by Don Hernando Alvarado
Don Hernando Alvarado was one of two loyal soldiers who intercepted the near-fatal blows that the Zunis aimed at Coronado when his troops arrived at Hawikuh early in the summer of 1540. The following August, Coronado equipped Captain Alvarado with twenty men and commissioned him to explore the regions to the east, including the pueblo which Fray Marcos de Niza had called the kingdom of Acus, or Acoma.
Alvarado’s exploring party included Father Juan Padilla, who had just returned from an adventure in Hopi with Captain de Tovar, and the peaceful Cicúye (Pecos) chief known as Bigotes, who offered to guide the party through lands still unknown to the Europeans.
Alvarado chose an eastward route through Ojo Caliente Valley. About two leagues beyond the Cíbola towns, he wrote:
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“We came to an old edifice resembling a fortress; a league farther on we found another one, and a little farther on still another. Beyond these we came to an ancient city, quite large but all in ruins, although a considerable portion of the wall, which must have been six estados (about 33 feet) high was still standing. The wall was built of finely cut stone, with gates and gutters like a Castilian city. Half a league beyond...we found the ruins of yet another city. Its walls must have been very good, being built about an estado high of large granite rocks, and above this of very fine blocks of hewn stone.”
“Entradas,” Deborah Reade (Artist)
These long-abandoned settlements of the ancestral Zuni would yield valuable information to future archaeologists.
From the Zuni mesa called Dowa Yalanne (Corn Mountain), two roads branched, one leading northeast to Chia (Zia) Pueblo, the other leading to Coco (Aco [Acoma]). Alvarado chose to continue east. Taking this direction meant crossing the lava flows of the Malpais or badlands, notorious to this day for mangling the feet of man and beast.
“The pueblo of Acoma,” Alvarado wrote,
“was one of the strongest ever seen, because the city is built on a very high rock. The ascent was so difficult that we repented climbing to the top. The houses are three and four stories high. The people are of the same type as those in the province of Cíbola, and they have abundant supplies of maize, beans, and turkeys like those of New Spain.”
It is said that when the people of Acoma saw the Spanish approaching, they drew a line of cornmeal in the sand and forbade the Spanish to cross it. At the foot of the great rock, the Pecos chief Bigotes performed a ritual announcing their peaceful intentions. Then, as another traveler reported,
“The natives came down to meet us peacefully, although they might have spared themselves the trouble and remained on the rock, for we would not have been able to disturb them in the least.”