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Francisco Vásquez de Coronado

Francisco Vásquez de Coronado (ca. 1510-1554) was a Spanish conquistador, who in 1540-1542 visited New Mexico and other parts of the southwest of the United States.

He was born in Salamanca.

Coronado was governor of New Galicia (contemporary Sinaloa and Nayarit, Mexico). As such he had already sent out Fray Marcos de Nizza on a voyage to the north, to New Mexico. When Marcos returned he told about a wealthy, golden city, called Cibola. Of course this raised Coronado's interest, and he decided to try to get that gold. He set out in 1540, joined by a large expedition of 340 Spanish, 300 Indian allies, and 1000 slaves, both native Americans and Africans.

He followed the coast of the Sea of Cortez northward to the Sonora, then traveled upstream the Sonora, and crossed the Gila to Cibola, in the west of present-day New Mexico. There he was met by disappointment. Cibola was nothing like the great golden city fray Marcos had described, it was just a simple pueblo of the Zuni indians. Marcos was sent back to Mexico in disgrace.

Coronado conquered Cibola, and explored the other six Zuni pueblos. He also sent out various expeditions. Melchior Diaz was sent out to the mouth of the Colorado(?), to meet Hernando de Alarcón who would be shipping supplies for Coronado. Pedro de Tovar was sent northwest, and heard of a great river further west (the Colorado). Garcia Lopez de Cardenas was sent out to find this river, and found himself being the first European to see the magnificent Grand Canyon. Hernando de Alvarado was sent east, and found villages around the Rio Grande. Coronado set up his winter quarters in one of them, Tiguex (present-day Bernalillo near Albuquerque, Nex Mexico). During his wintering he suffered from fierce attacks by the Indians.

He met an Indian, which he called the Turk, who told him about Quivira, a rich country in the northwest. He decided to look for Quivira, taking the Turk as his guide. He traversed the Texan panhandle, and marched on further north. However, the Turk was found lying about the route, or at least Coronado thought he did so, and was executed. Other guides led him further to Quivira, and he reached a village near present-day Lindsborg, Kansas. But his disappointment was repeated: The Quivira indians (later known as Wichita) were no rich people at all, the village consisted mostly of thatched huts, and not even small amounts of gold could be found. Coronado returned to Tiguex, where his main force had remained behind. Here he spent another winter.

In 1542 he went back to Mexico through roughly the same route he had come. Only 100 of his men came back with him. Although the expedition was a complete failure, he remained governor of New Galicia until 1544, then retired to Mexico City, where he died in 1554.

Further reading