Francisco Vázquez de Coronado

Spanish Conquistador

The most famous journey ever made in search of treasures in the New World was led by the Spanish Conquistador Francisco Vázquez de Coronado. Seeking the fabled Seven Golden Cities of Cibola, his expedition of 1,400 men and 1,500 animals found only poor Indian villages, but established Spain's later claim to the entire Desert Southwest.

Coronado was born to a noble family of Salamanca, Spain about 1510. As a young man at court he became friendly with Antonio de Mendoza, and when Mendoza was appointed viceroy of New Spain (Mexico) in 1535, Coronado accompanied him to America as his assistant. Within three years of his arrival in Mexico City, Coronado suppressed a slave rebellion, pacified the Indians and married the wealthy Beatriz Estrada , daughter of the colonial treasurer. In 1538 Mendoza appointed Coronado governor of New Galicia, a province in western Mexico.



Mendoza soon became intrigued by the fantastic riches rumored to exist in the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola beyond New Spain's northern frontier. These fabulous cities were first reported by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca who, after being shipwrecked off Florida in 1528, had wandered through what later became Texas and northern Mexico before his rescue in 1536. Mendoza sent an expedition in 1539 under Estéban, a black slave who had been shipwrecked with Cabeza de Vaca, and Fray Marcos de Niza to verify de Vaca's reports. Fray Marcos, assured of the cities' existence by an Indian informant, claimed to have seen them in the distance.

Mendoza organized an ambitious expedition to make a more thorough exploration. It consisted of some 300 Spaniards, hundreds of Indians and native slaves, horses, and herds of sheep, pigs and cattle, in addition to two ships under the command of Hernando de Alarcón, who sailed up the Gulf of California to discover the mouth of the Colorado River on Aug. 26, 1540.

Mendoza made Coronado the commander of the land expedition to seize the treasure. In February 1540, Coronado's main force left Compostela and proceeded up the west coast of Mexico to Culiacán, a northern outpost of New Galicia. From there, the expedition entered what is now the United States in April 1540, along the San Pedro River at the southern end of the Huachuca Mountains. Coronado National Memorial in southern Arizona commemorates this event.

Moving northward, Coronado and his advance party of Spanish cavalry came upon the Zuni pueblo of Hawikuh, in western New Mexico, but found no great wealth or treasure. The Zuni did not take well to the usual Spanish demands that they "acknowledge the Church as the ruler and superior of the whole world, and the high priest called Pope." They fired on Coronado's band and were quickly subdued.


Having found no gold in the Zuni pueblos, Coronado sent out scouting parties that ranged all the way to the Colorado River on the present border between California and Arizona. García López de Cárdenas and his party became the first Europeans to view the Grand Canyon (in modern Arizona). Another found more pueblos in a fertile area of the Rio Grande valley at Kuana (near modern Santa Fe), where the expedition wintered.

In the spring of 1541, the force moved into Palo Duro Canyon in present-day Texas, where Coronado left most of his men and proceeded north with 30 horsemen to another supposedly fabulously wealthy country, Quivira (Kansas), only to find a Wichita Indian village

After spending a second winter in Kuana near Santa Fe and realizing that the Golden Cities of Cibola were only the Zuñi, Hopi and Pueblo Indian villages of present- day Arizona and New Mexico, the expedition started homeward. Coronado led only about 100 men into Mexico City in 1542, while the remainder straggled in over the following months. He reported his disappointing findings to Mendoza, who turned on his old protégé and branded the expedition an abject failure.

An official inquiry, normally called after such an expedition, brought Coronado an indictment for his conduct, but found him innocent. Coronado continued his governorship of New Galicia until he was indicted again, and in 1544, found guilty of corruption, negligence and atrocities against Indians under his authority. Coronado returned to Mexico City, where he died the same year, decades before his chronicle of the expedition was finally published.

-- Bob Katz

Coronado Expedition From Compostela to Cibola
Coronado Expedition From Cibola to Quivira Then Home

Coronado National Memorial
Grand Canyon National Park



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