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“The Journey of Fray Marcos de Niza”

by Fray Marcos de Niza

Fray Marcos de Niza set out from New Spain (today’s Central America) to explore lands to the north in the name of Catholicism and the King of Spain. He journeyed towards the fabled Seven Cities of Cíbola but turned back after hearing news that Esteban the Moor, who had gone Fray Marcos de Niza“Fray Marcos de Niza,” J. Cisneros (Artist) ahead of the party, had been killed at Hawikuh, one of the seven cities. Indian guides who escaped Esteban’s fate told the friar how Esteban had entered Hawikuh dressed in robes and holding a copper rattle. Esteban’s party may have interrupted a summer ceremony; or it may be his flamboyant behavior disturbed the Zunis. According to the Zunis, Esteban crossed a line drawn with sacred cornmeal, and they overpowered and killed him for this transgression. Fray Marcos planted a cross in the earth near Hawikuh, but he never saw any golden Cities of Cíbola. Nevertheless, upon his return to New Spain, he spoke of marvelous golden cities, inspiring the Spanish viceroy to organize another northern expedition in search of gold and souls.

Here, Fray Marcos describes his travels and the fate of Esteban.

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On another route I sent Estevan de Dorantes, the black, whom I instructed to follow to the north for fifty or sixty leagues, to see if by that route he would be able to learn of any great thing such as we sought; and I agreed with him that if he received any information of a rich, peopled land, that was something great, he should not go farther, but that he return in person or send me Indians with this signal, which we arranged: that if the thing was of moderate importance, he send me a white cross the size of a hand; if it was something great he send me one of two hands; and if it was something bigger and better than New Spain (Mexico), he send me a large cross.

“And so Estevan, the black, departed from me on Passion Sunday after dinner...”

And so the said Estevan, the black, departed from me on Passion Sunday after dinner (or, “after eating”), while I stayed on in this settlement which, as I say, is called Vacapa. And after four days there came messengers from Estevan with a very large cross, of the height of a man, and they told me on the part of Estevan that I should at once (“on the hour”) depart and follow him, because he had reached people who gave him information of the greatest thing in the world; and that he had four Indians who had been there, of whom he was sending me one.

Estevan“Estevan,” J. Cisneros (Artist)

This Indian told me so many wonderful things of the land that I forebore to credit him until I should have seen them or have more information of the place. He told me that it was thirty jornadas from the place where he had left Estevan to the first city of that country, which city he said was called Cíbola. And as it appears to me worth placing in this paper that which this Indian, whom Estevan sent me, said of the country, I will do so. He affirmed and said that in that province were seven very great cities, all under one lord; that the houses, of stone and lime, were large, the smallest being of one story with a terrace above, and others of two and three stories, and that of the lord had four, all joined under his rule, and in the porches [portadas] of the main houses were worked many designs of turquoises, of which, he said, there was a great abundance, and that the people of those cities went very well clothed. Many other particulars he told me of these seven cities, as well as of other provinces farther away, each of which, he said, was much greater than the seven cities; and in order to comprehend it as he knew it, I asked him many questions, and I found him to be of very good intelligence....

This day there came to me three Indians, of those that are called Pintados, their faces, chests and arms all decorated; these are in a district to the east and they border on a people who are next to the seven cities. They told me that having heard of me, they had come to see me, and, among other things, they gave me much information concerning the seven cities and the provinces that Estevan's Indian had told me of, in the same manner that Estevan's told me....

“All the people of this town wear fine and beautiful turquoises hanging from their ears and from their noses...”

They told me that beyond these seven cities are other kingdoms that they call Marata and Acus and Totonteac. I wished to know for what they went so far from their homes, and they told me that they went for turquoises and for cowhides and other things; and of both they had a quantity in that town. I also wished to know what they exchanged for what they obtained, and they told me, with sweat and with service of their bodies; that they went to the first city, which is called Cíbola, and there served by digging in the ground and by other labor, and that (in payment) they were given cowhides, which they had there, and turquoises....

And so I traveled that day, the second day of Easter, and two other days, traveling the same jornadas as had Estevan, at the end of which I reached the people who had given him information of the seven cities and of the country farther away, the which told me that from there it was thirty jornadas to the city of Cíbola, which is the first of the seven, and I had the account not only from one, but from many: and very particularly they told me of the grandeur of the houses and the style of them, just as the first one had.... All the people of this town wear fine and beautiful turquoises hanging from their ears and from their noses, and they say that these (turquoises) are worked into the principal doorways [portales] of Cíbola.

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

They told me that the form of clothing of the people of Cíbola is a cotton shirt reaching to the instep of the foot, with a button at the throat and a large tassel that hangs from it; the sleeves of the shirt being of the same width above as below: to me it appeared like the Bohemian (gipsy) dress. They say that they go girt with belts of turquoises, and that over these they wear the shirts: some wear very good blankets [mantas] and others cowhides, very well processed, which they hold to be the better clothing and of which that country, they say, has a very great quantity. The women, likewise, go clothed and covered to the feet in the same manner....

Next day I continued my journey, taking with me the Pintados, who did not want to remain behind. I reached another settlement where I was very well received by its people, who tried to touch my robe, and they informed me of the land which was my destination, as particularly as I had been told before, and they told me how people from that village had gone four or five jornadas with Estevan Dorantes. Here I came upon a large cross erected by Estevan to indicate that the news of the good country always increases, and he left word for me to hurry on and that he would await me at the end of the next despoblado. Here I erected two crosses and took possession, in compliance with instructions, because it appeared to me that this was a better land than that which I had passed, and so it was proper to perform there the acts of possession. And after this manner I continued for five days, always finding well populated settlements where I was received with great hospitality and receptions and where I found many turquoises and cowhides, and the same report of the country. They all spoke to me of Cíbola and that province as people who knew that I was going in search of it and they told me how Estevan had preceded me; and from him I there received messengers who were natives of that town, and who had gone some distance with him; and always he overloaded my hand [cargandome la mano] in speaking of the grandeur of the land and urged me to make haste....

Here in this valley they brought me a hide, half as large again as that of a large cow, and they told me it was from an animal which has only one horn on the forehead, and that this horn is curved toward the chest, and that from there it turns out in a straight point which, they say, has so much strength that nothing, no matter how hard, would fail to break if struck by it. They said that there were many of these animals in that (other) country: the color of the hide is like that of a goat and the hair is as long as the finger.

Here I received messengers from Estevan, who told me on his part that he had already entered the last despoblado, and was very happy, because he was going more assured of the grandeur of the country; and he sent to me to tell me that, since he separated from me, he had never caught the Indians in any lie, and that until there (i.e., up to that time) everything had been found as they said it would be, and so he anticipated finding the rest. And I also hold this for certain, because it is true that, from the day I first learned of Cíbola, the Indians told me of all that until today I have seen, telling me always the towns that I would find along the way and the numbers of them, and, in districts where there were no people, telling me where I would have to eat and sleep, without having erred on one point. Having traveled, from where I first had news of the land until today, one hundred and twelve leagues, it seems to me not inappropriate to record the great truthfulness of these people.

Home Chakwaina“Home Chakwaina,” Duane Dishta (Artist)

Here in this valley, as in the other towns I passed, I placed crosses and performed the acts of possession that were proper, conforming to the instructions. The natives of this villa asked me to rest myself with them for three or four days, because there was the despoblado four jornadas from there, and from the beginning of it until arriving at Cíbola made fifteen long days of travel; and they wished to prepare food and to dress themselves properly for it. And they told me that more than three hundred men had gone from there with Estevan, the black, to accompany him and carry his food, and many wished also to go with me, to serve me and because they expected to return rich men. I acknowledged the favor and told them to prepare quickly, because with my desire to see Cíbola, each day seemed to me a year.

And so I remained three days without going forward, during which I continually informed myself of Cíbola and of all the other places, and I did nothing but take Indians apart (i.e., aside) and question them, each one by himself, and all agreed in their accounts, and told me about the great number of the people and the arrangement of the streets and the grandeur of the houses and the style of the porches, just as those before had told me....

The messengers returned and told Estevan what had passed; he told them that was nothing, that those who exhibited irritation received him the better; and so he pursued his way until he reached the city of Cíbola, where he found that the people would not consent for him to enter within. They placed him in a large house that was outside the city, and presently took from him all that he carried, his trade articles and the turquoises and other things that he had received along the road from the Indians. There he was that night, without their giving anything to eat or to drink to him or to those who were with him. The next day in the morning this Indian was thirsty and left the house to drink from a stream [río] that was nearby. From there, a moment later, he saw Estevan running away, and after him followed the people of the city, and they killed some of those who were with him; and when he saw this, this Indian retreated, under cover, up the stream and then crossed over to reach the road of the despoblado.

With this news, some of the Indians who were with me began to weep. With the evil tidings, I feared I would be lost, and I feared not so much to lose my life as not to be able to return to give information of the greatness of the country, where God, Our Lord, could be so well served and his holy faith exalted, and the royal patrimony of His Majesty augmented.

“They arrived covered with blood and with many wounds.”

Upon resuming our journey, one jornada from Cíbola, we met two other Indians of those who had gone with Estevan; they arrived covered with blood and with many wounds, and at their arrival they and those that were with me began such a weeping that from compassion and fear they made me cry also, and there was so much outcry (“so many voices”) that I was not able to inquire of them about Estevan, or of what they had suffered. I entreated them to be silent that we might learn what had happened, and they replied, “How can we be silent, since we know that of our fathers, sons and brothers, of those who were with Estevan, more than three hundred are dead. And we dare no more to go to Cíbola, as (we were) accustomed.”

Nevertheless, I tried to pacify them the best I could, and rid them of fear, although I was not without need of some one to rid me of it. I asked the Indians who were wounded about Estevan and what had happened. They remained a while without speaking a word to me, weeping with those of their towns. Finally, they told me that when Estevan arrived at one jornada from the city of Cíbola, he sent his messengers with his calabash to Cíbola, to the lord, to make it known to them that he was coming to make peace (i.e., in peace) and to cure them. When they gave him the calabash and he saw the cascabels, he angrily threw the calabash to the ground and said: “I know these people, for these cascabels are not of the fashion of ours; tell them to turn back at once; if not, no man of them will remain (alive),” and thus he remained much enraged. And the messengers returned, but feared to tell Estevan of what had happened; however, they (finally) told him, and he told them that they should have no fear; that he wished to go there, because, although they had answered him badly, they would receive him well.

“So he went on and arrived at the city of Cíbola just before the setting of the sun, with all the people who went with him, which would be more than three hundred men, not counting the many women; and they (the Cíbolans) would not consent for him to enter the city, but (put them) into a large house with good apartments that was outside the city, and they presently took from Estevan all that he carried, telling him that the lord so ordered, and in all that night they gave us nothing to eat or to drink. The next day, when the sun was a lance length high, Estevan went from the house and some of the chiefs with him, and at once there came many people from the city and, when he saw them, he began to flee and we with him. Immediately they gave us these arrow strokes and gashes and we fell, and upon us fell some dead men. And so we remained until night, without daring to move. We heard loud voices in the city, and on the terraces we saw many men and women watching. We saw no more of Estevan, but we believe that they shot him with arrows as they did the rest who were with him, of whom there escaped none but us.”