Explorers of the Southwest: Francisco Vasquez de Coronado

Francisco Vasquez de Coronado may ultimately have failed in his search for priceless treasure on behalf of the Spanish King, but his expedition into the North American interior was one of the most important in history. Born of noble blood in 1510 in Salamanca, Spain, Coronado’s first visit to the Americas came at the age of twenty-five, assisting the first Viceroy of what had been christened New Spain. Soon after arriving in Mexico, Coronado married into great wealth by taking the hand of the colonial treasurer’s daughter. His rapid rise to power was completed when he quashed a slave uprising, and was appointed the governor of a vital province in Mexico. This, though, was still not enough for Coronado.

Rumors reached him of the explorations of Cabeza de Vaca, and the legendary seven cities of gold. Inspired by these tales, Coronado raised an immense expeditionary force of over 300 Spanish soldiers, bolstered by more than 1,000 Tlaxcalan Indians and a vast herd of livestock, and set off north into what is now known as the American West. In July 1540, Coronado, flanked by his Spanish Cavalry, came across Hawikuh, a Zuni pueblo, which had encountered the Spanish before. One of the survivors of Cabeza de Vaca’s expedition, a man named Estevan, had encountered the Zuni a year previously, only for him and his small scouting force to be killed by them due to his attitude towards the Zuni women.

At the high point of the Zuni summer ceremonies, Coronado marched into the pueblo and began to recite the standard Spanish exhortation to the indigenous American peoples, known as the requerimiento. Beginning with a directive to “acknowledge the Church as the ruler and superior of the whole world, and the high priest called Pope, and in his name the King and Queen” of Spain, the requerimiento understandably failed to impress the Zuni. When Coronado continued with the warning that failure to obey would mean “with the help of God we shall forcefully… make war against you… take you and your wives and children and make slaves of them”, anger gripped the Zuni. They launched arrows at Coronado and his men, nearly resulting in his death, before the superior fire-power of the Spanish force told, and the Zuni were forced to flee.

The Zuni pueblos contained no gold, though, forcing Coronado and his expeditionary force to continue into the punishing North American interior. Exploratory parties were dispatched as far as the Colorado River, on the modern border of Arizona and California, searching through the Grand Canyon and parts of present-day New Mexico along the way. The mythical treasure of the city of Quivera led Coronado himself into what is now known as Kansas, but all he found was a small Wichita Indian settlement.

Dejected, Coronado and his weary expedition returned to Mexico, to be confronted by a Viceroy furious at his failure. Although he reclaimed his post of governor, Coronado was found guilty of atrocities against Indian peoples under his authority a few years later, and relieved of the governorship in 1544. He relocated to Mexico City and quietly lived out his life working for the municipal government there, before dying in 1554, aged only 44. It would be decades later before the chronicle of his expedition was published, and the story of his explorations known to the public.

Here are a collection of resources on the life and expedition of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado.

Explorer and Conquistador: A short biography of Coronado with links to information on other explorers.

Real People, Real Stories: This Kansas State Historical Society website has biographical information on Coronado, as well further resources on his expedition.

New Perspectives on the West: PBS provides this examination of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado as part of their history of the American West.

Coronado’s Exploration into the American Southwest: A thorough examination of his life and expedition.

Biography of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado: An in-depth exploration of his life, with suggestions for further reading.

Coronado the Explorer: An overview of his life and career.

History of Coronado the Conquistador: This website provides a detailed time-line of Coronado’s life and exploits.

Coronado: Misfortune’s Explorer: A resource for educators about Coronado, with lesson plans and primary sources.

The Exploratory Expedition of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado: A summary of Coronado’s expedition of 1540-42.

The Coronado Expedition: An overview of his expedition in the American Southwest, with resources on Coronado’s contemporaries.

The Journey of Coronado: An online book, presenting a translation of Pedro Castaneda’s account of the expedition.

On to Quivera!: Details of the immense size of the expedition, with maps of its progress.

First Contact: Account of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and his arrival in “Quivera”.

Coronado’s Report to Viceroy Mendoza: A translation of the report Coronado sent to his superior in 1540.

Spanish Exploration: Resources on Coronado and his contemporaries.

Coronado’s Land Claims: Map and information on the states that Coronado claimed for the Spanish throne.

Hispanic Colonization of North America: Links to resources on many Spanish explorers, including Coronado.

The Coronado National Memorial: Facts about Coronado and the Memorial named after him from the National Park Service.

Leave a Comment