DocumentCitationsKeywordsRelated Material

“How Don Pedro de Tovar Discovered Tusayan”

In 1540, Francisco Vázquez de Coronado and his men were disappointed not to find any gold at Zuni. Coronado sent a small party of soldiers led by Pedro de Tovar and Fray Juan Padilla to explore Hopi—or Tusayan as they called the region. This document describes the encounter that ensued between the Spaniards and the people of Tusayan.

~ ~ ~ ~

“Tusayan.... is twenty-five leagues from Cíbola. The villages are high and the people are warlike.”

How Don Pedro de Tovar discovered Tusayan or Tutahaco and Don García López de Cárdenas saw the Firebrand River and the other things that happened.

While the things already described were taking place, Cíbola being at peace, the General Francisco Vázquez found out from the people of the provinces that lay around it, and got them to tell their friends and neighbors that Christians had come into the country, whose only desire was to be their friends, and to find out about good lands to live in, and for them to come to see the strangers and talk with them. They did this, since they know how to communicate with one another in these regions, and they informed him about a province with seven villages of the same sort as theirs, although somewhat different. They had nothing to do with these people. This province is called Tusayan. It is twenty-five leagues from Cíbola. The villages are high and the people are warlike.

Entradas“Entradas,” Deborah Reade (Artist)

The general had sent Don Pedro de Tovar to these villages with seventeen horsemen and three or four foot soldiers. Juan de Padilla, Franciscan friar, who had been a fighting man in his youth, went with them.

“...they had heard that Cíbola had been captured by very fierce people, who traveled on animals which ate people.”

When they reached the region, they entered the country so quietly that nobody observed them, because there were no settlements or farms between one village and another, and the people do not leave the villages except to go to their farms, especially at this time, when they had heard that Cíbola had been captured by very fierce people, who traveled on animals which ate people. This information was generally believed by those who had never seen horses, although it was so strange as to cause much wonder.

Our men arrived after nightfall and were able to conceal themselves under the edge of the village, where they heard the natives talking in their houses. But in the morning they were discovered and drew up in regular order, while the natives came out to meet them, with bows, and shields, and wooden clubs, drawn up in lines without any confusion. The interpreter was given a chance to speak to them and give them due warning, for they were very intelligent people, but nevertheless they drew lines and insisted that our men should not go across these lines toward their village.

While they were talking, some men acted as if they would cross the lines, and one of the natives lost control of himself and struck a horse a blow on the cheek of the bridle with his club.

Friar Juan, fretted by the time that was being wasted in talking with them, said to the captain: “To tell the truth, I do not know why we came here.”

When the men heard this, they gave the Santiago [Spain’s war cry] so suddenly that they ran down many Indians and the others fled to the town in confusion. Some, indeed, did not have a chance to do this, so quickly did the people in the village come out with presents, asking for peace. The captain ordered his force to collect, and, as the natives did not do any more harm, he and those who were with him found a place to establish their headquarters near the village.

They had dismounted here when the natives came peacefully, saying that they had come to give in the submission of the whole province and that they wanted him to be friends with them and to accept the presents which they gave him. This was some cotton cloth, although not much, because they do not make it in that district. They also gave him some dressed skins and corn meal, and pine nuts and corn and birds of the country. Afterward they presented some turquoises, but not many. The people of the whole district came together that day and submitted themselves, and they allowed him to enter their villages freely to visit, buy, sell, and barter with them.

It is governed like Cíbola, by an assembly of the oldest men. They have their governors and generals. This was where they obtained the information about a large river, and that several days down the river there were some people with very large bodies.

As Don Pedro de Tovar was not commissioned to go farther, he returned from there and gave this information to the general, who dispatched Don García López de Cárdenas with about twelve companions to go to see this river. He was well received when he reached Tusayan and was entertained by the natives, who gave him guides for his journey.

They started from here loaded with provisions, for they had to go through a desert country before reaching the inhabited region, which the Indians said was more than twenty days’ journey. After they had gone twenty days they came to the banks of the river. It seemed to be more than 3 or 4 leagues in an air line across to the other bank of the stream which flowed between them.

This country was elevated and full of low twisted pines, very cold, and lying open toward the north, so that, this being the warm season, no one could live there on account of the cold. They spent three days on this bank looking for a passage down to the river, which looked from above as if the water was 6 feet across, although the Indians said it was half a league wide.

It was impossible to descend, for after these three days Captain Melgosa and one Juan Galeras and another companion, who were the three lightest and most agile men, made an attempt to go down at the least difficult place, and went down until those who were above were unable to keep sight of them. They returned about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, not having succeeded in reaching the bottom on account of the great difficulties which they found, because what seemed to be easy from above was not so, but instead very hard and difficult.

They said that they had been down about a third of the way and that the river seemed very large from the place which they reached, and that from what they saw they thought the Indians had given the width correctly. Those who stayed above had estimated that some huge rocks on the sides of the cliffs seemed to be about as tall as a man, but those who went down swore that when they reached these rocks they were bigger than the great tower of Seville. They did not go farther up the river, because they could not get water.

Before this they had to go a league or two inland every day late in the evening in order to find water, and the guides said that if they should go four days farther it would not be possible to go on, because there was no water within three or four days, for when they travel across this region themselves they take with them women loaded with water in gourds and bury the gourds of water along the way, to use when they return, and besides this, they travel in one day over what it takes us two days to accomplish.

Nuevo Mapa Geografico de la America Septentrional, ca. 1768“Nuevo Mapa Geografico de la America Septentrional, ca. 1768,” Antonio de Alzate y Ramirez (Artist)

This was the Tison (Firebrand) River, much nearer its source than where Melchior Díaz and his company crossed it. These were the same kind of Indians, judging from what was afterward learned. They came back from this point, and the expedition did not have any other result. On the way they saw some water falling over a rock and learned from the guides that some bunches of crystals which were hanging there were salt. They went and gathered a quantity of and brought it back to Cíbola, dividing it among those who were there.

They gave the general a written account of what they had seen, because one Pedro Sotomayor had gone with Don García López as chronicler for the army. The villages of that province remained peaceful, since they were never visited again nor was any attempt made to find other peoples in that direction.