to die of a broken spirit a month later. Hungry and tattered, and harassed by Indians, Coronado and his army painfully made their way back towards New Galicia. The soldiers were in open revolt; they dropped out by the score and went on pillaging forays at their pleasure. With barely a hundred followers, Coronado presented himself before Mendoza, bringing with him nothing more precious than the gold-plated armor in which he had set out two years before. He had enriched neither himself nor his King, so his end is soon told: "he lost his reputation, and shortly thereafter the government of New Galicia."
Two soldiers had been left in Kansas; their fate is not known. Fray Juan Padilla, Fray Juan de la Cruz, and a lay brother, Luís Descalona, p104 remained with six companions in New Mexico. The friars were resolved to bring about the conversion of these Indians, whose settled modes of living seemed to promise a good opportunity. La Cruz, an old man, was well treated at first by the chiefs at Tiguex but was killed eventually. Descalona went east to the Pecos River and presumably was slain. Fray Juan Padilla, with a Portuguese, two oblates, and some native guides went back to Quivira, that is, to Kansas. He won the love of the Indians of that region; but, not content with this harvest, he set out for the towns of some of their foes. On the way he was murdered, either by natives of the towns he sought or by his own guides from Tiguex. The Portuguese and the two oblates witnessed his martyrdom from a neighboring hill; and in time they made their way across Oklahoma and Texas to Pánuco, where they told the story. And, says a Spanish writer of the day, it was then recalled that "great prodigies" were seen at his death, "as it were the earth flooded, globes of fire, comets, and obscurations of the sun."
Today we may doubt the pious historian's "great prodigies." But we look over that land, where many temple spires rise in security to p105 proclaim one Christ, however variously sought, and we are moved to honor the zeal and devotion of Fray Juan Padilla and his two brother monks — the first unarmed mission of the Church upon the soil of the United States.
"Know that on the right hand of the Indies there is an island called California, very close to the side of the Terrestrial Paradise; and it was peopled by black women, without any man among them, for they lived in the fashion of Amazons. They were of strong and hardy bodies, of ardent courage and great force. Their island was the strongest in all the world, with its steep cliffs and rocky shores. Their arms were all of gold, and so was the harness of the wild beasts which they tamed to ride; for in the whole island there was no metal but gold." So wrote Montalvo, the author of Esplandián, a romance which, first published in 1510, rapidly became the "best seller" of its day, running through at least four editions. This book may have influenced the Emperor Charles V in banning fiction from the Indies, where the imaginations of both Spaniards and natives needed no artificial stimulation. At all events, both Spaniards and Indians were forbidden to peruse these p106 romances. Probably the Indians obeyed the wise decree. But evidently in the case of the Spaniards the mischief had already been done; and hence the name, California, applied long since to a region which has seen more romance and produced more gold than ever were conceived of in the imagination of the ancient Spanish author.
The legend of the Amazons was curiously interwoven with both the discovery and the naming of California. While Guzmán and Coronado were moving north by land others were advancing by sea. Cortés, conqueror of Mexico, was urged north especially by rumors of a rich province inhabited only by women, like the island in Montalvo's tale. His nephew, Francisco Cortés, was sent from Colima to follow the clue (1524). The Amazon province was not found, nor yet was belief in it shattered. Nine years later Jiménez, one of Cortés's explorers, discovered the Peninsula of Lower California, thought it to be an island, and reported it to have pearls. A pearl bearing island, "down the coast toward India," fitted in with Cortés's notions of geography. So he personally led a colony to the "island," which he named Santa Cruz.
The dismal failure of the colony was only a p107 temporary discouragement. Hoping to forestall Viceroy Mendoza, Cortés rushed an exploring expedition north under Francisco de Ulloa (1539). Nearly a year before Alarcón, whom Mendoza sent to aid Coronado, Ulloa reached the head of the Gulf, rounded the peninsula, and returned with the news that it was not after all an island, but tierra firme. Now the name Santa Cruz gave way to "California," the change being a new application of the old belief in the Amazon island, as recorded in Montalvo's novel. Perhaps Cortés, grim soldier, had a passion for light reading — even as today captains of industry refresh themselves with Sherlock Holmes — for the historian Herrera states that it was he who bestowed the name upon the peninsula which he tried in vain to colonize. Possibly the name was bestowed in derision, but just when, or how, or by whom, no one has established with certainty.
Ulloa's voyage marks the close of Cortés's efforts to explore the northern Pacific, but the work was continued by Viceroy Mendoza. Through the death of Alvarado, the dashing conqueror of Guatemala, in the Mixton War (1541), Mendoza inherited a fleet which had been prepared for exploration in the Pacific, and with it he carried p108 out Alvarado's plans by dispatching two expeditions, one up the California coast, the other across the Pacific.
The expedition "in the West towards China or the Spice Islands" was led by López de Villalobos. Sailing in November, 1542, he took possession of the Philippine Islands and thus attached them to Mexico. Villalobos died in the Moluccas; his enterprise went to pieces; but the voyage made a link between California and the Philippines.
Mendoza's other sea expedition, which was to explore along the outer coast of the peninsula and northward in search of the Strait of Anian and new provinces, left Mexico on June 27, 1542, under command of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo. At this date Hernando de Soto's body had been consigned to the Father of Waters and his defeated army led by Moscoso was marching west across Arkansas in search of Pánuco, and Coronado with a hundred ragged followers was returning to Compostellaº after two fruitless years in New Mexico and the Buffalo Plains.
Of Cabrillo little is known except that he was a Portuguese by birth and a skilled mariner; and he is supposed to have been in the service of Cortés during the conquest of Mexico. With two vessels p109 smaller than any coasting schooner of today, badly built and scantily outfitted — a crew chiefly composed of conscripts and natives, and the sturdy Levantine pilot, Bartolomé Ferrelo, or Ferrer, Cabrillo departed on the trail of adventure. Owing to calms and contrary winds and the frequent necessity to heave to and send ashore for fresh water, his progress was slow. By the 10th of August he had passed the most northerly point reached by Ulloa. Eleven days later he landed at the bay of San Quentín and took possession in the name of the King. Here a week was spent in taking in water and repairing sails and in receiving friendly visits from Indians who said that they had seen other Spaniards in the interior — probably some of Alarcón's or Coronado's band. The diarist of the expedition says that these Indians were smeared with a "white paste" in such a fashion that "they appeared like men in hose and slashed doublets." On the 28th of September, Cabrillo discovered "a port closed and very good, which they named San Miguel." This was the beautiful Bay of San Diego. On the purpled blue waters of this bay, safely sheltered by the long high stretch of Point Loma, their ships rode at anchor while a terrific storm raged without for three days.
p110 When the gale had subsided Cabrillo continued northward. He discovered the islands of Santa Catalina and San Clemente, and the pleasant Bay of Santa Monica, which he called the Bay of the Smokes, or Bay of the Fires, because of the low curling clouds of blue smoke rising from the Indian villages along its shores. On the 10th of October he went ashore at San Buenaventura, where he visited an Indian settlement which he called the Town of Canoes, in allusion to the excellent craft which the natives possessed. Then, sailing west, he passed through the Santa Bárbara Channel and on the eighteenth reached Point Conception, which he named Cabo de Galera because it was shaped like a galley. Here northwest winds drove him into Cuyler's harbor on San Miguel Island.
Two weeks later a southwester filled Cabrillo's sails and carried his vessels round the cape and along the high rocky coast, where the Santa Lucía Mountain comes down to the sea. Below Point Pinos the vessels were driven northward by a storm and became separated. Having missed the Bay of Monterey, Half Moon Bay, and the Golden Gate, Cabrillo turned back and discovered the harbor where Drake cast anchor twenty-five years later, p111 and which is still known as Drake's Bay. Apparently Cabrillo now stood well out to sea, for again he missed the Golden Gate and Monterey Bay.
He put into San Miguel Island for winter; and there "on the 3d of the month of January, 1543, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, captain of the said ships, departed from this life, as the result of a fall which he suffered on said island when they were there before, from which he broke an arm near the shoulder . . . at the time of his death he emphatically charged them not to leave off exploring as much as possible all that coast." So, in a few words, we are told all we know of the character of Cabrillo, who had battered his way up the California coast in the pain of an injury sufficient to bring him to death, and whose last words to his men were to press on. His bones lie under the white sands of San Miguel Island, undiscovered yet — save perhaps by some Portuguese or Levantine fisherman of a later time, driving the supports of his driftwood shack deep down through the shifting sand.
The command now devolved upon the pilot Ferrelo. Though frequently halted and swept about by heavy storms and suffering from diminished supplies, this fearless mariner, obeying his p112 master's behest, held on northward. He sailed to a point near the mouth of Rogue River, Oregon, when he turned back, through "travail" worse than any Cabrillo had experienced. On April 14, 1543, he reached the home port of Navidad.
Interest in California was revived by developments in the Far East. Though Villalobos had taken possession of the Philippines in the year of Ferrelo's voyage, the Spaniards had not occupied the islands. But in 1559 Philip II, tempted by the profits accruing to the Portuguese from their spice trade, ordered Velasco, the Mexican Viceroy, to equip an expedition for discovery among those islands and to search out a route for return voyages to Mexico — for the problem of the return voyage had hitherto baffled mariners. In 1564, after many delays, Miguel López de Legazpi set sail from Navidad and, in the following year, took possession of the Philippines. Legazpi sent one of his vessels, with his chief navigator, Fray Andrés de Urdaneta, to discover the return route to New Spain. Urdaneta, turning northward, entered the Japan current, which carried him to the coast of northern California whence he descended to Mexico. By a happy combination of chance and p113 science he had solved the problem of the return route. Thus a regular trade route was established from Manila to Mexico and thence to Spain. The Manila galleons sailed the course marked out by Urdaneta, across the Pacific to a point off Cape Mendocino and down the coast to Acapulco. It was a hard voyage and frequently the vessels reached the American coast much in need of repairs and with a loss of half the crew from scurvy. There was therefore need of a port on the northern coast. Also, Spanish interests in the Pacific were threatened by the possibility that English, French, or Dutch freebooters in the Atlantic might discover the Strait of Anian and take control of the direct route to the Spice Islands even as Portugal had formerly monopolized the African route. In fact, Drake, who appeared on the California coast in 1579, having plundered Spanish harbors and a Manila galleon on his northward trip, was believed to have discovered the Strait and to have sailed homeward through it. Six years later, Cavendish looted and burned the Santa Ana, a Manila galleon, off California. Dutch mariners rounded Cape Horn, whose name commemorates one of them, and pushed their operations into the western seas. And Spain's Armada had been destroyed by Drake, the p114 man who, it was feared, knew the whereabouts of the Strait of Anian.
To meet the emergency, Cermeño, commander of one of the Philippine galleons, was sent on his return from Manila to seek a port on the California coast, but he was wrecked in Drake's Bay (1595). His cargo of beeswax and fine porcelain still lies at the bottom of the bay, awaiting a modern treasure seeker.
At the same time Sebastian Vizcaíno was commissioned to colonize Lower California as a defensive outpost. Vizcaíno was a prosperous merchant in the Manila trade. He had been aboard the Santa Ana when Cavendish attacked her. Because he did not belong to the aristocratic class from which Spain selected her conquerors, even Velasco was opposed to him and chose him chiefly for want of any one else suitable for the work. Vizcaíno planted a colony at La Paz in 1597, but the Indians broke it up. He returned, defeated but not disheartened, and secured a new contract, after several years of delay, having at last won over the new Viceroy, the Count of Monterey, who was forced to admit that Vizcaíno possessed more ability than he had expected to find in a mere merchant. When Vizcaíno had finally made his p115 way through the maze of red tape to the command of three vessels and a company of soldiers, the Spanish monopoly in the Far East had received a shock; for the British East India Company, formed in 1600, had carried the trade war into the Orient, where — by reason of the recent union with Portugal — Spain had thought herself secure. Thus did the importance of the direct route to the East magnify from year to year.
On May 5, 1602, Vizcaíno sailed from Acapulco. He made detailed explorations along the outer coast and among the islands and was retarded frequently by high winds, so that it was November when he dropped anchor in San Miguel Bay, to which he gave its present name of San Diego.
On the 16th of December occurred the capital event of the voyage, the discovery of Monterey Bay. At seven in the evening Vizcaíno entered the harbor. On the next day he sent an officer ashore "to make a hut where Mass could be said and to see if there was water, and what the country was like. He found that there was fresh water and a great oak near the shore, where he made the hut and arbor to say Mass," writes Father Ascensión, who accompanied the expedition. Because of the shortage of men and supplies, Vizcaíno p116 decided to send a ship back to Mexico from this port asking for more men and provisions.
Vizcaíno proceeded northwards, making careful examination of the coast, yet missing that treasure of waters lying behind the great pillars of Golden Gate, and came to anchor in Drake's Bay, from which he was driven almost immediately by offshore winds. On January 12, 1603, he reached Cape Mendocino, which his orders cited, in very general terms, as the northern limit of his explorations. Off the Cape he encountered so furious a wind, "together with so much rain and fog, as to throw us into great doubt whether to go forward or to turn back, for it was as dark in the daytime as at night." A council was held to decide whether to continue or to return; and the condition of the crew seemed to make retreat imperative. For a week, however, storms from the south prevented the return; and on the seventeenth, at night, Vizcaíno's ship was struck "by two seas which made it pitch so much that it was thought the keel was standing on end, and that it was even sinking." The violent motion threw "both sick and well from their beds." Vizcaíno was flung with such force upon some boxes that he "broke his ribs with the heavy blow." The diarist concludes that "the p117 currents and seas" were carrying them "rapidly to the Strait of Anian," for they were in forty-two degrees of latitude, when a light northwest wind enabled them to head southward and "brought us out of this trouble."
Though the friendly Indians of Monterey signaled to them with smoke as they passed, they did not enter the harbor because the state of health aboard was so bad, "and the sick were clamoring, although there was neither assistance nor medicines, nor food to give them except rotten jerked beef, gruel, biscuits, and beans and chick-peas spoiled by weevils."
Vizcaíno and his crew arrived at Mazatlan in February, 1603, "in the greatest affliction and travail ever experienced by Spaniards; for the sick were crying aloud, while those who were able to walk or to go on all fours were unable to manage the sails." Here Vizcaíno himself, regardless of his feeble condition, set off inland on foot to bring relief from the nearest town to his companions. In a month they were able to set sail for Acapulco where they arrived on the 21st of March, and learned that most of the men on the ship which Vizcaíno had sent back from Monterey for more men and supplies, had died on the way. Later, p118 on reaching the City of Mexico, they found the crew of the third ship, a frigate, which they had believed lost in the hurricane off Mendocino. It seems that the frigate had sailed one degree farther north, to a point named in the diary Cape Blanco; and her crew told of a large river which they had seen.
By placing that "river" several degrees too far north, the mapmakers and historians of that day set going another myth which was to rival the Strait of Anian — the myth of the River of the West. And as the fable of the Strait was to lead to the discovery of Bering Strait, so the myth of the River of the West was to end with the later discovery of the Columbia.
The Count of Monterey immediately planned to occupy the port bearing his name and naturally selected Vizcaíno to lead the enterprise. But, during the inevitable delays between plan and action, a new viceroy succeeded Monterey, and the plan was abandoned for a project to found a port in the mid-Pacific. With this in view, in 1611 Vizcaíno was sent out to explore some islands called suggestively Rica de Oro and Rica de Plata — Rich in Gold and Rich in Silver. Nothing came of this venture; and so Vizcaíno, ruined in p119 health and fortune, fades out of the pages of historical narrative, though he is known to have lived for some years afterwards. And the history of Alta California remained obscure in the fog for a hundred and sixty years.
1 Cíbola is believed to be a Spanish form of the word Shiwina, by which the Zuñi called their tribal range. The Spaniards later called the buffalo Cíbola. It is customary for writers to state that Guzmán and Fray Marcos set out to find the Seven Cities of Cíbola, but it was not till Estevanico sent back his report that the name Cíbola was known to the Spaniards.
2 Lowery, Spanish Settlements, pp281‑82, as transcribed by Frank Cushing, authority on Zuñi lore and a Zuñi by adoption.
4 Taos today has about 425 Indian inhabitants; and it is also the home of a small but noted school of American painters, who are bringing the life and character of the Pueblo Indians and the color and atmosphere of the southwestern mesas prominently into American art.
a The location of Quivira is still uncertain, although this is the majority opinion, apparently confirmed by archaeological evidence. For the view that it was in Nebraska, see "The Lost Province of Quivira" (Catholic Historical Review, II.3‑18).
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
The Spanish Borderlands
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 2 Apr 16