Cities of Gold
when people came into... the West, they brought with them a necessity
to imagine it. One of the reasons for this, I think, is simply the vastness.
When one looks at the Grand Canyon for example, it's endlessly mysterious.
You feel the silence coming up and enveloping you and you know there are
places there where no one has ever been."
In 1540, six years after Cabeza de Vaca returned to Mexico City , the Spanish Viceroy sent yet another expedition northward. They were searching for seven cities said to be filled with gold and treasure. In command of the expedition was the ambitious governor of a Mexican province, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado.
For more than four months Coronado followed old Indian trails across deserts and through the mountains. Finally, exhausted and hungry, he reached an adobe settlement that he hoped was the first of the fabled Seven Cities of Gold. It was really the pueblo of Hawikuh, home to an agricultural people, called the Zuni.
was going on at Zuni was a summer solstice ritual. And these kinds of
rituals are always regarded as private, and so when Coronado came in while
these rituals were in progress, Zuni elders sketched a cornmeal line between
Coronado's men and the people at Zuni, a line which Coronado was not supposed
to cross. Coronado's men, who were literally starving to death by that
time, just bulled right in."
The Zunis fled from the Spanish guns, whose thunderous sound they had never heard before. Coronado quickly over-ran the town, seized their food, set up a wooden cross and demanded that they immediately convert to Christianity. But he discovered that the Zunis had no gold.
Over the next few weeks, Coronado would destroy thirteen villages, punishing all who resisted him precisely as rebellious subjects would have been punished in Spain.
was a decree that would be read when the Spanish came into a new native
community that said -- in Latin -- 'Everybody here must fall down and
worship Jesus Christ, and if you don't we will take it that you are worshipers
of the devil and you will be wiped out. You basically have five minutes."
Coronado sent expeditions into the surrounding countryside. One group marched to the Gulf of California, another crossed the Painted Desert into the land of the Hopis and a third marched for twenty days to the edge of a great gorge -- the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. Nothing in their experience had prepared them for its sheer size.
Melgosa, with Juan Galeras and another companion... kept descending...
until they were lost to view... The men who remained above estimated that
some rocks jutting out from the canyon must be about as high as a man....
At four o'clock, they returned [and] swore that when they reached them
they were found to be taller than the highest tower of Seville.
But once again, they found no gold.
Coronado then heard of yet another city called Quivira, far to the north, filled with treasures beyond his wildest dreams. He led his men toward it -- out onto the Great Plains -- through an ocean of grass so vast and featureless they had to navigate with a sea-compass. "Who could believe," one of them later wrote, "that 1,000 horses and 500 of our cows and more than 5,000 rams and ewes and more than 1,500 men, in traveling over those plains, would leave no more trace when they had passed than if nothing had been there -- nothing ."
In the end, Quivira turned out to be just a Wichita village on the bank of the Arkansas River, its inhabitants no wealthier than the other Indians Coronado had encountered. Finally, Coronado ordered his exhausted men to begin the long march back to Mexico. His search had lasted three years, led him across a quarter of the West, and earned him nothing.
The country itself is the best I have ever
seen for producing all the products of Spain... But what I am sure of
is that there is not any gold nor any other metal in all that country.
possibility of peace had been lost. And in a sense, the world was changed
forever. Cabeza de Vaca may have been moving in the direction of coexistence;
peace. And in a sense, I think Coronado's expedition stifled that impulse,
and made for warfare in the future.
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