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Coronado Explores what will become the Southwestern United States


Spanish interest in exploring the northern territory was inspired by a man named Friar Marcos in 1539.  He had just returned from a journey into what is now the American Southwest.  Upon his return he brought stories of seven magnificent cities of the Native Americans.  He described the main city of Cibola as “the best and largest of all those that have been discovered (Hafen 8).”  His stories of gold and large, advanced cities sparked more Spanish interest in the American West.  After hearing these stories, the Viceroy of Mexico, Antonio de Mendoza, sent an expedition led by Francisco Vasquera de Coronado northward to find these cities and establish trade.

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Francisco Vasquera de Coronado gathered a group of men to make an expedition to the north.  There are varying thoughts about the size of this expedition.  In The Journey of Coronado by Pedro Castaneda, he writes that Mendoza sent 300 Spaniard and 800 Natives.  However, other authors such as W. Eugene Hollon in The Great American Desert describes a force of about 300 soldiers and 1000 Indian. Yet, in another document, The Disputed Lands, Alexander Adams writes that discouraging reports from a second scouting journey led Mendoza to send Coronado with only about 100 men and a few Indians. None of the sources have any significant evidence to support their conclusions either way. Regardless of size though, all sources agree that in early 1540 Coronado did explore the American Southwest.

Coronado and his men set out on this expedition with great expectations.  Unfortunately, they ran into some disappointment as they explored this territory.  As the journey began in the valley of the Sonora River, they encountered their first set back.  Coronado quickly found that the Native villages were not the grand cities that Marcus had described.  As the expedition continued northward from Mexico, Coronado and his troops continually ran into similar disappointment, thus, the friar war immediately labeled a liar (Adams 36).  When the expedition finally reached the village of Cibola, they were again disappointed with their findings. The Indians they encountered there fought to resist conquest.  At this village Coronado was nearly killed in a fight (Clark 27).

Given their disappointment at the friar’s lies, Coronado sent a group led by Lopez de Cardenas north and westward to find a great river called the Colorado (Hollon 37).  The expedition found the river; however, because the river was inside an immense canyon, they could not actually get to it.  Thus, while part of Coronado’s expedition had indeed discovered the Grand Canyon, they were still left with disappointment.

Coronado sent another expedition east.  This expedition was led by Henando de Alverado, and was an expedition that discovered the famous rock dwellings in the pueblo of Acoma.  At the Rio Grande, Alverado met with some Indians who described vast herds of cattle in the plains to the North, as well as a grand city called Quivera (Adams 39).  Alverado discovered the great herd of buffalo on the plains but was unable to locate Quivera.

There was yet a final disappointment.  When Alverado returned to Coronado and told him of Quivera and the rumors of precious stones, Coronado waited until spring and set out east and north towards what is now Kansas.  After a long trek from the Rio Grande, Coronado found the collection of huts called Quivera, but no precious stones. After continual disappointment, the Spanish had given up hope on finding the gold and large cities they originally aspired to conquer.  The Spanish left this territory empty-handed and went back to Mexico.


Map courtesy of the Perry-Castenada Library Map Collection of the University of Texas at Austin. Click on the map to enlarge it.


Adams, Alexander B., The Disputed Lands (G. P. Putnam's Sons; New York, 1981).

Castaneda, Pedro, The Journey of Coronado (University Microfilms, Inc.; Ann Arbor, 1996).

Clark, Dan Elbert, The West in American History (Thomas Y. Crowell Company; New York, 1937).

Flint, Richard and Shirley Cushing Flint, eds., The Coronado Expedition to Tierra Nueva: The 1540-1542 Route Across the Southwest (Univ. of Colorado, 1997).

Hafen, LeRoy R., Carl Coke Rister, Western America (Prentice Hall, Inc.; New York, 1941).

Hollon, W. Eugene, The Great American Desert Then and Now (University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1975).

Edited by: Nathan Windt
Researched by: Stephen Sharkey
Written by: Naomi Swanson
May 8, 1999

Text copyright 1996 -1999 by ThenAgain. All rights reserved.

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