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Francisco Vasquez de Coronado

Modern postcard illustrating Coronado's expedition in 1541Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, the Spanish governor of Nueva Galicia, a province in northern Mexico, had heard tales of the large and wealthy Seven Cities of Cibola to the north.  Hoping to find riches similar to those found by Cortez and Pizarro in the conquering of the Aztec or Incas, Coronado and Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza invested large sums of their own money in the venture.  The large expedition they formed had nearly 300 well-armed horsemen and foot soldiers. Accompanying the conquistadors were nearly 1000 Indians and servants; approximately 1200 horses and pack mules; light artillery; droves of cattle, sheep, goats, and swine. The entourage set out in February from Compostela (in northwestern Mexico) to find Cibola.  In addition there was a naval squadron carrying food and other supplies that was to travel up the Colorado River, and eventually rendezvous with Coronado’s men.

Moving such a large group of men and animals was a slow process.  After nearly five months of travel the Spaniards finally reached a Zuni village, on the western boarder of New Mexico.  Coronado headquartered here for a time and sent out exploring parties.  One discovered the Grand Canyon.  Another traveled eastward to the Rio Grande and found more Indian pueblos.  The Spaniards never met the ships with the much needed supplies.  It was later discovered that the ships had arrived where the meeting was to take place but they had not met Coronado or his men.  Eventually the men and ships had returned to their port.

Running out of food and supplies, Coronado decided to move his men to the Rio Grande valley for the winter.  It was here that Coronado heard tales of a land to the north, the kingdom of Quivira. Coronado was told that this was a land of enormous wealth.  An Indian slave, El Turco, spun marvelous tales of Quivira. There was a mighty river two leagues (nearly five miles) in width in which fish larger than a horse lived.  It was a land where all inhabitants drank from jugs made of gold. Eager to find this land, Coronado decided to take a small group of 30 mounted men; six foot soldiers; the Franciscan father, Juan de Padilla; some attendants and extra horses and pack animals. The group left June 1, 1541.

'Shaggy Cow"Crossing the land of present day Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles often following buffalo and Indian trails, Coronado entered what would be called Kansas possibly near Liberal.  Journals kept by Coronado and his scribes tell of crossing the Arkansas River on June 29, 1541.  The site of this crossing is thought to be near the present day town of Ford.  The journals also mention numerous encounters with “shaggy cows” (buffalo).  The meat from these animals provided the Spaniards with much needed food as their supplies ran short.

The group continued to follow the river to its great bend.  Here they saw a Quiviran village in the present day counties of Rice and McPherson.  In the Spanish journals these Quivira Indians were described as large (over six and half feet tall), dark-skinned, and tattooed.  They lived in grass-covered houses and raised corn, beans, and melons.  Although much gold had been dreamed of, Coronado and his men did not find any.  After spending a month in Quivira, Coronado and his men returned to their base further south and eventually back to their Mexican province.  Although they didn’t find the much desired gold, Coronado did write this report to the King of Spain, “The soil itself is the most suitable that has been found for growing all the products of Spain, for besides being rich and black, it is well watered by arroyos, springs, and rivers.  I found plums like those of Spain, nuts, fine sweet grapes, and mulberries.”  The glowing reports of suitable land for farming didn’t soften the failure of the expedition to find gold and other riches.

Entry: Coronado, Francisco Vasquez de

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2011

Date Modified: February 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.