|The Entry of the Spanish
Other contributing factors included the hatred that the Indians bore their Aztec overlords and the assistance of his native interpreter/mistress, Dona Marina, the daughter of an Aztec chief, who had been enslaved by the Mayans of the Yucatan. The Mayans had presented her to Cortes as a peace offering, and she became his mistress and a staunch supporter. In Mexico Cortes found gold and silver in abundance. He was soon able to conquer the Indians of southern Mexico as far south as Guatemala and Honduras. Spanish occupation of northern Mexico was not as rapid. The land was arid, thinly populated and inhospitable. Only the stories of gold drew the adventurers on.
The Legend of the Seven Cities
As these stories circulated as part of the Spanish lore, tales were coming down from the north from Indians who claimed to have seen cities of buildings four and five stories high, decorated with turquoises. When the four forlorn survivors of the Florida expedition of Narvaez arrived in Mexico in 1536, they reported tales of large and powerful villages, four and five stories high. Cabeza de Vaca, one of these survivors, said that the lands he had actually seen were "remote and malign, devoid of resources," but that the Indians in the Sonora valley had told tales of a rich, faraway people with whom they traded.
Spanish conquistador, drawing by Frederic Remington
Two Franciscans, Fray Juan de la Asuncion and Fray Pedro Nadal, who traveled north in 1538 on a missionary journey, were also told of a country where people wore cotton clothes, had many turquoises and knew of larger and wealthier villages than their own.
The first European to enter what is now Arizona was probably Fray Marcos de Niza in 1539.* The viceroy, Antonio de Mendoza, had selected the Franciscan to lead a small party north. Accompanying Fray Marcos was a Negro who was one of the survivors in Cabeza de Vaca's party. This Negro, now a slave of Mendoza, was still called Estevan de Dorantes, after his former master. The party also included Fray Onorato and a number of Piman Indians who had come to Mexico with Cabeza de Vaca. Traveling northward the friar sent Estevan ahead with instructions to send back reports on what he found. According to Marcos' report he went up the Sonora river valley and, after traveling eighty miles across Sonora, reached the San Pedro river. There he found the Indians he called Pintados (because his Pima guides called them Rsarsavina meaning spotted.) As the friar continued for five days down the San Pedro he passed small, poor settlements where some of the people claimed to have seen seven cities where the houses were eleven stories high and decorated with turquoises.
Coronado's March, by Frederic Remington
Following the San Pedro to its confluence with the Gila, Marcos forged ahead through the uninhabited land to the north. Within two or three days journey from Cibola, Marcos met Estevan's companions returning from there. They brought the news that the Indians ahead had killed Estevan. Marcos supposedly convinced the Pimas to guide him to a spot on a hill from which he could see the cities they had almost reached. After one long look, he quickly returned to Mexico. When he got there his tale must have improved in the telling because he was soon followed by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, leading a well-equipped force of conquistadores. In justice to Marcos, who was later condemned as a liar by the men in Coronado's march and others, the friar probably reported honestly what he had heard secondhand, detailed as follows by Bernard DeVoto in his book, The Course of Empire:
The Journey of Coronado
Coronado probably followed Niza's route up the San Pedro River and beyond the Gila. However he did not turn back at the New Mexican pueblos as the friar had done, but ventured on, with various parties heading far into the unknown northwestern and northeastern territory, reaching as far as the Grand Canyon and the plains of Kansas.
By the time the spring of 1542 arrived, most of the men were anxious to be heading back to Culiacan. A few were able to see the potential richness and promise of the land, but even these were daunted by the distance from Mexico, the coldness of the winters and the hostility of the natives.
Early that year the army set off for home. "The Wichitas guided him home, up the Arkansas and then by an old trail that diverged from it to the southwest, a much shorter passage than the outward one. This was an ancient route of trade and war; it became the road between New Mexico and St. Louis and would be called the Santa Fe Trail." (DeVoto, p. 45)
They straggled into Culiacan in the early summer, and by July a shamefaced Coronado was in the capital apologizing for the failure of his mission. The Spaniards were in search of quick and easy riches, and Coronado had found none of the things of which he had gone in search. But his journey added greatly to the knowledge of the New World, by discovering the Zuni and Hopi Indians of the Southwest, the hunting tribes of the Great Plains, the teeming herds of bison, and the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. The photo above shows modern re-enactors dressed in historic costumes from the collection of the visitor center at the Coronado National Memorial, a must-see attraction in southeastern Arizona.
Coronado and his expedition probably brought the first cattle and horses to what would later be the United States.
Perhaps the most far-reaching, long-term effect of the Spanish entrada into the southwest was the widespread introduction of the horse to North America. Frank Secoy in his ground-breaking study noted that two items of European culture altered forever the intertribal warfare of the Indians--the horse and the gun. Because Spanish policy forbid the selling or giving of firearms to the Indians--and because few Mexicans possessed arms--the two items came from different directions. The horse came from the Spanish in the south and west, and the gun came from the French and English, and later the Americans, in the north and east. Whichever tribe possessed either or both of these items had a significant, if temporary, advantage over its neighbors.
*Bernard De Voto in The Course of Empire traces the path of Cabeza de Vaca and his three companions in 1536 to the Gila river and the Chiricahua mountains into the San Bernardino valley, but their course was so erratic that it is impossible to say with any certainty where they had been.
See more on the Conquistadors
de Castaneda, Pedro et al., translated and edited by George Parker Winship with an introduction and additional notes by Frederick Webb Hodge. The Journey of Coronado. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications. 1990.
DeVoto, Bernard. The Course of Empire. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. This is a long and complex book, but the chapter on the Spanish entradas is very good and worth hunting down. If you can find the book in your library, read the first chapter "Children of the Sun."
Diaz, Bernal. The Conquest of New Spain. London: Penguin Books, 1963. Translated by J.M. Cohen. (Other translations and editions are available. This is the fascinating personal narrative of an ordinary soldier in the army of Cortes.)
Rickman, David. Cowboys of the Old West. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1985. (Dover Pictorial Archive Series)
Thomas, Hugh. Conquest: Montezuma, Cortes and the Fall of Old Mexico. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. (A great book!)
Secoy, Frank Raymond. Changing Military Patterns of the Great Plains Indians. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992. (First published 1953.)
Udall, Stewart L. Majestic Journey: Coronado's Inland Empire. Santa Fe: University of New Mexico Press, 1987.
Wise, Terence and Angus McBride. The Conquistadores. London: Osprey Men-at-Arms Series, 1996.