Coronado’s Own Words


The Expedition of Don Francisco Vásquez de Coronado y Lujan


At length, I arrived at the valley of the people called Corazones, the 26th day of the month of May. And from Culiacan until I came thither, I could not supply myself, save only with a great quantity of bread of maize [editor’s note: probably corn tortillas]. For seeing the maize in the fields was not yet ripe, I was constrained to leave it all behind me. In this Valley of the Corazones, we found more store of people than in any other part of the country that we had passed and great store of tillage. But I understood that there was store thereof in another valley called the Lord’s Valley, which I would not disturb with force, but sent thither Melchior Diaz with wares of exchange [i.e. trade goods] to procure some, and to give the said maize to the Indians our friends who we brought with us and to some others that had lost their livestock along the way and were not able to carry their victuals so far, which they brought from Culiacan. It pleased God that we got some small quantity of maize with this traffic, whereby certain Indians were relieved and some Spaniards.

And by the time that we were come to this Valley of the Corazones, some ten or twelve of our horses were dead through weariness. For being overcharged with great burdens and having but little food, they could not endure the travail. Likewise some of our Negros and some of our Indians died here, which was no small want unto us for the performance of our enterprise. They told me that this Valley of the Corazones is five days journey from the Western Sea. I sent for the Indians of the Sea Coast to understand their estate, and while I stayed for them the horses rested. And I stayed there four days, in which space the Indians of the Sea Coast came unto me: who told me that two days sailing from their coast of the Sea. There were seven or eight islands right over against them, well inhabited with people, though badly furnished with victuals, and were a rude people. And they told me that they had seen a ship pass by not far from shore: of which I wot not [i.e. knew not] what to think, whether it were one of those that went to discover the country, or else a ship of the Portugals. . .

But after we had passed these thirty leagues, we found fresh rivers and grass like that of Castile, and especially of that sort that we call Scaramojo, many nut trees and mulberry trees, but the nut trees differ from those of Spain in the leaf. And there was flax, but chiefly near the banks of a certain river, which therefore we called El Rio del Lino: that is to say, the River of Flax. We found no Indians at all for a day’s travel, but afterward four Indians came out unto us in peaceable manner, saying that they were sent even to that desert place to signify unto us that we were welcome, and that the next day all the people would come out to meet us on the way with victuals. And the maestro del campo [Don Garcia Lopez de Cardenas] gave them a cross, willing them to signify to those of their city that they should not fear and they should rather let the people stay in their houses because I came only in the name of his Majesty to defend and aid them.

And, this done, Fernando Alvarado returned to advise me that certain Indians were come unto them in peaceable manner and that two of them stayed for my coming with them. Whereupon I went unto them and gave them beads and certain short slokes [a garment?], willing them to return unto their city and bid their people to stay quiet in their houses and fear nothing. And, this done, I sent the maestro del campo to search whether there were any bad passage that the Indians might keep against us. And that he should take and defend it until the next day that I should come thither. So he went, and found in the way a very bad passage where we might have sustained a very great harm. Wherefore there he seated himself with his company that were with him, and that very night the Indians came to take that passage to defend it. And finding it taken, they assaulted our men there. And as they tell me, they assaulted them like valiant men, although in the end they retired and fled away. For the maestro del campo was watchful and was in order with his company. The Indians in token of retreat sounded on a certain small trumpet and did no hurt among the Spaniards. The very same night the maestro del campo certified me hereof. Whereupon the next day in the best order that I could I departed in so great want of victuals that I thought that if we should stay one day longer without food we should all perish for hunger, especially the Indians. For among us all we had not two bushels of corn. Wherefore it behooved me to strike forward without delay. The Indians here and there made fires and were answered again afar off as orderly as we for our lives could have done, to give their fellows understanding, how we marched and where we arrived.

As soon as I came within sight of this city of Granada, I sent Don Garcia Lopez, Fray Daniel, and Fray Luis, and Fernando Vermizzo somewhat before with certain horsemen, to seek the Indians and advertise them that our coming was not to hurt them, but to defend them in the name of the Emperor our Lord, according as his Majesty had given us in charge—which message was delivered to the inhabitants of that country by an interpreter. But they like arrogant people made small account thereof because we seemed very few in their eyes, and [they thought] that they might destroy us without any difficulty. And they struck Fray Luis with an arrow on the gown, which by the grace of God did him no harm.

In the mean space I arrived with all the rest of the horsemen and footmen, and found in the fields a great sort of the Indians who began to shoot at us with their arrows. And because I would obey your will and the command of the Marques, I would not let my people charge them, forbidding my company, which entreated me that they might set upon them, in any wise to provoke them, saying that that which the enemy did was nothing and that it was not meet to set upon so few people. On the other side, the Indians perceiving that we stirred not, took great stomach and courage unto them—insomuch that they came hard to our horse’s heels to shoot at us with their arrows. Whereupon, seeing that it was now time to stay no longer and that the friars also were of the same opinion, I set upon them without any danger. For suddenly, they fled—part to the city which was near and well fortified and the other part into the field, which way they could shift [maneuver]. And some of the Indians were slain, and more had been if I would have suffered them to have been pursued.

But considering that hereof we might reap but small profit, because the Indians that were without were fewer and those who were retired into the cities with them who stayed within at the first were many, where the victuals were whereof we had so great need, I assembled my people, and divided them as I thought best to assault the city, and I compassed it about. And because the famine which we sustained suffered no delay, myself with certain of these gentlemen and soldiers put ourselves on foot, and commanded that the crossbows and harquebusiers should give the assault, and should beat the enemies from the walls that they might not hurt us. And I assaulted the walls on one side, where they told me there was a scaling ladder set up, and that there was one gate; but the crossbowmen suddenly brake the strings of their bows, and the harquebusiers did nothing at all. For they came thither so weak and feeble, that scarcely they could stand on their feet.

And by this means the people that were aloft on the walls to defend the town were no way hindered from doing us all the mischief they could: so that twice they struck me to the ground with infinite number of great stones, which they cast down: and if I had not been defended with an excellent good headpiece which I wore, I think it had gone hardly with me: nevertheless my company took me up with two small wounds in the face, and an arrow sticking in my foot, and many blows with stones on my arms and legs, and thus I went out of the battle very weak. I think that if Don Garcias Lopez de Cardenas the second time that they struck me to the ground had not succored me with striding over me like a good knight, I had been in far greater danger then I was. But it pleased God that the Indians yielded themselves unto us and that this city was taken: and such store of Maize was found therein, as our necessity required.

It remains now to certify your Honor of the seven cities, and of the kingdoms and provinces hereof the Father Provincial [Marcos de Niza] made report unto your Lordship. And, to be brief, I can assure your honor, he said the truth [only] in so far as he referred to nothing that he reported, but all was quite contrary, save only the names of the cities, and great houses of stone: for although they be not wrought with Turquoises, nor with lime, nor bricked yet are they very excellent good houses of three or four or five lofts high, wherein are good lodgings and fair chambers with ladders instead of stairs, and certain cellars [i.e. kivas] under the ground, very good and paved, which are made for winter, they are in manner like stoves: and the ladders which they have for their houses are all in a manner moveable and portable, which are taken away and set down when they please and they are made of two pieces of wood with their steppes, as ours be. The seven cities are seven small towns, all made with these kind of houses that I speak of: and they stand all within four leagues [twelve miles] together, and they are all called the kingdom of Cibola, and every one of them have their particular name: and none of them is called Cibola, but altogether they are called Cibola.

And this town, that I call a city, I have named Granada, because it is somewhat like unto the original and, also, in remembrance of your Lordship. In this town where I now remain, there may be some two hundred houses, all compassed with walls; and I think that with the rest of the houses, which are not so walled, may number together five hundred. There is another town near this, which is one of the seven, and it is somewhat bigger than this, and another of the same bigness as this Granada, and the other four are somewhat less: and I send them all painted unto your Lordship with the voyage. And the parchment, wherein the picture is, was found here with other parchments. The people of this town seem unto me of a reasonable stature, and witty, yet they seem not to be such as they should be, of that judgment and wit to build these houses in such sort as they are.

For the most part they go all naked, except their privy parts which are covered; and they have painted mantas like those which I send unto your Lordship. They have no cotton wool growing, because the country is [too] cold, yet they wear mantas thereof as your Honor may see by the show thereof: and true it is that there was found in their houses certain yarn made of cotton wool. They wear their hair on their heads like those of Mexico, and they are well nurtured and conditioned. And they have Turquoises I think good quantity, which with the rest of the goods which they had, except their corn, they had conveyed away before I came thither: for I found no women there, nor no youth under fifteen years old, nor no old folks above sixty, saving two or three old folks, who stayed behind to govern all the rest of the youth and men of war. There were found in a certain paper two points [i.e. carats] of Emeralds, and certain small stones broken which are in color somewhat like Granite, but very bad, and other stones of crystal, which I gave one of my servants to lay up to send them to your Lordship, and he hath lost them as he tells me. We found here Guinea cocks [i.e. turkeys], but few. The Indians tell me that in all these seven cities they eat them not, but keep them only for their feathers. I believe them not, for they are excellent good, and bigger then those of Mexico. The season which is in this country and the temperature of the air is like that of [the Valley of] Mexico: for sometime it is hot, and sometimes it rains: but hitherto I never saw it rain, but once there fell a little shower with wind, as they are wont to fall in Spain.

The snow and cold are wont to be great, for so say the inhabitants of the country: and it is very likely so to be, both in respect to the manner of the country, and by the fashion of their houses, and their furs and other things which this people have to defend them from cold. There is no kind of fruit or any fruit trees. The country is all plain, and is on no side mountainous: albeit there are some hilly and bad passages. There are small store of fouls: the cause whereof is the cold, and because the mountains are not near. Here is no great store of wood? Because they have wood for their fuel sufficient four leagues off from a wood of small cedars. There is most excellent grass within a quarter of a league hence, for our horses as well to feed them in pasture, as to mow and make hay, whereof we stood in great needy because our horses came hither so weak and feeble. The victuals which the people of this country have, is Maize, whereof they have great store, and also small white Peas: and Venison, which by all likelihood they feed upon, (though they say no) for we found many skins of deer, of hares, and conies [i.e. rabbits]. They eat the best cakes that ever I saw, and every body generally eats of them. They have the finest order and way to grind that we ever saw in any place. And one Indian woman of this country will grind as much as four women of Mexico. They have most excellent salt in kernel, which they fetch from a certain lake a day’s journey from hence….

The Kingdom of Totonteac, so much extolled by the Father Provincial [Marcos de Niza], who said that there were such wonderful things there, and such great matters, and that they made cloth there, the Indians say is a hot lake, about which are five or six houses; and that there were certain Zher, but that they are ruinated by war. The Kingdom of Marata is not to be found, neither have the Indians any knowledge thereof. The Kingdom of Acus [i.e. Acoma] is only one small city, where they gather cotton which is called Acucu. This is a town whereto the Kingdom of Anus is converted. Beyond this town they say there are other small towns which are near to a river [Rio Grande] that I have seen and have had report of by the relation of the Indians. I would to God I had better news to write unto your Lordship: nevertheless, I must say the truth. And as I wrote to your Lordship from Culiacan, I am now to advise your honor as well of the good as of the bad. Yet of this I would have you be assured, that if all the riches and the treasures of the world were here, I could have done no more in the service of his Majesty and of your Lordship, than I have done in coming hither, whither you have sent me, myself and my companions carrying our victuals upon our shoulders and upon our horses three hundred leagues; and many days going on foot traveling over hills and rough mountains, with other troubles which I cease to mention, neither propose I to depart unto the death, if it please his Majesty and your Lordship that it shall be so.

Three days after this city was taken, certain Indians of these people came to offer me peace, and brought me certain Turquoises, and bad mantas, and I received them in his Majesty’s name with all the good speeches that I could devise, certifying them of the purpose of my coming into this country, which is in the name of his Majesty, and by the commandment of your Lordship, that they and all the rest of the people of this province should become Christians, and should know the true God for their Lord, and receive his Majesty for their King and earthly Sovereign. And here withal they returned to their houses, and suddenly the next day they set in order all their goods and substance, their women and children, and fled to the hills leaving their towns as it were abandoned, wherein remained very few of them. When I saw this within eight or ten days after being recovered of my wound, I went to the city, which I said to be greater than this where I am, and found there some few of them, to whom I said that they should not be afraid, and that they should call their governor unto me. Howbeit, forasmuch as I can learn or gather, none of them hath any governor: for I saw not there any chiefs house, whereby any preeminence of one over another might be gathered.

I would have sent your Lordship with this dispatch many musters of things which are in this country: but the way is so long and rough, that it is hard for me to do so; nevertheless I send you twelve small mantles, such as the people of the country are wont to wear, and a certain garment also, which seems unto me to be well made: I kept the same, because it seemed to me to be excellent well wrought, because I believe that no man ever saw any needle work in these Indies, except it were since the Spaniards inhabited the same. I send your Lordship also two clothes painted with the beasts of this country, although as I have said, the picture be very rudely done, because the painter spent but one day in drawing of the same. I have seen other pictures on the wanes of the houses of this city with far better proportion, and better made.

I send your Honor one ox hide, certain Turquoises, and two earrings of the same, and fifteen combs of the Indians, and certain tablets set with these Turquoises, and two small baskets made of wicker, whereof the Indians have great store. I send your lordship also two rolls which the women in these parts are wont to wear on their heads when they fetch water from their wells, as we use to do in Spain. And one of these Indian women with one of these rolls on her head will carry a pitcher of water without touching the same with her hand up a ladder. I send you also a muster of the weapons wherewith these people are wont to fight, a buckler, a mace, a bow, and certain arrows, among which are two with points of bones, the like whereof, as these conquerors say, have never been seen.

[1] Source: Vásquez de Coronado’s letter to Antonio de Mendoza, dated August 3, 1540. Mendoza was Viceroy of Mexico and the largest investor in the expedition. The letter was translated into English and published by Richard Hakluyt in Volume III of his Divers Voyages Touching the Discoverie of America (1582).

[2] The Valley of the Hearts was located in northern Sonora about fifty miles northeast of Hermosillo, along the Rio Sonora—the headwaters of which reach almost to the present-day US/Mexico border. This was the place where Cabeza de Vaca and his three companions were fed a meal of deer hearts during their long journey overland back to Mexico City.

[3] The “Indians our friends” to whom Vásquez de Coronado refers were Native American allies from central Mexico. They numbered at least 1,000.

[4] Vásquez de Coronado was then approximately 150-175 miles from the coast of the Pacific Ocean, in the form of the Sea of Cortez or Gulf of California. There are several large islands opposite the coast at this point, principally Isla Tiburon or Shark Island.

[5] Vásquez de Coronado was expecting to be re-supplied from the sea. A squadron of three ships, commanded by Hernán de Alarcón (married to Maria de Mendoza), was exploring the coast and carrying supplies for his men. Alarcón was able to locate the mouth of the Colorado River, but he was never able to make contact with the overland party.

[6] A Spanish league (unit of measure) was approximately 2.6 miles long. It was equal to 5,000 varas (vara = 0.82 meters). A league was considered to be the distance a soldier could walk in one hour. Thirty leagues would be about 78 miles.

[7] Vásquez de Coronado has now crossed about 75 or 80 miles of waterless country to reach the Gila River in present-day southern Arizona. The word translated as grass here has a broader meaning than the English word; given the context, he seems to be referring to a plant that grows along the river—possibly salt grass or even scouring rush. The nut trees were likely oaks and walnuts. There mulberry tree he saw was probably Morus microphylla (syn. M. confinis), the Mountain Mulberry—which is common in the Gila drainage.

[8] This is the battle of Hawikuh, which took place on July 7, 1540. Vásquez de Coronado himself was wounded and had to stay at Cibola/Zuni to recuperate.

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