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“Castañeda's History of the Expedition”

by Pedro de Castañeda

Fray Marcos de Niza“Fray Marcos de Niza,” J. Cisneros (Artist)

Pedro de Castañeda accompanied Francisco Vásquez de Coronado on his 1540 expedition to the lands north of New Spain. The expedition numbered over 200 soldiers and 1000 Mexican Indians along with horses, gear, and provisions. They explored large expanses of land and encountered indigenous settlements. Castañeda’s observations and detailed documentation of the region and its inhabitants provided Spain and the Old World with some of their first descriptions of the New World. Here, Castañeda writes of Coronado’s first encounters with the Zuni at the fabled Cities of Cibola.

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CHAPTER III — How they killed the negro Esteban at Cíbola, and how Fray Marcos returned in flight.

When Esteban got away from the said friars, he craved to gain honor and fame in everything and to be credited with the boldness and daring of discovering, all by himself, those terraced pueblos, so famed throughout the land. Accompanied by the people who followed him, he tried to cross the uninhabited regions between Cíbola and the inhabited area. He had traveled so far ahead of the friars that when they reached Chichilticale, which is the beginning of the despoblado [area where no people lived], he was already at Cíbola, a distance of eighty leagues of despoblado. From Culiacán to the beginning of the despoblado it is 220 leagues, and with 80 through the despoblado this makes 300, perhaps ten more or less.

Estévan de Dorantes“Estévan de Dorantes,” J. Cisneros (Artist)

I say, then, that when the negro Esteban reached Cíbola; he arrived there laden with a large number of turquoises and with some pretty women, which the natives had given him. The gifts were carried by Indians who accompanied and followed him through every settlement he crossed, believing that, by going under his protection, they could traverse the whole country without any danger. But as the people of that land were more intelligent than those who followed Esteban, they lodged him at a lodging house which they had outside of the pueblo, and the oldest and those in authority listened to his words and tried to learn the reason for his coming to that land. When they were well informed, they held councils for three days.

As the negro had told them that farther back two white men, sent by a great lord, were coming, that they were learned in the things of heaven, and that they were coming to instruct them in divine matters, the Indians thought he must have been a spy or guide of some nations that wanted to come and conquer them. They thought it was nonsense for him to say that the people in the land whence he came were white, when he was black, and that he had been sent by them. So they went to him, and because, after some talk, he asked them for turquoises and women, they considered this an affront and determined to kill him. So they did, without killing any one of those who came with him. They took a few boys, and the others, who must have been some sixty people, they allowed to return to their lands unmolested.

“The friars were seized with such fear that they opened their bags and distributed everything they had.”

As these who were now returning were fleeing in fright, they chanced to see and meet the friars in the despoblado, sixty leagues from Cíbola, and gave them the sad news. The friars were seized Sixteenth-century Franciscan Monk of New Mexico“Sixteenth-century Franciscan Monk of New Mexico,” Unidentified (Artist) with such fear that, not trusting these people who had accompanied the negro, they opened their bags and distributed everything they had among them, keeping only the vestments for saying mass. From there they turned back without seeing more land than what the Indians had told them of. On the contrary, they were traveling by forced marches, with their habits up to their waists.

CHAPTER IX — How the army set out from Culiacán; how the general reached Cíbola, and the army Señora, and what else took place.

“The general and his men crossed the land without encountering any opposition.”

As has been stated, the general set out from the valley of Culiacán on his journey, lightly equipped. He took along the friars, since none of them wished to remain with the army. On the third day a friar named Fray Antonio Victoria broke a leg. This friar, one ordained to officiate at mass, was taken back in order to be attended to; later he accompanied the army, which was of no slight consolation to all. The general and his men crossed the land without encountering any opposition. They found everything peaceful, because the Indians knew Fray Marcos and some of those who had accompanied Captain Melchior Díaz when he and Juan de Zaldívar had gone out to explore.

When the general crossed the settled region and reached Chichilticale, where the despoblado began, and they could not see anything of any account, he could not help but feel some disappointment, because, although the reports of what lay ahead were alluring, no one had seen it except the Indians who had accompanied the negro, and they had already been caught in several lies. The men were all disillusioned to see that the famous Chichilticale turned out to be a roofless ruined house, although it appeared that formerly, at the time when it was inhabited, it must have been a fortress. One could easily tell that it had been built by strange people, orderly and warlike, from afar. This house was built of red mud.

From here they proceeded over the despoblado and after fifteen days, at a distance of eight leagues from Cíbola, arrived at a river which, because its water was muddy and red, they called Red River. In this stream they found barbels like those in Spain. Here it was that they saw the first Indians in that land—two of them—who fled and went to warn the others. On the night of the following day, two leagues from the pueblo, the Indians began shouting from a safe place, and although the men were forewarned some were so confused that more than one put his saddle on backward. This happened only to beginners, as the veterans quickly mounted their horses and rode out over the field. The Indians, well acquainted with the land, fled, for none could be found.

El Morro, Inscription Rock“El Morro, Inscription Rock,” David Grant Noble (Photographer)

On the following day, in good formation, the soldiers entered the inhabited land. When they got within sight of the first pueblo, which was Cíbola, the curses that some hurled at Fray Marcos were such that God forbid they may befall him.

It is a small, rocky pueblo, all crumpled up, there being many farm settlements in New Spain that look better from afar. It is a pueblo of three or four stories and has some 200 warriors. The houses are small, have little space and no patios, for one patio serves a whole section. The people of the district had gathered there, for this is a province comprising seven pueblos, some of which are by far larger and stronger pueblos than Cíbola. These people waited in the open within sight of the pueblo, drawn up in squadrons. As they refused to accept peace in response to the requisitions, which the Spaniards made through interpreters, but, on the contrary appeared warlike, the Spaniards gave the “Santiago, after them,” and they were quickly routed.

Then the soldiers proceeded to take the pueblo, which was no easy task; for, as the entrance was narrow and winding, the general was struck to the ground by a large stone as they were entering and he would have been killed had it not been for Don García López de Cardenas and Hernando de Alvarado, who threw themselves upon him and carried him away, receiving a good many blows from the stones. However, as nothing could resist the first onrush of the Spaniards, in less than one hour they entered and conquered the pueblo. Here they found provisions, of which there was the greatest need. After that the whole province submitted peacefully.